Wind Rose North Outfitters in Menominee is a destination for many outdoor enthusiasts — both locally and for those traveling out of state.
“We’re the general store for everything outdoors in the Upper Peninsula and northeastern Wisconsin,” says Zac Aubert, owner of Wind Rose North. “It’s not any one thing that sells well but a little bit of everything that does well in its cycle”
And that “little bit of everything” runs the gamut, from outerwear for all seasons, camping supplies, snow shoes, fishing rods and reels, bait and tackle to kayaks.
The storefront on 10th Avenue, just a few blocks from the Menominee Marina and the shores of Green Bay, has been a staple in this south-central U.P. community for decades, first as a grocer and mercantile and more recently as an outfitter.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary next year, Wind Rose North has managed to flourish in this community of 8,500 people despite changing economic pressures, including the explosion of online shopping and discount stores. Since taking ownership from his parents, Zac Aubert has adapted and innovated, including launching shoe and apparel sales from a traveling trailer.
Going forward, Aubert, in a recent Facebook post thanking his customers for a blockbuster Black Friday, plans to “continue to innovate and compete against the biggest chains in the nation, against all odds, and continue to carry out the vision that mom and dad had not only for our shop, but the community as a whole.”
“To the best of my knowledge, it's the biggest outdoors store around here,” says Ed Bieber, who lives across the river in Wisconsin and is the owner of Bieber’s Underwater Recovery, diving recovery business, and has frequented the store over the years. “He sells a lot of different brands, quality products …. People love the place. His employees are nice, and Zak is awesome.
“He gets a lot of support from the community, but he likes to be involved in the community, too,” he adds.
Bieber says Aubert donated a kayak to help him with his cleanup efforts, removing fishing lines and lures from area waterways.
Aubert expanded the store’s offerings to include a live bait and tackle department several years ago, the same year he took the store’s show on the road, selling safety shoes at industrial sites and lifestyle apparel, footwear, equipment and goods to customers at local fairs and public gatherings.
It’s footwear, in fact, which provides a solid foundation of sales and support for the business.
“I travel to factories in the local area (with the Wind Rose trailer) offering a selection of safety shoes. I work directly with the sales reps employed by the (safety shoe manufacturing) companies,” Aubert says.
Aubert likes footwear.
Owner Zac Aubert
“When I was growing up my mom always bought me awesome footwear. I pay attention to why I like a shoe and what works. Our hiking shoes look great and are useful,” he says. “Many of our customers don’t necessarily buy hiking shoes for hiking but for outdoor use. Whether raking leaves, snow blowing or hunting, they want their feet to stay dry and warm. This is a big time of the year for footwear. We have better gear to offer than the power sports brands. Our insulated footwear is a major seller for those riding side by sides, four by fours who want footwear that keeps them warmer and dryer.”
Aubert purchased the store from his parents, Sandra “Freddie” and Mark Aubert, in 2014. His parents opened the storefront in December 1999 – the business was inspired by the family’s trips out west and initially stocked backpacking clothes.
“My dad worked at Giddings & Lewis Foundry. When the foundry closed my dad was too young to retire and wanted to have some sort of income. He’s an architect and my mom has a degree in English. Neither of them has a business degree. My parents were flying blind,” says Aubert, who helped his parents out during breaks from college and joined them afterwards, working weekends and when he was available.
The building had been vacant since the late 1980s when his family took ownership. Its history includes once housing a dry cleaner and a grocery store. The approximately 3,000- square-foot store was built in the late 1890s and includes an addition. The current store embraces that history with original wood floors and lighting fixtures reflecting the building’s history.
An abundance of clothing choices greets customers upon entering the store. Colorful and appealing displays feature wool blankets, camping and outdoor gear, and supplies.
“Anything in front of the store I go to the factory direct, no wholesaler. Our primary business is from customers entering through the front door. We do have a website, which was started in 1999, before the days of eBay and Amazon. We sold to every state in the union, but they were never major sales. It was all very new. We scaled back the site in 2004,” Aubert notes.
Kayaks hang from the ceiling and, indeed, Wind Rose is known for its variety and availability of kayaks and kayak accessories. That part of the business didn’t come along until nearly a decade ago.
“We’re especially visible in the public eye for our offerings of kayaks and hiking gear. People are more interested in the outdoors now,” he says. “Kayaking has been big here the past 20 years due to our proximity to water but it’s only been recently that people who don’t live on the water have become interested in kayaking. Kayaks are portable and easy to maneuver, you don’t need a big trailer to transport them.”
Safety on the water is a major concern of Aubert’s. It’s for that reason he earned a Level Three Instructor Inland Lake and Waterways certification from the American Canoe Association in 2014. He learned a lot in that curriculum.
He added the bait shop in 2017 to “fill in the cracks. Bait sales are lower dollar sales but also more frequent sales. We’re a basic beginner level bait and tackle shop. I’m learning right along with my customers,” he explains.
“We’re only one and one-half blocks from the Bay of Green Bay. That makes us attractive to fishermen as well because they can be launching their boats five minutes after they leave the store.”
“We have everything needed to troll for perch to salmon and in between. We offer baits for every level of fisherman, from the mom-and-pop stuff to the tourney fisherman,” Aubert says.
A bit of a fisherman himself, his team won the last tournament of the last season sponsored by the Tri County Bass Fishermen.
“We took first place. We were allowed five smallmouth bass per bag and ours weighed in at almost twenty-one pounds. It was a catch-and-release event on Ingalls Pond off the Menominee River.”
Wind Rose North customers include out-of-state travelers as well as residents of the local zip codes.
“We couldn’t be here without our Marinette and Menominee customers,” Aubert says. “We’ve built a relationship with them over the years. Also, we have a very talented group of employees. We can see the path we’re on. Our average employee stays here three plus years.”
Aubert serves as chairman of Menominee’s Downtown Development Authority and a member/volunteer of the organization since 2014-2015. He is optimistic about the group’s efforts in the immediate future.
“Each day 26,000 cars travel through the intersection of 10th
Avenue and 10th
Street. Only 4,800 of those cars continue downtown. My immediate goal is to bring awareness to our downtown at that intersection,” he says.
“I need more traffic to my business and to our downtown area. In the next three to six months, we’ll see the most change since 2018. (The Menominee Downtown Development Authority) plans to work with the Michigan Economic Corporation to pursue economic opportunities.
“We plan to hire a person to operate the Downtown Development Association as a paid position by the end of the year. That person will explore economic opportunities, grants, etc. We’re looking to establish Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and Risk Adjustment Factor (RFD) to help implement change. This is the biggest opportunity we've had for some time,” Aubert says.
Wind Rose North Outfitters is open seven days a week, Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday hours are 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Information: windrosenorth.com. 906-424-0206.
Ann Dallman has lifelong roots in Michigan’s UP. She started out as a newspaper reporter/photographer and returned to journalism after retiring from teaching. Her first Middle Grade novel, Cady and the Bear Necklace, received a State History Award (Books/Youth) from the Historical Society of Michigan as well as a Midwest Book Award, New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, was a Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist and a UP Notable Book. Her second book, Cady and the Birchbark Box, also received the Historical Society of Michigan State Award, is also a UP Notable Book and was a finalist in the New Mexico-Arizona 2023 Book Awards.