At 86, Claudelle Ackerman used to park in a city-owned parking lot when she shopped at Nutri-Foods in Royal Oak, but an office building now occupies the site.
She has two realistic options to continue getting her supplements, bread, nuts, “everything and anything” from the health food store: drive up for employees to load her purchases into her vehicle or get home delivery.
“Any help I need, they give it,” says Ackerman, of Clawson. “The bottom line is, I would be lost without them.”
Nutri-Foods started the curb service when construction took over the city lot and customers had a hard time toting their groceries to parking spots further away. There are six spots that belong to the store directly behind the business, but those go fast and sometimes are occupied if not illegally then unethically.
John McEntee, Consultant/Cashier and Judy Ferguson, Store Manager
With the kind of personalized service that Ackerman and other customers get under the leadership of store manager Judy Ferguson, is it any wonder Nutri-Foods has been in business 81 years?
“I think the key to our success is the relationships we’ve built,” Ferguson says. “We know our customers by name, we know their families, their kids.”
The business was founded by Dwight Hurlbut in 1937 as Health Foods of Royal Oak in the same block of Main Street between 11 Mile Road and Second Street, but on the east side of the road. Hurlbut, a fixture at the store and known to many longtime shoppers including Ackerman, changed the business’ name to Nutri-Foods in 1954 when he moved it to its current building on the west side of Main.
Hurlbut died in 1999 one week after his 99th birthday, and Father John Bettin bought the business with a partner, Michael Frontera.
“And that’s how I came here,” says Ferguson, who is Bettin’s niece.
She and 13 employees staff Nutri-Foods seven days a week, often offering advice to the 300 to 350 customers who shop there each day from a selection of fresh organic produce, pre-bagged bulk food, canned goods, cosmetics, essential oils, juices, teas, vitamins, supplements and more.
Ferguson points out that shoppers are often looking for something to help boost energy or lose weight as well as items for their gluten-free, nut-free, paleo or vegan diet.
“We try to cater to people and not make it a trend thing,” she says. “It’s a lifestyle.”
While Ferguson’s tenure is nearing 20 years, two other employees have been there longer. Trevor Thomas, a bulk packager, has worked at Nutri-Foods more than 20 years, and John McEntee, a consultant and cashier, will mark 50 years at the store this August.
Ferguson, who jokingly calls McEntee “boss,” says customers have come to appreciate and even expect the banter between the two and refer to them as “Edith and Archie,” the bickering couple from the 1970s comedy “All in the Family,” or “The Bickersons.”
The store manager says she hasn’t decided how to mark McEntee’s golden anniversary, but it may be a belly dancer, the same entertainment employees hired for Hurlbut’s 94th birthday.
751 Chestnut, Suite 205
Royal Oak, MI 48067
Phone: 248-541-6820 nutrifoodsinc.com
Too much traditional advice for taking care of your vehicle in the winter—keep your gas tank at least half full, use a lighter weight oil than what you use in warmer months, and check your battery’s water level—is way too 20th century!
For example, modern underground gasoline storage tanks should be leakproof, and less prone to letting groundwater seep in, so there shouldn’t be water in the gas you dispense at the pump. Today’s oils, many of them a blend of real and synthetic oils, don’t turn into sludge anymore when temperatures dip: Follow your owner’s manual recommendation. And today’s batteries are sealed. You couldn’t add water if you wanted to, says Robb Remick, owner of Top Tech Auto businesses, in Clawson and Royal Oak, and TLC Car Care, also in Royal Oak.
Robb Remick, Owner & Gary Gibson, Clawson Manager
Whether your mechanic does the job or you prefer to do it yourself, you should get your vehicle ready for Old Man Winter around Halloween, or Thanksgiving at the latest. However, with the growth in the number of leased vehicles that owners return to a dealer after a few years, many owners neglect a pre-winter inspection, he says.
But to keep your vehicle on the road and humming along, he recommends winterizing it.
“The coolant is the A-No. 1 thing” to check and top off or to replace, if necessary, after flushing the system, says Remick. Old coolant gets dirty, breaks down and could freeze, leading to leaks into your oil or onto your driveway.
“When it gets really cold, we get a ton of coolant leaks,” Remick says.
In addition, owners should inspect and make sure their vehicle’s windshield wipers and washer fluid, battery, oil and tires are tip top, he says. For tires, pay attention to proper inflation, adequate tread depth and need for rotation to ensure even wear and a smoother ride.
Once tire tread has worn to less than 2/32-inch, Top Tech recommends replacement. Regarding snow tires, Remick says they’re a personal preference, but may be necessary in northern climates that see lots of snow, or for those with long, steep driveways.
A Top Tech technician can test a vehicle’s battery to ensure it holds a proper 12.5-volt charge.
Whatever you do, Remick says, use a winter-grade windshield washer fluid containing alcohol and don’t add water to stretch your supply.
“We’ve seen frozen (windshield washer fluid) lines during the recent cold snap,” Remick says.
Once winter hits and road crews start using salt to melt snow and ice, take your vehicle to the car wash regularly and spring for the few extra dollars to get an underbody flush.
“Salt creates rust on the suspension components and can cause premature failure on break lines and fuel lines as well,” says Gary Gibson, manager of Top Tech in Clawson.
Using Top Tech’s recommendations and scrapping outmoded, 20th-century advice can help keep your vehicle running through whatever Old Man Winter has in store.
When Ted Overall started raising and selling aquarium fish as a cottage business in the mid-1940s he hedged his bets by keeping his autoworker job. But Overall’s friends—his first customers—liked his fish enough that he was able to eventually quit his job and open a store, the Highland Tropical Fish and Bird Haven, in Highland Park.
The business eventually closed, but before it did, Highland Tropical spawned the Royal Tropical Fish and Bird Haven, in Royal Oak, which today is owned by a third generation of Overalls. People still like to buy Overalls’ fresh-water, tropical fish, birds and reptiles: This year marks the store’s 64th year in business.
Matt & Sue Overall
It was Ted’s son, Kenneth, who established the Royal Oak business, after he married and started a family. He and wife, Lois, transformed what was once a house and a floral shop into Royal Tropical. The couple raised eight children: Two of their offspring, Sue and Matt Overall, now run the business, along with Mike Woodcox, who’s worked there for 30 years.
Sue and Matt’s brother, Brett, opened a third store, in the mid-1980s. Ironically, it’s also known as Highland Tropical Fish and Bird Haven—but it’s in Highland Township, not Highland Park.
Sue Overall says she was about 10 when she started working in her dad’s business. Her first duties included picking up cigarette butts that customers ground out on the shop’s then-cement floor. Back then, it was acceptable to light up just about anywhere. That’s changed, and so has the floor; it’s carpeted now.
Overall, who has a degree in marketing, worked elsewhere after college, but soon decided to return to the family business and the fish and birds she loves.
On a frigid January day, the Royal Oak shop was warm and humid—like Florida, where its animals originate—from the aquariums that line its walls, and filled with the chatter and calls of birds in cages and on perches a few steps up from the main level. Racks of colorful aquarium accessories and pet toys shared the space with bins of bulk bird seeds that can be mixed to suit the age and health of a bird.
“We can customize your mix for your bird,” Woodcox says.
That emphasis on service has helped grow the business over the years.
Overall says her best advertising comes via word of mouth from satisfied customers, who like the shop’s low-pressure approach, its knowledgeable staff, and its focus on educating pet owners.
Woodcox agrees, and adds: 50-year relationships with fish farmers prompt the suppliers to send their higher-quality animals; Royal Tropical orders smaller quantities, which means their fish are fresher and don’t have a chance to get stressed in a shop environment; and the shop carries a larger variety in each family group of fish.
“Our selection of cichlids is hard to match,” he says, counting 27 tanks of the freshwater vertebrates.
In addition, each aquarium has its own filtration system, unlike at large chains that filter water from many tanks, which gives disease a chance to spread.
Woodcox can even advise customers on which fish live together in harmony: The big chains don’t necessarily offer that service, although a customer can read labels on aquariums to determine suitable aquarium co-habitants.
“Because they’re so big, you don’t get that one-on-one,” Woodcox says.
Overall says she often advises would-be pet parents not to make an impulse buy, but to go home and do some research on the animal they want to add to the family.
“Birds are like a toddler; they need attention,” she says. “We avoid the impulse buy and tell people to research, research, research.”
A good beginner bird might be a parakeet or cockatiel, Overall says.
Sandy Cross, a 23-year customer originally from Ferndale, has purchased both fish and birds at Royal Tropical. Cross shut down her 29-gallon aquarium before she moved to Roscommon 11 years ago because she tired of cleaning it, but she still owns two birds (down from seven): “Pele,” a sun conure, and “Gizmo,” a blue-capped pionus.
“Everything I get from them is just wonderful,” says Cross. “And if I have a question, no question is too stupid.”
The store draws customers from its immediate area, but also from as far away as Detroit and the Northville-Novi area.
In 2017, the Royal Oak Historical Museum included the Royal Tropical in an exhibit of long-time Royal Oak businesses.
“The fact that they’ve been around that long says they’re filling a need for our residents,” says Judy Davids, community engagement specialist for the city. “It’s nice to have the sort of consistency and identity that businesses that have been around a long time add to a city.”
Other independent pet stores haven’t been so fortunate. Two major chains—Petco and PetSmart—accounted for 60 percent of the industry’s revenue in 2016, according to an article in Pet Product News.
“They’ve gone down quite a bit, especially during Great Recession,” Overall says of the independents, citing two nearby stores, The Aquarium Shop and Tropical Fish Pond & Reptiles, that are closed.
Soon after Rowan Daugherty began public school, it was evident that it was not a good fit for her.
“Rowan, who is smart and verbal, was given several labels of dysfunction,” says her mom, Stephanie Daugherty, “and her confidence was shot. She was becoming a different kid.…When my second daughter, Daphne, who treasures books, started school, she was dealing with some challenges when it came to reading and executive neurological function.”
“We knew about Eton,” Daugherty continued, “but my husband and I were afraid of the cost – until we went to an Open House, where we learned we were not alone – and we made it happen. Eton Academy and The Eton Approach have done nothing short of changing our lives.”
Eton Academy, on Melton Rd. near W. 14 Mile Rd. in Birmingham, was founded in 1986 as a full-curriculum, independent, private school for students with learning differences and has over 200 students in grades 1-12.
Pete Pullen, Head of School, describes The Eton Approach as “the culmination of 30 years of teaching students who learn differently.”
“It takes the science, the research, and our successful experiences,” Pullen explains, “for a systemized approach to consistently delivering direct, explicit and multi-sensory instruction.”
“I’m a big cheerleader for Eton Academy and The Eton Approach,” says Daugherty. “Now, a couple of years later, Rowan (now ten) and Daphne (now seven) are thriving. In the past year, Daphne has improved from being able to read five words to 130 words: a 5.5th-grade reading level! And Rowan has blossomed. She is confident, meeting her goals and making new ones.”
“The teachers call, they communicate, they talk to outside therapists,” Daugherty continues. “The girls are really comfortable there, and so am I. Learning is no longer a battle. When I pick them up and ask about their day, they now say, ‘Awesome! Amazing!’ They are being taught how to learn and are given tools that will last their lifetimes.”
Daugherty describes Rowan’s first day at Eton Academy. “Rowan was upset upon arriving and did not want to stay. Mr. Pullen approached and offered to take her for a walk around the school. She took his hand and – though I don’t know what they talked about – when they returned, she was absolutely fine.”
Pullen smiles as he recalls that walk – and his own path to becoming Eton Academy’s Head of School.
“I know it sounds funny,” he says, “but I knew I wanted to be a school principal from the time I was six or seven years old.”
“I was inspired by Dr. Walker, our principal at Mary D. Mitchell School in Ann Arbor,” Pullen says. “He was the kindest, gentlest man I ever met, and he was always helping children.”
After attending Ann Arbor’s Greenhills School, Pullen returned there, while working on his degree at the University of Michigan, to tutor and coach basketball.
“Later,” Pullen says, “the opportunity was presented to teach middle school at Greenhills, so that’s where I began. And when I was there, I thought, ‘This is how schools should teach.’ It left an indelible mark on my philosophy.”
“I then took a detour and coached college basketball for two years at Eastern Michigan University and realized that my true passion is teaching. Though,” he adds, grinning, “I love basketball!”
Pullen then taught and became Assistant Head of School at Detroit’s Friends School and was also Head of School at Herlong Cathedral School before coming to Eton, where he has been for fifteen years.
And Pullen, as well as Eton’s teachers (and the specialists who continually teach those teachers), support staff, and board of trustees, sustain a place where children with learning challenges, and their families, find hope.
It’s a place where each student who walks through their doors is seen as a unique, growing child with amazing abilities, unlimited potential and discoverable ways of acquiring skills, knowledge, self-awareness; where science, compassion and dedication create a community where all can thrive, where all can succeed.
“We are a resource,” says Pullen, “for a student, a person, your child, who is struggling to learn. Everyone here is incredibly committed and passionate. A call to us may be helpful and, even though the school might not be your child’s ultimate home, we also extend tutoring, our learning center, our summer program. Our goal is to help as many students and families as we can, moving them from frustration to flourishing.”
1755 Melton Rd.
Birmingham, MI 48009