It’s a perfect 76 degrees on a stellar blue-sky afternoon at the Royal Oak Golf Center. The air is sweet with the smell of new-mown grass and the constant sound of range balls being whacked, and pals Matt Song of Franklin and John Calso of West Bloomfield are geeked about the new Power Tee system they’re trying out.
Unique to Michigan, Power Tee offers up to 24 different adjustable-height settings. Load a basket of balls into the lower hopper, press a button on the console, which raises the tee, then take a whack. To readjust, hit another button and watch it move to the height you desire.
It’s the first time Song and Calso, who call themselves “rising juniors” at the University of Michigan, have visited the center. They’ve been playing for the last hour with a jumbo basket of balls. “He’s winning,” says Song.
“I’m surprised to see new technology here,” says Calso, happily, and somewhat in awe. “The sensor knows if you hit the ball or not.”
For decades, throngs of golfers have flocked to this verdant corner near 13 Mile and Coolidge to sharpen their game and take in some fresh air. The vast driving range and practice facility, which dates back to the 1950s and is owned by the City of Royal Oak, has long been an oasis in the middle of one of the busiest sections of North Woodward, a beloved place to sneak in some golf at lunchtime, get in a golf fix in a hurry after work, or take the kids for some leisurely mini-golf on a summer afternoon.
But those who haven’t been here in awhile are in for a treat. After a $1.5-million renovation and upgrades throughout, the 20-acre/ 250-yard-deep golf center is all bright, shiny and, with its automated ball-teeing system called Power Tee, techie enough to tantalize the most jaded Millennial. Many seniors like Power Tee because there’s no bending, no loss of grip on their clubs, just exhilarating fun.
Down the row of practice stalls are Ray and Anne-Marie Eklund of Beverly Hills, who have been coming to the center for 30 years. They’re impressed with the transformation.
“The whole facility is so much nicer,” Ray says. His wife adds: “We’ve seen all the changes and upgrades, and this is the best place for all kinds of weather.” She recently had back surgery and is taking lessons at the center to get her swing back. “The pros are great here,” she says.
For chilly days and evenings, the center added 33 covered and heated tees, making year-round driving practice a reality, one of the aims of the expansion. The new stalls are also equipped with fans for summer. In all there are 87 tee boxes, including open-air.
“Basically you can practice every shot here that you can do on a golf course—full swing, short game and putting,” says Pulice, who has been in love with all things golf since he was a young lad. “It’s kind of a cult,” he laughs.
Beyond the sheer joy of playing, it’s all about learning the game here, with three PGA golf pros to hone the skills of beginners on up via groups, camps, clinics, hour or half-hour lessons. There are 32 other employees on staff, plus a well-respected repair shop to keep equipment in shape.
Walking around the facility with Glenn Pulice, the center’s general manager and PGA professional, he points out the just-hung directional signage and the Adventure Golf area, with newly renovated “mountains,” a waterfall and carpets for mini-golf, all redone by Big Sky Miniature Golf out of Wyoming.
“We adjusted the golf holes together to make the entire golf course more fun and playable,” says Pulice. Krieger Klatt Architects and Ronnisch Construction Group, both of Royal Oak, oversaw the entire project. This area is where families or couples can enjoy a fun afternoon or date-night under the stars, and indeed they do; customers here range in age from three to 95, according to Pulice.
Thanks to the recent expansion, it’s also a fine place to party, whether celebrating a birthday, corporate event or any other kind of soiree.
“We tore down three small buildings to create a new 1,400-square-foot pavilion, adjacent to the 2,400-square-foot mini-golf complex. It’s a great event space,” Pulice says, which can accommodate anywhere from five to 200 people. “We cater the bigger events,” he adds, “and Tania’s Pizza (Royal Oak) helps us out with the rest.”
There’s also an 800-square-foot tent for overflow and Michigan’s unpredictable weather. A small concession area is nearby and also is upgrading the entire concessions menu.
Watch for more improvements as the season unfolds. There’s something here for everyone, and a good time is guaranteed for all.
Teiara Dandy stopped in at Paper Trail Books in Royal Oak on a recent Monday morning for the second day in a row.
She was there on Sunday with her fiancee, who scored three paperbacks in “The Forgotten Realms” series of science fiction.
Dandy returned during a break in her classes at the nearby Oakland Community College in search of a vegetarian cookbook to help in her efforts to switch to a plant-based diet and still get enough protein.
“We just figured if we can try a used bookstore we’d find what we were looking for,” she says before vowing to become a regular at the new shop.
Paper Trail opened in August 2017 under the ownership of brothers Dave, 38, and Scott, 40, Brown. The brothers grew up in Troy and both have a love of reading, worked previously in bookstores (Dave at Borders, Half Price Books and an independent shop in Alaska, and Scott at Barnes & Noble) and moved back to Michigan to open their business.
“We have long wanted to open a bookstore,” says Dave Brown as he sips coffee while seated at a table covered with board games as Henry Mancini’s “The Pink Panther” soundtrack plays on a turntable behind the counter.
His affinity for music may be explained by his music degree from the University of Illinois in Chicago; Scott attended Michigan State University and graduated with an agriculture-related degree.
The music, coffee, comfortable seating, and events such as a series of poetry readings and an occasional book signing all offer the unspoken message: Customers are welcome to come in and stay awhile. Book clubs have yet to approach the owners, but they’d welcome hosting groups who want to discuss what they’ve read.
The shop’s tidy, well-organized shelves are in alphabetical order by author and labeled by genre to make browsing its 20,000 titles, as well as searching for a specific book, easy. Titles range from a signed edition of “Escape Velocity” by “True Grit” author Charles Portis to beach reads and include books for children as well as adults.
Prices range from less than $1 for selections on the clearance rack to hundreds of dollars for a collectible. If asked, the brothers will keep an eye out for a specific title for customers. Paper Trail’s 19,000 square feet of space also holds a smattering of vinyl, CDs and DVDs.
The brothers picked their location on South Washington in Royal Oak after looking at multiple properties in the surrounding area two Christmases ago.
Paper Trail Books
414 S. Washington
Royal Oak, MI 48067
Jane Rock, of Royal Oak, liked the idea of having her physical therapy for a back condition in a swimming pool, but disliked wearing a swimsuit that revealed too much in the co-ed environment. So, she ordered a custom suit that would cover her scar tissue from childhood burns at Custom Swimwear by Exelnt.
Years later, Rock estimates she has 18 suits from Custom Swimwear, along with accessories like visors and cover-ups. She’s bought suits to wear during cottage vacations, as well as other getaways, and stocked some for summer guests during Custom Swimwear’s sidewalk sales.
Rock says she’s recommended the shop to friends, some of whom balk at the price of a custom swimsuit—about $170 and up.
“Once they try on one of these suits and they feel how it fits they don’t say another word,” she says.
Shoppers can buy ready-to-wear swimsuits displayed in the retail section of the shop, some of which are made there and run $50 and up or can be fitted in one of five private dressing rooms and choose from hundreds of fabrics for a custom suit.
While anyone can request a custom suit, even men, shop owner Trish Crowder’s found that her typical customer is a large-busted woman. That’s because mass retailers enlarge every part of a swimsuit when they make its cups bigger, even for slender or average women who happen to have large breasts, Crowder says. This makes it almost impossible for women with larger cup sizes to buy a good-fitting swimsuit off the rack.
“I can make everybody’s sizes,” she says, noting that she offers suits with cup sizes ranging from AA to KK. “But a big-busted woman can’t go anywhere else.”
Big or small-busted women may not want to: the shop has many repeat customers and serves generations of women in the same family, Crowder says.
Crowder has retail swimsuit makers and an unsuccessful shopping trip of her own to thank for her successful custom swimwear business.
“I couldn’t find a top and bottom to fit,” she recalls of her dressing room failure 38 years ago. Back then, women’s two-piece swimsuits were almost exclusively sold as sets and it wasn’t possible to buy the bra and brief in different sizes.
A self-described “artsy person” who took a sewing class at her St. Clair Shores high school but is largely self-taught, Crowder decided to make her own suit. Compliments from friends and acquaintances soon led to requests for handmade swimsuits for others, and Custom Swimwear by Exelnt Designs followed.
Crowder’s business has become so successful that in July 2017 she bought and renovated a storefront on Main Street south of 14 Mile Road in Royal Oak, investing almost half a million dollars for the purchase and re-do. Family, friends and even Custom Swimwear’s 13 employees pitched in on such tasks as installing laminate flooring, but Crowder hired professionals for a new furnace and roof.
She moved from Warren into the newly refurbished shop in December.
As word gets around that southern Oakland County has a custom swimwear shop with an owner who knows how hard it can be to find a good-fitting suit, Rock predicts Crowder can expect many more loyal customers like herself.
Custom Swimwear by Exelnt Designs Inc.
SE corner of 14 Mile Rd and Rochester Rd.
4732 Rochester Rd
Royal Oak, MI 48073
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.