Livingston-area business owners thankful for customer support

Melissa Kunnert, who hails from a family with strong roots in the Portage Lake area, has spent most of her life enjoying the Huron River and lakes; now she and her father are using their deep experience with Michigan’s waters to take on a new adventure.

Her father, Kerry Klave, and his family operated Klave’s Marina until selling to new owners in 2021. Later that year, the father-daughter team started NautiMI on the River, which offers small watercraft rentals, a boutique with mostly Michigan-made products, coffee, breakfast and light meals, and ice cream at 9260 McGregor Road.

“I’ve gotten personal messages and comments on my posts of people thanking us for bringing a business like this to the community,” Kunnert said. ” I think people appreciate we aren’t just a store wanting to sell them things. We want to be a part of their lives.”

Kunnert said she feels gratitude when customers have special moments at the store.

“There was a girl who won a cheer competition, and she wanted her picture with her trophy here with me. It was so sweet,” she said.

As Small Business Saturday approaches this weekend, a number of area small businesses owners pointed out how the community has supported them and helped make their operations a success over the past several years.

Small Business Saturday was founded in 2010 by American Express and has been cosponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration since 2011. The day celebrates and supports small businesses and all they do for their communities.

According to the SBA, historically, reported projected spending among U.S. consumers who shopped at independent retailers and restaurants on Small Business Saturday reached an estimated $23.3 billion according to the 2021 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey commissioned by American Express. 

Brighton helps the ‘Captain’ pizza slice ribbon

Nick Mannisto is excited about new pizza boxes for Captain’s Wööd Fired Pies. Mannisto was folding some Tuesday at Captain’s ön Main, 423 W. Main St. in Brighton. The inside of the boxes now feature a design that allows people to put their head on an image of his professional alter ego, the Captain.

Mannisto was preparing for the restaurant’s grand-opening ribbon-cutting celebration Nov. 18. After gaining a food truck following by slinging pies out of a mobile wood-fired oven, he decided to open the brick-and-mortar pizzeria in Brighton.

He took over Two Brothers Coffee earlier this year, purchasing the business from Jim Starnes, who opened the coffee shop in 2008. 

“The community we have with the food truck really supported us, and then they like coming here and not having to track us down,” Mannisto said, also saying, “During our soft openings, we reserved spots and sold out from the food truck people. They all wanted to support us the first times us trying it out of the (pizzeria’s new) oven.”

As new customers begin to find him, he wants the restaurant, which also features coffee, tea, beer and wine, to be a “communal” spots for the community.

“Historically, the wood-fired oven was used back in the day as a communal spot for the neighborhood, and they made pizzas because they needed the oven to be hot for baking in the morning. I want this to be community-driven pizza,” he said.

Craft vendor, shirt shop owner loves being part of Howell business community

Morgan Cherry says she has received a lot of support from other small business owners in downtown Howell since opening The Simply Cherry Collection, 204 W. Grand River Ave., earlier this year.

“The business owners of Howell are some of the coolest people I’ve ever met,” Cherry said, adding, “It’s very community over competition.”

She said downtown businesses support each other by collaborating on events, spreading the word about other businesses to their customers and promoting each other on social media.

She opened the shop after some of her custom shirt designs were shared on social media.

She said having her work go viral allowed her to open a store that also features products by other Michigan crafters, mostly from the local area.

“We’re a collection of local vendors, so everyone makes something different and I make the shirts. It’s a permanent standing craft show,” she said.

Daugher-mother team feeling the love in Brighton

Chef and caterer Allie Lyttle opened LaLa’s Too in downtown Brighton earlier this year, and her mother Mary Lyttle is helping her run the store.

Her storefront, 529 W Main St., serves as a “grab-and-go” style establishment. It doesn’t have indoor dining or an on-site kitchen. She and her staff prepare meals, salads, sandwiches and snacks off site. Customers either place orders to pick up or pop by to grab something on the go.

“Our word of mouth has been incredible,” Allie Lyttle said. “People tell me, ‘I’ve told all my friends. I’ve told my whole yoga class.’ That has been really incredible to have so many people want us to be successful.”

She said having the storefront has also brought her new catering clients.

“It seems like one hand kind of feeds the other,” she said.

Mary Lyttle said she is grateful for the customers at her daughter’s shop. She worked for years in a pharmacy at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor.

“I wanted a retail job. I love the customers,” she said. “Here everyone comes in happy.”

Support small businesses on Saturday

On Saturday, many shoppers focus on supporting locally owned stores and restaurants for Small Business Saturday.

Some stores across Livingston County will offer special discounts, promotions or other offerings. Some will stay open later Saturday to accommodate local shoppers.

Each year, more than a dozen local shops, restaurants and other businesses in downtown Howell celebrate the Saturday shopping tradition with special deals and offerings until 9 p.m.

Howell Main Street Inc. will pass out grab bags with coupons from local merchants and some free items. Shopping can pick them up at Bridget Gallagher’s, 201 South Michigan Ave. from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. while supplies last.

Contact Livingston Daily reporter Jennifer Eberbach at jeberbach@livingstondaily.com. 

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