Cherry Republic rises from the ashes stronger than ever
By Anne Kelly
Photos by Michael Murphy IV and courtesy of Cherry Republic
Christmas Eve morning 2016, is a day that many locals will never forget. A destructive and consuming fire swallowed up the interior fixtures and contents of a landmark building in downtown Charlevoix, one of a string of fires that had ravaged the town in a matter of weeks. This time it was Cherry Republic, occupying the historic Van Pelt Building, one of several business locations of the Glen Arbor-based company. Thankfully, the century old building had been constructed with brick; the shell and the supports of the structure survived the devastation.
“The owner was able to maintain the majority of the brick facade including the Van Pelt signature piece,” said Rick Burbee, director of design and merchandising for Cherry Republic. “They were able to save the building and the basement, but of course, the roof, the floor and everything else is (now) brand new.”
Burbee had previously worked in the retail design industry in Chicago.
“I’m using my design experience to create great retail stores for Cherry Republic,” he said. “Bob Sutherland, founder and president of Cherry Republic (1989), believes the customers should always have a great experience when they visit our stores.”
Even though Charlevoix is known as a summer location, the new Charlevoix Cherry Republic store is a year around destination for gifts and cherry treats of all kinds.
“We had just completed a remodel with a holiday gift environment in the old store when the fire occurred,” Burbee said. “The new store will have an even better and bigger holiday assortment than before.”
The Van Pelt building stood empty for almost a year for investigation purposes and feasibility studies. Finally, in February of 2018, the rebuilding process began and talks began in earnest about saving the building and the business. Soon after, the Cherry Republic team, according to Burbee, began to move forward with what the design was going to be.
“We always had a desire to stay in this building and the landlord (owner Fred DiMartino of Charlevoix) always had a desire to have us in this building, so that was a nice partnership; we worked together to make that happen,” he said.
“We had learned a lot of things in the old store that we didn’t even realize we were learning at the time,” Burbee recalled. “We always thought it was darker in here than it should have been and that we would have loved to have more natural light. We learned that the wine tasting bar was in kind of an odd, dark location and that a lot of people didn’t even realize it was here ... we were basically able to start with a clean sheet of paper and make changes,” he said.
Cutting in much larger windows on the Van Pelt Alley, “mercado” side, installing a big new set of double doors leading right out to the mercado provided a lot more natural light, and then a different floor plan created a completely different flow. The wine tasting bar was moved to a more prominent location. Everything in the new store is brand new; Mark Glenn of T.C. Millworks built and installed the fixtures. Materials, including vintage details like Edison light fixtures, were chosen to be historically correct to the era of the original building and a natural wood floor was installed. The town’s nautical theme was incorporated throughout. Bob Jess, local architect of Freshwater Charch, was engaged to facilitate the new plan.
“It was a nice partnership,” Burbee said. “He knew the town and the local tradesmen, and he played a great role in making things happen for us.”
At that point materials were chosen and improvements were made keeping the original architecture in mind.
“The new building is state of the art; including fire suppression ... it’s built to last.”
The Charlevoix store opened on June 7, 2018, for the summer season. The fall holiday season was celebrated as “Leaf Days,” a nod to Cherry Republic’s internally created holiday. “Leaf Day,” held the second Monday in October, is when all employees enjoy a day off work “to enjoy the autumn season and all the good in our lives,” according to a Cherry Republic blog.
“We really like to be seasonally relevant,” said Burbee.
Burbee said starting the beginning of November Cherry Republic went “full tilt for holiday gift giving, Christmas trees and wreaths and all the stuff that was there before the 2016 fire ... very déjà vu,” he said.
Cherry Republic appears to be more than cherries and its “Life, liberty, beaches and pie” brand motto adds celebration, philanthropy, determination and optimism to the equation for success.
As Cherry Republic was bringing the Charlevoix store back to life, “We were simultaneously doing a major renovation of our Glen Arbor location to create the ‘Cherry Public House,’ a craft brewery and restaurant that is open to the public all year,” said Burbee. “There was a lot going on.”
Thanks to that determination and optimism, Cherry Republic is up and running in Charlevoix ready to do even better than the Christmas season that was cut short in 2016.
Written By By Anne Kelly and photos by Michael Murphy IV and courtesy of Cherry Republic