Emmaville Store, circa 1969

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

It's time.

Actually it's past time.I was going to write this post back in April and then in May. Unfortunately, it has taken 5 months to get to this point. But today it will be official: Emmaville will have new owners. Mel and I have decided its time for us to move on.  We accomplished what we set out to do almost 5 years ago: get Emmaville up and running again, reestablish its reputation as a quirky, fun and essential stop for people visiting the North Country, and eventually sell the business to recoup our investment.

From an investment standpoint, we’ll come out ok, not great but ok.  On paper, we’re not recouping all the money we have put in to this place. But we have made a living here for the better part of 5 years. Factoring that in (while not considering all the hours we put in), this adventure has been a modest financial success.

But the money is not what is important. Owning Emmaville has been one of the most rewarding experiences of our lives, almost as special to us as raising three wonderful kids. We have met so many interesting people and have had many memorable experiences in the past 5 years.  We will always cherish our time in the Biggest Little Town.

Owning Emmaville has certainly had its challenges. There were days we wondered what the hell we were doing working so hard for so little.  Mel and I struggled with communicating, sharing the workload and making time for each other and our selves.  We still don’t have the perfect marriage, but what we have is much stronger than before Emmaville.

For me, owning Emmaville has been a healing experience.  After spending 15 years in a very stressful, fast-paced work environment, dealing with difficult customers and experiencing first hand the deterioration of business travel, I did not like who I had become.  I was cynical about the business world and people in general. Work was no longer about making a difference but all about making a buck.  As the owner and CEO of the company I could not have friends at work.  Being on the road all the time, it was very difficult to make friends around home.

Worst of all, when I came home I shut down and shut Mel out. There were times when I’m sure she was glad to see me head back to the airport.  Looking back, I’m amazed she hung in there. Good thing she is stubborn.

Working behind the counter at Emmaville forced me to open up and become a sociable human being again. I was amazed how quickly the experience of greeting and getting to know our customers felt natural. I felt like the old me, someone who learned from his family how to make people feel at home.

I also became comfortable with sharing my writing with others.  The feedback I have gotten on this blog has been a wonderful confidence builder.  I hope you will follow me to my new blog, “This is Home” at www.5thcrow.com.

We are delighted that we can now count so many of you as friends, and we hope those friendships will continue far beyond Emmaville. We thank you all for letting us be a part of your lives.  God Bless.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Miracle in Green

NOTE: This and other new posts can be viewed at Mike's new blog.

Winter here in northern Minnesota can be almost devoid of color, like the face of a dead man. The ground and the water are covered in a white pall. The hardwood trees, their nakedness showing in greys and blacks, stand shivering like mourners around a cold grave.  Even the greens worn by the conifers are muted, dulled by the feeble light from an iron grey sky.  The colors of winter here speak of death. How can this cold stillness be broken? How is it possible that life emerges again?

But emerge it does in springtime.  We celebrate this even before the first green shows. As the snow and ice recede, we look for signs of life, reveling in the breaking of tiny buds in the trees. We walk on the earth, noting when the frost has given way and we can feel the earth’s soft warmth returning beneath our feet. Although we still only see greys and browns, we know we will see the colors of life again soon.

The signs are subtle.  A faint hint of green appears in the trees and in the grass. We note the sun staying just a bit longer everyday.  We begin to notice movement again in the air and on the land as great flocks arrow north and animals cautiously emerge on the road sides, blinking at the newly bright sun.  The trees begin to model their spring apparel, each with a slightly different interpretation of the color green.

And before we know it, we are surrounded by lush foliage as the trees and shrubs, grasses and forbs, sedges and rushes, mosses and ferns all compete to occupy every square inch of space, to grab every bit of available sunlight.  Where does all this energy come from?  How can all this life emerge from winter’s deathscape?

Perhaps that is why we endure our winters, if only to witness year after year this miracle in green.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Mystery of the Deep 'C'

When we purchased Emmaville we had to puzzle out who owned the boats and camper in storage because there were no records. Eventually, we identified all the owners except for one. Five years later we still don't know who the person is.

The mystery person owns a sweet little boat.  Sitting under a dusty tarp in a corner of our storage shed is a 1957 Alumacraft "Deep C" with a newer (1970s) Johnson outboard motor. The boat has a full windshield in good condition, console steering, a wooden transom and cool looking aluminum-clad wooden oars with holders built in to the hull.  The trailer looks at least as old as the boat.

When Clayton arrived in the spring of our first year at Emmaville I asked him if he knew who owned this boat. He said something like, "Yeah, its an older guy, comes around and pays for storage every year." That told us two things: Clayton wasn't good at remembering names and since Clayton was 90, this "old guy" must be really old!  We decided to wait to see if anyone would show up to claim the boat.

Two years ago, I decided to try to find the owner through the boat's registration sticker. I went on-line to the DNR site with the information but didn't get far. The site requires entering the owner's drivers license number or SSN or "Customer number."  I reached a dead end.

Last fall I tried another tack: I asked our local Conservation Officer Sam Hunter if she could look the owner up. But Sam said she could not because of privacy laws. Another dead end.

This winter I learned about Minnesota's abandoned property laws. If I made an abandoned property "claim" to the sheriff's office, they would do a search for the owner. I gave the deputy the registration information. A few weeks later he called and asked for the boat's serial number.  Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate it.

I haven't heard back from the deputy. According to the abandoned property law, I could petition the court to declare the boat abandoned, but that would involve paying an attorney and paying fees to publish public notices for three weeks. I wasn't sure I wanted to make the investment.

So, for now, the boat will remain under the dusty tarp in a corner of the storage shed.

Anybody who recognizes the boat or has any information on it is welcome to contact us here at the store. Can you help us solve the Mystery of the Deep 'C'?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Just Another Day in Emmaville

Mary, our cook, noticed on the way to work this morning a number of brightly colored pieces of cloth along the road from her house.  Much speculation ensued amid the daily coffee klatsch in the Emmaville Store as to the meaning of these signs.  Were they flags for the snowmobile trail?  Was it an art installation? The morning regulars found it very curious indeed.

During the second pot of coffee, while the mystery was still being discussed, neighbor Dave brought in one of the items. Driving along County 4, he had found a rather sturdy brassiere, size 48DD (see photos for additional detail). Encouraged by the the excitement this caused among the coffee drinkers (a clue!), Dave volunteered to gather the remaining items scattered along Holly Road.  Upon his return and after careful examination, these were determined to be several other pieces of ladies intimate apparel of a size corresponding to the size of the brassiere. We will not described them further or include any photographs out of discretion. However, you could say the group was getting to the bottom of this mystery.

Our morning coffee bunch, as a whole, are nice people and when discussing their neighbors, usually like to keep things positive.  Therefore, the initial hypothesis regarding the scattered garments reflected their well-meaning discussion. Perhaps a local woman had finally conquered her chronic weight issue, and celebrated by throwing her old bloomers out the car window on the way to Bemidji to shop for new intimate wear in a smaller size. This theory was quickly discredited when no one around the table could think of a neighbor who had recently lost a lot of weight. Moreover, the group had earlier discussed all their neighbors' recent comings and goings.  A shopping trip to Bemidji certainly would not have escaped notice.

After the coffee klatsch broke up and left the store, our staff, having nothing better to do because business is so slow, continued the speculation and came up with an alternate theory. Clearly the triggering event was a woman's underwear drawer traveling the local roads at a high rate of speed, thus distributing these colorful rayon frilleries randomly throughout the neighborhood.  This suggests a woman may have been moving her household. As is customary in this area, this relocation likely involved a pickup truck and used back roads so as to avoid scrutiny of the unsecured load by law enforcement.   Because the items were scattered far and wide, this was likely a pickup that had been 'lifted', i.e., modified to accommodate rather large wheels and tires. These trucks are quite common here, often seen traveling at excessive speeds along country roads with young males at the wheel. Reviewing the entire body of evidence, the group theorized the operator in question was likely a son-in-law, one who was drafted to help move his mother-in-law on a day when he would have preferred hanging with his buddies.

Unfortunately, there is not much more to go on, and the investigation may be at an end. Unless additional clues are forthcoming, we will not likely be able to return the garments to their rightful owner.  However, we will retain them here at Emmaville in the event a neighbor inquires. Due to unseasonably warm weather this winter, the local roads are not frozen as usual but are somewhat muddy. Therefore, the items will require laundering but otherwise are in fine shape. They can be claimed here at the Emmaville Store, where they are being kept safely and discreetly behind the bar.