Battling booming summers, big-box competitors, melting ice bridges and his own vow to leave the family biz, Andrew Doud finds his purpose by breathing new life into the quaint family market at the heart of Mackinac Island. Plus, 4 more must-stop generational family businesses to visit.

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Mackinac Island is more than a home for those who live and work here. It’s a taproot. Beyond the smooth stone beaches, Lake Huron waters and trails weaving switchbacks through thin-soiled forests of red oak, hemlock and pine, there is a powerful connection to history that tethers hearts. It’s why so many islanders share a last name (and often even occupation) with ancestors who roamed the same hills and horse trails more than a century ago.

This is true for Andrew Doud, fourth generation owner of Doud’s Market, the country’s oldest family-operated grocery store and a now-thriving center of island life all year round. Like all the best spots on Mackinac Island, Doud’s mixes nostalgia with modern convenience. The independent grocery store still carries a Norman Rockwell sensibility: tightly packed shelves of staples and treats, baskets filled with green and red apples, oranges, ginger root. There are historical photos depicting more than 140 years of business, alongside smart merchandising that rivals any big city small market. It’s a place islanders lean on, tourists stock up for picnics in and the fifth generation of young Doud boys bop in and out of during summer adventures.

In short, it’s the framework for one family’s story. One carved out by generations of stick-to-itiveness and ingenuity. One that includes literal and figurative returns from piles of ashes. One that looks to the past and future with equal measures of respect and hope.

Current owner at Doud's Market on Mackinac Island

Photo by Jacqueline Southby

3 Boys next to sign at Doud's Market on Mackinac Island

Photo by Jacqueline Southby

Aisles at Doud's Market on Mackinac Island

Photo by Jacqueline Southby

Doud, who is now in his late 40s, was just 33 years old when he stepped in to save the family business. Sure, he was skilled in restaurant management when the moment of reckoning came, but Doud had limited—if any—experience in the store his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had run. His childhood home was in the Detroit area, and while Doud spent summers (and middle school years) with his father on the island, he never once worked for the family store.

“I worked a lot of other jobs on Mackinac, but Doud’s was never my thing. And as I got older, the idea of being part of the business didn’t really seem like an option. I always knew I wanted to be here in some capacity as an adult, but when I came back in 2006, it was to run the Grand Hotel’s Gate House Restaurant. I never would have believed a year later, I’d be stepping in at the market,” he says.

In a place where history mixes with the present every day, however, the pull of legacies and quiet whispers of generations past often make the impossible possible. This was true for Doud, who watched on the sideline as his family’s business hit hard times and was sold in 2007 to an outside buyer.

Shortly after the sale, the opportunity presented itself for Doud to lease back the store with the option to buy it. Torn by the decision, he sought advice from the McDonough family, owners of an independent grocery store on another Great Lake landmark, Beaver Island.

Woman next to window at Doud's Market on Mackinac Island

Photo by Jacqueline Southby

People shopping at Doud's Market on Mackinac Island

Photo by Jacqueline Southby

Food at Doud's Market on Mackinac Island

Photo by Jacqueline Southby

“When Bill McDonough asked if I’d be interested in taking over Doud’s, my first answer was ‘no way,’” Doud says. “I really thought I meant it, too.”
Nevertheless, something in Doud shifted after that visit—maybe it was a love for the oddity of island life, a sense of responsibility or a stir of stubborn pride.

Before long, he was renting the building and business back, slowly building trust and learning the ropes of an independent grocer. By 2008, just a year into his lease, Doud says he was ready to say forever in more ways than one. He’d fallen in love (his now wife, Nicole, is an entrepreneur in her own right, opening the island’s first boutique gift shop, Little Luxuries, that same year). He also discovered a connection to the family business he never expected.

“It was challenging for me to see Doud’s struggle after my dad passed away in 2002, but if I’m being honest, I think I originally stepped in in part because I wanted to prove I could make it work. Once I took over, I could really see the important role Doud’s plays for the island, and also, I experienced this tremendous community support. I was committed.”

Committed seems like too light a word. The price tag for the market, with 2008-level property values, was a cool $3 million. For a 33 year old with less than a year of leased grocery store experience—when said store happens to be on a car-less island with the unfortunate distinction of having some of the most expensive product transport costs in the country to cut into already thin margins—this was, perhaps, an insane risk.

Vintage horse and dog at Doud's Market on Mackinac Island

Photo by Jacqueline Southby

Historical photo of man at Doud's Market on Mackinac Island

Photo by Jacqueline Southby

Owner of at Doud's Market on Mackinac Island

Photo by Jacqueline Southby

Risk, however, has never been a trait the Doud family resisted, which is why their name is one of the most well-known on the island. Doud’s Market, called Doud Brothers and Doud’s Mercantile over the decades, first opened its doors in 1884, when brothers James and Patrick built a store located on top of what is now the Star Line ferry dock. At the time, the military importance of Fort Mackinac was waning and interest in visiting or vacationing on the island was growing.

The sons of Irish immigrants, the Doud brothers were looking to make their mark, and the island seemed the place to make it happen. It wasn’t long before Patrick stepped away from groceries to become one of the island’s most successful contractors. While Patrick never married, he left his mark on the island in cottages and hotels that still share his story today.

His brother James, however, passed down his legacy through 11 children (10 boys and one girl), many of whom stayed connected to Mackinac. James stuck with market life and passed the store on to one of his youngest sons, Francis, who was known for bringing fresh dairy and meat to folks on the island, even when it meant crossing the ice bridge that stretches across the Straits of Mackinac via horse and carriage during long winters.

The store’s story almost ended in 1943, when the original Doud’s building burned to the ground. Francis opted to turn the challenge into an opportunity, rebuilding on the high-traffic corner of Fort and Main streets, where Doud’s Market still stands today.

“He originally rented half the building and used nails from the burned down store to build the new shelves. He was resourceful,” Doud says of his grandfather, a hint of pride and understanding in his voice.

Andrew’s father, Stephen, took over the store in 1976. He soon purchased the mercantile building, added a full butcher’s counter, and continued to find ways to keep the independent grocery store relevant until his death in 2002.

Sign at Doud's Market on Mackinac Island

Photo by Jacqueline Southby

While the earlier Doud grocers had plenty of difficulties to work through in their century-plus of stewarding the business, the competition of internet sales and big box stores suddenly populating the mainland may be the biggest challenge yet. Andrew stepped in at a time when independent grocery stores around the country were closing, unable to price match or keep up with the options of a 200,000-foot store.

“I will never forget the advice Bill McDonough gave to me when I first started out. He said, ‘You have to be a great store first.’ And that’s so true at every level. I’m never going to force someone to come into my store and buy their bread or their can of soup, which they could probably purchase online cheaper. So, from day one, we’ve tried to be the store the people of Mackinac need, and I can’t say enough about how grateful I am that, in turn, the support has been overwhelming.”

Even that sentiment is more complicated than it sounds. Mackinac Island boasts just 500 people in its year-round population, but swells each summer to 5,000, with an additional 10,000 to 12,000 tourists visiting each day. (Mackinac was recently named the best island in the continental U.S. by Travel + Leisure magazine.)

“It’s always a challenge,” Doud admits. “You have to find a way to feed everybody, with limited space and a massively fluctuating population with very different needs and wants in terms of what we carry. In the summer, the cottagers are looking to find the higher-end items they are used to in big grocery stores, and at the same time, there are staffers who just want ramen noodles.”

In the summer, Mackinac is also a magnet for international workers, and Doud says he is mindful to try and stock familiar food staples.
“It’s a little thing to some people, but finding a warehouse in Chicago that can bring in foods that feel like home for some of these folks matters to us. I grew up with a lot of the seasonal staff on Mackinac, and many are friends. When I think about the people I am trying to serve, I really am thinking of everyone who calls this island home, whether all year, for a few months, or even just those who come in for the day.”

While the summer months are a flurry of activity—the staff expands from 10 to 35 to meet customer volume— winter is the creator of worry lines for Doud. Like most resort and tourism-based destinations in the area, much of Mackinac shuts down during the cold weather season, and having to “right size” for the islanders is always a bit of a guessing game. Stocking the shelves in the winter also remains as harrowing an experience as it was more than a century ago. Doud uses a snowmobile instead of a horse-drawn carriage to cross the ice bridge for supplies, but says the real challenge is during those in-between weeks, when the ice has melted but the boats aren’t running yet.

“Last winter was one of the most challenging I’ve faced, because the ice bridge melted weeks before we expected it to. There is no feasible, cost-effective way to transport grocery stock by plane, and so we watch the shelves get more and more bare, and just hope we can get through until the boats start running,” Doud says.

When conversation turns to a possible fifth generation of Douds serving as Mackinac’s grocers, Andrew is clear: He would love to see it happen … but first, his boys have to learn and grow away from the grocery store.

“In the next 20 years, I hope they go out and explore, get some degrees, have good and bad bosses. I hope they go out into the world, and then, if they want to, come back here and their experiences will bring something new to the table.”

4 More Must-Visit Generational Businesses in Northern Michigan

While stores and eateries come and go in many communities, Northern Michigan still boasts a multi-generational local economy. Here are a few mainland must-visits en route to Mackinac Island:

PETOSKEY: Grandpa Shorter’s has been in downtown Petoskey for 76 years this summer, and still sells some of the same Up North must-have souvenirs, like polished Petoskey stones, that it did when Carl Shorter opened it in 1946. Now run by his granddaughter, Jennifer Shorter, this downtown staple is known for its friendly staff and fun gifts.

Related Read: Grandpa Shorter’s, a Petoskey Icon Since 1946.

Grandpa Shorter's in Petoskey

Photo by Rachel Haggerty

HARBOR SPRINGS: Gurney’s Bottle Shop, home of the (quite literally) famous Gurney’s deli sandwiches, celebrates 50 years in 2022. The first and second generation of Gurneys can be found behind the counter of this landmark Main Street grab-and-go lunch spot. A few pro tips for Gurney’s newbies: the phone goes off the hook at noon because the line snakes out the door; they don’t do credit cards or tomatoes; and adding deli sauce is always a great idea.

MACKINAW CITY: The Murdick family is a big part of why the words “fudge” and “Mackinaw” go hand-in-hand. Aaron Murdick is the fifth generation of candymakers who keep that signature sweet smell wafting through town. With more than 130 years of experience, Aaron and his father, John, still use the same recipe with which Murdick’s Famous Fudge was founded—because there’s no reason to mess with fudge perfection.

ALANSON: W.W. Fairbairn & Sons Hardware has 127 years of street cred as the go-to for, well, just about anything needed in the life and home maintenance department. Started during the height of the lumber boom, the fourth and fifth generation of Fairbairns now steward this hub of community. They have all the American-made hardware store essentials and the added amenities of everything from Yeti to Weber grills.

Related Read: We (Heart) Hometown Hardware Stores in Northern Michigan.

Kate Bassett is news director at the Harbor Light newspaper. Her novel, “Words and Their Meanings,” is available in bookstores and on the web. kate@ncpublish.com

Jacqueline Southby is a photographer and videographer based in Traverse City. She is an accomplished creative thinker with a keen eye for detail, a strong technical ability and a boundless enthusiasm for life, love, photography, video, design and animation.

Photo(s) by Jacqueline Southby