Jennifer Shorter is the proprietor of Grandpa Shorter’s Gifts, an anchor of downtown Petoskey and a true North Star. Learn more about her story plus six other incredible Northern Michigan women to celebrate this International Women’s Month.

This article first appeared in Traverse Northern Michigan. Find this story and more when you explore our magazine library. Want Traverse delivered to your door or inbox monthly? View our print subscription and digital subscription options.

The Anchor

As sole owner of three distinct retail stores—Grandpa Shorter’s Gifts, J.W. Shorter & Son Mercantile and The Katydid—Jennifer Shorter is often considered the heart of downtown Petoskey’s retail scene.

She’s also a machine.

None of her shops carry the same inventory, every one remains open year-round, and she usually works 70, sometimes 80, hours each week.

And when she’s not working? “I’m constantly thinking about my business—my employees, my customers, my vendors,” she says. “I’m hands-on. It’s a lifestyle. You gotta be in it, or out.”

Shorter, in fact, has been in since birth. Her grandparents, Carl and Ruth Shorter, opened the first Shorter’s store, carrying original Minnetonka Moccasins, Petoskey stones and Native American art. After her grandfather passed away in 1983, Shorter’s parents, William and Marietta Shorter, helped Ruth run the store.

Jennifer Shorter outside her shop holding a bag that reads, "Damn I love this town."

Photo by Courtney Kent

Like her parents did for her grandparents, Shorter pitched in at the shop from an early age, but she never intended to take over. She was going off to business school, she informed Mom and Dad, then on to New York City, to climb the corporate ladder in bright red high heels.

True to her word, Shorter graduated in ’96, got her heels and immediately hopped on the first rung of an international furniture design and manufacturing corporation.

One year in, her dad called. “He said, ‘Hey, uh, you didn’t come home after graduation. And that was fine. But we’re going to put the business up for sale because your mom and I don’t wanna keep doing this if you’re not coming home.’”

She pauses as she retells the story. “You know that commercial where they say, ‘Hold my beer’? I was home in two weeks.”

Jennifer Shorter inside her shop waiving to customers outside.

Photo by Courtney Kent

Entrepreneurship, she supposes, is in her DNA. A dogged work ethic certainly is: For years, her grandpa ran the shop while working as an accountant for the local gas company. Her grandma owned a yarn store at the same time she helped run Shorter’s. Her father was an airline pilot during most of his tenure, too.

Jennifer Shorter’s work ethic and adherence to her grandpa’s retail philosophy—always have something for every kind of buyer—are a large part of the reason she grew one store to three. Her conviction that retailers in small towns are silly to fight for a bigger piece of the pie—“Let’s just make a bigger pie!”—is her own savvy entrepreneurial spirit: “We’re business owners,” she says. “We figure shit out.”

But her refusal to close even one of her stores for more than a few days, let alone an entire season, during the slow, low-traffic slog that is late winter and spring—that’s strictly for her people.

“Here’s the thing: I want to be here for my employees. I want to be here for my customers,” she says. “It is hard. It is a commitment. But I believe in supporting our community. And I’m forever an optimist.”

Jennifer Shorter outside her shop holding a bag that reads, "Damn I love this town."

Photo by Courtney Kent

Jennifer Shorter outside her shop

Photo by Courtney Kent

Photo(s) by Courtney Kent