Springrove Variety is going out of business, and owner Mike Sprenger has a message for the community: this is not a COVID casualty.
“We’re not closing the store for lack of support,” he says. Deemed an essential business, Springrove Variety has remained open throughout the pandemic and isn’t closing its doors because of lost revenues.
Instead, the nearly 67-year old Sprenger says it’s simply time to retire. “This is 6-days a week, 12-hours a day,” he says. “The hours get to you.”
Sprenger is a nearly 50-year veteran of 5 & 10 stores, also known as five-and-dimes and variety stores. He hates having to be the one to end a nearly 100-year run of dime stores at the corner of Riverside Drive and Main Street, but it’s a tough business to be in nowadays. He doesn’t know what comes next for the building, but he is sure whatever is planned will be an asset to the community.
Fell in Love with Lowell in 1995
Prior to opening Springrove Variety, Sprenger spent almost 25 years as a district manager for D&C Stores which at one time had 34 locations across lower Michigan. When that company went out of business, Sprenger decided he’d like to try his hand at owning his own shop.
In 1995, when he heard Duane Lambert was looking to sell his five and dime, Lambert Variety, Sprenger paid the store and Lowell a visit. “I came here and loved this town,” Sprenger recalls. “I went back [home] and said to my wife, we have to move here.”
At the time, Sprenger had a potential business partner and decided on Springrove as a way of combining their two names. While the partnership fell through, the name stuck, and Sprenger would eventually go on to own a half dozen Springrove Variety stores across central and western Michigan.
Five and Dimes Disappearing Everywhere
Five and ten stores hold a special place in Sprenger’s heart. “The dime store is the place to be,” he says.
Like old-fashioned soda fountains, variety stores recall a simpler time. At Springrove Variety, customers can browse the shelves for sewing fabric, yarn and household goods. There are toys, bird seed and no shortage of discount-priced crossword and word game books. At the front counter, a display of candy is ready to be measured with an old-school scale and sold by the pound.
However, in today’s competitive market, it’s becoming increasingly hard to make a living with dime stores. “You don’t get rich off them,” Sprenger says.
Unless someone has connections with suppliers or knows where to get discounted items, it can be tough to stock a five and ten store and be profitable. Few people are looking to get into the business which left Sprenger with few options other than to close up shop.
What the Future Holds
Sprenger loves Lowell and has no plans to move anywhere else in retirement. He raised five kids here and hopes to use some of his newfound free time visiting with his five grandchildren as well as participating in community service projects.
While most other Springrove Variety stores have already closed, the shops in Marysville and Owosso will remain open for the time being. Both have longtime managers who would like to continue working at the stores until their retirement. Sprenger says those managers already take care of the daily operations there so his retirement in Lowell shouldn’t have an impact on the stores.
As for the future of the Springrove building, Sprenger says it has been bought by Greg Canfield, who owns the Main Street Inn next door. Canfield did not respond to a request for comment on his plans for the building, and Sprenger says he doesn’t know either.
However, Sprenger is confident that whatever Canfield has planned will be in the community’s best interest. “He can take a tired building and refresh it,” he says. “And that’s what this is, a tired building.”
Residents who want to make one more trip to Springrove Variety have a few more weeks to do so. Sprenger expects to start marking down prices on August 1st and be completely out of the building by the end of September.