For a small family business to thrive for three generations is a significant accomplishment. Each generation that chooses to take up the mantle and carry on is exceptional.
Today, the great-grandchildren of Carl Shorter continue to nurture his dream, affectionately named Grandpa Shorter’s Gifts. For 76 years, the Shorter family’s store in downtown Petoskey has served locals, seasonal vacationers, and visitors alike. Its legacy of selling Native American-made goods, Petoskey stones, and other unique provisions has withstood the test of time.
“We carry many of the same Minnetonka moccasins, gloves, and local souvenirs that my grandpa sold, and I love that,” Jennifer Shorter says, adding that she’s proud to be a third-generation owner of the beloved local emporium that has expanded to include two additional storefronts: The Katydid and J.W. Shorter & Sons Mercantile.
“Most business experts say you can’t be everything to everyone, but that’s our philosophy at Grandpa Shorter’s Gifts,” she says. “My grandpa figured out how to do that early on, and it’s why people come back season after season.”
After World War II ended in 1945, Carl and Ruth Shorter, along with their three sons, left their home in Detroit and moved to Petoskey. Carl immediately started making plans to open a souvenir shop in the downtown shopping district.
During the winter of 1946, he worked as an accountant at an oil company, and spent his weekends making trips to Harbor Springs to purchase Native American crafts. On Memorial Day weekend in 1946, Carl and Ruth’s dream came true. Shorter’s Indian Craft Shop was born.
“My grandfather eventually left his job as an accountant and worked at the store full time,” Jennifer explains. “As the years went on, the store grew — as did its popularity.”
The treasure trove of surprises quickly became an icon within the community and among vacationers. It’s a reputation the store still has today. “The store is still set up the same way my grandfather had it,” Jennifer says. “Gondolas are down the middle, and the cupboards along the back are the ones my great-grandfather built. From the hunter-green paint and honey-brown floors to the merchandise and quaint atmosphere, it’s all a nod to the past and we take great pride in that.”
What makes Grandpa Shorter’s Gifts so special involves more than its commitment to honoring the past — it’s also about the family’s courage to embrace change and move toward the future. Along with the traditional goods, Grandpa Shorter’s sells products that are funny and edgy. It has its own line of caramel corn, as well as salsa and dip mixes. In 2022, Jennifer launched the store’s app.
“I had a fan-girl moment when I realized we actually had an app,” she laughs. “I’m always looking for new ways to connect with people. We want to meet shoppers where they’re at and, for some, an app is how we do that.”
Petoskey resident Miranda Meyers says Grandpa Shorter’s Gifts is a place that has a product for every occasion. She and her daughter, Lily, love the variety and can always find something new. “I ordered a mystery gift basket online for my husband’s birthday,” Meyers says. “I just answered a few questions, and the staff built the basket for me. It was great!”
Jennifer treasures that personal touch more than anything. It’s the ability to make a child smile, to supply the perfect gift, and to create a memorable experience that brings people back year after year. “We have shoppers who remember coming here when they couldn’t see over the counter,” she says, “and now they’re bringing their grandchildren into the store. The fact that we can create memories that extend across generations is so special.
“Our store’s purpose is ‘love,’ ” she continues. “We love our employees. We love our community. And we love our guests. Everything we do falls under that purpose.”