Living Their Dream

After opening the Northport Trading Post, this happy couple now thrills rock hounds with stone-polishing classes
Jennifer and Scot Wacks opened their trading post in 2020, just as the pandemic hit.
Photos courtesy of Marla Miller

When Northport’s long-standing rock shop at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula closed several years ago, Scot and Jennifer Wack, avid rock collectors and jewelry makers, saw a niche that needed to be filled.

The Wacks gave up stable careers, Scot as a builder and Jennifer as a nurse, and opened their Northport Trading Post behind the only gas station in town.

On any given day, especially in the summer, the shop bustles with customers looking for a unique piece of jewelry, novice rock hunters who want tips on the best beaches, and avid rock hounds who have questions about their finds.

The Trading Post is a traditional rock shop, with a twist. The store also sells local maple syrup, honey (Scot doubles as a beekeeper), greeting cards (made by Scot’s mother), gift items, local art and books, rock-polishing kits, and rock-hunting supplies. In the back, Scot’s rock-polishing classes draw curious onlookers and keep him busy while Jennifer watches the store.

As one of the only functional rock shops in the area, they offer classes and have the required machinery in the store. “We’re open to people coming in and asking us questions,” Scot says.

The three-hour beginner rock-polishing class allows participants to work one-on-one with the sanding and polishing machines, under Scot’s guidance. Rock hounds get to cut, shape, and polish their stone into a unique pendant. When I participated in a class last summer, I even had time to polish one of my own Petoskey stones.

It might be a little nerve-racking for those new to rock-polishing, but Scot steps in if participants need extra help. He keeps the classes small, scheduling one or two people at a time, so there’s plenty of space to work without feeling rushed.

Scot encourages people to bring in something from their own collection, and recommends that anyone with more experience book a one-hour session. The classes are also popular with those who have tumbled or hand-sanded rocks and want to work on the machines to see if it’s worth the investment.

Scot Wacks conducts rock-polishing classes using equipment available in his shop.

“Some people come up on vacation and they have the rocks, but they don’t know what to do with them,” Scot says. “It’s about making memories. Everybody remembers going to the rock shop. It makes it that much more personal.”

Jennifer’s family has deep roots in Northport, an artsy, touristy town near the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula. The area is known for Petoskey stones, Leland Blue, and other coveted rocks. Her great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents all grew up in the region.

Scot and Jennifer met and married in the Washington, D.C., area. The couple would visit Northport during the summer, and Jennifer eventually convinced Scot to relocate to northern Michigan in 1998. “I was a city boy and she went and took all that out of me,” Scot says. “I’m still a residential builder, but I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to polish rocks.”

The Wacks live on Jennifer’s grandparents’ property, where they found piles and piles of rocks left by her grandad. “He had a little rock shop on the family property,” Jennifer says. “We found hundreds of pounds of Petoskeys there over the years. They had sunk down into the dirt. It was this never-ending pit of Petoskey stones. We’re still polishing those things.”

In 2003, they discovered the Grand Traverse Area Rock and Mineral Club, took a few classes, and started making jewelry to sell at craft shows and farmers markets.

After their youngest child graduated high school, they decided to go all-in on the rock shop after the rock shops in Northport and Leland closed. They opened in 2020 just as the pandemic hit, but it turns out that was a boon for rock-hunting — and for business.

In addition to fancy stones and jewelery, the couple offers rock-polishing kits and rock-hunting supplies.

“When people couldn’t do anything and couldn’t go anywhere, they were going outside and collecting rocks,” Scot says. “People are coming from all over. The second summer we were open we started offering the classes, and it absolutely exploded. Everybody has a great time.”

“We’re so excited the business has doubled each year, and we love the interactions with people,” Jennifer adds. “It makes for an awesome work day when you’re playing with rocks and talking to happy rock people.”

The Northport Trading Post is open year-round, except for March, and rock-polishing classes can be booked online or by calling the store. Scot tries to be flexible with scheduling and has more time during the off-season. The months between November and April are good for picking, especially before Lake Michigan and Traverse Bay freeze, and right after the spring thaw.

During the winter, the couple stays busy making jewelry and restocking the post’s online store, which sells wedding bands and rings, jewelry, birdhouses, lighthouses, and more. They also do custom orders for weddings, interior décor, and personalized gifts using rocks people have found or ones they have on hand. 

Plan It!

Northport Trading Post

Facebook Comments