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Ann Arbor 200

A Historic Tour of Hertler Brothers and Downtown Home & Garden

When: 2024

Mark Hodesh takes us on a tour of the historic downtown Ann Arbor building he owns, which was originally built in 1896 as Hertler Brothers, and renamed as Downtown Home & Garden in 1997. The building located at 210 S. Ashley St. has provided services and supplies to the wider Ann Arbor community for over a century. While in some ways it remains unchanged—continuing to sell bulk seed, grain, and hay—it's also adapted to changing times and evolving customer needs. Current owner of the Downtown Home & Garden store, Kelly Vore, also adds her perspective on this legacy. —Donald Harrison


  • [00:00:07] Mark Hodesh: Good morning. My name is Mark Hodesh and welcome to Downtown Home & Garden, a 115 year old livery stable that's adapted to modern times as downtown changed, and that I purchased in 1975 from the Hertler Family, the original founders. They opened the store as a livery stable, and some of the architecture still looks like livery stable, and we'll show you that as we walk through. But here we are adapted, modern world, and looking forward. Drive through, drive your car right in. It used to be horses that entered here, now, it's cars. This little building was built inside the barn in the mid 60s. We got bathrooms. We have running water now, and we display a certain kind of merchandise in here. Here we have pickle crocks. These are from the pottery belt through the Ohio Valley, made in Roseville, Ohio. When I bought the store, there was a 50 gallon crock for making sauerkraut. These are two and five gallons crocks. Brining, that was preserving food. Well, here is our bread department and coffee, and this is just a modern way we reach out and meet people. People drink coffee now, so we have them. The original office was here actually, but that was long before my time. The floor we're standing on is 115 years old. I had one of the boards up once and on the back was the name of the sawmill that made it in Bay City. Amanda Hertler walked in, and she was a niece. Maybe 15 years ago, she came in. She was a 90 year old niece of the founders, and she stood on the floor, and she said it's still here. She recognized the squeak under her feet. When I bought the store, I sold a lot of bolts and hardware for keeping farm equipment going, horsey farm equipment, even before motor, before engines. Now, it's a lot of clothing adapting to the new clientele, the new people downtown. The lighting, schoolhouse lights, there were whatever it was, eight or nine schoolhouse lights in here. I added track lighting eventually, but it really was a tug at my heart to try to find something that would be okay. But the school lighting was the original lighting. I remember breaking one of those once was the worst day of my life. This was actually a mill for mixing grain when everybody on the old West side had a flock of something in the back yard. They didn't grind grain here, but they mixed it for different feeds. The feeds would come in and they'd be sent upstairs on these little metal cups. They would take the grain upstairs. Once it was upstairs, it would get shoveled from various rooms into chutes and they would come down and they would be putting a shovel of this and the shovel of that, it would come down, and then they would put a bag under here and fill the bag. This was the motor and the controls that ran this were in here and there's actually the motor right there still operational. Here's some pictures from yesteryear. One, the Labor Day picture, and up above it, we have here Hertler Brothers, 10 cent barn. The Hertlers founded this business in 1906, and you could park your horse here all day for $0.10, it would get hay and water. Below is Laverne Moore, who worked for me 1975 for three or four years till he retired. He had two jobs in his life. One weighing seed at Hertler Brothers, now, Downtown Home & Garden, and the other in the Navy for two years, the Second World War. He was smiley guy. People loved him, and just a great old German character that was part of the store. Let's go upstairs and take a look at this building. This is an extremely strong wooden building. As we go upstairs here in what we call the barn, we're looking at one and a quarter inch tongue and groove, Southern yellow pine, extremely strong wood. This floor is just fabulous, and I'll show you upstairs why it's so strong and how much weight we put on it. Here it is up here, the tongue and groove yellow pine. Every spring, we put 80 tons of merchandise up on this floor, 80 tons, and it just doesn't complain at all. It's just a very strong floor. This building was built in 1906 by Mr. Kurtz, who was from a part of Germany where they employed this clever style of essentially, building an upside down suspension bridge. It goes from post to post, but rather than another pillar in the way, it has in the middle a support like that. It's extremely strong and durable, and it's an important part of the architecture. The roof is supported the same way as it is under this floor, and it's 2 by 12 boards cross hatched, every 15 feet. It's just they can't tip. It's just reinforced even more and that's what's holding the floor up. Now, we're crossing back into the ramp. This is above the little part of the store we were first in. This is a separate building from the barn. In here, we're going to invite you into Margaret Parker Studio. This is an adaptation of space. We're always adapting to the changing world around us. This was where the grain was stored in the grain elevator, I showed you downstairs. Now, it's a wonderful studio. Here we are in the studio, and this is also the top end of the grain elevator I showed you in the basement. The grain is coming up through that hole. Here's the belt that was attached to the motor downstairs we saw and up comes the grain.
  • [00:07:17] Mark Hodesh: When it gets up to the highest point, it's going to come down this chute, and we can either divert it into that room or we can fill bags with it here. A nice little board three holes, things made of wood. This is an old stove pipe that covers a hole worn in the floor by grain, and the Hertlers were just ever thrifty, and they had a piece of pipe. They just bent flat and tacked down and called it a patch. Margaret Parker, my wife has a wonderful studio here, and she produced a lot of the advertisements for the store. Newsletters we sent out, distributed in the New York Times, all over Michigan. I had the picture of the old font and she recreated the font for Downtown Home and Garden, and that's become our logo, and it's still on the walls outside. Come right in. I'll show you the world headquarters. So I wanted you to see this. It's a drawing my wife, Margaret, did in 1976 of the store. No architectural change in the 50 years I've owned the place. Our famous cat Lewis. When Lewis died, he was at the top of the page for the Ann Arbor News obituaries. That is above all the relatives and dear ones lost to families. There was Lewis. He was a special creature. Well, now we're downstairs in the barn, and this is where the horses were parked. There are floor drains, not for rain but for horse urine. Here's a scale that's been here probably 1906. This scale has weighed tons and tons of bird food. At one time in the 1970s, we were handling 10 tons a week in here. Park the truck out front, bring it in and send it out in small bags. It was just amazing. It's also weighed countless babies. In here's the last time it was inspected by the state, 1992 was the last time this was inspected. The inspector got old, retired. The new inspectors only know how to check digital scales, and it was never wrong. They just finally gave up and there it is. Interestingly enough, this was a horse barn, and the first municipal car parking structure in the country was on the back side of this block. Now we have cars. They drive in, shop, load up, and then out the back door to Washington Street. On the other side is Bill's Beer Garden. More recent enterprise of ours. It comes to life at five in the evening and uses the parking lot after the store is closed. It's a joyous neighborhood place. Come downstairs, and let's see what's down there. Now we're downstairs in the barn below the livery stable part, and here we have the last horse stalls in downtown Ann Arbor. I believe the Hertlers rented the space upstairs $0.10 a day for water and hay that we talked about. But downstairs, I think they had their own team of horses. Here it is. The wood is gnawed, it's beautiful. On a rainy day down here, you can still smell horses. It's been 80 years, 90 years since there was a horse down here. Here is a very important thing. They're the names of people that were working for me in the 70s, 50 years ago now, but that's Ray Seyfried's name right here, the number 1. He was an old farmer that worked for the Hertler family off and on, and then worked for me here for years. Ray Seyfried when he was a boy would drive. The Hertlers had farms all over. They were the largest landowners in Washtenaw County at one time. As a boy, he would drive sheep from the Hertler farm up Liberty Street into this basement. They keep them overnight and in the morning, he'd drive them down and put them on a railroad car. The railroad tracks were just half a block away. When I bought the store, baby Emma was 89. Herman was 94, and their older brother, Gottlob was 102. The Hertlers lived a long time. Well, on my first day, I go over to my desk and I pulled out the top drawer and there in the stamp drawer for stamps were five Hertler gold teeth. To this day, when I come into this store, the Hertler gold teeth are with me. I needed a bridge. I said use these. It's living history right here in my jaw.
  • [00:13:03] Kelly Vore: My name is Kelly Vore. I own and operate Downtown Home and Garden. I purchased the business from Mark in 2015. It was really easy decision. It is terrific opportunity, and I felt like all I had to do was not break it. The core of this place has always been to meet the needs of those that are in the proximity. That's the Hertler Brothers business card. Farm implements are the goal, wood, hay, grain, and seeds are still things that are here. 2020 was not this building's first pandemic. We draw on that experience and it helped us get through that to just say, this building has done this already and came back around better than ever and we can do the same. We are committed to a fair exchange. That carries on through things Mark was doing, is just a fair exchange and that's what we're about. Yes, things are changing around us all the time but that's okay.