Three men, then two, in a barn

Three men, then two, in a barn

By Richard Zowie

My car, a silver 2010 Ford Focus, had broken down. All the panel lights lit up, one by one, as the brakes quit working, the steering wheel froze up, and the car came to a slow stop. I knew it was the alternator, but a mechanic would have to fix it. That area of rural Michigan had no cell phone coverage, so I walked toward the barn up the road in hopes of finding a signal. I was outside Vassar, Michigan, and I knew the town well enough to know it had on its north side a business called Halfway Truck Stop. Besides a diner where you’d imagine seeing heavy-equipment drivers, farmers, and retirees talking about local rumors and the latest agricultural news. Halfway also had an automotive garage, one with an excellent reputation: reasonable prices and repair work that was successful.

From the distance, the barn looked like an inert, giant uninhabited structure, like it could house a busy shopping mall. But as I got closer, I could see it was small. Perhaps only about 5,000 square feet. At one time, perhaps it stored several types of animals. Maybe it kept harvested hay out of the weather. Maybe somewhere it also housed a vegetable bin.

Once I entered, I noticed two men. I was startled, hoping I’d be alone. Seeing their faces was difficult, given the only light at 2 a.m. was a full moon.

I saw the two men’s faces as I entered, the light illuminating them. One had bright blue eyes, a scar that split his right eyebrow into two horizontal halves. The other looked dark with black hair and dark eyes. He looked bored, the way some do when compassion, fear, remorse, or pity mean nothing to them. If he were an actor, he could be cast as Hispanic, Arabic, Armenian, Jewish, or Greek.

Yes, I knew who they were. My heart started pumping faster, as though I was about to start running a dozen blocks to hail some taxi and escape a dangerous neighborhood. I gave them quick, polite glances, the way a person does when they meet a complete stranger for the first time.

I closed the door, most of the light disappearing.

“Gentlemen,” I said, praying they didn’t get a good look at my face and see that brief shimmer of recognition. “I see you two are also trying to avoid getting further wet.”

One of them chuckled, as if he sincerely found my comment to be funny.

The barn, perhaps last used during the Great Depression, smelled earthy from rotted wood and the stench of living and dead insects. As I breathed in, my nostrils flaring, I could smell, ancient, fermented animal manure that had never been shoveled out to be reused as agricultural manure. It rained and thundered outside, and the many leaks in the ceiling meant this would barely do for shelter. Such barns in this area of Michigan, during an economic downturn, were not unusual.

“What will you do once the storm ends?” One of them asked. The accent was almost impossible to nail down, as if he’d lived in countless places. A transient, perhaps.

“Probably walk into Vassar, get a signal and have a tow truck in town come out and pick up my car,” I said, feeling relaxed. I was establishing that being on my way was my priority. Total lack of curiosity on my part on who they were.

No answer.

Fifteen minutes later, as I thought about how much I needed to get back home to Clio. I’d worked for 30 years for GM, and they’d just made me a retirement offer. I was considering it, thinking I could spend springs and summers in Michigan, making “up north” jaunts to Bay Mills Resort and Casino, and buying a winter home in either Florida, Texas, perhaps Arizo—

Something sharp, tearing, almost burning hot, entered my torso, on my right side across from my stomach. It withdrew, and I could feel hot, sticky fluid—almost certainly my blood—seep out.

I coughed, tasting blood as I fell onto the dirt floor. A few strands of hay poked my face as I my cheekbone rested against the earth. Breathing became more difficult as I spewed out more blood. A stream of water leaking through the roof trickled onto my left hand. My mind, now functioning the way a drunk’s must, told my hands to rub together to clean off the blood.

“You tried not to, but I could tell from your glance you recognized us,” another voice said. Blue Eyes perhaps? “Nothing personal, but we can’t take a chance of you calling the cops once you leave.”

Yes, I thought, struggling to move but realizing it was useless. The two men had escaped from prison. Both were serving life without parole sentences in murder; the Great Lakes State does not have capital punishment. Both had broken out, probably headed to some remote place in Canada.

The two men left the barn to try to begin their new lives. My new life of retirement was fading away. As I faded, I imagined my skeletal remains being discovered years later, when the barn finally was torn down.

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‘The Wrong Victim’ by Richard Zowie

This is a short story in two installments I wrote while producing a weekly column for the Genesee County Herald newspaper in Michigan. Because the story is a suspense thriller, I wrote it for the Halloween season. It was an effort at writing something different. I also wanted to delve into fiction writing.

When it came out, a few readers thought the events had really happened, despite the disclaimer that it was a work of fiction. With that in mind, let me reiterate: this is a work of fiction. Nobody was harmed in the writing of this short story. All of the characters exist solely within my mind.

Here is it now for your reading pleasure. Enjoy.

The Wrong Victim

By Richard Zowie

Joseph Davidson sat on a beige couch, easily the cleanest one he’d ever sat on. In fact, the entire house looked so clean and tidy he wondered if this homeowner was the inspiration for his parents’ favorite show, Monk. The house looked immaculate, smelled of Pine Sol and bleach and made Joseph’s olfactory nerves think of a freshly-cleaned hotel room. Roaches, flies and other insects would die of boredom.

If the owner were there, perhaps Joseph could ask him. But if the owner showed up, that wouldn’t be good.

That was Joseph’s job: sitting on the couch and listening for sounds of the owner suddenly pulling up in his car.

Neither Joseph nor his friends Todd and Jeremy (they were walking around the house looking for money or anything of value could be stolen) knew this owner, but looking at the outside of the house and the fact that the owner drove a Cadillac Escallade, they figured he must have something of value. And it was just outside Thetford Township on Charco Road, which meant it was unlikely police would be patrolling.

And if the owner showed up, they had a backup plan.

Joseph shifted in his seat and hoped nobody would call him on his cell phone. Right now, the only sound he wanted was that of his two friends talking as they walked around the house and looked around (his phone had a tendency to slide out on his pocket, and he hated leaving it on vibrate). He took a quick peak out the window, holding the curtain open with a gloved left hand. All three of them wore rubber gloves so as to not leave fingerprints. Todd and Jeremy were also careful not to toss things around, as all the criminals on TV seemed to do when committing a burglary. They wanted to use this visit to case the inside of the house and save the full-blown burglary for a future visit.

As Todd and Jeremy argued about something, Joseph heard an engine approaching in the distance, about a quarter of a mile down the road. The headlights were on and he could see immediately it was the white Escallade.

“GUYS! He’s back! Let’s get out of here!” Joseph yelled.

His two friends ran into the living room. Todd was six feet tall, very burly with brown, moppy, seventies-style hair and brown eyes. He’d played football at Clio High School his freshman year before his lukewarm grades made that impossible. Jeremy, a freckled redhead, was shorter and skinnier. Joseph was Jeremy’s height but also had dark-brown hair that he kept very short, military style. He seldom smiled and was serious by nature, his blue eyes often lost in thought as he constantly pondered worst-case scenarios.

The three immediately ran out the back door that Jeremy, the brains, had spent five minutes successfully picking its lock. They ran to the thick wooded area behind the house, knowing if they could make it back there before the owner got out of his vehicle, they would probably be out of his earshot. Then, they’d walk through the woods to the next street over, Birch Street, and drive away in their black, eighties Chevy truck that they had parked behind an abandoned old house.

They ran through the woods, Joseph noting absently his jeans didn’t have that annoying bulge normally felt when he had his cell phone. And in five minutes they had gotten in the truck and were driving back to Clio.


“Did you guys see anything worth stealing?” Joseph asked. Their plan had been to use some of the funds to buy marijuana and see if someone would buy them a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Todd shook his head. “I think he keeps it in a safe somewhere. Or maybe it’s in his basement, but Jeremy wasn’t able to pick that lock.”

Jeremy laughed. “I’m not that good yet. It would take me about half an hour. If we weren’t concerned about noise, we could just break it down.”

Joseph thought of asking his girlfriend, Lisa, if she knew of a man who drove a Cadillac Escalade but worried about letting others know of their plans. Still, he should call her and tell her he wanted to go to the movies with her later. He reached into his pocket–

–and felt only a few coins and a cigarette lighter.

His eyes widened as he cursed out loud.

“What’s wrong?” Jeremy asked.

“Guys, I think I left my cell phone at the guys house!” Joseph said, his face growing pale. “It must’ve popped out of my pocket on the sofa!”

Todd said nothing for a while as he drove. Finally, he spoke. “Well, we can’t exactly just go back right now.”

“What else can we do?” Joseph asked.

Todd pulled the truck over, pulled out his cell phone and called Joseph’s number.


Stanley Rike, having returned from a trip from the Premium Outlets to look for some new cookware for his kitchen, parked his Escalade in the driveway but knew immediately something wasn’t right. People had always thought of him as the intuitive type. Even when he had no evidence of something wrong, he’d still get a strong hunch, and that hunch almost always was right.

He did notice that the curtain in the front window looked slightly crooked and wasn’t nice and straight like he always preferred to leave it.

He sighed as he approached his front door, noting there were no unusual footprints.

A professional blogger, Rike didn’t like to leave his home unless he had somewhere to go. He had lived in Clio for 20 years but always felt like someday returning back home to the Upper Peninsula. He was originally from Newberry and was the grandson of Finnish immigrants (the original family surname had been Räikkönen). Clio was a nice little town, but the Lower Peninsula had never quite felt like home.

The problem was, Rike had far too much invested in his home.

Especially in the basement.

When Rike wasn’t blogging (a job he made a great living doing), he liked to bring people to his home. They were people he’d seen on TV in Michigan who had simply, well, seemed unworthy of their own lives. If asked, Rike could not explain why he chose them, except that it was just a hunch. All he knew is that since each person was completely unconnected (they were of different genders, races, ideals), police probably would have a very difficult time tracing them to him. He would then take them to his house in his secluded neighborhood.

Rike entered his house, closed his eyes, inhaled deeply, opened his eyes.

It smelled like one or two heavy smokers had recently been in his house. Not smoking, but exhaling breath reminiscent of a recent cigarette. He could also smell someone who needed to take a bath.

And on the floor, he saw imprints on his carpet that were not his feet.

Rike saw nothing noticeably out of place but ran to check the door to his basement. Locked, but the knob had smudges on it suggesting someone had been grabbing on it.

He checked his backdoor and found it was unlocked. He always locked it before he left the house. Opening it, he saw three sets of footprints. They must’ve ran towards the woods.

Stanley Rike said nothing but sighed. What did they know? He had to find out.

DOOOOO YOU HAVE THE TIME, TO LISTEN TO ME WHINE?” someone abruptly sang as they played guitar, the sound coming from the sofa.

Rike went to the sofa, lifted up a cushion and studied the black Verizon phone. The screen was lit with the picture of a young man with a seventies-style hair cut. Superimposed over his face was “Todd W”.

Rike pressed the green button and said, “Hello?”

“Can I have my phone back?” an annoyed young man asked. He tried to sound tough but instead amused Rike.

“W-w-why were you in my house?” Rike asked, deliberately sounding weak and passive.

“Don’t worry about it, just meet me in an hour–”

“I must insist you come to my house and ask for it,” Rike replied, hoping his voice sounded as though he’d soiled his pants. “I won’t call the p-p-police.” Of course he wouldn’t. If he spoke to the police they’d probably visit and ask questions and develop a case of sticky fingers like that annoying Vincent D’Onofrio cop on Law and Order: Criminal Intent.

The young man sighed. “If you give us a hard time, we might just have to have fun with your pretty wifey.”

Rike said nothing at first as he realized this man and his friends were amateurs. An observant glance at the home would’ve easily revealed that Rike lived by myself. No wife. No girlfriends. No sisters. His parents were long gone, and he hadn’t seen or spoke to his younger brother Phil, a salesman, in about 10 years.

“I’ll be w-w-waiting for you,” Rike said.

“O-o-o-ok!” the man mocked as he hung up.


“We’re gonna WHAT?!” Jeremy asked.

“Exactly as I said,” Todd replied. “We’re going to go back and get the cell phone. If we leave it there, he may call the cops, and they could get us for breaking and entering, which means we could all go to jail. We get it, we threaten him and tell him if he keeps his mouth shut, he’ll never hear from us again. Problem solved.”

Joseph listened and frowned. “You REALLY think it’s going to be that easy, Todd?”

“Sure it will. You shoulda listened to that guy on the phone. It sounded like he was scared to death. He’s probably having to change his underwear right now. He reminded me of those kids we used to bully all the time. Piece of cake, guys.”


Rike made a quick trip to his basement and then sat down on the couch and waited. Hidden on his person was a cattle prod, and they would never see it coming. He’d done it many times against far more dangerous people. Thank God I’m far stronger than I look, he thought.

As Stanley Rike sat on the couch and kept glancing out the window to see if a vehicle with three young men had pulled up, he wondered. What did they know and had they told anyone? How would he dispose of the bodies?

He might even have to question them in that special soundproof room in the basement and start by removing body parts they’d miss.


Two weeks later, this article appeared in the Genesee County Herald:

Three Clio friends missing

By Kevin Reagan

Police say they still have no fresh leads in the disappearance of three young Clio adults.

Joseph Davidson, 21, Todd Williams, 22, and Jeremy Lundquist, 22 were reported missing two weeks ago.

According to police, the three were close friends who did everything together. Each had cell phones and on the day they were reported missing, October 13, Williams texted his girlfriend that he was driving with Davidson and Lundquist up to Mio to look for a hunting spot. The three planned to head up that direction in November during Deer Widows Weekend.

A Clio Police Department spokesman acknowledged that Davidson, Williams and Lundquist all had criminal records consisting of several misdemeanors but declined comment on whether or not foul play is suspected. Several anonymous teachers at Clio Schools acknowledged that the trio had a lengthy history of disciplinary problems, beginning in elementary school…

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Changing my blog’s appearance…again

With as much as I change my blog’s themes in an attempt to reinvent myself as a writer who won’t put people to sleep, some might look at the many formats I’ve used and wonder if Madonna is blogging under the name Richard Zowie.

Well, I am currently in Michigan–Madonna’s home state. That’s where the resemblance ends, although the management of this blog thanks Madonna for showing a sense of humor by giving her blessing for “Weird Al” Yankovic to do the song “Like A Surgeon”.

I have lost track of how many themes I have played with, but I like this new one: it’s bold, eye-opening with a style that stands out and refuses to play it safe. The experiment begins. We shall see how it goes.

By all means, feel free to tell me what you think of this format. Drop me a line at or click the comment bubble.

My new, improved blog posting about my two friends

Late last week, I wrote about two friends–Chelsea from high school (she runs a salon in Austin) and Jeremy from college (he splits his time between the ministry and doing deliveries for Schwan’s). I have nothing but the warmest regards for both, but after reading the posting I chose to remove it since I felt it came across as a bit too arrogant on my part. Look at me, I’m a talented writer. I just felt there was no point to it.

So, I deleted it. Chances are, it is now spending eternity inside one of Saturn’s many rings.

That being said, I still have lots of respect for Chelsea and Jeremy. Chelsea runs a business and styles hair–two things far beyond me. She also likes to write. Jeremy is a multi-tasker who’s far better with people than I’ll ever be. If anything, I look up to both of them–Chelsea for her business talent and ability to make people feel great about themselves and Jeremy for being a leader who does many different things.

Yes, writing is hard work and we writers are a different breed and a different mentality, but I don’t look down upon others. Especially not on my Dad–a retired mechanic and a self-described “jack of all trades and a master of none” who worked on engines, built room editions, did plumbing and wiring, woodwork, etc.

Richard Zowie is a writer who wishes he was far more talented and multi-faceted. Post comments here or e-mail them to

2-15-2011 poems: 3 to 7 to 3, The Water Tower Planet

2-15-2011 — 3 to 7 to 3

Is it weird

To write poems

With non-sequitur

Titles that have nothing

Whatsoever to do with

The content contained in

The poems they’re named?

Weird? Probably.

But who cares?

2-15-2011 — The Water Tower Planet

The pale blue

Water tower

In Frankenmuth, Michigan

Is almost invisible

At night.

Its mushroom shape

Barely contrasts

The black darkness.

I wonder:

Is this

How a distant planet

Would look?

A planet

Billions and billions

Of miles from the sun?

So distant that

The sun is but

A twinkling star?

The minimal contrast of

Pale, pale blue

Against black

Is the only reflection

Of travel-weary,

Weak, bleak sunlight.

Richard Zowie’s current tools of choice for writing poems are Zebra pens and a reporter’s size notebook. Post comments here or e-mail them to

There’s a new used bookstore in Frankenmuth, Michigan!

It’s called Charlin’s Book Nook, and it’s located in Frankenmuth, Michigan on 154 South Main Street, Suite 4. Their phone number is 989-652-2900. Their store hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Thursday-Saturday and then on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. They are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

The store is owned by Charlene Barber and Linda Strappazon.

Its e-mail address is

I’ve been there a few times and have purchased three books: a Gideon New King James Bible (which my middle son uses for church), Friday Night Lights and The Dark Half. I took my three sons there recently, and the two youngest each bought a book (one a book on Wishbone the dog and the other a Goosebumps book). The oldest, who likes to read about paranormal activities, didn’t see a book that he fancied.

I hope soon to take my wife, Jennifer, since the store has two types of books she really likes: mysteries (such as Nancy Drew) and true crime stories.

The owners tell me business is going well so far, and I hope it continues. It is so nice to have a used bookstore nearby, and I hope it becomes a mainstay.

Charlin’s Book Nook.

Richard Zowie enjoys reading and wishes he could do it for a living. Post comments here or e-mail him at

$25 per hour job, no experience, turns out to be glorified scam

I won’t say the name of the company, but it’s an energy company up here in Michigan. (It is neither Consumers Energy nor DTE). We live in a sue-happy society, so rather than risk the wrath of this company, I’ll just give other details.

Earlier this year, when I was laid off from a newspaper job, I was desperate for anything to pay the bills. Walmart. Meijer. Telemarketing. Clerical work. So, I came across this ad in the newspaper.

“$25 an hour! No experience necessary. We’ll train!”

If I remember right, the job title was “gas installer.” So, I thought that $25 an hour with no experience required was worth checking out. A long shot, but worth checking out.

So, I called, got set up for an interview and then drove up to Saginaw. Once I got there, I could see around 50 other applicants. I filled out an application and then gave the receptionist my resume and references.

Then a man in a suit got up and told us about de-regulation in Michigan and how this particular company was trying to get into the market. He talked about the cost of energy, which I knew a little about since I’d previously spent six months working in the oil and gas exploration business. He talked about leaving a job and getting into this one and how he and his wife now were making loads of money a year. He was trying to decide whether to accept a transfer to either New York State or to Texas. My life can easily be yours, he said. The funny thing was, they never gave us any specifics of what exactly we’d do–outside of talking about “expanding the company”.

It came my turn to be called and I spoke with him. He asked me a question about why I wanted to work for the company as he scanned my resume. I told him.

“That’s a great answer, Richard,” he said. “Your resume looks great. You’re on my short list and we’ll be calling later today if we’re interested.”

No call that night, and being one who tries to be persistent, I called back a few times and received no response. No response over e-mails, either.

The job ad kept running week after week after week, leaving me with the feeling that those they did hire quit shortly afterwards or were dismissed for lack of performance.

I applied again a few weeks later and went through the same routine but with a different man. Almost exact same response to my answer. Said they’d be calling later that night if interested (it was already around 6 p.m.). During his speech, the man said something that was disconcerting: he worked 16 hour days, but it was worth it since he’d be able to retire in 10 years. Again, no specifics about what exactly it was we’d be doing.

As far as his claim of retirement, let’s see…$25 an hour for 16 hours a day, five days a week for 50 months out of the year (two weeks for vacation) and for 10 years, that grosses at $1 million, or $100,000 annually. That’s before taxes, of course. And that’s assuming investments go well, IRAs mature and you’re living considerably within your means.

Again, nothing.

I got other jobs and recently chatted with a co-worker regarding this company. She told me her brother had worked there briefly.

“What was it like?” I asked.

“It was door-to-door sales, and his job was to convince people to leave Consumers Energy for this company. He quit after a week.”

“Why did he quit?”

“He made only one sale, and he didn’t make enough money to make it worthwhile.”

And then I asked a final question. “Was it commission only?”

“Yes,” she said.

That $25 an hour must be what you make if you’re a gifted salesman who could sell an oven to the devil, or a new cell phone plan to someone who’s absolutely thrilled with their current plan.

I count myself lucky I didn’t get this job. It probably would’ve made much more broke than I already was.

Richard Zowie operates several blogs and also blogs at Bleacher Report. Contact Richard at

Home offices now in Vassar, Michigan

It’s a very wonderful community. Our neighborhood is nice, and we’re close to Frankenmuth (Michigan’s Little Bavaria) and Birch Run.

And, for the fourth time in my life, the local school’s high school colors are orange. For the second time, orange and black. (I lived in Colby, Kansas during from 1974-1981).

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Go where the story leads you

Early on in my professional career when writing feature articles, I learned to keep an open mind when it came to pursing a story and take the story where the quotes and facts lead you. After all, isn’t it easy to try to sway the story a certain direction?

Back around 2001, I wrote a feature article for the San Antonio Express-News about POW/MIA bracelets. As I researched and interviewed, I expected to find an overwhelming amount of people with them along with a huge outcry over those who were still unaccounted for. I found one soldier in San Antonio who collected and wore the bracelets who was willing to be interviewed. I also interviewed two former POWs who both told me they did not believe anybody was left behind.

More recently, when I first wrote my feature on Walmart two years ago, I fully expected to interview one infuriated store owner after another, each sounding off on how Walmart has ruined downtown Clio, Michigan. I found only two like that, and neither would go on record.

And, of course, you’d be really surprised what fascinating tidbits you can find when interviewing somebody. I recall interviewing one horticulturist (I won’t say who or where since I’d like to have an exclusive on this someday) who’s also a professional chef. One of his clients: Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler.

Then there was the Air Force lieutenant colonel who was headed to New England to run the Boston Marathon. The surname of this Boston-born and bred colonel was Richard; he was of French-Canadian descent and was a third cousin of Montréal Canadiens hockey star Maurice “Rocket” Richard.

Also, when interviewing a young, rising country star in Clio, Mich., his mother mentioned he’d recorded a duet with country music star Mel McDaniel. “Ol’ Mel”, I remembered, was one of my Dad’s favorite country music artists. A message on his website, and a few days later, I phone interviewed Mr. McDaniel for the article. Ol’ Mel couldn’t have been nicer.

Walmart: the culprit for the demise of Mom and Pop in Clio, Michigan? Part 4 of 4: Local businesses offer advice on surviving in current economic client

Please click here for Part 1 of this article, here for Part 2 and here for Part 3.

How can businesses survive in a sluggish economy that seems to encourage bankruptcy and other easy way outs? Downtown businesses in Clio, Mich. offer their thoughts on how to make it past the tough times. Their advice is pretty simple and loaded with common sense: satisfy your customers and offer them a quality service that’ll make them keep coming back. If you do that, chances are they’ll tell their family and friends.

Wal-Mart: the culprit for the demise of Mom and Pop in Clio?

Part 4 of 4: Local businesses offer advice on surviving in current economic climate

By Richard Zowie

In a time when some downtown businesses close their doors due to lack of customers and sales, some Clio businesses are actually having success. Some even say that Wal-Mart seems to be helping them bring in more customers. Sue Siavoshnia, who manages Silvio’s Italian Restaurant and Lounge on 138 West Vienna Street, said she’s seen a steadiness in the four years she’s been managing the place.

porky's hogg trough

Longtime business owners in Clio say entrepreneurial savvy is needed to stay afloat. Photo by Richard Zowie.

“Maybe I came in during a time when it was slowing down, but I haven’t noticed a lot of changes,” said Siavoshnia, whose father began the restaurant 30 years ago. “We have had some customers say they were out shopping today and came in here to get some lunch, so I do know it’s bringing a little bit of traffic through town and a little business for us,” she added.

Michael Singleton, owner of the Whistle Stop Café at 182 West Vienna Street, echoed some of Siavoshnia’s feelings and said that with the increased traffic flow that Wal-mart brings, the result is more customers coming into his restaurant.

“There are a lot of specialized businesses downtown, so I don’t think they’ll be affected by Wal-Mart,” he said.

And while Wal-Mart has an in-store Subway restaurant, Singleton isn’t worried about the competition.

“We offer a lot of different things that you can’t get at Subway,” he added. “We cater to our customers. If they want something that’s not on our menu but we have the ingredients to do it, we’ll make it for them. You have to give the customers what they want—good service and good quality food.”

For the past 15 years, Mike Switalski has been the owner and manager of Mid-Michigan Sportswear. His business focuses on sports clothing, screen printing and monogramming. He said that sometimes business gets tough because of an economy where people have a hard time finding jobs and, as a result, have less money to spend.

“I’ve seen it better,” Switalski said. “We’re surviving and keeping our head above water. Everything that comes through the door helps, and we try to give the best service we can. Once you’re known and established, people return. That’s good on our end.”

And how does Wal-Mart figure in with the challenges his business might face?

Picture 017

Photo by Richard Zowie

“Wal-Mart has not affected my business whatsoever,” he said. “They can’t offer the service that I do here. Everybody has their own way of marketing their businesses. You have to stay on top of the modern technology. Give good service with good quality. You also have to be there every day and if you’re not there, you’ll lose your job or business. You also have to be dependable and meet with consumer or public.”

Switalski said that he tries to support local businesses whenever he can.

“When it comes to groceries, I go to a grocery store,” he said. “When it comes to Wal-Mart, if it’s something I need and it’s close by to my home, I might stop by there. Other than that, I deal with the business people in downtown Clio.”

How a business can stay afloat when a Wal-Mart comes to town depends on the business, said Jan Barlow, owner of Jan’s Cleaners and president of the Clio Chamber of Commerce. Barlow, who’s been in the dry cleaning business for 25 years, said she’s found that businesses that sell the same products sold by Wal-Mart usually try to make the necessary adjustments and develop their own market share.

Barlow, who said that her comments don’t necessarily reflect the chamber of commerce, commended Wal-Mart for the support it has shown to the Clio community.

“When Wal-Mart came into town, they wanted to be a part of the community and they gave a lot of money to this community to support the projects that are going on here,” she said. “They’re very supportive of events. If someone has a fundraising activity, they definitely want to be asked to participate.

Barlow added that with a vast majority of businesses going under within their first five years of operation, businesses need to be flexible in order to survive. And sometimes offering a great product won’t guarantee success. Barlow noted how much she enjoyed the ribs from Porky’s Hogg Trough, which has since closed. For other businesses, the failure can be attributed to would-be customers simply not liking its name.

“Businesses today have to stay competitive, and they have to constantly be ready to embrace the new technology,” she said. “I think that is the key component. If you are not being computerized, if you are not on the Internet and if you’re not embracing the new software technology, then you’re going to get lost.

“I think Wal-Mart is in the process of trying to reinvent itself,” Barlow added. “Businesses can’t stay the same, and I think Wal-Mart is being a very good citizen for their industry by trying to stay on top of what needs to happen next.”

With Wal-Mart’s presence in Clio, becoming flexible with the times and doing whatever is necessary to keep the customers coming appear to be the two things area businesses need to do to remain part of downtown Clio’s future.