Welcome to Walloon: The history of the Walloon General Store


by Lauren Macintyre

Wallooners cherish their traditions…and for many, those halcyon days growing up around the Village are among the most special. 

Memories of the General Store, in particular, evoke a delightful sense of nostalgia…an old wooden store with a magical, marble-topped soda fountain with the tastiest ice cream and chocolate syrup around…a place to buy penny candy or the celebrated Al-Meda chocolates…the spot where young Wallooners would pick up favorite comic books or their parents’ newspaper…later the deli with the famous Wallooner and Pink Loon sandwiches.

Over the years, the General Store has encompassed many different names, many different proprietors, and even a number of different locations, but one constant has always remained. Wherever it was located, whatever the building looked like, the General Store has been beloved by Wallooners around the lake. It has always been the place to meet friends and the place to buy just what one needs…the perfect lake tradition, the heart and soul of Village life.

That tradition began many years ago when Alfred E. Hass of the pioneering Hass family established a general store at the Foot. The Hass family had many things going on, including the New Walloon Hotel, so Alfred sold the store at some point. Eventually, the store ended up with William and Charlotte Ransom, entrepreneurial Wallooners who also bought the Merrill’s Cottage hotel, which they renamed Sunset Lodge. After the original store burned in 1907, it was relocated to the Koneta Building, an expansive billiards and bowling hall that was moved across the road. This two-story white clapboard structure, with its double pillared verandas ornamented with simple Victorian gingerbread, is the iconic building so fondly recalled by many Wallooners.

Ransom’s store was a busy place, selling all manner of merchandise as well as housing the Walloon Post Office, where Mr. Ransom served as postmaster. He also provided dry cleaning services in the charming pointy roofed building next door that eventually became the post office. In the 1909 Daily Resorter, Ransom’s marketed itself as the oldest established store in Walloon, offering “fresh meats, vegetables, fruits, and groceries delivered to all cottages and hotels on the lake.”

In 1928, L.A. Spalding and his wife Mary bought the general store and Sunset Lodge. The Spaldings were soon known for their fine service: they would stop at the nearby cottages each morning to take orders and then deliver the orders that same afternoon. The family lived next door to the store in Sunset Lodge, a house with at least 13 bedrooms. The Spaldings had a lovely daughter named Lucile, who played the piano at the local church. In 1937, Ross Renwick, an ambitious young man with a talent for singing, arrived from Illinois to join his relatives, the Whitfield family. Ross directed the choir at the church, where, of course, he soon met Lucile. The rest is history, as the Spaldings and Renwick families united with the marriage of Ross and Lucile in 1940.

With the advent of World War II, Ross and wife Lucile relocated downstate, where Ross worked in war-related industries. Returning to Walloon in 1946, Ross and Lucile decided to buy the store and the other Walloon properties from Lucile’s parents, who were ready to retire. Ross and Lucile then moved into Sunset Lodge, where they raised their children, Varn and Rosemary, while running the store. Lucile, who also taught in local schools, and Ross were beloved in the Village by locals and summer people.

For Wallooners growing up in the idyllic 1950s, perhaps no other name is more synonymous with the General Store than that of Renwick. The store was very much the social center of the Village in the summer months. Strolling down the North Shore path or cruising over in boats, Wallooners would spend leisurely summer mornings picking up their mail, browsing the store, or sitting on comfortable benches on the store’s inviting front porch. Children ran in and out of the store all day, enthralled with all the goodies it offered. “But my brother Varn and I weren’t supposed to hang out on those benches on the porch,” Rosemary Renwick chuckles. “They were for the customers!”

Rosemary fondly recalls getting ice cream treats from the elaborate marble-topped soda fountain just to the left as you walked into the store. “It had marble stools in front, a large decorative mirror behind it, and a big barrel of root beer that stood on one end. But before my brother and I could get treats, we had to show a note from our mother!” That celebrated soda fountain still lives large in the memories of many Wallooners today.

Rosemary and Varn both worked in the store while in high school. In those days, the store was not open year-round, so often, the family would depart for Florida in the winter months. After many years in the business, Ross and Lucille decided to retire from the General Store in 1963. They moved to Petoskey to a historic house overlooking the bay where Rosemary still lives part-time today.

Choice cuts of meat and fresh whitefish had always been among the store’s offerings, which employed its own meat cutter, Murray Northup. So when it came time to retire, the Renwicks sold the store to Murray, who formed a corporation with Alfred J. Hass, Jerry Fineout, and William McTaggert known as the Village Development Company. Murray also offered a variety of goods in addition to groceries, including hardware, sporting goods, lawn care products, and some clothing.

In 1970, the store was sold to Wallooners Harvey and Harriette Schach of South Shore Drive. Tragedy struck in 1972 when an overnight fire destroyed the much-loved wooden building that had housed the store for so long. But Harvey soon built a one-story, metal-sided building to house the new General Store and reopened for business. This building differed from its predecessor, but its longstanding traditions remained unchanged.

The 1980s and 1990s saw many different owners of the store, including the Schachs, a consortium of Walloon businessmen, then Matthew and Linda Waterman of Sweetwater Catering. One of the store’s longtime employees was Linda Sarasin Penfold, who had grown up on nearby Jensen Road and started working at the store as a teenager. Since Linda knew all aspects of the business, the Watermans approached her in 1998 to see if she and her husband Calvin were interested in buying the store. With warm encouragement and support from the Marquardt and Lunghamer families of Walloon, the Penfolds made the leap.

After the sale to the Penfolds, the store’s name was then changed to “Walloon Village General Store & Deli.” The Penfold era brought in a host of well-received changes that only increased the popularity of the General Store...the beloved Wallooner and Pink Loon sandwiches…dipped and soft serve ice cream…the return of cinnamon rolls made from scratch…and delectable goodies from Ida’s Kitchen, created by Linda’s mother Ida Mae Sarasin…and all those signature Walloon shirts, hats, glassware and other items.

Like the Ransoms, the Spaldings, the Renwicks, the Schachs, and others before them, the Penfolds made the General Store a family affair and an integral part of the community. Linda managed the store, Calvin took care of the building, and both their mothers, Linda’s sister Dawn, and cousin Matt, worked the store. “Owning the store afforded us the opportunity to still be involved in family life,” notes Linda. “We had such a great staff and met so many great people — I miss them already!” 

When the poignant time came in 2022 for the Penfolds to say goodbye to the store, there was one person whom Linda fervently hoped would buy the property. “I really, really wanted Jon Borisch to have it because I knew he would be committed to keeping a general store in the Village,” she explains. Eventually, he was persuaded to buy it and to usher in a new era for the store.

The General Store will soon find a home in a new building, aptly named “The Renwick,” now being built on the site. The Borisch family explains, “The Walloon Village General Store is the longest-standing family-owned business on Walloon Lake. Its beloved memory has impacted the community, and our vision is to keep this long-standing tradition while providing every modern convenience.” Indeed, although the outward appearance of the General Store will change, the spirit and traditions cherished by Wallooners will live on.

Posted by Walter J. Kidd on


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