Community feels impact of Wright's Bake Shop closure
REED CITY — For hundreds of regular customers and thousands of occasional visitors, there is no sugar coating the fact that Wright's Bake Shop in Reed City is ending its almost 60-year relationship with the community.
Last week, bakery owners Don and Karen Wright and John Hanna announced their decision to close the business due to increasing costs for ingredients and other growing expenses. The final open day for Wright's will be Saturday, Nov. 1.
"I have mixed feelings," Hanna said. "Sometimes I feel pretty devastated and other times I realize I can't control the prices. Prices go higher than you can adjust."
For example, he said butter was $97 for a 36-pound case in January and now it is $148.50 for the same amount, or more than $4 per pound. Prices are only expected to increase as time continues.
"I can't raise my prices that high," Hanna added. "We're a high-end luxury item in an area where there is not a lot of money for luxuries."
Wright's Bake Shop creates each hand-crafted baked good from scratch. Using that style of baking, it's impossible for the business to keep running and stay afloat. To stay running, Hanna said prices would have to decrease as well as additional local customers.
"Traditionally, bakeries make 60 percent of their profit from the end of the summer through the end of the year," he added. "When you get from January to April or May, you know you won't do much business except for some of the bigger holidays, so you save away money that will get you through the slow times so you can make money. This year it never came back."
Last winter's harsh weather conditions also slowed business, which hit the shop hard, Don said. Finally, the three owners made the hard decision to close.
Don's grandfather was a baker for a company and his family was moved to Big Rapids in 1942. He purchased the bakery, previously called Oviatt's Bakery, and changed the name to Wright's Bakery. Then, the bakery was sold to Don's uncle, who returned from the service. Don's grandfather moved to Reed City and began Wright's Bakery in the current building in 1948 until his death.
The Morat family, of Morat's Bakery out of Hart, purchased the business, but after about five or six year's, Don's father purchased the establishment in 1955 and changed it back to Wright's Bakery.
The current Wright's Bake Shop building, located on Upton Avenue in downtown Reed City, began as an opera house with three floors. In the early 1950s, a fire destroyed the top floor. The main floor and basement remained.
Now, Don and Karen share ownership with Hanna, and Wright's Bake Shop employs nine individuals, some of whom have worked under Don and Karen for decades.
While Wright's sells a wide selection of doughnuts, breads, pastries, rolls and other items to individuals who walk through the shop's doors, it also supplies breads to a handful local businesses on a regular basis, including Schuberg's Bar and Grill in Big Rapids, Pere Marquette Catering Company in Reed City, Pompeii's Pizza in Evart and Reed City, Twin Oaks Bowling Center and Lounge in Evart and Eastman Party Store in Midland. Apart from businesses, Wright's donates bread to local food pantries and churches on a regular basis.
Brad Rumsey, co-owner and propriety for Schuberg's, expressed sadness at the news of Wright's closure.
"I'm really bummed," he said. "I feel for the owners and the workers. Most of our premium products comes from Wright's."
For the past decade, the two small business have worked with each other. Wright's has supplied the Big Rapids establishment with miniature hamburger buns and breads including pumpernickel, swirl rye and Irish soda bread.
The news from the bakery reminds him that no business is invincible, and it scares him to see small businesses disappear. With Wright's, Rumsey feels he is losing a relationship as well as a product.
Rumsey is still unsure where he will turn to buy similar types of bread products, but he knows it won't be the same.
"My next course of action is to work with my food representatives, but there's nothing that will compare," he said. "John's level of care and the base ingredients are top of the line. He takes no short cuts. We'll miss him."
Pere Marquette Catering owner Deb Ahlich-Remus has been working with Wright's for about a decade, receiving breads, sweet rolls, cookies and coffee cake from the business.
"It's extremely sad Wright's is closing," she said. "We're losing another icon in the area. They will definitely be missed."
Being in the food service business, Ahlich-Remus said she understands the financial hardships Don, Karen and Hanna face each month due to the struggling economy and rising costs of running the shop.
Without Wright's, the catering company will rely on area and commercial suppliers, but will strive to purchase as much local product as possible.
Many Reed City residents take a much needed break from their schedule at Wright's. Loyal customers visit the bakery often, mostly at the same time and during the same day.
One of Wright's regulars is John Williams, owner of D&E Supply Co. located just down the street. Each day, around 10 a.m., Williams can be found at a table near the window, watching individuals and families pass by on the sidewalk or in their vehicles while enjoying a cup of coffee and a cookie.
"It's going to change a lot in this city because it brings in a lot of people from out of town," Williams said. "I'm not sure what will fill the void."
He believes the products Wright's offers are of the same quality as when Don's father owned the business.
"I think it's an honor to his parents that Don has kept the business going," Williams added. "I will miss the employees and seeing people come through the shop doors."
The closing of Wright's Bake Shop is expected to greatly impact frequent customers. No longer will local shoppers and visitors pop inside the business for a taste of the classic cookies or new pastry creations thought up and materialized by Hanna. No longer will the regulars be able to start their day off with a hot cup of Wright's coffee and a chat with the staff. The groups that gather each week at one of the window tables must find a new spot to discuss life and other topics of importance.
"I've waited on the same people for 35 years," Karen said. "What's happening now is the older generation that knows what homemade is and what real ingredients are, they're gone. Eating habits change. Now people don't understand quality and some people just can't afford it."
Originality in the workplace is something the Wrights and Hanna thoroughly enjoyed on a daily basis. When everything is made from scratch, new ideas and techniques can be tried as often as desired, according to the trio.
"I'll miss the creativity," Hanna said. "When I felt like experimenting, I could experiment to my heart's content. The customers were how I based how successful my experiment was.
As the trio prepares to shut the bakery doors for good, they also can begin thinking about what the future holds.
"I'm going to pursue a career in baking, but it won't be in this area," Hanna said.
For the Wrights, taking a break in the business world and dedicating their time in the community will be daily life. Karen serves on a number of local boards and committees and both enjoy outdoor recreation. The bakery building still will be under their ownership, but is for sale.
Looking toward Nov. 1, the Wrights are considering having a type of celebration during its final week, possibly one that benefits others. They do not want a sad ending to their 60-year success.
"We really want to go out on a high note and tell people how much we've appreciated their business," Karen said.
At the heart of the business is the people the staff serves every day and those that have come in for decades, the Wrights said.
"This is a community bakery and what do you do but serve the community?" Don said. "We've been well rewarded because of the community. We've had patrons for 60 years."
"This has been my life over the past 10 years," Hanna said. "It's been a privilege to serve the community."