It reflected its busy, civic-minded owner.
by Grace Shackman
From the September, 2017 issue
"I'm thrilled to have the store come back. It was really depressing to drive by and see it all shuttered up," says Mark Clague. From 1926 to 1968, his grandfather, Ashley Clague, ran Clague's Market at 1200 Packard. The building is soon going to return to its original use as a second location for Argus Farm Stop.
Though Clague is best remembered today as the namesake for Clague Middle School, his own formal schooling ended at age twelve. He was born in 1902 in Ishpeming, the son of a miner who had emigrated from the Isle of Man to Michigan's Upper Peninsula for work. When his father was disabled in a mining accident, "there was no disability insurance or workman's compensation, so as the oldest son, Ashley had to quit school to work to support the family," explains his daughter-in-law, Rosemary Clague.
Clague first visited Ann Arbor as a teenager when his mother needed treatment at University Hospital. "While she recuperated, he explored the town and decided it was a better place to create his future," Mark Clague relates. "As Ashley worked in the explosive room at the mine, he felt that his career there was too dangerous, and he wished to find another way to earn his living." He moved here at age nineteen with, as the family story goes, only nineteen cents in his pocket.
After working at the King-Seeley factory (now Liberty Lofts), in 1926 he joined forces with his second cousin, Perry Grennan, to open the market at 1200 Packard. Although Grennan was twenty-five years older, they entered as equal partners, according to Clague's granddaughter, Kim Hauser, who is the keeper of the family documents. Grennan retired in 1940 and died seven years later. He left his share of the business and building to Clague with the proviso that he pay for his funeral and tombstone. After Grennan's death the store name was changed from Grennan and Clague to Clague's Grocery and
Although the store was much smaller than today's supermarkets, Clague offered a full range of products. Nancy Clague Carstedt, his youngest daughter, recalls that her father "tried to buy locally whenever possible and was especially proud of the meat and cheese."
"They had cans almost to the ceiling. They would get them down by using a hook to knock them off and then catch them. I was very impressed by this," recalls Gil Whitney, who first saw the store as a preschooler in the early 1930s. His father, a Webster Township farmer, brought him along when he delivered apples, peaches, potatoes, and squash.
Clague brought the rest of his family to Ann Arbor, and two of his brothers worked at the store. His wife, Esther Fiegel Clague, did the payroll at home while watching their three children, Dorothy, Allan, and Nancy.
"My dad began working in the grocery at age eight, cleaning bins and stocking shelves," explains Mark Clague, Allan's son. "He also rode along in the van after school to help with the afternoon deliveries." People left their doors open, and, if no one was home, the delivery person would go inside and put the perishable groceries away. When Allan Clague got his driver's license at age fourteen he began making the deliveries on his own.
Nancy Carstedt recalls that she started working at about age ten. She would take phone orders, find the items requested, put them in a bag or crate to be delivered, and then go down to the basement to restock the items she had taken. A conveyor belt helped move goods up and down.
Kim Hauser, daughter of Clague's older daughter, Dorothy, recalls that though the store closed for the weekend at noon on Saturday, her grandfather stayed all day. Kim and her sister, Cheryl, would sleep over at their grandparents' on Saturday nights; on Sunday they would go to the store with Clague to help restock shelves with cans from the basement. "When we were finished, he would give us each a tiny paper sack and let us go over to the candy counter and fill them up," she recalls.
Even after Clague's children grew up and had families of their own, they were called on to help with inventory every year between Christmas and New Year's. Rosemary Clague, widow of Allan Clague, remembers that the whole family came in and counted merchandise. "There were no computers then. We'd count by hand--cans, bags of flour, bags of sugar."
Clague had a loyal full-time staff that stayed for years, including butcher Otto Zill, whose son Ken was one of the delivery boys. Jack Erskine ran the cash register. The only women at the store were three who worked in the office, originally in a small room on the first floor and later on the second floor.
In the early 1960s, when he was in junior high, Mark Ouimet worked part-time after school, delivering groceries on foot to nearby customers. He got the job after a friend who worked there told him they needed help. He went in and talked to Clague, who asked him "Are you Larry's boy?" When Ouimet said yes, he was hired--no formal interview. "If I messed up, he knew who to call," explains Ouimet. If there was nothing to deliver, he and the other delivery boy would shuck corn or wash potatoes in the basement.
Before refrigerators were in general use, many customers shopped every day. "It became a community hub," says Mark Clague. Even after chain stores like Kroger and A&P opened with lower prices, many continued to shop at Clague's. "It was a high-end store," says Carstedt. "They appreciated the quality and the personal service." Because the store was in Burns Park, many of the customers were academics. The wife of William Revelli, the famous U-M bandmaster, rode over on her bicycle. Rosemary Clague estimates that "about three-quarters ran up a tab and paid up once a month. During the Depression, he had trouble getting them to pay, but they still could come in and get food."
Clague had a standing order from a local bakery for a box of doughnuts and cinnamon rolls to be delivered every morning, which he would set down near a big coffee pot. "He'd open at six. Customers would stop in and get coffee and chew the fat before going to work," recalls Rosemary Clague. But if you slept in, you might miss out: "When the box was empty, it wasn't replaced."
When Clague's customers saw how competent he was, they began recruiting him for civic organizations. He joined the Kiwanis in 1932 and by 1935 was running their fundraising used-goods sales. He founded the club's Forney W. Clement Memorial Committee, named after a member who had died, to raise money for services for hospitalized and handicapped children.
From 1941 to 1966 Clague served on the Ann Arbor school board, including fifteen years as president. His contributions included finessing the deal with U-M that traded the old high school on State St. for the land on Stadium where Pioneer High stands today. He was also on the Ann Arbor Parks Commission for nineteen years, five as president; he spearheaded the creation of Veterans Memorial Park on the old county fairgrounds at Jackson and Maple.
People marveled that Clague could manage all these activities while still running a labor-intensive business. He worked hard all day and in the evenings was busy with his volunteer activities. "He would come home for lunch and then lie down for twenty minutes," Carstedt remembers. "After that he was good to go till midnight."
After he retired in 1968, Clague received many honors. In addition to Clague School in 1973, Mott Children's Hospital named its preschool playroom for him, and in 1975, EMU gave him an honorary degree (he had already received an honorary high school diploma in 1952).
Clague was very proud to see all three of his children go to college and, in Allan's case, on to medical school. He died in 1977, at age seventy-five. His family requested that memorial contributions be made to the Forney Clement Memorial Fund.
After Clague closed his market, the building became a pet store and then a bicycle shop. It had stood empty since 2010 before being taken by Kathy Sample and Bill Brinkerhoff for their second Argus Farm Stop. Like Clague's Market, it is locally owned and offers a full range of groceries--meat, dairy, prepared foods, bakery products--with an emphasis on locally grown fresh produce. It, too, has a loyal group of suppliers. And although customers at the original store on Liberty come from all around town, a core group is within walking distance.
But there are also differences. Some of the products that Clague sold, like Wonder Bread or canned goods, are not found at the Farm Stop. They don't have a full meat counter or make deliveries. And, unlike Clague's, they sell coffee and sweets all day long.
[Originally published in September, 2017.]
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