Furnishing a Legacy
The second of Jack's five sons, Tim started working at the store in fifth grade, when it sold hardware, sporting goods, and furniture. Unpacking boxes, putting bikes together, and observing his father and uncle at work, Tim says he learned that "if you take care of your customers they keep coming back." After majoring in business in college, he says, he "just knew" he wanted to take over the store. "I could see I was from a good family and from a good town."
The Merkel legacy in Chelsea began in the 1870s, when Henry Merkel and Clara Foster Merkel arrived from Germany with their four sons and $9,000 in gold in a leather money belt--a fortune for the time. Choosing the area because Clara's brother owned a farm in Sylvan Township, they used the money to establish farms for each of their sons--the youngest of whom was Martin, Ferdinand's father.
"Owning property and working hard" was the family mantra, Bob says. In 1906 and 1907 Martin and his brother Michael purchased two adjacent lots on Main Street. They built the southernmost of the three buildings that make up what is now known as the Merkel Block as a real estate investment, and leased the space.
In 1924, one of their tenants--a small tire and battery shop with a street-side gas pump--went bankrupt. Martin bought its remaining assets at auction. Ferd was working on their farm just east of Chelsea at the time, and his father could see he didn't particularly enjoy it. When Martin returned home from the sale, he handed his son a key and told him he was in business.