By Pete Wurdock

Running a small business in the Upper Peninsula is not for the faint of heart. Owners of these independent enterprises work long hours to meet the demand of their customers. Gene’s Tahquamenon General Store is one of them. They are located on M-123 between Newberry and Paradise is a go-to destination for campers, hikers, explorers, the snowmobile masses, and those passing to and from the Tahquamenon Falls. Gene’s Tahquamenon General Store is vital to the nearby state park and the winter snowmobile community.

Gene and Sherri McLellen purchased the store in 2002. Gene helped run the store until medical issues forced him away from day-to-day operations. Then, at the start of the 2022 summer tourist season, a careless driver backed over one of the gas pumps, rendering it inoperable. This year there was another incident with a snowmobile at the beginning of March, putting the other pump out of commission. The store has not been able to sell gas for nearly two months.

Paradise resident Rick Brockway is a friend to the community and ardent supporter of the store. Though not a certified installer, Brockway unsuccessfully attempted to fix pump number two when it went out of service. He has seen the decline in business and feels helpless that he couldn’t do more.

“Just yesterday in the short time I was there, one car pulled up, stopped at the pump, read the sign and left,” he said. “When we still had snow, I saw a group of about 20 sleds pull in. They read the sign on the pump and left. Since most sledders come into the store after filling up to buy something to eat or drink, Sherri is now losing all those sales as well.”

After more than eight months of delay from insurance companies, Sherri finally received a check to purchase one refurbished pump. Meanwhile she continues to lose revenue daily while her operational costs keep growing. The cost of another pump and its professional installation is estimated to be $20,000.

To add insult to injury, companies who normally service and repair the pumps have not taken on the task. Finding someone to service this issue has been frustrating and difficult.

Gene’s Tahquamenon General Store is still experiencing a substantial loss of revenue daily.

Fuel retailers do not make much profit on the sale of gasoline; the national average is pennies on the dollar. Stores then rely on customers coming inside to shop the shelves, which offer beer, wine, snacks, deli items, and assorted supplies. The store’s most recent offering is fresh-baked pizza – which some people describe as amazing.

Gene’s Tahquamenon General Store is also a destination for some who struggle to pay for groceries. Sherri and Gene have always been gracious to loyal customers who might need something right away but can’t pay for it until later in the month.

When the store didn’t have gas this winter, someone pulled up one night desperate for a fill up. Sherri improvised by giving them enough gas out of her own generator so they could get to town. The customer was elated.

Sherri has quietly accepted the quandary she is in.

“We’ve been here for 22 years and it’s hard to imagine how much hurt something like this can do to a business,” she said. “When you lose a part of your livelihood, it is just another reminder that we can’t take things for granted.”

It is hard to ask for help when you are in need. The store has lost a considerable amount of revenue since the pump problems and Sherri shudders to think about the future of the store if something doesn’t happen soon.

Katie Becker, a mutual friend of Rick and Sherri, has organized a GoFundMe campaign for the beleaguered store. “Being a part of the Chamber of Commerce, we want to make sure we are supporting all of the businesses in our community,” Katie said.

One contributor to the GoFundMe campaign summed it up: “Our visits with Sherri are always the highlight of our visit to the UP.”

“To everyone who has donated: my heart is full,” Sherri said. “Thank you so much.”

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