By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
As 2020 closed its doors, so did a favorite Oxford business. Great Lakes Mercantile’s last day was Dec. 31.
The little gift shop tucked between Modern Marketplace and Victoria’s at 8 S. Washington Street sold Michigan-made products from all over the Mitten and Upper Peninsula. It was proudly listed on the Pure Michigan website.
“It’s been a good run,” said the owner, Dora Rolando, who lives in Leonard. “We had a lot of success. It’s been rewarding to see how many people really want to buy Michigan-made – not things that look like Michigan, but come from China.”
Pewabic tile from Detroit and copper products from the U.P. were among the mercantile’s best sellers over the years. They also sold Isle Royale greenstone (the official state gem), Michigan-grown wines, Mackinac fudge and Sanders candies.
Dora and her late husband, Ronald, bought the historic building in 1992 and spent 10 years renovating it before opening Great Lakes Mercantile in November, 2002. Together, they traveled to all corners of the state, finding and testing the many products showcased in their establishment. Ron passed away in April 2018 at the age of 76 after 55 years of marriage.
After Dora announced, just before Christmas, that she would close at the end of the year, the shop became very busy with many faithful customers stopping by one last time. “I could hardly have time to get a sandwich. That was good.”
Actually, the store had already been closed for much of 2020, since the coronavirus shutdowns started in March, having only reopening since Black Friday. But Rolando says that was more because of the M-24 road construction than the virus. People just weren’t coming to Oxford because of the hassle.
Her time off this year helped make up her mind about retiring. “I kind of liked those months at home,” she said. She gave it a lot of thought and concluded it was the right thing to do. Her health is still good and she wants to enjoy her retirement without the stress of running the store.
She still owns the building though, so she will still be around. She intends to renovate the apartment on the second floor above the shop, at her own pace. “I’m not going to get in a rush because I don’t have to.”
On her last day, Dora reflected on the 28-year journey. “It’s kinda sad, when you think you put your whole life into this building. We bought this building in 1992 and worked on it for 10 years, renovating the basement and the upstairs. So yeah, it’s sad, but life changes you know.”
In 2003, the Rolandos were honored by the Oxford Chamber of Commerce with a Community Enhancement Award for their efforts meticulously restoring and maintaining the historic 1906 building. Dora was again recognized for her many contributions to the community when she served as the Grand Marshal of the Annual Chamber of Commerce Christmas Parade in 2019. As a business owner, Dora served on the Downtown Development Authority board for the last few years.
“It’s all been good. I’m leaving with good memories and happy times ahead, I hope.”
By James Hanlon