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Two downtown businesses reach the 30-year milestone
by Deb Wuethrich November 14, 2002

Two businesses have
a lot in common. The
owners are originally
from Ohio. They
chose Tecumseh as a
place to open new
businesses, even
though they were not
born here. And they
opened their doors in
November, a few
buildings away from
each other, 30 years


"We've been friends ever since," said Barb McCann about Jan Fox, Grey
Fox Floral owner. Barb and her husband, Jim, own the Chocolate Vault .

Jan grew up in eastern Ohio, but attended Michigan State University's
floriculture program. She met her husband, Gary, at Vine Street Flower
Shop where she was involved in a placement-training program. He was
also employed there. She said they learned through word of mouth that
Edward's Floral Shop in Tecumseh was for sale when she was eight
months pregnant.
After Benjamin was born, they purchased the building, which currently
houses Innovations. A few years into the venture, there was a fire. Jan
remembers it well because she had just had her wisdom teeth pulled when
they received the call at their Fairfield home.
"We took Benjamin to his grandparents and headed for Tecumseh," she
said. "It was amazing to me that there was a building left standing." She
recalls sitting on the curb by Martin's, watching the firefighters try to put
the flames out. They lost their entire inventory.
Grey Fox then moved into temporary quarters at a former barbershop in
the North Plaza.
"We later negotiated to buy this building," Jan said of the present location
at 116 S. Evans Street. Like many of Tecumseh's structures, there's
history. It was once a boarding house. Jan said Tecumseh resident Opal
Dickinson can remember having her arm set there when it was a doctor's
office. When Grey Fox came along, it had last been a custom drapery
shop. The Fox family lived upstairs for several years before purchasing a
"It seems almost yesterday we went through some of those times," Jan
said. She started with two employees, now there are seven. She said her
business has had to learn to adapt with the times, since changes have
occurred in other industries, such as the funeral business.
"There used to be ample time for people to send flowers," she said. "Now
it's been de-regulated and other changes have come about because of it."
She said there are fewer visitation hours and often cremations have
already taken place when the notices appear in the newspaper.
"Sometimes people don't know what to do when there are memorial
services, but it's okay to send flowers, even then," Jan said. "It's what
flowers do - remind the living of the importance of the deceased to
To keep up with the times, Grey Fox is being more aggressive in its
marketing and now has a marketing person on staff to help hit untapped
Jan said she loves being in a business that brings the recipients such
pleasure. She particularly likes helping students with corsages for proms
and holiday functions.
"They tell us what color they're wearing and we try to make a custom
match," she said. "You want it to be just perfect."

Barb McCann had been decorating cakes from her home for several years
when she and her husband, Jim, and their four children moved to Rogers
Highway from Toledo in 1970. Jim had taken a job with Manchester
Plastics, and within a couple years of coming to Lenawee County, Barb
said there were cakes and supplies on every surface in the house - tables,
counters, dressers.
"We liked the atmosphere in Tecumseh and walked up and down the
street looking for a place to put the business," she said. Their first venture
in 1972 was the Cake Shoppe. Glenn Kohler, who had an insurance
office, then owned the building. They said Kerby's Diner was also there,
and Whatley Realtors was in the portion of the building that was once a
bank. The McCann's purchased the building when Kohler retired.
Barb said she has a book that holds the complete history of the building
and its tenants over the years, including businesses that occupied the
upper floors.
"This was actually Tecumseh's first post office," Barb said. "Tecumseh's
library was on the second floor where my kitchen is now, before it was
moved up the street."
Barb held her first cake-decorating classes upstairs when students had to
enter from the outside. A few years into their venture, the rooms were
remodeled into dormitory style bedrooms to accommodate a new turn
their business took.
"I had traveled to South Africa to teach advanced decorating methods,"
Barb said. She said the deal involved a reciprocal arrangement. After that
trip, a unique cultural exchange took place with instructors visiting
Tecumseh from Australia, England and South Africa, among others.
Students would come from all over the country to receive instruction for a
week, living above the shop. The McCanns also traveled regionally to
accommodate their business venture.
"Barb judged shows and the kids and I entered decorated cakes in
contests," Jim said. He said not the ones she was judging, however.
Like Grey Fox Floral, the McCanns have adapted with the times. They
said they have "morphed" through several changes before reaching their
present niche. When they realized people were doing less of their own
cake-making at home, the couple dropped the supplies from their venture
and opened The Bridal Suite, a service that planned bridal events. They
had made so many wedding cakes by then, they were quite familiar with
all that went into getting ready for the big day. Their daughter, Susan,
helped with the floral designs.
"We had a lot of time at the beginning of the week," Jim said, "but then the
big crunch came on the weekend." Barb said they literally had piles of
materials for each person's event and someone was responsible for
adding the appropriate items.
"Then on Saturday, I'd hold my breath, especially if the phone rang," she
said. "I'd wonder what we forgot, or if someone's stuff was on the truck
going to Toledo instead of here."
One day Barb was looking at the vault where they stored chocolates and
found herself thinking about her experiences with candy making. She
realized she and Jim knew a lot about chocolate, which led to opening the
present Chocolate Vault.
The McCanns have remodeled their building, carefully to preserve the
basic ambience. They had to cut a doorway between the two present
stores that house the old-fashioned ice cream parlor and a confectionery
shop. They've been living upstairs since 1985.
When starting the first venture, Barb had one employee, but said Jim has
always been there, even while holding down a full-time job.
"He'd make the icing for the cakes or feed the kids so I could do it," Barb
said. "Later, he'd come down and bake all the cakes at night. So he
actually worked two full-time jobs." Jim joined the business full-time in
1985, and they now employ 18 others. They've morphed again and
conduct much of their present business via the Internet. Orders come in
from all over the world. In July, a Food Network crew came to film the
making of chocolate turkeys after finding them on-line. The McCann's
aren't sure what to expect when the final cut airs at 9 p.m. on Sunday,
Nov. 17. They do know they're not interested in mass production of
"We've now found our niche and what numbers are good for us," Barb
said. They like being a small, novelty chocolate-maker. "It's difficult to say
no when somebody asks for thousands of something, but we'd rather do
ten orders of 50. That's about our limit."

ŠTecumseh Herald 2002


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