Williamston downtown holds ‘quirky’ secrets, sense of inclusion

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Wander up the stairs of the Williamston True Value Hardware store, and it has its own storage room. There are remnants from the past, including a run-down kitchen and bathroom from decades ago.

But the real treasure lies in the basement.

Both the second floor and basement are hidden from the public eye, much like the nested relationship between businesses in the area. It’s there, just unseen.

The hardware store, prim, proper and clean on the main floor, holds an almost underground-like basement, a nod to Williamston’s history.

The entrance is behind some items, concealed to the uninformed public. It’s just like the helping connection between businesses — between the posted advertisements and secret cocktails at Tavern 109 — look closely and it’s there.

The Williamston True Value Hardware building used to be the postal office. And past the dirt in the basement, a creaky wooden mail organizer sits idly, collecting dust as it continues to age.

“It’s quirky,” the manager of the Williamston True Value Hardware store, Jennifer Brouwer, said of the building.

On the outside and inside, the hardware store looks like any other, much like the variety of buildings in Williamston. But Brouwer said each and every building of the Williamston downtown has its own quirk.

“It is homey,” Brouwer said of Williamston’s downtown. “It seems to be busy, we have a lot of foot traffic. We have our open theater on the weekends.”

The upstairs of the Williamston True Value Hardware store is pictured on March 18, 2018. The area is mostly used for storage by the employees, but contain hidden gems including an old bathroom and kitchen. Photo by Souichi Terada.

Brouwer said she wanted to see more businesses open on Sundays, which lead to rather sleepy days with not as much foot traffic.

The hardware store also sits across from the Williamston Theatre, where live performances can be seen on a regular basis. It accompanies the Sun Theatre, which shows films instead.

The entirety of the downtown doesn’t stretch very far. It begins right around a McDonald’s and stretches until the Williamston Town Hall, where the Williamston City Council meets.

Travel a bit away from the downtown, though, and there are other amenities of Williamston, including Red Cedar Antiques.

A part of the Williamston community for five generations, Mayor Tammy Gilroy said she appreciates the downtown for the amount of service organizations there are, among other aspects.

“Williamston is just a really neat, diverse community,” Gilroy said. “Our downtown district is so diverse with theatre, two dance studios, a fire glass studio, service industry, restaurant. There’s always something going on.”

Williamston’s slogan, “Discover the Charm,” is shown on a small banner outside the Fireworks Glass Studios on Putnam Street on March 18, 2018. Photo by Souichi Terada.

Plastered everywhere in and around the downtown on small banners is also Williamston’s slogan: “Discover the Charm.”

Brouwer said it was a good chance for Williamston to almost finds its niche, mostly because the community is so small compared to its nearby Okemos and Lansing counterparts.

“I think it’s good,” Brouwer said. “But I’ve noticed we’ve had a lot of people coming in from down-state, like the Detroit area. For them it really is discover the charm, because they’re used to a faster pace and everything being spread out.”

Near the hardware store also sits the Fireworks Glass Studios, which opened about 10 years ago. Walk in and there are a number of colorful glass items on display, including a pencil and iPhone holder.

An employee of the store, Ron Baker, said he has been with the store since its beginning. He remembers the days when the location was still a candy store, and before that even a grocery store and laundromat.

Aside from working in a high-temperature environment to mold glass, the Fireworks Glass Studios also has a working relationship with other local businesses. The nearby pub, Tavern 109, even has a cocktail named after the studio.

It allows business to funnel in between both stores, especially since they’re so close, Baker said.

“If they got a long waiting list for people to come and sit down, they’ll come down and see fireworks and stuff,” Baker said.

Elsewhere, Baker said the studio has a nice relationship with the Williamston Theatre. The duo works together in forms of advertising, meaning signs and sending over customers the other way.

“I think a lot of it is you just try to help the area,” Baker said. “You try to make sure business stays in the area. Because if people come here and they eat at nice restaurants, then they’re more likely to spend some money if they have to wait.”