Fritz Stanitzek admits to being “kind of a clean freak” and says it has spilled over into his business. You notice this when you enter his shop, Frank’s Market, a clean, orderly store with spotless refrigerated cases and attractive, lean cuts of meat displayed neatly inviting purchase.
When you walk into Frank’s, located at 750 W. Fulton, the pungent aroma of spices and sausages gives a clear indication of the nature of the products sold there, something you don’t generally experience when visiting the local big box grocer.
And that's part of the draw. His small neighborhood market sits on a burgeoning west side business district in downtown Grand Rapids. But people come from as far away as the lakeshore and Lansing to purchase specialty items such as homemade sausages and smoked meats for weddings, communions, baptisms, and other occasions.
Not only do people come a long way to shop at Frank’s, they’ve been coming for a long time. Third-generation customers shop at the market, people whose parents bought sausages from his father and grandfather.
“We know our customers on a first name basis,” Fritz said. “We give that personalized service you can’t find at a large supermarket.”
A Family Affair
Frank’s Market has kept the same name and location from the beginning. Grandfather Frank Stanitzek opened shop in 1933, soon after emigrating from Poland. A photo of the elder Stanitzek hangs on the wall above an antique cash register that Fritz keeps to remind him of his heritage and his father and grandfather’s hard work ethic.
Frank, Sr., who was conscripted into the German army during World War I, spoke to his first customers in German, Polish, or English depending on their native tongue. With Grand Rapids’ immigrant population booming at the time, this was perhaps his greatest marketing tool as the shop attracted a loyal following among West Side settlers.
But there were still some hard bumps to test their Polish-American endurance. The store caught fire and was nearly destroyed in January 1944. It took nearly a year to reopen. But Stanitzek eventually was back in business with the unbridled optimism that flowed from America’s victory in the Second World War.
When Stanitzek suffered a ruptured disc, his son Frank Jr. left behind a four-year football scholarship at Notre Dame to man the market. Frank, Jr. planned to run the store for a year or two and then sell it. Instead, he ended up staying and making a career out of sausage rather than football, operating the market from 1957 to 1993.
“My dad enjoyed the contact with the customers,” Fritz said. “The people - that’s what he enjoyed the most about this work. That’s why he stayed.”
When another local butcher shop closed to make room for new development, Frank, Jr. inherited a special kielbasa recipe from the retiring butcher that eventually catapulted Frank’s Market from a meat market into a specialty store.
His son Fritz began helping out after high school and honed the butcher craft for 14 years before purchasing the business from his dad thirteen years ago. He hadn’t intended to stay, either, but the “business started to grow and I enjoyed the people and enjoyed the creativeness of our homemade products.”
A Westside Staple
Fritz is proud to carry on his grandfather’s name and legacy and he enjoys running a business that is small and friendly. In addition to the out-of-towners lured by the personality and homemade products of the family meat market, Frank’s attracts a diverse slice of the Grand Rapids population, including students, faculty and staff from nearby Grand Valley State University, as well as parents and children going to and from John Ball Park Zoo.
Suzi Anthony is a regular customer, a West Side resident, and a neighboring business owner. Anthony co-owns the Fulton Pharmacy, another of the many locally-owned businesses on West Fulton. Although she says her husband does most of the shopping, she regularly stops into Frank’s Market.
“We don’t buy meat at the grocery,” Anthony said. “The products at Frank’s are always fresher.”
Anthony raves about the steaks, sausages, and special orders they regularly purchase from the market and she fondly remembers when Fritz’s dad used to give kids an apple or a banana when they came into the store.
“It made the place so warm and special for customers,” she said. “Fritz has modernized the store a great deal but he’s kept that old neighborhood charm.”
With the trend toward larger stores and supermarkets, a small neighborhood store must find a niche in order to stay in business, Stanitzek said. Frank’s early niche was homemade sausages, kielbasa, and pierogies but they expanded from there. Although there is no doubt from the store’s aroma that this is a meat market, Frank’s also sells fresh produce, beer and wine, milk and bread, and other pantry items.
Today, Frank’s Market is sandwiched in between the Bitter End, a thriving new wi-fi accessible coffeehouse, and Fulton Pharmacy. Customers to the area can easily pick up their prescription, down a cup of joe, check their e-mail, and stop in at Frank’s to stock up on meat and perhaps a bottle of wine all in one trip. A small, public parking lot is directly across the street for easy access.
If you go into Frank’s Market and ask for Fritz, most likely you will find him up to his elbows in sausage. However, his well-trained staff will make you feel right at home, and perhaps in a time warp.
“You have to do something to be different, to attract people,” Fritz said. “We have survived as a neighborhood meat shop. There aren’t too many left.”
Photographs by AJ Paschka - All rights reserved