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Menominee marijuana stores to displace long-time businesses

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—The Menominee City Council’s decision to encourage marijuana companies to apply to take over existing commercial sites means four long-time businesses might be relocating or closing to make way for marijuana stores.

It’s also added to the uncertainty over whether the four companies that won city approval for retail marijuana licenses in September will actually open stores in Menominee within the next six months.

La Cabana Restaurant in Menominee might be forced to find a new location if Attitude Wellness/Lume takes over the spot for a medical marijuana store, as tentatively approved by the Menominee City Council.

But as of last week, the restaurant owner hadn’t been told yet he’s got to move. “We might have to go,” said Martin Espinosa, owner of La Cabana restaurant in Menominee, which opened in 2010. “We don’t have a lease right now.” Espinosa said the building has been for sale for two or three years, so he is paying rent month by month.

The city council, which didn’t approve Attitude Wellness/Lume’s adult recreational-use retail application, is requiring the company be approved for a special use permit to act on its medical-use license, and this could prolong the process.

Espinosa said he would move La Cabana to another location in Menominee if he could keep the liquor license. “If I got an opportunity with a good building, why not?” he said.

Across the street at A&B Auto, The Fire Station Cannabis Co. plans to build a brand new building and renovate the existing structure on the property at 3101 10th St., said Stosh Wasik, co-chief executive of The Fire Station. “We are meeting the city’s requirements, and we plan on doing anything and everything the city asks us to do,” he said. “We will be purchasing the property. It won’t be a lease,” he said. A&B Auto declined to comment.

At Stang Sales and Service, 3213 10th St., owner Sue Polito said Thursday she sold the property to 1st Properties/Rize for a retail marijuana store. Instead of moving the shop, Polito said she’s closing Stang because the company owes money to a union pension fund. While Polito intended to work for two or three more years, the sale to Rize will allow her to retire, she said. “I wanted to be done,” she said. “The timing was perfect.” The principals of Rize couldn’t be reached for comment.

At nearby Anderson Auto, Don Anderson and his son, Nick, who together own the adjoining lots at 3109 and 3113 10th Street, said they’re in limbo. “Everything’s up in the air,” said Don, who owns 50% of the real estate.

Nick Anderson said he was approached earlier this year by several marijuana companies interested in the location, but as of Thursday, he said he hasn’t heard from them about the real estate. The city council approved grow permits for Ottawa Innovations at a vacant lot west of Anderson Auto, and it approved a medical-use retail license for Agri-Med at the Anderson property, but neither marijuana company received the adult-use retail licenses they wanted.

“There’s a lot of unanswered questions and issues especially for a business like mine where you can’t make any advances or moves” until the licensing gets resolved, said Nick Anderson, who owns the auto shop business. If Agri-Med buys the real estate he and his father own, Nick said he plans to relocate the shop within Menominee.

Agri-Med submitted two applications, one for adult-use retail and the other for medical-use retail, and the applications scored the same number of points—47, but it received only a medical-use license.

“We’re excited to move forward and to get one of the four (retail) licenses,” said Greg Maki, who founded Agri-Med in 2017 and was among the first to apply for a Michigan cannabis license.

Maki said he is hoping the Judicial & Legislative/Personnel & Legislative Committee will revisit how the marijuana selection committee made its recommendations for retail licenses. “I think there’s a lot of other people who are unhappy.”

Asked what he thought about the approval process, council member William Plemel, chair of the Judicial & Legislative/Personnel & Labor Committee, said, “I’m not too happy. We’re still working on it.”

The number of retail adult-use stores the city allows could increase, Plemel said. A meeting of the Committee of the Whole is being scheduled, he said, and he would like to see the city expand the number of retail licenses to at least two more.

Council member Dennis Klitzke said, “If the whole thing was laid out correctly … I think they would vote to add two additional licenses.” He thinks the ordinance needs to be changed.

Regarding the selection process, Klitzke said he was irritated at how companies received more points for buying an existing building and improving it than they would for building a new construction at a vacant lot because it encouraged applicants to displace Menominee businesses already on the tax roll.

“I didn’t want to dislocate businesses. We don’t want to trade jobs for jobs. We want to create jobs,” said Klitzke, who was recused from the city council discussion and vote on the marijuana licenses at the Sept. 20 meeting due to what some council members said was a perceived conflict of interest because he owns a commercial building at a location approved for a marijuana store.

Council member Josh Jones also raised a possible conflict, saying his brother was an investor in a marijuana company, but the council voted to allow him to continue to participate in the council’s approval process.

Klitzke said he voted to recuse himself from the marijuana discussions because, he said, “I really didn’t have a choice. If the other city council members voted against me—and the majority voted against me—I couldn’t vote.” Klitzke said he was approached months ago by a developer for Ottawa Innovations who expressed interest in his location at 3120 10th St., but a transaction didn’t materialize. Instead Ottawa Innovations/Higher Love applied for a retail license at 1400 8th Ave. and for grow permits at a vacant lot behind Anderson Auto on 10th Street. Klitzke said he doesn’t have a contract on his property at 3120 10th St.

The selection committee’s decision to recommend Ottawa Innovations’ grow permits but not its retail applications indicates a problem, Klitzke said. “Without a retail place here, why would you build your grow facility here? You would put your grow facility near your retail facilities,” he said.

But Ottawa innovations could bring as many as 80 new jobs and a $10 million investment to Menominee, he said.

The city council should act quickly to ensure marijuana retailers actually open here, he said.

“This is a one-shot deal. Either (the marijuana companies) come here or they don’t. They’re going to locate somewhere else and that will be that. This is an opportunity to generate revenue, expand the tax base and generate good-paying jobs,” Klitzke said.

Whether the marijuana companies that received Menominee City Council approval Sept. 20 will act on their plans over the next six months remains to be seen, but Plemel suggested the 180-day period companies were given to build out their new facilities could be extended. For a new retail location to be completed in 180 days, “that would mean it has to be done during winter. That doesn’t happen here in the winter. Construction ends Nov. 15. The wording is going to be changed. The way it is now wouldn’t be fair to anybody.”

Applicants for marijuana stores had to commit to a location on their applications, and they had to be in a commercial zone for retail or an industrial M-1 zone for a grow facility, Plemel said. Klitzke said the downtown waterfront commercial area was off limits.

The city didn’t explore what businesses might be forced to move if the marijuana stores buy the property they’re leasing, Plemel said.

“You’d like to see some of them continue,” Plemel said. “We’re not forcing them to sell.”

What A&B Auto in Menominee will do if The Fire Station opens a recreational-use retail store at its location hasn’t been announced.

Plemel said the issue with the selection committee’s recommendations was how the companies were scored and the extra requirements for Attitude Wellness and The Fire Station.

Regarding the requirement Attitude Wellness receive a special-use permit, “There’s no language in the ordinance that has anything to do with saying that. I think they made a mistake there,” Plemel said.

Another company said they would build an office building at the location, besides retail and grow facilities, but the selection committee didn’t assign points for it. “They said that doesn’t count. Of course it counts. Kimberly Clark’s office building is in Marinette,” Plemel said, and it counts as a business.

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Stang closes but Teamster fund may gain more than owner

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—The deals on truck components and tools being sold at a live and online auction last week at Stang Sales and Service in Menominee didn’t brighten the mood for many who knew the store was closing.

“I never would have believed it because they’ve been an icon here,” said customer Pat Telford. “I bought trucks from here over the years.”

Many weren’t aware the location is slated to be a new marijuana store.

“It’s kind of sad. It was a good service for the community,” said Eric Kozlowski, who worked for the company for 10 years. If it had to close, he’d prefer to see the property sold to L.E. Jones next door, a manufacturer of valve seat inserts. “I would rather it be more useful than weed growing,” he said.

For Sue Polito, owner of Stang’s, a third-generation family business, selling off the inventory, equipment and real estate was the best way out of a sticky situation. The company owes a few million dollars to an underfunded union pension fund and doesn’t have the cash to pay the debt, Polito said.

An offer for the real estate at 3213 10th St. from marijuana company First Property Holdings/Rize will allow Polito to exit the business and retire. While she turned down First Property’s unsolicited offer initially, when her shop manager quit, she asked if the marijuana company was still interested in the property. They were, she said.

“It was an offer I couldn’t pass up. I had planned to work about two or three more years,” she said. “It’s kind of bittersweet, but I’m looking forward to not being on call 24/7 and doing some traveling and playing golf during the week.”

Several other Menominee businesses could be closing or moving from 10th street because they’ve also received offers for their property from marijuana companies, but whether the real estate deals pan out remains to be seen.

Stang’s closing comes 87 years after it began in 1934. “My grandfather started it, then my father ran it for 50 years and I’ve been here for 30,” she said.

As the number of workers Stang employed dropped to six from a high of 40, keeping up with payments for the pension fund for vested Teamster workers became impossible. “It’s basically this pension issue forcing the business to close,” Polito said, “that and the fact I wanted to retire.”

Other area businesses approached by marijuana companies said they intend to relocate.

The company’s last six union workers have found other jobs, “so they all have somewhere to go,” Polito said.

While many business owners eventually sell their companies to recoup the investment they’ve made in both time and money over the years, Polito faced an issue that’s become a problem for many businesses large and small. An unfunded pension liability for vested union workers makes a sale less desirable to potential buyers.

“Well, the problem is, if I sold the business, the new owner would have to assume my liability and no one will do that. It’s too much money. So the only choice I have is to liquidate and sell everything off, and then argue with the union as to how much they are going to take,” Polito said.

Just how much the pension fund will receive from the sale of Stang’s company isn’t yet determined. “I’m doing the best I can to make as much cash as I can, and now we fight over it,” she said. ”The union expects me to liquate everything—turn everything into cash. They’ll try to take it.”

Stang Sales and Service isn’t alone in owing money to the pension fund. “The pension is bankrupt,” Polito said. “It was scheduled to go bankrupt in 2023, but then the federal government bailed them out.”

Kozlowski, who left Stang’s a couple of years ago after 10 years there, doubts he will actually see a pension payment from the Teamsters pension fund by the time he retires, even though he is vested. “Pensions are quickly becoming a thing of the past. It’s much better to have a Roth IRA and a 401K,” he said.

“The days of spending the majority of your life at one company is not likely,” he said. But the union provided other benefits to workers, Kozlowski said. “We had excellent health care and we were able to negotiate our pay,” he said. “We also weren’t greedy.”

Because the union was aware of the business’s challenging financial situation, “We adjusted our wages accordingly,” he said.

Now Kozlowski is a dairy farmer and does repair work on the side. “We have a small farm in Stephenson,” he said. “My parents are getting up in age. Rather than having the cows get sold, I thought I’d keep it going myself. I enjoy doing it.”

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'Mother of the Maroons' Marye Mathieu dies at 77

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MENOMINEE—The Maroons have experienced another loss with the death of the “mother of the Maroons,” Marye Mathieu, on Tuesday morning. She was 77 years old.

Mathieu was born in South Bend, Ind., Feb. 9, 1944. After living in Anderson, Ind., and Pontiac, Mich., Mathieu, her husband Dave Mathieu Sr., and their children settled in Menominee and quickly dedicated themselves to the community. She was elected to the Menominee Area Public Schools Board of Education and continued to serve on the board for 37 years.

Mathieu was a dedicated member of the school board and dove into it head-first, learning as much as she could about how public school boards operate throughout her time on the board. During her long tenure as a board member, she amassed over 700 education credits.

“She gave of herself, not only to the school board and the athletic department,” said MAPS Board Secretary Becky Thoune, “but she was involved everywhere. She gave her time freely, which is amazing. I don’t know how she had time for herself.”

Thoune only worked with Mathieu as fellow school board members for two years, but during that time Thoune said Mathieu was always willing to walk her through things she didn’t fully understand as a new board member. “She was always that friendly face encouraging me to ask my questions and reassuring me that I was doing what I should do,” she said.

“That’s not even including her dedication to youth wrestling,” said MAPS Board President Derek Butler, who had worked with Mathieu for many years as an athletic trainer for the district before becoming a school board member. “She’s an ultimate Maroon when you consider her dedication to not only the school and the kids, but to the community.”

Mathieu also gave 40 years of dedication to the Menominee Maroon Booster Club. Those who attended almost any Maroon athletic event would see Mathieu there, either taking tickets, working the concession stand or selling Maroon apparel. Behind the scenes, she would handle team picture orders, arrange state tournament runs, arrange fan busses, coordinate other volunteers and help a number of athletic directors to cover things like uniforms and equipment that the school budget couldn’t cover.

“Whenever you think about Maroon athletics, Marye was at almost every home football, volleyball, basketball game and involved in some way. She was intimately involved in all of that planning, and her goal was always to give the kids the best experience the school could give them. She’ll be dearly missed by a lot of people,” Butler said.

She was also responsible for organizing yearly events like the Booster Blast and the senior athletic banquet.

“The lady was always giving me hugs,” said Operations Director Steve Sobay. “You know, she was kind of the mother of the Maroons.”

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Man dies in Oconto County crash
  • Updated

OCONTO—A southern Wisconsin man died Thursday in a two-vehicle crash in Oconto County.

The crash happened at 6:50 a.m. on Highway 64, near Swenty Road, in the Town of Brazeau, according to the Oconto County Sheriff’s Office.

A pickup driven by a 41-year-old male from Columbus, Wisconsin, was traveling westbound on Highway 64 when it cross the centerline and struck an eastbound fully-loaded logging truck, the sheriff’s office stated. The driver of the pickup died at the scene.

An ongoing investigation is being conducted by the Oconto County Sheriff’s Office, Wisconsin State Patrol and the Brown County Medical Examiner’s Office. The Oconto County Sheriff’s Office was assisted by the Brazeau Fire Department, Brazeau Ambulance, Pound Fire Department, Oconto County Highway Department, Wisconsin State Patrol and the Brown County Medical Examiner’s Office.

No names have been released.