What makes a successful independent business? Local owners weigh in


In honor of Independent Retailer Month, City Pulse sat down with the owners of six independent businesses in the area to learn more about how they found their niche in the local market and what factors they feel have contributed most to their success over the years.

Some, like Desmond Ferguson of Moneyball Sportswear, Heather Frarey of the Record Lounge, Lucretia Mansfield of Simply Vintage Marketplace and Casey Sorrow of Odd Nodd Art Supply, followed lifelong passions, overcoming long hours and frequent setbacks to make their dreams a reality.

Others, like Tim Westlund of Westlund’s Apple Market and Ray Walsh of Curious Book Shop, weighed in on how their respective industries have changed over the decades and how they’ve managed to navigate new developments like online shopping while keeping big-box competitors from poaching their customers, thanks to a steady base of regulars they’ve spent their lives cultivating.

These business owners had plenty of advice to offer aspiring entrepreneurs. They stressed the importance of finding the right location, being prepared for setbacks and staying flexible. They also offered insight into how they identified a need in the community and subsequently carved their place in the local market to cater to their specific audiences.

While they’re just a small sample size of the independent business owners in Greater Lansing, their stories yield compelling clues as to what makes an independent business stand out and thrive.

Odd Nodd Art Supply:
Specialty retailer caters to niche customer base

Casey Sorrow managed MSU’s Kresge Art Store for nearly two decades before founding his own shop, Odd Nodd Art Supply, in 2019.
Casey Sorrow managed MSU’s Kresge Art Store for nearly two decades before founding his own shop, Odd Nodd Art Supply, in 2019.

After working as a freelance artist and a retail manager at Michigan State University’s Kresge Art Store, Casey Sorrow opened Odd Nodd Art Supply in 2019 ready to apply his artistic expertise to a new venture as a small business owner.

“I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart, so I’d always considered it, but I never really had the opportunity early on to do so,” he said.

The 48-year-old Holt native and MSU graduate managed to bear the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, which he described as “the worst thing I could possibly imagine for the first year of business.”

“Fortunately for me, one of my main concepts was to have our inventory online before we opened. A lot of businesses didn’t have that foresight, but that was a game changer for us,” he said.

Sorrow said the key to establishing himself in the local retail market was “finding that niche and catering to it.”

“Knowing that I needed to provide supplies for university students was something that I worked toward, but I also wanted to offer items that you can’t find in the Lansing area or even in Michigan,” he said.

For Odd Nodd, this includes products coveted by collectors, like stationery and fountain pens.

“Stationery fanatics are finding us and realizing that it’s a gem to have those products available locally,” Sorrow said, adding that a group of these hobbyists hosts meetings at the shop to talk about their latest finds.

“Basically, we specialize in a lot of very professional or hard-to-find art supplies,” he continued. “I don’t try to compete with the websites that are basically the Amazon of art supply stores because we would go out of business trying to match their prices. People who find us and know us appreciate what we offer.”

Sorrow’s personal artistic passion is printmaking. His work has been published in The New York Times and elsewhere, but being a business owner often takes precedence these days.

“It never stops. I’m taking tomorrow off, but I’m not really going to be off. I’m going to be at home going over what I need to do in my head. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but it’s hard,” he said.

For others who are considering opening a small business, he said the most important step is to “seek out your audience and know what that audience looks like.”

“When I started, I already knew a lot of artists in the area, and a lot of them came out to support me and my venture. Knowing who you’re selling to and really connecting with them is huge,” he said.

He also urged locals to continue supporting his store and other independent retailers.

“If you support a local business, that business can support other local businesses, which, in turn, benefits the community as a whole. When you support us, that support stays here,” he said.

Odd Nodd Art Supply

317 E. César E. Chávez Ave., Lansing

11 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday

Noon-5 p.m. Sunday

(517) 258-2509



The Record Lounge:
Vinyl boom keeps business flowing

A lifelong music buff, Heather Frarey founded the Record Lounge in 2008 and has been capitalizing on a resurgent, booming vinyl culture ever since.
A lifelong music buff, Heather Frarey founded the Record Lounge in 2008 and has been capitalizing on a resurgent, booming vinyl culture ever since.

Founded in East Lansing in 2008, the Record Lounge opened to the public just after the medium exploded back into popular culture in what has since been dubbed the “vinyl record boom” of 2007. Sales have continued to flourish since then, and owner Heather Frarey is reaping the benefits.

“It can be a lucrative business, but it took a long time to get here. I’d say it was tough for about seven years,” she said.

The 60-year-old believes some of those early difficulties stemmed from her initial location, as she found East Lansing to be “one of the hardest spots to do business.” In 2017, she decided to move to 1132 S. Washington Ave. in REO Town, now home to Deadtime Stories, then relocated again to her current space at the REO Town Marketplace the following year.

“Location is a major part of finding success,” she said. “I’d recommend researching different areas of town and thinking about what your shop can offer there. Find where you think you’ll fit in the best.”

She continued, “The other thing to really watch is inventory. When I started in 2008, vinyl was still pretty plentiful because people weren’t into it as much as they are now. Nowadays, if you go to a yard sale or something, it’s really hard to find anything.”

Frarey’s role has her constantly scouting out sources of new and used records while also regulating her stock to ensure a sustainable profit margin.

She said she’s often willing to negotiate prices on secondhand records. However, with the vinyl boom showing no signs of slowing down, the challenge primarily lies in finding new pressings.

“There’s hardly any wiggle room there, so it’s not really where we make our money,” she said. “It just keeps getting more expensive for us and the consumer. For example, when Kendrick Lamar’s ‘good kid, m.A.A.d. city’ came out, I think I bought it for $15. Now, they’re reprinting it for about $30.”

Frarey admitted that there were “probably two times” when she considered shutting down, but her kids talked her out of it.

“They said, ‘No, mom, you really need to keep this going,’” she said. “I’m glad I stuck with it. You have to tell yourself you’re doing something you love. I think this keeps me young, and I meet a lot of great people this way, too.”

The Record Lounge

1027 S. Washington Ave., Lansing

11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday

11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday

11 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday-Saturday

(517) 862-1976


Curious Book Shop:
A mainstay for Lansing-area readers

Ray Walsh has been operating independent bookstores in Greater Lansing for 55 years. His longest-running store, East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has more than 40,000 books in stock, he said.
Ray Walsh has been operating independent bookstores in Greater Lansing for 55 years. His longest-running store, East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, …

In 1969, while attending Michigan State University, Ray Walsh began running a small bookshop out of his basement. Over the next 55 years, he turned that initial venture — which he called Curious Book Shop — into a mainstay of Greater Lansing’s independent business scene.

“I graduated in 1971, and we moved to the current location a couple of years later. We’ve been there ever since,” Walsh said.

Today, Curious Book Shop comprises three floors stocked with a cornucopia of literary offerings, including more than 40,000 books.

“We started off primarily as a used bookshop, and that’s changed a bit. We sell some new books nowadays, and we also do special orders if people are looking for something specific that’s harder to find,” Walsh said.

Having previously owned two now-defunct bookstores in Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids, as well as Curious’ sister business, Archives Book Shop, which he’s in the process of closing, Walsh said he’s seen the market shift “considerably” during his tenure.

“Because there aren’t a lot of quality used book shops around anymore, we’re constantly getting bombarded with people wanting to sell us books,” he said. “At the same time, we have to be very selective on what we’re acquiring because we may not have the space or money for storage, and we have to be sure we can sell it relatively quickly.”

The rise of massive online booksellers like Amazon and the emerging popularity of digital readership in recent decades has also prompted Walsh to bolster the store’s online presence through digital marketplaces like Etsy, Amazon, Biblio and eBay.

“Another change is dealing with different generations of readers and collectors,” he said. “The new generation is more used to reading online, and even textbooks are that way now.”

For that reason, he said, Curious Book Shop doesn’t sell many textbooks these days, but it does deal in “basically everything else.” He’s continued to try and differentiate his shop from big-box retailers by tracking down rare editions and even some author-signed books.

Walsh isn’t alone in his quest to keep physical, independent bookstores alive in Greater Lansing. Smaller area shops like A Novel Concept, Deadtime Stories, Everybody Reads, Hooked, Socialight Society and Wayfaring Booksellers have found success by catering to niche audiences.

For those looking to enter the bookselling business, Walsh stressed the importance of patience in the early stages.

“Don’t quit your daytime job,” he said with a laugh. “I’d also say it’s best if you specialize in a particular field, but there can also be a lot of difficulty figuring out what people are looking for.”

In Walsh’s case, cultivating relationships with his customers has been the biggest factor in his sustained success.

“We’ll get people coming in from out of town for our selection and many more who come by on a regular basis,” he said. “We appreciate the community support because we couldn’t have gotten this far without it.”

Curious Book Shop

307 E. Grand River Ave., East Lansing

10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday

Noon-5 p.m. Sunday

(517) 332-0112



Moneyball Sportswear:
Everett grad keeps eye on the ball

Lansing native Desmond Ferguson launched Moneyball Sportswear during his 11-year professional basketball career. The business started out manufacturing team uniforms but has since grown to produce other athletic apparel and, more recently, footwear.
Lansing native Desmond Ferguson launched Moneyball Sportswear during his 11-year professional basketball career. The business started out …

Long before Lansing native Desmond Ferguson walked off the court for the last time as a professional basketball player, he was already thinking about what would come next.

“I was in the Netherlands in 2001 when I started to think about what I wanted to do outside of the game. I was lucky to be making some money doing something I loved, so the idea of doing basketball uniforms came to mind,” he said.

Ferguson, 46, launched Moneyball Sportswear in 2002, naming the business after a nickname his teammates had given him for his sharpshooter role. He started out manufacturing basketball uniforms for high school teams in Detroit and Lansing before expanding into other sports.

After hanging his jersey up in 2011, Ferguson pivoted into coaching the varsity boys’ basketball team at his alma mater, Everett High School, from 2012 to 2017. During that time, he also began developing retail sportswear lines to help Moneyball grow beyond its uniform-based roots.

“Slowly but surely, we’ve grown over the years,” he said. “Obviously, I was playing ball and running the business, so it was kind of like a side hustle that grew into a legit business. Once I got done playing ball, I went strictly full-time with it.”

Ferguson opened a Meridian Mall location in 2017 and a second storefront in Southfield in 2019. In 2022, he centralized his ever-growing operation at a new 5,000-square-foot headquarters at 927 W. Saginaw St. in Lansing.

“For me, it was really about ownership after paying rent for so many years. It was just part of our natural growth and something I always wanted to do,” he said.

The headquarters space allows Ferguson and his team of around a dozen employees to coordinate new clothing lines, uniform orders and regional basketball events under one roof. For Ferguson, the latter, which includes a basketball clinic that’s in its 19th year, is just as important as the retail side.

“You have so many businesses that will take from our community and not give back. One of the main things we do is invest in our community as well, whether that be time, money or both. So, I think people can see that it’s not a facade,” he said.

Having turned his lifelong passion into a sustainable career, Ferguson said the key to establishing an independent business is to follow what you know.

“Do something you’re passionate about that’s a need for everyday people. Find something you would do even if you weren’t making money from it because early on, you probably won’t. Until you do, you’ve got to be able to withstand the peaks and valleys, just like with sports and life itself,” he said.

Moneyball Sportswear

927 W. Saginaw St., Lansing

10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday

(517) 393-0763



Westlund’s Apple Market:
Independent grocer thrives in Groesbeck

From left: Tim Westlund, owner of Westlund’s Apple Market, poses with two of the store’s butchers, Phil Bahle and Alan Jackson.
From left: Tim Westlund, owner of Westlund’s Apple Market, poses with two of the store’s butchers, Phil Bahle and Alan Jackson.

While competing grocery chains like Kroger, Meijer, Whole Foods and, most recently, Trader Joe’s have staked claims around Greater Lansing over the years, Westlund’s Apple Market has managed to retain its status as a fixture of Lansing’s Groesbeck Neighborhood.

Founded in 1921, the family-owned supermarket has simultaneously embraced the past while modernizing just enough to keep corporate giants from overtaking its slice of the pie.

Owner Tim Westlund inherited the store from his father, Gerald Westlund, in 2007. In his 17 years at the helm, he said he’s seen the grocery business change significantly.

“People usually aren’t buying a whole week’s worth of groceries anymore,” he said. “You go into the big boys, and you do still see that, but in this store, you can come in and grab great meat or whatever you’re looking for and be in and out in three minutes.” 

He cited self-checkout lanes and food delivery apps as some of the technological advancements he’s had to adapt to in order to stay afloat. So far, however, he’s managed to keep the margins favorable.

“Self-checkout lanes have become the big thing. I never wanted to do that, though, because many people still want to be taken care of by real people. We’ve hung our hats on the idea that people still want to pick their produce and meat themselves,” he said.

Now “semi-retired,” Westlund has passed some of his responsibilities off to his daughter, Erin Westlund, who began working at the store when she was 14.

“People pretty much know others by name here, and it’s been that way as long as I can remember,” Erin Westlund said. “We love our neighborhood customers, and they love us because they can come in here and get a customized, personal experience.”

Thanks to this robust base of regulars, many of whom come from Groesbeck, Westlund’s Apple Market has continued to thrive while other local grocers like Foods for Living have folded under the weight of corporate expansion.

“I would say that the world has gotten away from trying to have people take care of people, and they don’t realize what they’ve lost,” Tim Westlund said. “In a nutshell, the community should know that we’re still here, we’re having fun, we want to continue to take care of our people, and we have no plans for that to change.”

Westlund’s Apple Market

2301 E. Grand River Ave., Lansing

8 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday

9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday

(517) 482-3900


Curious Book Shop, Odd Nodd Art Supply, Wetslund's Apple Market, Simply Vintage Marketplace, Moneyball, Desmond Ferguson, the Record Lounge, Casey Sorrow, Heather Frarey, Tim Westlund, Ray Walsh,


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