Kelly Shop memories -- 50 years ago this year

*Business continued Culver family tradition

Fifty years ago this year, a longstanding staple of Culver's downtown business district opened its doors, continuing a family tradition of local businesses. That same store -- the Kelly Shop, owned and operated by Marilyn Kelly -- closed its doors 30 years ago, also this year.

Kelly grew up in Culver and graduated from Culver High School. Many will remember her mother, Mary Hatten, and father, Domincas "Min" Hatten, perhaps most remembered as the man originally behind Hatten Motor Sales.

"They called us 'the four M's,'" says Marilyn. "Min, Mary, Marge, and (my sister) Marilyn. My dad had four children by his first wife, who died of the influenza epidemic around 1916 or 1917. So Larry Davis' mother was my half-sister."

Min Hatten started his repair work in a garage behind the family's home at the northwest corner of Cass and Slate Streets.

"It was just an old board building," she explains. "When we girls were teens, we'd practice hitting tennis balls onto the side of the garage. Our mother broke a couple of windows and dad made her quit!"

When Hatten Motor Sales officially began in the early to mid-1920s, it was housed at 415 E. Lake Shore Drive, home of the Culver Banquet Center, Mirar Custom Homes, and Gladie's Deli today. Hatten sold Chrysler and Plymouth vehicles, though when he first started, Chrysler autos were known as Maxwells (until 1925).

"He had the east half of the building," she recalls of her father's business. She notes her uncle Clifford had the Culver-based Losier Taxi service, which eventually led to a line of transportation and tour buses outside Culver.

The candy store on the way to school
In 1936, Hatten purchased property at Lake Shore Drive and Ohio Street from Wayne Von Ehr (location of Culver's car wash today). Von Ehr had operated out of the building there as a repair shop and Gulf gas station, recalls Marilyn, whereas Hatten added motor sales to the operation when he opened his business there.

"That was the place to go get candy on your way to school," recalls Marilyn. "That's what so many people remember -- the candy and pop."
Marilyn's late husband Norm Kelly started doing bookwork for Min Hatten in 1948, when the couple was first married, initially waiting on customers buying candy and gasoline, but learning to be a mechanic as he did so and eventually attending transmission school.

Norm took over the business from Min, who died in in 1974.

In February, 1962, Norm and Marilyn Kelly purchased what had been the Kennedy Store, at 110 N. Main Street in downtown Culver. It had formerly been owned and operated by Mr. and Mrs. Alex Kennedy, who had purchased the store from Earl Foreman.

The Culver Citizen at the time noted the Kellys were "well known in Culver and are mem­bers of the Burr Oak Church of God. Mrs. Kelly...was employed at The State Ex­change Bank for four years. They have three children, David, age 12; Steven, 10; and Connie, 6. Mrs. Kelly is a member of the Maxinkuckee Junior Woman's Club and is chairman of the State Penny Art Fund. Mr. Kelly is a member of the Culver Chamber of Commerce, the Culver Lions Club, and in also Lions zone chairman."

At first, Norm had hoped the Kelly Shop would be his ticket out of working in a garage all his life, recalls Marilyn.

"He said, 'I'll stay at the garage for a year and then come over and help run it,' but he never made it."

Initially, she says, the Kelly Shop was a small department store.

"We had clothing, fabrics, shoes, linens. Then the A&P (grocery next door) moved out in 1972 of the north half of the building, and we took over their part. That's where we moved all the fabric and set up the sewing room in the back. After a while, we turned it into a gift shop back there."

Times were different then, including the way people obtained their clothing. For around three years, says Marilyn, the Kelly Shop hosted sewing classes as an extension of its popular offerings of fabrics and sewing-related items.

"Knits first became popular then and you could buy them by the yard. We'd make t-shirts and lingerie. But with Culver being small, after a while you'd get everybody taught!

"That (sewing-related) half of the store was made so it looked like barn beams," she adds. "That half was 'The Fabric Barn,' and one area was 'The Gift Shed.'"

Even by the early 1980s, in fact, the shop "still sold a lot of fabric...(people) were still sewing a lot."

During those years, Marilyn Kelly and other employees began taking belly dancing lessons, and she became known in Culver for that skill, which was put to use drawing attention outside the store during Culver's sidewalk days each year.

A salesman used regularly by the Kelly Shop actually suggested the launch of the sidewalk days event here, says Marilyn, who got together with Andy Vernum of Andy's Clothiers to first launch the annual event, circa 1966. It still continues each July.

By 1979, America was in the grip of a recession which Kelly remembers as shorter than the most recent one, but "to me...worse than it is now.'

Suppliers increasingly added minimum requirements to their orders so smaller town stores couldn't compete, says Marilyn, while large department stores like K-Mart began to dominate the market.

The Kelly Shop finally closed its doors in 1982, 20 years after its debut.

The shop closed, she notes, about the same time the State Exchange Bank was erupting in difficulties which were making headlines around the state.

"It was time to close up," she says.

Afterwards, Marilyn Kelly cooked at the Olde Towne restaurant and Cafe Max a block south, then working for the next 18 years at the Farm Bureau co-op, which by the time she left, had moved its main office to Rochester.

Norm Kelly closed up the Hatten garage and was working as a bus mechanic for Culver Community Schools. He passed away in 1998.

For her part, Marilyn Kelly has stayed quite active in Culver, especially in more recent years with the Culver Lions Club, living today with husband Phocian at the College Avenue house she's called home for more than five decades.

She, like generations of Culverites, keeps fond memories of the Kelly Shop.

"When we first went in and bought (the future Kelly Shop)," recalls Marilyn, "People said, 'Oh, that'll last a year or two."

Thankfully for Culver, Marilyn Kelly paid them no mind.