Arrayed along walls and on tables in the middle are a wondrous and varied array of products produced locally and for sale on commission at a small market building on Atwater Road.
“There’s a market for just about everything,” said Jay Engels, co-owner of The People’s Market of Lansing, and his shop proves that.
Jay is an accountant and his co-owner, and spouse Carol is a veteran of more than two decades of teaching kindergarteners at Raymond Buckley Elementary School. They came here in 2000 and raised alpacas on Scofield Road.
Alongside that farm was a gift shop that Jay ran while working from home. People came to buy, and people came with tax questions at all hours.
When “it got to be a little old,” Jay looked for a place where they could sell their alpaca products, and he had an office in the back where he could do the books for local businesses and nonprofits.
They spent three years at the left end of the small plaza where the post office is before moving across the street, buying their own building when VooDoo Amps moved out. They’ve been there for the seven years since.
“As an accountant, I don’t like paying rent,” Jay said. “Plus, it is a bigger space.”
There are four offices in the back for two lawyers (Veronica Johnson and Ed Goehler), a therapist (Abigail Stark) and a cleaning business (Coop Cleaning). A local community supported agriculture (CSA) uses the place as a drop-off site for its customers. And Jay has a commercial kitchen in the back that people use to make and package salsa and other local products.
But the main focus of the market is everything else.
“We started selling our alpaca products and asked six or seven friends to join us selling their goods on consignment,” Jay said.
Today, there are more than 40 different vendors with products in the store.
“We have a little bit of everything,” Jay said. “Soap, photography, jewelry, pottery, eggs, maple syrup. We have socks, cheese, cupcakes and cookies, macaroons. I have people who just come in for the cookies and people who just come in for the dog bones. There is local honey, which is supposed to be good for your allergies. I have people who get the honey for their dog’s allergies. And it’s supposed to be good if your dog gets a cut.”
There is a large selection of books from Lansing Sub Shop and a counter of baseball cards and sports memorabilia. For the rest, Jay buys whole estates to sort the sellable from the scrapable.
In the summer, Jay will run up the lake to an Amish market once a week to buy produce for sale out front. A local man makes sandwiches in the kitchen for sale.
“It’s unique,” Jay said. “It’s stuff that you are not going to find at Target - a good variety.”
Summer and fall tourists drive a lot of the business, but Jay said that gift buyers make November and December his busiest season, which leaves spring open for accounting season.
Having a post office across the street makes it easy for Jay to operate an online version of The People’s Market, selling goods on consignment on eBay, Craigslist and Facebook marketplace.
“I ship eight, 10, 12 or 15 packages a day in the busy season,” Jay said. “I’ve sold saxophones, musical instruments and electronics. I have about a hundred of those light-up houses people put up at Christmas for sale, model helicopters that someone’s husband used to like to tinker with. It’s 10 or 15% of the business.”
Jay takes a commission of 25% on every sale and pays his vendors monthly. New vendors approaching Jay should “look to bring in something different, so they don’t overlap with what is here already,” he said.
And why “The People’s Market”?
“We bought that sign at auction about 20 years ago and hung it over the chicken coop,” Jay said. “When we opened the store and thought about what to name it, well, we already had the sign.”
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