I was walking through our lower level retail area, Zehnder’s Marketplace, and it just amazes me how from humble beginnings, our retail business has grown. One woman deserves much of the credit.
The expansion of our restaurant in 1948 provided for a small retail space on our main floor, now our Guest Services office. In June of 1948 Herman Zehnder presented the idea of selling souvenirs to our guests.
Sensing an opportunity, the family board charged their sister Ermia “Bowsie” Zehnder Nuechterlein with the challenge. They couldn’t have made a better choice. “Bowsie” as she was known to everyone, was a born salesperson. She had demonstrated her selling skills by winning a car in 1926, at just 16 years old, for selling the most subscriptions to the Saginaw News! I think the story goes that her dad, my Grandpa Zehnder, sold that car because cash was tight and an additional car was simply a luxury, particularly for a 16 year old woman in 1926.
Bowsie took the challenge posed by her sibling board and built that small gift shop into a multi-million dollar retail business at Zehnder’s and later at the Bavarian Inn. Now spanning nearly 7,000 square feet in our lower level, Zehnder’s Marketplace features many of the products served on our tables, goods baked fresh in our bakery and gift selections from around the world.
I have many fond memories of my Aunt Bowsie. She was a sharp dresser (she hated blue jeans and I never remember seeing her in a pair of slacks) had a quick wit and an ever present smile. She had the rare combination of a keen business sense coupled with a loving personality. She was admired and respected by all that came to know her.
While she passed from this earth in 1999, many of us celebrated her memory not too long ago, with her children (my cousins) on what would have been her 100th birthday. She would be 103 this year. The successful retail foundation Bowsie set for us lives on today. Thanks Aunt Bowsie, here’s to you.
Al Zehnder, CEO of Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth