Mackerel Sky Celebrates 30th Anniversary … and Prepares to Close

Friday, August 2, 2019, 7:15 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Above: Tom and Linda Dufelmeier (photos by Raymond Holt)

This fall, the owners of Mackerel Sky in East Lansing’s downtown will celebrate the store’s 30th anniversary. At the end of the year, the store will close.

Co-owner Linda Dufelmeier tells ELi, “We have had a gratifying and exciting time in the thirty years we have been doing business as Mackerel Sky Gallery. We have a family of customers and have had the privilege of impacting the lives of thousands of people as customers/friends.”

“Unfortunately,” she explains, “for the last several years our job has been compounded by becoming apologists for the City of East Lansing for the people who frequent our store. We do everything from expressing regret at inconvenience, to explaining where parking is, [we] explain how to use the new automated parking system (which was instituted at the time the construction began), explain how to navigate detours, and on and on.”

She concludes, “We are sure our last months will be interesting."

A special anniversary event for the “gallery of contemporary craft” is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 20, from noon to 4 p.m.

This is not how they expected to go out.

Linda and her spouse, Tom Dufelmeier, had planned upon their own retirement to turn the shop over to their niece Gwynna Lapham. Lapham has been managing the store for the last couple of years.

But trying to run a business in a construction zone has made the work pretty miserable for the whole staff.

The shop has had to endure pounding machines, trucks driving into the side of the building, and liquid cement falling from above on their cars parked in the shop’s rear lot. Most importantly, customers have been unable to get to the store with any kind of predictability.

In 2017, by a unanimous decision of the City Council and the Downtown Development Authority, the Center City District project eliminated surface parking Lot 1, which most of the shops’ customers had used to easily drop in and out of the store.

Over the last two years, “detour” signs have sent people the wrong way. Construction trucks for the Center City District have blocked the street parking on M.A.C. Avenue. Over and over again, streets and sidewalks and the alley in the immediate vicinity have been partially or entirely closed.

A fixture in downtown East Lansing

Mackerel Sky wasn’t always in its current location, but it’s always been right smack dab downtown. The store’s website explains the Dufelmeiers chose “downtown East Lansing as a commitment to the need to maintain the vitality of our urban centers. … The culturally and economically diverse population contributes to an exciting community.”

The shop has long been known to residents as a place where you can get a unique gift for a wedding or a new baby, where you can get a greeting card the recipient will not have seen elsewhere, and where you will always be greeted in a friendly fashion.

People who come to East Lansing a couple of times a year for games or to visit family have often made it a regular stop. (Rare were the times this reporter’s parents-in-law headed home to Indiana without a distinctive Mackerel Sky shopping bag in their trunk.)

City planners have held up the store as an example of what is great about downtown

In the past year, in City planning meetings and at the Downtown Development Authority, Mackerel Sky has frequently been named as the kind of store local planners want to keep — indeed, want more of.

But in the experience of the Dufelmeiers, the reality of dealing with the City has been in stark contrast to that stated attitude.

When they tried to put attractive planters out on the sidewalk, they were told “no” by City staff. Confusing parking signs led to customers being ticketed. The elimination of the Great Lakes Folk Festival, the moving of the centers of the Arts Festival and Jazz Festival to the east — none of these things have helped.

For now, the store is still open, and it will be for five months more. Linda, Tom, and Gwynna hope to see many familiar faces over that period, as they continue to connect the work of craft artists with area residents.

If you want to park near Mackerel Sky, there are short-term free meters on M.A.C. Avenue. As of now, the first level of the new parking garage on Albert Avenue is open, as is the parking in the garage next to CVS.

Mackerel Sky is located at 211 M.A.C. Avenue in downtown East Lansing.

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