Joan Van Houten Staff Writer
“Retirement sale; store closing; everything must go” is a sign of changing times for downtown Hastings.
Secondhand Corners is going out of business after 30 years on the corner of State and Jefferson streets. News of the closing came with the announcement that Karen Heath's husband and co-owner of the store, Rick, is retiring.
The building is for sale. Karen Heath said they have shown the property to two interested buyers with three more viewing appointments scheduled.
Secondhand Corners is located in the first brick business building in the City of Hastings. The three-story building was erected in 1866 and was called the Union Block because there was a united effort by three different business interests in building it.
The men behind the construction were W.S. Goodyear and Nathan Barlow of the firm Goodyear & Barlow; D.G. Robinson and R.B. Wightman of the firm Robinson & Wightman; and L.A. Holbrook, attorney.
According to History of Barry County by W.W. Potter, the building extended for three fronts on the main street. Goodyear and Barlow owned the east third of the building, Robinson and Wightman owned the middle third and Holbrook owned the west portion.
The Heaths have utilized all three floors of the building for their business.
“Owning a store like this was Rick's dream. In fourth grade, he was pulled into the principal's office because he had been going to the dime store and buying up all the squirt guns. They found out he was selling them to classmates at school. He was truly meant to be in this business,” Heath said, laughing.
Shortly after they married, the Eaton Rapid natives moved to Texas where he attended college and she worked in the corporate world. While there, they began purchasing real estate and renovating property as investments.
When it came time to make the big jump into opening a resale store, they both knew that Michigan was where it was going to happen. The choice was between Jackson and Hastings. After visiting both locations, Hastings was the winner.
“I've always landed where the community is progressive and looking forward. That's how it is here. We're all working and pushing to make this a better city,” Heath, who is also the chairwoman of the Downtown Business Team, said. “It was pure panic for me when we made the decision to go after Rick's dream. It meant quitting our jobs, packing up our two daughters and leaving a place that had been our home.
“It's the same feeling closing as it was when we opened.”
The Heaths arrived in Hastings in 1989 and lived in a small 800-square-foot home that didn't work well for their family. Shortly before 1991, they purchased the historic and iconic Daniel Striker House; a Queen Anne-style home built in the 1880s. The structure still stands on the corner of Jefferson and Green streets.
They again packed up with their daughters, Emily and Heather, and, this time, their camping gear, and moved into the house that had no heat, running water or a working bathroom. They immediately began renovations.
“When Rick got the water on and the toilet working, it was so exciting to us that we all stood around to watch the first flush. It was so funny,” Heath said. For several months after, renovating their home and preparing to open the resale store consumed their life. They lived in that house for 11 years.
Friends and family warned Heath about the difficulty in working with a spouse every day, but she said she has always had that figured out. She said the beginning of operating the business together was tough because they were “tripping over each other.” They had to separate responsibilities and create their own space.
The Heaths have seen and stumbled across many unique and interesting items in their searches and they each had their favorites.
Heath’s favorite item she kept for herself is a three-foot-long sailing ship considered to be tramp art or prison art. Because of the limited materials in prison, the art was created by using whatever was available.
The ship has three sails attached with jewelry findings, and the body is made of wooden coffee stirring sticks. It was made with “incredible detail” like the captain’s cabin which has furniture and lighting.
Rick has a large collection of tin wind-up toys and developed a passion for unique glassware. She said he is always on the prowl to find more.
In an era of online shopping with eBay and Amazon, Secondhand Corners adjusted its sales and marketing strategy.
“Brick and mortar retail are not dead – just different. It’s a matter of understanding that the sales system must change, and you make that change by researching what is being purchased online and what is purchased at a store,” she said. “Smaller items are perfect for online sales, but some things, like a recliner, people want to sit in, size it up and know how it feels when sitting on it. It’s recognizing that, with changing times, we must change, too. I think Rick and I did it right.”
The downtown district supports several restaurants, shops and service businesses and there is “so much cool stuff” in the shops downtown, she said.
Her husband is jumping head-first into retirement, Heath said, and she imagines he will spend a lot of time taking care of his chickens. The chickens are his, but the eggs are hers, she joked.
“Rick’s an avid hunter, too. Muzzle loaders, rifles, bow – it doesn’t matter to him. He’d wrestle deer if there was a season for it,” Heath said.
Her husband is ready for retirement, but that’s not for her. She is looking for the right position and hasn’t determined yet if it will be necessary for her to step down from her role as chairwoman of the Downtown Business Team.
“We love Hastings and just finished building our forever home right here. We definitely plan on continuing our lives in this great community,” Heath said. “We’ve been so very fortunate to have such wonderful customers, great friends and a real connection with the city. I hope we’ve been good stewards.
“We’re grateful for the life we’ve built here.”