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Chicken Dinner Headquarters Beefs Up Its Retail Marketplace

July 19, 2003       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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About 30 shops and stops await the exploration-minded Michigan traveler at River Place.
Entrance to Frankenmuth's River Place opens door to European-style village.

Early on a Sunday morning, as the hazy red ball of sun began to heat the morning, my wife Dolores and I arrived at Frankenmuth's new River Place for what we thought would be a quick stop and a look.

I had a tip from Bill Zehnder that this was the new focus of the fabled chicken dinner headquarters of the world. Other sources told me that Frankenmuth has installed the new multi-million attraction in response to Michigan's newest tourism competitor, Cabela's outfitters and sporting goods, which isoutdrawing the traditional leader in the state two to one. While Frankenmuth attracts about three million visitors a year, Cabela's brings in about six million to its incredible mega-store in Dundee.

Now comes Henry Ford Village at Dearborn, bidding fair to be the nation's top tourism attraction, vying with the now ancient Williamsburg, Virginia, the Rockefeller familys' gift to tourism.

A few early-bird shop owners were taking in their newspapers and lifting their shades as we began our Sunday morning stroll through River Place, built on the site of an old brewery.

One talkative shop owner informed us that many of the shops also operate at a similar shopping village in Mackinaw City.

The winding, brick-paved streets, shopfronts with ornate and old-style features, fountains and convenient seating for weary shoppers, are reminiscent of a trip we took last summer to the Straits.Our first stop was Raining Cats and Dogs, a typically creative shop which sells virtually nothing but cat and dog items, memorabilia, breed affinity garb, etc. The store advertises "breed theme gifts, collectibles, cards, books, figurines, cat and dog finery." Amazingly, most of the goods are not trite trinkets but would make great gifts for the dog or cat lover. We bought a few items as Christmas gifts for our friends of furry friends.

Next to open was a fantastic place for history-minded people like ourselves (notice I didn't say older folks), Michigan Views. "Purchase fascinating photographs from Michigan's past or have your own photo taken in an old-time setting," the brochure states. We have enough pictures of ourselves in authentic old-time settings, wo we settled for the nostalgia route. The store has fantastic photos from almost every city in Michigan, and a great Bay City collection, including some scenes I had never come across before.

Tiger baseball, Michigan football, Red Wings hockey, the huge flag at the old Hudson's store in downtown Detroit, the Bob Lo boats -- you name it, this store has a photo which will trigger fond memories.

We took a look at Ha' Penny, a store which offers "a universe of finishing touches for the home;" Yankee Candle Company, where you can immerse yourself in 100 fragrances (which takes a little getting used to); Thunder Bay Trading Company, loaded with "woodsy" items; and the Pewter Kingdom, which boasts "Michigan's largest selection of pewter-critters."

Other innovative shops which you may not find in most other shopping areas, include Peace Frogs of Frankenmuth, selling frog-themed collectibles, the Popcorn Wagon, with over 40 flavors of freshly-popped popcorn, and Holy Land Gifts with handcrafted olive wood and mother of pearl items imported directly from the Holy Land.

Most interesting is A Magical Town, where sculptor Michael Garman has made his works come to life. This you have to see!

Fascinated and really entertained, we stayed much longer than we anticipated and topped off the morning with lunch at the Bavarian Inn Lodge, jammed with guests polishing off huge plates of pancakes, omelettes and German pork sausage.

You can see a free laser light show each evening or take a trip on the Bavarian Belle paddlewheeler on the Cass River (1-866-808-BOAT).

As usual, the Zehnder family and their compatriots have established a tourism draw which is the envy of the Saginaw Valley and the state.

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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at

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