Jukebox Heroes

May 29, 2007
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Originally intended for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, the one-millionth jukebox to roll off the line at Grand Rapids’ Rowe International isn’t leaving town after all.

“When we made the one-millionth jukebox, we were talking to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Field Museum in Chicago,” said John Margold, Rowe International senior vice president of sales and marketing. “When we got some interest from the Public Museum of Grand Rapids, we asked ourselves what we meant to Chicago or Cleveland — not much.”

Although no longer locally owned, Rowe is one of Grand Rapids’ oldest manufacturers. Originally known as the National Piano Manufacturing Co., it moved into its current facility at 1500 Union Ave. SE in 1922. Today, it is the world’s oldest and largest maker of coin-operated jukeboxes. Its heritage is on display in the Van Andel Museum Center’s Bradford Gallery for an undetermined but temporary amount of time in an exhibit called Jukebox Heroes: 80 Years of the Coolest Machines You Have Ever Seen.

The exhibit features eight jukeboxes behind glass representing eight decades of models and the one-millionth jukebox, the NiteStar Digital Internet Access, open for use. According to museum marketing director Rebecca Westphal, it has already become one of the museum’s most popular exhibits.

“It’s field-trip time (of year), and every time I go in there, it’s 10-deep with 10-year-olds,” she said.

  • Alternative Mechanical founder Richard Ortega drew the largest chuckle at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2007 Small Business Celebration last week with his dead-on comment on how a small business operator survives from one day to the next. “I’m just a little piglet trying to get in and get some of the food,” Ortega quipped.

WGVU’s Shelley Irwin, moderator of a keynote panel of small business operators, quipped, “Dick, I’ll never look at you quite the same way again.”

Ortega was among the thousands of West Michigan-based entrepreneurs whose success was celebrated Tuesday afternoon at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. G.B. Russo & Son International Grocery was honored as the Small Business of the Year. Eleven other businesses received special mention.

A panel discussion regarding small business challenges featured Ortega, along with Mike Busley of Grand Traverse Pie Co. and past Small Business of the Year winners Cynthia Kay of Cynthia Kay & Co. Media Production and Doreen Bolhuis, president of Gymco Sports.

  • It wasn’t a big, hairy deal for Kelly Powell last week when Kent County commissioners said there was no dough for his does.

Powell breeds whitetail deer in Courtland Township for other breeders that produce trophy deer for hunting preserves. Four of his does were traumatized to death (the panicked deer ran into the fence and died of blunt trauma) when a pack of stray dogs attacked their pen. He filed a claim with the county for $27,000 as reimbursement for his loss, a right granted to owners of fur-bearing animals by the Dog Law of 1919. But as county counsel Sherry Batzer pointed out, deer are not considered fur-bearing animals under the law, although muskrats and minks are.

Powell tried to convince commissioners otherwise by bringing a bear skin, a wolf skin and a deer hide to last week’s meeting for comparison. “The fine fur they have in the winter is what protects them. They lay in the snow banks and they’ve got to grow another layer to do that. We don’t need to split hairs here to determine that deer grow fur every year,” he said. Commissioners were sympathetic but not swayed, and Powell didn’t bag a buck.

By the way, whitetail breeding is a big-buck industry. The Illinois Deer Farmers Association reports that $300 million is invested into the business each year in Michigan. New York leads the herd with $1.4 billion invested annually. Powell said there are 316 deer farms in Michigan.

  • In an unfortunate coincidence, Gordon Food Service became the second West Michigan company to be panned in just over a year on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report under markedly similar circumstances. Host Stephen Colbert chided the grocer, identified only as “a Michigan company,” for its recall of 129,000 pounds of beef products in 15 states.

Last year, Allegan pharmaceutical maker Perrigo got the same treatment for a recall of acetaminophen laced with metal shards: “The FDA said it would probably only cause minor stomach discomfort,” Colbert said. “And do you know what people take when they have minor discomfort? Acetaminophen! Perrigo, you had the analgesic equivalent of a perpetual motion machine, and you took it off the market.”

  • Already the highest ranking woman within West Michigan-based publicly traded companies, Herman Miller’s Elizabeth Nickels will step down as CFO following the company’s next quarterly report in June and assume a new role as president of Herman Miller for Healthcare. She will retain the title of executive vice president.

Nickels served as CFO for seven years, assuming the position when now-president and CEO Brian Walker was named president of Herman Miller North America. A woman has never been CEO of an exchange-listed company in West Michigan: Perhaps that might soon change.

  • The Coffee Dunkers of America raised $35,000 for Silent Observer at its roast of local luminary David Frey last week, a 23 percent increase over the previous year’s event. Grand Rapids Police Chief Harry Dolan, the “chief grand exhausted dripless dunker,” and Director Madam Marie Haviland, president of Haviland Corp., led the roasters, which mainly consisted of keeping them sober.

Campaign consultant David Doyle resumed the role of Father Sarducci. Grand Rapids Family Magazine humor columnist and Francis Marketing Creative Director Mike Marn stole the show with his “gambling casino” songs. Resident Conductor and Decomposer Chuck Buffman, of local theater and Grand Rapids Community College fame, directed the Dunkers’ one-piece orchestra.

Among others involved in the festivities were Haviland Corp.’s Mary Buggs, former WZZM-13 reporter Jim Riekse and local attorney Jim Burr.

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