Cottonseed Apparel: Co-managers become co-owners

·4 min read

May 23—GLEN ARBOR — "Some day" became May 12.

Serving as co-managers of Cottonseed Apparel, Lizzie Gray and Laurenn Rudd often discussed their dreams of owning the women's clothing store at 6501 Western Ave.

"What if" became when on May 12 when Gray and Rudd closed on a deal to purchase from Diana and Marc Oberschulte the business that launched in 1991.

"Since Laurenn and I became managers, we would say, 'One day, who knows, we could own it,'" said Gray, who turned 27 in April. "Diana and Marc have been doing it 30 years. They wanted to pass it on so they could retire and do other things."

The 32-year-old Rudd became manager at Cottonseed at the end of 2014. Gray became full-time in 2016.

So when the Oberschultes decided to sell the business, they didn't need to look far. Rudd and Gray would accompany the former owners on buying trips, receiving on-the-job training to run the business.

"We knew that they wanted it and we couldn't imagine anybody but them taking it over," Diana Oberschulte said. "They always ran it like it was theirs."

With the natural progression from the Oberschultes to Rudd and Gray, there won't be any sweeping differences at the building located at the corner of M-22 and Lake Street, the original home of the Glen Arbor Post Office at the beginning of the 1900s. Gray said Cottonseed will continue to carry Habitat, Cut Loose and Liverpool jeans.

"No major changes," Rudd said. "We'll just continue to carry on the Cottonseed legacy the Oberschultes have built up. We're obviously going to make it our own, but we'll continue to carry the brands we always have."

"It was like this for 30 years," Gray said. "They made it work, so we'll keep everything pretty much the way it has been. We'll have a lot of the same brands our customers have known and loved.

"We'll keep growing it over the next few years and see how well we can do with it."

Keeping the store the same also was important for the Oberschultes. More importantly, shoppers wanted the tradition to continue.

"We have a very broad customer base that comes from all over all year round," Diana Oberschulte said. "They didn't want it to change."

The duo took different paths to becoming store managers first and owners second.

Rudd, who lived in Lake Ann and graduated from Benzie Central High School, began working at the age of 16 in 2005 for the Oberschultes at an adjacent souvenir store, The Totem Shop. At 6521 Western Ave., Diana Oberschulte said The Totem Shop dates back to 1938 and was "a destination for children." Diana Oberschulte said they bought that business in 1990 before selling it in 2007.

"One day they said, 'You know, we also own Cottonseed,'" Rudd recalled. "They asked me if I wanted to work there and I said, 'Oh, yeah. Definitely.' After that I requested to work at Cottonseed as much as possible."

Rudd worked summers at Cottonseed in both high school and college. After Rudd graduated from Hope College in 2011 with a major in business management and a minor in studio art, she worked for two years in corporate retail at Anthropologie in New York City.

Anthropologie is part of URBN Brands, which includes Urban Outfitters.

But the pull of Cottonseed and northern Michigan brought Rudd back. She's been working full-time there since the end of 2014.

"I absolutely love being in this space," Rudd said Wednesday, taking a break from landscaping chores. "I love everything that comes with the job. There's always something different to do. I also love the seasonality of it."

Gray started working part-time at Cottonseed Apparel in 2014. After she graduated from Central Michigan University with a major in anthropology and a minor in biology, she returned to the retail world.

"It was my summer job," Gray said. "Once I graduated from college, they offered me a full-time job. I've been here full-time since 2016."

Gray worked summers because she grew up in Arlington Heights, a suburb northwest of Chicago. But Gray wasn't unfamiliar with the Leelanau County village sandwiched between Sleeping Bear Bay and Glen Lake.

"My grandparents owned a cottage in Glen Arbor, so I've been coming up here my whole life," Gray said. "I could never leave, so I just stayed."