MLIVE Article: Doud’s Market on Mackinac Island celebrates 140 years as America’s oldest grocery store

Posted by Nicole Doud on

Doud's Market is proud to be America's Oldest Grocery Store! We are celebrating 140 years in business this year - 2024! MLIVE recently did a feature on us that we wanted to share on our blog. Read the article bTanda Gmiter below on our blog or on MLive here:

MACKINAC ISLAND, MI - On a recent day inside Doud’s Market on Mackinac Island, the narrow aisles were bustling with the afternoon crowd. Island workers were making a late lunch run, picking up sandwiches and salads from the grab-and-go display. Summer cottage owners were surveying the big liquor selection behind the cash registers. And daytrippers were filling baskets with picnic items to take to the nearby park. In the back, grocery orders destined for the far-flung homes were being prepped for delivery.

Opened in 1884, Doud’s Market is celebrating its 140th anniversary this year. Members of its namesake family will tell you they are proud to still be running the oldest grocery store in the United States.

But customers who have stepped inside this fairly small store on its busy Main Street corner can attest that while it’s a slice of Americana, Doud’s Market also has island facets to its business that make it completely unique.

Mackinac Island is Michigan’s top tourism destination and sees more than a million visitors step on shore each summer. Add into that mix the roughly 500 local residents, thousands of seasonal employees and the summer families who come to reopen their cottages and island homes. And don’t forget the people who motor into a boat slip just for a day or two.

As the island’s only grocery store, Doud’s has to be incredibly nimble. It has to carry not only all the essentials these customers might need - but also the specialty items people want when they’re on vacation. It has to be the locals’ grocery store and the tourists’ custom shop all in one.

“It’s a wide variety of people we are serving,” owner Andrew Doud said. He has run the store since 2008 and represents the fourth generation of Douds at the helm. “From the cottagers to the workers. That does have its challenges. For example, we try to stock the higher-end meats, but we also sell a lot of ramen noodles.”

“We can’t just be an alcohol store. And we can’t just be a meat shop. We have to have a lot of everything.”

The store’s incredibly diverse inventory is evident within seconds of stepping inside. Its small size - just 4,500 square feet - means Doud and his team have had to get creative, stacking the shelves and filling every available spot.

“A lot of stores our size are more convenience stores. But we are not,” he said.

Fresh produce and grab-and-go meals fill coolers on one side of the store. A small soup bar and a spot for its takeout pizzas are in the back. Fresh meats and seafood are packaged for pick up, and frozen selections are also available. Familiar grocery staples like cereal, rice, baking supplies and canned goods fill the shelves. But there are also international items - a nod to the many global workers who are essential the island.

If customers ask for specific items, Doud says he does his best to place special orders. The store also offers grocery delivery service via a horse-drawn dray for arriving cottagers or vacationers who place an online order.

The huge number of items filling the store these days is a stark contrast from its humble beginnings. Opened by brothers James and Patrick Doud, the store first was known as Doud Bros. and later as Doud’s Mercantile. It carried basic items that might be needed by the locals or the growing stream of vacationers who at that time reached the island mostly by train, then a boat from the mainland.

The market opened at a time when the island’s fur trade and military chapters had already faded. In its place was a growing focus on seasonal tourism.

Doud Bros. initially opened closer to the waterfront, where the Mackinac Island Ferry Company dock now sits. But a fire scrapped that early location. The store then moved to its current corner spot near Marquette Park.

For Andrew Doud, the store was always part of his family’s life. His father served in the U.S. Navy, then spent the remainder of his working life at the market. But being the only grocery store on the island isn’t always a recipe for success. When he took the reins 16 years ago, Andrew Doud had to work to get the business on solid financial footing.

He also had to reimagine what the store should stock, based on the different needs and wants of customers. Those frequent assessments have led to the current mix of high-brow items, special orders and the big selection of basics that could fill out any kitchen pantry.

And because it’s an island where most vehicles are banned, it means all the items Doud’s orders have to be brought in first by water, then by a horse-drawn flatbed wagon. If thick ice shuts down winter boat traffic, groceries have to be flown to the island from the mainland. On rare occasions, if an ice bridge forms in particularly cold winters, groceries can be hauled to the island via snowmobiles.

“We are very fortunate,” he said. “We use Arnold Freight. They are a wonderful company. And all our items come in through the Mackinac Island Service Company, which brings the pallets to us.”

As the store has evolved, so have the Douds. Andrew and his wife, Nicole, are parents to three young boys. And like most island business families, they own a stake in other ventures as well, including condos, the Mackinac House guest accommodations, and the Little Luxuries gift shop on Main Street. Last year, they opened Patrick Doud’s Irish Pub just down the street.

Like any dad, Andrew Doud has his eyes on the future.

“This is an incredible anniversary. But we are more excited for the 150th,” he said.