Pride month is a one-month event, but supporting LGBTQ+ run businesses happens year-round for the LGBTQ+ community and allies alike. A candy shop, an art gallery, and a restaurant in Traverse City – all three are local businesses that are LGBTQ+ owned. We sat down and chatted with the owners to learn about how they followed their passion, and how they proudly fly the Pride flag. 

Cory Bissell, owner of Kilwins in Frankfort 

Cory Bissell

1. What inspired you to start/run your business? 

My story started with my grandmother, who loved to cook and bake. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in her kitchen learning how to measure, mix, taste for quality control, and put love into what we were baking—she taught me about the patience and procedures that result in a beautiful and tasty final treat. I have always had a sweet tooth, and it was very rewarding to put time and effort into something I could enjoy and share with others. 

2. What made you choose your current location? 

When I became old enough to work, I decided that I wanted a fun job that also aligned with my interests. This led me to the Kilwins store in downtown Frankfort. At 15, I started to learn the craft of making chocolates, fudge, and other goodies, as well as customer service. I continued to work there during the summers throughout my high school and college years. I became the kitchen manager and made the majority of the products that locals and tourists swarmed the store to enjoy. It was a very fun, energetic environment, in which I blossomed. But I think what I really found gratifying was this idea that people were visiting the store, tasting things I had made, and these experiences would become part of their family traditions, year after year—it felt fulfilling to have my work become entwined with the traditions of other families, just as my grandmother had done with me. That planted a seed, early on; it would just take a few years to realize.

After four years of undergraduate studies in physical therapy at Grand Valley State University, I was looking at where to go for grad school. I had originally decided to take a year-long break to save money and go on a road trip around the country—stopping in different cities, maybe getting a job, and following my free spirit wherever it took me. Instead, I came back to Kilwins in Frankfort and was offered the opportunity to buy the business. 

I had joked about owning it one day, but it was not where I thought I'd find myself at age 23. After much thought and consideration, I put together a business plan, negotiated a purchase agreement, and became the owner of the Kilwins Frankfort franchise—this past March, I celebrated 10 years of ownership! 

3. What do you love about having a business in Frankfort?

I love the vibe of this area. There are so many activities, natural wonders, and great people with a variety of life experiences here. I grew up in Frankfort, and my family actually goes back 10 generations. Being away at college showed me how much I had taken our local lakes and trails and uncongested streets for granted. Northern Michigan has a pace of life that I thrive in; busy summers playing in the sun and water, followed by slower winters to recharge and reconnect with friends. 

Frankfort is a great town, in that it offers good dining, shopping, and a quaint Main Street with easy access to Lake Michigan, Crystal Lake, and state and national lands that preserve the beauty of nature while allowing the public to hike and explore it. 

Frankfort is also a close-knit community. I feel grateful to be a part of the business community here that has embraced me, not only as a young member but as a proud gay man. I have sat on a variety of boards for the area and I am able to bring a young and queer perspective to the conversation. I think visibility—especially in more rural locations—is so important, and I strive to bring awareness wherever I can. 

4. How do you celebrate Pride and what does it mean to you (and your business)?

I have seen things change from when I came out as the only gay person in my high school. When I was young, I felt like I was "the only one" and that it was a long journey I was on. To my community's credit, many friends and family stood up for me and were by my side when I needed them—they helped me to change the conversation and to open minds to find more acceptance here. 

Now, northern Michigan is more open and accepting to explore the LGBTQ+ spectrum, and I hope that people feel safe and comfortable in our small town. I also hope that by being myself, pursuing my aspirations, and being an active, proud member of this community, and the LGBTQ+ community, helps others to feel safe or inspired to live their truths, as well. 

Pride is an important celebration, especially for northern Michigan. It highlights many of the businesses and members of the community, and it shows the progress and openness that is happening here. There is a visible support system already in place that Pride highlights; I know I feel seen and included when I see the yard signs, pins, and flags, as well as the local sponsorships for events. 

I know I personally have received many positive comments on the Up North Pride sign that I hang in my window at the Frankfort store. Some people are surprised that Northern Michigan is inclusive or even has a celebration. It's great to show our visitors and locals alike that we are a part of this vibrant community. 

Shanny Brooke, owner of Higher Art Gallery in Downtown Traverse City


Shany Brook

1. What inspired you to start/run your business? 

I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit, and grew up with a parent who ran his own business and would put me to work for him. So from a young age, this was something that was instilled in me. I always felt like, if I am going to work hard, I think it should be for my own business and now in this case: working hard on all of the artists which I am honored to represent. I began to seriously consider opening a contemporary art gallery in Traverse City in 2015 while seeing that there was a missing piece of the puzzle in regards to the type of art and artists being shown here in our community. We have some beautiful galleries in our region, but I missed seeing a more diverse range of art. Art is a universal language, so I sought to bring artists from all over, outside our region, state, and beyond.  I also wanted to intentionally focus on a gallery that features a large selection of work made by women. Things are finally starting to turn throughout art institutions, but for far too long, galleries and institutions have not represented enough female artists. Every gallerist, and or curator has their own taste, I tend to always lean towards what women are making and what they have to say with their art. 

2. What made you choose your current location? 

For our first four years in business, we were located on Union Street. We moved into a space that another creative space was moving out of. It was a tough spot. Not a ton of foot traffic, and we really were a planned destination for people. I always knew I would move eventually, and began to quietly look for a better space, but never dreamed I would find a perfect space on Front Street. Right in the midst of the pandemic, another business was moving out of my current space, and since she is a friend, she gave me the heads up. My new space is in a lovely spot, and on the same block as The State Theater.

3. What do you love about having a business in Traverse City?

The locals who live in the downtown area and pop in regularly when they are on walks, or bring in family and friends to show them the gallery are definitely something that gives me a warm feeling. During the portion of the pandemic when we were shut down, it really meant so much when people would come in and tell me how important the gallery is to the vibrancy of our downtown. It really is food for the soul to walk into a peaceful place and look at art, and a lot of my regulars really rallied around to help the gallery through that tough time. It is a huge reason that I was actually able to move to a better location. Traverse City has a big heart. As many of the business owners downtown know, we spend our summer months extremely busy, and all of that business is what helps carry us through the slower months. I love both seasons equally. I love the visitors from Chicago, New York, and California and establishing relationships with them. I also look forward to the quiet months catching up with my own artwork and seeing the local collectors. Every season has its own perks! 

4. How do you celebrate Pride and what does it mean to you (and your business)?

I hope that by having a business that by its nature, crosses all sorts of boundaries that we as humans create will help to create an atmosphere of what I think Pride is about: to Love who you Love and have the freedom to do so.

Chad Hall - General Manager & Joshua Anderson - Chef, owners of Red Spire Brunch House in The Village at Grand Traverse Commons

Chad Hall & Joshua Anderson

1. What inspired you to start/run your business? 

We started Red Spire as a natural progression of our personal development. We had both worked in the service industry collectively for over 25 years and wanted to branch out on our own. We felt we had a good idea, but needed a home. We had been looking at various locations and contemplated a couple of different concepts. When our place of employment was sold, we felt it was a good moment for us to take the opportunity to bring our concept to life.

2. What made you choose your current location? 

Red Spire being in the Commons was just good luck. We had approached our trusted realtor to look at a different property with us, but quickly decided it would not be a good investment. She suggested we check out a space in the Grand Traverse Commons knowing it would be opening up since Pepe Nero was moving to a larger space. We checked it out and felt it was a good size for us. We were a little nervous about the location, but in the end, it is a great fit for us and the Commons.

3. What do you love about having a business in Traverse City?

We have the greatest community! The local customers add such a personality to our clientele and make owning a business enjoyable. We have been fortunate to have a wonderful staff who really care about the business. They add so much to what Red Spire is. It is great to hear people enjoy our product and their experience and share it with their friends and family.

4. How do you celebrate Pride and what does it mean to you (and your business)?

We celebrate Pride in numerous ways. We are solid supporters of Up North Pride. We believe in their mission to bring diversity awareness and acceptance to our community. We have a pride flag up all year as a symbol of inclusion. We want everyone to feel welcome and comfortable visiting with us. Although being part of the LGBTQ+ community does not define us, it is an important piece for which we are proud.