February 24, 2024

PETOSKEY — After more than 150 years of business, Gruler’s Pet and Farm Supply at 125 Fulton St. will permanently close this weekend as owner Al Gruler prepares to retire. 
Earlier this week, Gruler’s customers walked in to see nearly empty shelves and many told Gruler they are sad to see the store close but happy to hear of his retirement.
The store goes back to New York in 1851 when Constantine Gruler opened a feed store after immigrating from Germany. The family and business would eventually move to Fowler, Michigan and then make their way to Petoskey in 1905.
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The store would be passed down to Gruler sons, most of them named Al or Frank, until reaching the current Al, who started working at the store in 1975, not long after graduating from Petoskey High School.
Gruler spent his childhood helping out in the store and as an adult, he worked alongside his dad, also named Al, for decades, gradually taking over more of the business. 
“My dad was a wonderful person. Some of the family dynamic can be kind of hard, my dad was super easy. He was just such a laid back kind of guy,” Gruler said.
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During his time at the store, Gruler added several expansions and acquired the former lumber yard across the street. From 2003 to 2018, he had a second location in Charlevoix, which he sold as he got closer to retirement age. 
Gruler employee Jeff Dufek has worked at the store on and off for the last 15 years. He returned to the store part-time to help out when Gruler was struggling to find workers.
“(The store closing) is bittersweet. I’m glad for Al, it’s good to see him enjoy life and get out and do what he wants to do,” Dufek said.
In addition to staffing shortages, Gruler said that as online shopping becomes more common, it has gotten harder for the store to keep up. 
“(Online stores) have a massive advantage. I guess if that’s the future you can’t stop it, you want to call it progress, there’s nothing you can do about it,” Gruler said. “It’s not like competing against another mom and pop store or even a box store. We can compete against almost any brick and mortar store, where online is not the same.”
In his retirement, Gruler plans to dive back into his hobbies of fishing, hunting and farming. He and his wife, Toni, also plan to do some traveling to Greece, where Toni’s family is from, and Germany, where Gruler’s extended grandfather Constantine is from.
“I used to do all that stuff. But of course about that time I was getting married, having kids. So I had to choose between the hunting and the fishing and I kept the hunting. Now my kids are all grown up so I go right back at it again, I’m looking forward to that,” he said.
As for the property where the store is located, the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation purchased it in order to ensure it will eventually be the site of an affordable housing development. 


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