2017-04-06 / Front Page

Sewer a question in boom town Empire

By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff


STEVE NOWICKI is working to get his Shipwreck Cafe open before Memorial Day weekend. The 860-square-foot building on M-22 in Empire Village is getting a total makeover. STEVE NOWICKI is working to get his Shipwreck Cafe open before Memorial Day weekend. The 860-square-foot building on M-22 in Empire Village is getting a total makeover. Steve Nowicki put his fishing boat up for sale this week and will soon be embarking on a new adventure with his Shipwreck Cafe, which is due to open by Memorial Day.

The cafe, which will be located in a former dentist’s office on M-22, is one of several new tourist-related businesses in the works in Empire Village.

Megan and Peter Schous hope to break ground on their new hotel this summer.

Empire Associates, consisting of Jim Bagaloff and John Collins, is looking for developers for property it owns on Lake Street that includes the Storm Hill building.

And a 1,200-square-foot addition of retail space to the Miser’s Hoard on Front Street has already been completed.

Though there are several empty buildings in Empire’s downtown area, prospective business owners are hampered by lots that are too small for today’s septic field health code requirements. Public bathrooms are also sorely needed for visitors.


THE BUILDING known as Storm Hill and two other structures on Lake Street in Empire may be developed into a brew pub, a restaurant or even a senior living home by Jim Bagaloff and John Collins, who comprise Empire Associates, the company that owns the buildings. THE BUILDING known as Storm Hill and two other structures on Lake Street in Empire may be developed into a brew pub, a restaurant or even a senior living home by Jim Bagaloff and John Collins, who comprise Empire Associates, the company that owns the buildings. The Village Council has recently revived talk of a municipal wastewater system to serve the downtown area or the entire village. Gosling Czubak Engineering is currently working on a study to help determine whether the village needs a wastewater system, how big that system should be and how much it would cost.

Nowicki said he would welcome a municipal system so he could add another bathroom and more seating space to his 860-square-foot cafe.

The Schouses had to purchase extra lots to make room for the hotel’s drainfield, and the Empire Associates project has received the goahead from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to install a private wastewater treatment system to serve its three buildings.

Paul Skinner, owner of the Miser’s Hoard, said his drain field is adequate because the store does not serve food. But now Skinner, who purchased a lot next door to his home and store, also has the space to build a garage.

Without the extra lot the only spot for the garage was on the drain field, which is not allowed.

When their business moved away from antiques and collectibles to gifts and decor about eight years ago, the Skinners found they needed more room. So they gave up their living room and dining room, Skinner said.

“For the last eight years we’ve eaten all our meals at the breakfast bar in the kitchen,” Skinner said. “We just felt that it was time to eat our meals in comfort again.”

Nowicki, who is giving up his Finicky Fishing Charters, was working on the wiring in his new business venture this week. Last week his attention was turned to plumbing, and next week it may be new floors and drywall. The building is getting a total remodel.

The 12-seat cafe will serve takeout food such as soups, salads and sandwiches for families who may be visiting the beach, the dunes or other nearby sites, he said.

Nowicki said the property is not large enough for a septic field that would be required for two bathrooms.

An Empire native, Nowicki ran his fishing business for about 15 years. But he’s growing tired of getting up at 4 a.m. He also knows from experience that people visiting the area are always looking for places to eat.

“Every time we come in off the water everybody wants to know where they can go to get something to eat,” Nowicki said. “And other than the two bars in town there is no place.”

There were 1.6 million visitors to the National Park last year, Nowicki said.

“Empire’s a happening little town and everyone has to go somewhere else to eat,” he said.

Nowicki will get some help running the cafe from his wife, Jennifer Nowicki, and his 14- and 17-year-old daughters.

“All four of us pretty much plan on living here,” Nowicki said.

Megan and Peter Schous purchased the Empire Lakeshore Inn in 2013 after visiting the area from Chicago for several years. The couple has made several upgrades to the inn’s 12 rooms.

The new inn will be located on M-72 just north of M-22 between the BP gas station and the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center, where National Park Service offices are located.

“Being next door to Sleeping Bear Dunes headquarters, it makes sense to do something right there,” said Peter Schous, who is hoping to break ground this year on the 15- to 25-room inn.

The Leelanau Peninsula Chamber of Commerce recently identified overnight accomodations as the largest area of need, Schous said.

The Empire area — and Leelanau County in general — has seen an explosion in the number of visitors over the last several years, with cabins, cottages and the few motels in the county getting booked up very early in the season.

The Schouses had to purchase extra lots to put in a septic drainfield large enough for the hotel.

Schous said architects are working on site plan changes requested by the Empire Village Planning Commission, which has already approved a special use permit for the project.

The two-story structure will be built in the Craftsman style of architecture that includes low-pitched gabled roofs with broad eaves, large front porches and other wooden structural elements.

“We don’t want to do something that’s going to be an eyesore to the village,” Strous said. “The idea is not to make it look like your standard hotel and motel. We’re trying to tweak it to be more aesthetically pleasing.”

The three side-by-side properties owned by Empire Associates could be developed with a restaurant, pub or any number of possibilities.

The company plans to construct a wastewater treatment system that partially treats wastewater before releasing it into a drainfield. The system has a small footprint, requiring two drainfields measuring 60 feet by 60 feet.

The project has not yet attracted developers.

“I’m optimistic we’ll get something going,” Bagaloff said.

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