A ‘Viau’ of success — Business has ties to ‘Northtown’ for almost 90 years

ESCANABA – On a warm, rainy night, when the fog creeps in off of Little Bay de Noc, I can almost feel their presence on Sheridan Road.

As I walk my dogs northward along the same route as my grandfather walked decades ago, I start thinking. So much has changed in three generations and yet so much has stayed the same.

I can faintly hear the laughter of my grandfather, John Stasewich, and his cronies, Emil Viau and Joe Little, as they make their way home down Hartnett Avenue (that later became known as Sheridan Road).

The wooden ore docks are gone now. The street car rails are paved over, too, but some of the important things have remained the same on this the eastern most street along the north shore.

Viau’s Store is like a timeless Icon of north Escanaba. The store opened in 1926. Three generations of the Viau family have managed the market. Famous for its homemade sausages, smoked hams and quality meats, the store has quite a reputation.

From the time I was a young child, I’d often have to run up to Viau’s for something for my mom. “Run up to Viau’s and tell Abe that I need a couple of nice chickens for Sunday,” my mom would say. (In later years, I wondered why she always said nice chickens. Did anyone ever want “bad” chickens?)

Suet for pastie making, casings for potato-sausage making and homemade garlic bologna for picnic sandwich making were some of the many missions I was sent to Viau’s for.

Deer season just wouldn’t be deer season without Viau’s home-smoked bacon, nor would a bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich be as good.

My aunt Sandy worked at Viau’s before she was married and I delivered The Escanaba Daily Press to Viau’s Store all through my school years.

The restaurants, bars and businesses along Sheridan Road have come and gone over the years, but Viau’s is a landmark. So often when giving someone directions to my family home, we say if you ended up by Viau’s, you’ve gone too far. Everybody knows where Viau’s is.

One of the truly awesome things about northtown that hasn’t changed is the fine families. I had the privilege of visiting with Theresa (Viau) Rudden.

Theresa shared family stories and a whole treasure of north Escanaba history with me. She recalled being a 6-year-old girl living in up above the store that her dad, Emil, and her mother owned. Out of the front window, we could watch the ore boats coming into the dock, out of the back were open fields, a few pine trees, and the place where the cows were butchered, she remembers.

One year, fire broke out from the splatters from the smokehouse, and the building caught fire. Fortunately a neighbor, Mr. Breitenbach, saw the smoke and alerted the family.

The store was rebuilt in 1949. The Viaus also built a separate home for their family behind the store. A lot of hard work and a lot of hours go into a family-run business. Every family member had to pitch in and work.

Theresa’s brother, Wallace “Abe,” and his wife, Jean, ran the supermarket for many years. Escanaba’s first Saint Vincent de Paul Store was started in the basement of Abe’s store.

Today Wally and Jeanette Viau run the store and keep the northtown tradition alive. The store has expanded some over the years. The gas pumps are gone from the front and the barbershop next door is now across the street. The coffee nook inside is a perfect place for getting the latest fishing and hunting news.

As Escanaba gets ready to celebrate its 150th birthday, it is so wonderful to have businesses like Viau’s that are so rich in history.

Yes, there have been a lot of changes in the past 100 years or so, but the most important thing that stays the same in north Escanaba are the families. It’s the hard working, fun loving, caring people that will continue to make the town great.

Special thanks to Theresa (Viau) Rudden and the Rudden and Viau families for helping me with this column and sharing a part of north Escanaba history with me.

Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong resident of north Escanaba. Her folksy columns are published weekly in Lifestyles.