The quiet people we encounter in our daily lives can have some of the most significant impacts on our lives. Maybe it’s the guy across the counter at your daily stop for a six-pack of crisps, a bag of crisps or a CD. Maybe you are the same for them.
CJ’s Party Store at the corner of N. Territorial and Webster Church has had such interactions for the past 50 years. But that was not the original intention.
In 1972, Chet Troczynski, his wife, Jan, and two children lived in Inkster. His job as a salesman for Snap On Tools gave him a pretty good look at Southeast Michigan. He loved the open air of the farmland, especially Webster Township, and had it in his heart to someday move from the city to the country.
“But there was no place to sell here,” Chet recalls. “Back then there were no subdivisions. They were all farms, and I didn’t have the money to buy a farm.”
He stopped at a little country store on the corner of N. Territorial and Webster Church. “It was the last stop for groceries, beer and gas for a while,” says Chet. “They had this decrepit little sign there that I would see every visit, ‘Shop for Sale.'”
“Well, I had it in my mind that I wanted to get out of the city and have my kids go to a country school,” he continues. “I finally made an offer on this little shop because the living quarters were attached to it. They accepted and here we are 50 years later.”
Chet, Jan and son Mike (age 2) and daughter Christine (age 5) moved and renamed the small store CJ’s (for Chet and Jan). After a few years, Chet and Jan were able to build a house just down the road from the store.
“My sister and I grew up in our house down the road, but we used to play here in the store,” Mike Troczynski recalled. “It was a very rural area. We had a donkey and all sorts of other animals here in the shop. It was always quiet in the shop, which did enough work to pay for itself.’
The children grew up, and both worked in the store when they were old enough, making it truly a family business. Mike has never known life without customers, which may explain his affection for his patrons and people in general. Mike attended Eastern Michigan University, still managed the store and remained there after graduating in 1993.
“In the late 1990s, I told my dad we needed to build a new store,” says Mike. “Dad refused and told me to go into the corporate world. But I loved this store and the people who come to it.
The area was growing. The first noticeable jump in sales came when the two Ralaric Farms divisions were developed. Chet and Mike built a new, larger store in 2002. As more houses went up, the intersection became a daily commute for many people. The store got busier. But Mike was soon to introduce a new and curious line of products that would make CJ’s famous.
“Hudson Mills was one of the first disc golf courses in the area,” says Mike. “People were coming in on their way to play disc golf.”
Mike wasn’t a disc golfer, but as fate would have it, he befriended the owner of Inflight, a disc golf shop in Ann Arbor. The owner of Inflight offered to wholesale a rack of CDs to Mike to resell in his store.
The sport was still in its infancy and there were few places to find discs. Enthusiasts heard about it and reached out to CJ’s. Demand for disc golf products increased for the small country store. Things started to snowball when Mike got involved in the sport. His friendly demeanor quickly won him many friends. Golfers visited the store to speak with Mike and check availability. Word spread that CJ’s was the place to buy your plastic.
“We have a good reputation and a lot of fantastic friends in the sport,” says Mike. “CJ’s is the number one sponsor for the Ann Arbor Area Disc Golf Club. Disc golf has skyrocketed during the pandemic. It was all we could do to get enough plastic in the store to keep everyone happy. But right now we have over 15,000 discs in the store.”
Mike also sponsors CJ’s annual Open Disc Golf Tournament at Hudson Mills. It’s counterintuitive to think that one of Southeast Michigan’s largest disc golf retailers is a party store in bucolic Webster Twp.
When asked about the key to 50 years (and beyond) as a small independent business, father and son point to people and good relationships.
“Mike was a great store manager,” says Chet. “We’ve had a lot of people come in and make a lot of friends, which is so important.”
“Customers within maybe a five-mile radius have been our loyal customers,” says Mike. “I’ve watched these families grow for generations and they’ve been loyal to us 365 days a year.”
Mike’s wife, Elise, notes that CJ’s success runs even deeper than that. “It’s a real testament to Mike that he has employees who have been with him for over ten years in a business like this. During the pandemic, for example, only two left who had concerns. The rest stayed and helped with the hassle of lockdowns, restrictions and precautions.”
“We’ve been lucky with our help over the years,” echoes Mike. “We’ve had some really quality people here. Owning and running a small independent business is tough on a good day. Without them I would be in a world of pain.”
Mike sums up CJ’s success as “a testament to all the wonderful people who have supported us.”
As for future plans for CJ, it’s not complicated for Mike. “We’re just going to try to do the best we can for everybody.”
So maybe when it comes to business longevity and success, some stars need to align. Subdivisions and disc golf courses are being built, but such alignments are possibilities, not guarantees.
Taking a cue from Mike and the team at CJ’s, perhaps the key to unlocking the possibilities that may be all around us can be found with Occam’s Razor – be a good, decent, patient and kind person to those who cross your path , even for a moment and you’ll find that they probably reciprocate.