New owner aims to turn vacant St. John’s building into store

Rachel Greco
Lansing State Journal
In this May 20, 2019 photo, Heather Hanover stands inside the future home of Hanover's Michigan Mints in downtown St. Johns, Mich.

St. Johns — Heather Hanover still remembers the first time she leaned in to the glass on the storefront and peered inside.

Vacant and shuttered, the two-story building in St. Johns’ downtown was built nearly 150 years ago.

Decades have passed since it was home to the Sugar Bowl, a popular ice cream and candy shop. The doors closed in 1970.

Looking through the front windows is a glimpse into the past. The interior has been largely untouched for the last 50 years.

There are maple wood booths lining the walls below a massive tin ceiling with crown molding. A soda fountain with a double chrome dispenser is behind the front counter. Four pedestal stools with porcelain bases and brass footrests line the front of the counter. The 14-foot mahogany bar with a marble top, mirror and stained-glass panels is dusty but in perfect condition.

Hanover has loved the building since that first encounter. This summer, her family bought it along with an equally historic building next door.

They aim to restore both to and create a home for their growing business, Hanover’s Michigan Mints. When they’re finished, Hanover said customers might see cheese, candy, ice cream, baked goods and a restaurant in the space.

“People have been waiting for years for this to open and they just are overjoyed to see it finally happen,” she said. “We’d like to make this look exactly like it looked, only cleaned up.”

The doors closed in 1970 and haven't opened to the public since. The building will soon be the site of Michigan Mints.

Ruth Pasch, a life-long St. Johns resident, has been the building’s caretaker for 20 years.

She’s repaired a leaking roof and a crumbling back wall, but never once thought of tampering with the historic decor. Instead, she protected it, successfully lobbying to have it listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.

When she was a teenager, Pasch frequented the Sugar Bowl. She still remembers the welcoming feel it had when she met friends there after school for ice cream and sodas.

“You walked through the front door and you just felt a sense of serenity and belonging,” Pasch said.

For years she dreamed about bringing the building back to its former glory. Pasch held on to it, and declined purchase offers over the years because she wasn’t sure the people making them respected the property’s history.

Then a year ago, Heather and Karl Hanover bought the building sitting next to it.

Their started their chocolate mint-making business two decades ago, using mint grown by St. Johns-area farmers.

“People have always wanted us to come downtown,” Hanover said. “We wanted to come downtown and like to be supporters of St. Johns to make it better.”

The building at 110 N. Clinton Ave., was originally home to Hunt’s Drug Store in the late 1800s. The Hanovers plan to restore the 3,300-square-foot space to create a place for their candy production.

Hanover had aspired to own the former candy shop next door for years, and she eventually convinced Pasch to sell it to her family.

“She had the same vision that I did to restore it,” Pasch said. “When they’re done it will be something they can always be proud of giving back to the community.”

In this May 20, 2019 file photo, maple wood booths are part of the interior that has been largely untouched for the last 50 years inside the former home to the Sugar Bowl, a popular ice cream and candy shop kids and local families frequented after school and on the weekends in St. Johns, Mich.

In recent weeks, her family has been assessing the work ahead. The back half of the first floor is in rough shape. In areas the floor is crumbling. You can see through to the basement from several holes. A century ago it’s where the shop’s candy was made, Hanover said.

She believes the potential outweighs the challenges. “The stained glass is in perfect shape,” she said. “I love the crown molding on this ceiling.”

The second story will be renovated into apartments, she said.

The Hanovers have talked with officials at the Michigan Economic Development Corp. in hopes of getting assistance in determining if there are any state or federal grants available to help finance the work.

“These projects are often catalysts,” she said. “They can be a tipping point for attracting additional interest in that downtown.”