Celebrating 50 Years of Business and Making Friends
The quiet people we cross paths with in our daily routine can have some of the most significant impacts on our lives. Perhaps it's that person across the counter at your daily stop for a six-pack, bag of chips, or disc. Maybe you’re the same for them.
CJ’s Party Store on the corner of N. Territorial and Webster Church has been having such interactions for the past 50 years. But that wasn’t the original intention.
In 1972, Chet Troczynski, his wife, Jan, and two children lived in Inkster. His Snap On Tools salesman job gave him a pretty good look at Southeast Michigan. He loved the open air of the farmland, especially Webster Township, and held it in his heart to someday move out of the city into the country.
“But there was no place for sale out here,” recalls Chet. “There were no subdivisions back then. It was all farms, and I didn’t have the money to buy a farm.”
He would stop at a little country store on the corner of N. Territorial and Webster Church. “It was the last grocery, beer, and gas stop for a while,” says Chet. “They had this decrepit little sign in there that I would see every visit, ‘Store 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 rural school,” he continues. “I finally made an offer on that little store because living quarters were attached to it. They accepted, and here we are 50 years later.”
Chet, Jan, and son Mike (2 yrs) and daughter Christine (5 yrs) moved in and renamed the little 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 at our house down the road, but we played around here at the store,” recalls Mike Troczynski. “It was a very rural area. We had a donkey and all sorts of other animals here at the store. It was always quiet at the store, which did just enough business to pay for itself.”
The kids grew up, both working at the store when old enough, genuinely making it a family business. Mike has never known life without customers, which may explain his fond affinity for his patrons and people in general. Mike attended Eastern Michigan University, still managing the store, and stayed on after graduation in 1993.
“By 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 coming into it.”
The area was growing. The first noticeable bump in sales came when the two Ralaric Farms subdivisions were developed. Chet and Mike built a new, bigger store in 2002. As more houses appeared, the intersection became a daily commute for many. The store got busier. But Mike was soon to introduce a new and curious line of products that would give CJ’s its fame.
“Hudson Mills was one of the first disc golf courses in this area,” says Mike. “People came by on their way to play disc golf.”
Mike was not a disc golfer, but as fate would have it, he struck up a friendship with the owner of Inflight, an Ann Arbor disc golf shop. Inflight’s owner offered to wholesale a rack of discs to Mike to resell in his store.
The sport was still in its infancy, with few places to find discs. Enthusiasts heard about it and came out to CJ’s. Demand for disc golf products increased for the little country store. Things snowballed from there when Mike got involved in the sport. His friendly demeanor quickly made him many friends. Golfers visited the store to chat with Mike and check out the stock. Word spread that CJ’s was the place to buy your plastic.
“We’ve got 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 skyrocketed during the pandemic. It was all we could do to get enough plastic in the store to keep everybody happy. But we have well over 15,000 discs in the store right now.”
Mike also sponsors the CJ’s Annual’s Open Disc Golf Tournament at Hudson Mills. It’s counterintuitive to think that one of the biggest disc golf dealers in Southeast Michigan is a party store in the bucolic environs of Webster Twp.
When asked about the key to making it 50 years (and beyond) as a small independent business, father and son point to people and good relationships.
“Mike's been a great manager for the store,” says Chet. “We've had a lot of people come in, and we’ve made many friends, which is so important.”
“The customers within maybe a five-mile radius have been our loyal customers,” says Mike. “I’ve watched these families grow up for generations, and they have been loyal to us 365 days a year.”
Mike’s wife, Elise, notes that CJ’s success goes 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. Through the pandemic, for example, only two left who had concerns. The rest stayed and helped through the hassle of lockdowns, restrictions, and precautions.”
“We’ve been fortunate with our help through the years,” echoes Mike. “We’ve had some really good quality people here. Owning and operating a small, independent business is tough on a good day. Without them, I’d be in a world of hurt.”
Mike sums up CJ’s success as “a testament to all the wonderful people who have supported us.”
As far as future plans for CJ’s go, it’s not complicated for Mike. “We’re just going to try and do the best we can for everyone.”
So, maybe when it comes to business longevity and success, some stars have to align. Subdivisions and disc golf courses get built, but such alignments are opportunities, not guarantees.
Taking a cue from Mike and the team at CJ’s, maybe the key to unlocking the opportunities that may be all around us can be found with Occam’s Razor—be a good, decent, patient, and kind person to those crossing your path, if even for a moment, and you’ll find they probably reciprocate.