Polish heritage meets a family tradition in Leelanau County


LEELANAU COUNTY, Mich., (WPBN/WGTU) -- If you drive through Cedar, Michigan, you can’t help but notice its ties to Poland. Few places is that more obvious than one of the latest additions to the main street through town.

Even if you have never been to Poland, when you walk through the doors of the Polish Art Center in Cedar something happens. If you do happen to be Polish, that “something” is magnified. Kathleen Bittner opened the center a few years ago, and on a regular basis customers remind her in the most touching way, the impact it has on them.

"We had an older couple come in, they heard the music and they just broke down in tears" explains Kathleen.

Walking through the doors of the store for first timers is a bit surprising. Everywhere the eye looks one finds products from Poland.

Kathleen says, "people came in and they stop at the door with their jaws open, and they just are trying to take it all in."

Merchandise is found from floor to ceiling, and in each and every corner. Walking through the store is in some ways like taking a trip to Poland, which is exactly what Kathleen was hoping for. She remembers back to the day when she moved into town.

She says "When I got here I obviously noticed that Cedar had a Polish history. I first was looking for a Polish restaurant, didn't find that. So I said where is the Polish cultural center and they didn't have one either. So I thought every time I drove by this vacant building it seemed like a prime opportunity for someone to do that."

She got to work transforming what was once a grocery store into a place that sells everything Polish. "We sell a little bit of everything, we sell a lot of Polish amber jewelry, Polish stoneware, lots of food and candies from Poland, paper products, stationary, apparel, you name it we have it, and if we don't we can get it."

She can get it for her store shelves because she has a Polish connection. Kathleen says "My dad had taken a trip to Poland when he was in high school. He fell in love with Poland and said I want to own a Polish store."

So he did. 45 years ago Kathleen's dad started his own store in Hamtramck. Each year, he takes a trip back to Poland to buy new stuff to fill that location as well as his daughter's up north.

The funny thing about the Leelanau County store is that while it celebrates the history and heritage of a country, it also does the same for a family. Kathleen says "I grew up in that shop in Hamtramck watching my parents do what I am doing today, probably hating being there as a kid. When I grew up I felt like a part of me was missing and this was the part of me that was missing, to be able to share this with people, makes me so happy, I don't feel like I work a day in my life."

To learn about The Polish Art Center click here.

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