Historically speaking

LaFreniere's: A Humble Beginning

Photo courtesy of Chadwick via the Negaunee Historical Society

NEGAUNEE — Leo LaFreniere started out in business selling Electrolux vacuum cleaners door to door all across the Upper Peninsula.

In the mid 1940s, his son Don started selling vacuum cleaners with his dad. He would take one side of the street and his dad would take the other. They would have a contest to see who could make the most sales.

Many years later you would still hear Don say, “There’s nothing like making a sale.” Leo decided that he would have a store- front, and his next business venture was selling vacuum cleaners and sewing machines.

His wife, Lena, also got into the business and sold hats and knitting supplies in the front part of the store. Don entered the business world when he sold furniture for Tonella and Rupp in Ishpeming.

He also delivered and sold bakery, breads and sweets from his garage. In 1951 he bought John Rolando’s grocery store on the corner of Iron and Tobin Street, and it was known as Don’s Corner.

In the next five to eight years Don formed a partnership with his dad and they began to sell vacuums, televisions, appliances and furniture from a building located on Iron Street just up a way from Don’s Corner.

In the picture, notice the sign in the entry, INQUIRE AT DON’S CORNER FOR ASSISTANCE. The caving of the abandoned underground iron mines eventually found their way toward the west end of Iron Street. In 1971, LaFreniere furniture store would become one of those stores that would make a move.

Surprisingly, this store was making a second move. It had originally been built at 330 Iron Street and was a clothing store called Cheap Joe’s, and was owned by Joseph Lowenstein.

It was moved to the 500 block of Iron Street to make room for the new Lowenstein Department Store.

After its move it was home to a grocery store and a plumbing shop before it became LaFreniere’s Furniture store. Don won an all expense paid trip for him and his wife Mary from the Westinghouse Corporation for meeting a sales quota.

Don’s quote of “There’s nothing like making a sale” proved positive. When the building was moved to 342 Rail Street, it was set on a hillside which gave them ample space to construct a lower level, which now made it a five showroom furniture palace.

There were also five warehouses scattered through-out town. In 1992, Don sold the business to his son, Lee, who had been an employee for 22 years.

Lee grew up with the business, even cutting most of the 55 cords of wood needed each year to heat the business during the tough time from 1979 to 1983.

It was a family run business with Lee’s son Wade, also being an employee as well as Don Grisham, Don’s son-in-law. With Lee’s retirement LaFreniere’s Furniture is no longer in business.

Don LaFreniere was an Ishpeming boy. When he was cruising the streets of Negaunee in his 1936 Pontiac that had a fancy horn that beeped to the tune of, Mary Had a Little Lamb, he met Mary Reichel.

They had nine children. Their son, six year old Dale Kenneth drowned in one of the mine pits located on the west end of Iron Street, not far from the where the furniture store was located.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today