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Photos and article by Nick Starr

At Jellybean’s three locations in Flint and Owosso, you won't find any candy with flavors like black licorice or buttered popcorn. What you will find, however, is a large selection of current and vintage books, comics, magazines, compact discs, cassette tapes, records, VHS and DVD movies, video games, posters, collectibles, and more all at a reasonable price.

Ron Samek and Teah English opened up the first store in 1977. Bonanza Jellybean’s, named for a character in Tom Robbins’s novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, was located in the lobby of The Reid Hotel in downtown Flint on the corner of Kearsley and Harrison. (The site is now a parking lot.) Ron, who spent 25 years as a police officer in the City of Flint (he has been retired for the past 17 years) opened the store as a "small hobby business." His reason was simple: "You have to do what you know and what you like."

Their motto is also simple. "We buy some things, trade most things, and will sell anything," says Ron. There are also two key ingredients of their philosophy that are very simple but also very effective—as evidenced by their having been in business for 33 years now—honesty and customer service.

According to Ron the business started "exactly the way it is today product wise" with "100% of the product coming from the public." The three current locations, each with over 5,000 square feet of space, are home to six employees, 100,000 compact discs, cassette tapes, and albums, as well as 500,000 books.

Like any small business, Jellybean’s faces challenges. The two biggest being the current state of the economy and the large amount of construction that has begun since the weather has gotten warm. In spite of the sting they are feeling from these factors right now, there are two main goals for the future. The first is to sell someone enough products and training to open their own store. Ron explains, this would not be a franchise, as the person would not be making payments to the owners beyond the initial investment. The second goal is to find someone to handle eBay sales for the stores full time, which is a relatively new aspect to the business.

Through all of the years and experiences, the growth and expansion, the daily hardships and challenges that are faced, and the plans  for the future that are being made, Ron sums his experience up best by saying, "I have no complaints."

Jellybean's has three locations: G - 5401 Fenton Rd and 730 S. Dort Highway in Flint, and 2256 East Main in Owosso. For store hours and other information, visit the website at http://www.jellybeansonline.com/.

© Nick Starr, 2010