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A black bear has visited Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate in Empire on five consecutive evenings this week, rummaged through a dumpster and spreading garbage around the village, and pulling open the back door and devouring a 50-pound bag of sugar. On Tuesday night, April 16, around 10:30 pm, the bear entered the beloved chocolate shop for no more than 20 seconds, stole the sugar and returned to the sidewalk to eat it. It touched nothing else in the shop, not even the small, chocolate bears on display by the checkout counter.

On the first Sunday in January, I pull into the Empire Village Beach parking lot to meet 10 neighbors for a swim. The air temperature is 35 degrees Fahrenheit; Lake Michigan is 37 degrees. The group is made up almost entirely of women with members spanning in age from their early 30s to 70 years old. Most of the people present this first Sunday in January, myself included, have been meeting once or twice weekly for cold water swims since October. Winter swimming, also called cold dipping or polar plunging, is an umbrella term for various ways of submerging in cold water. For this group of brave locals, cold dipping involves a measured entrance into Lake Michigan, partnered with calm breathing. Participants spend 3-5 minutes in the water up to their shoulders, often wearing neoprene booties and gloves to fight against numbness in their extremities. Most of us wear winter hats on our heads and do not go under, though a few brave souls will wear swimming caps and plunge their entire bodies under the waves.

On Saturday, Nov. 25, Empire is making spirits bright this season by offering three locations to find handcrafted gifts from local artisans. The Empire Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring the Artisan Marketplace featuring 20 artisans at the Empire Town Hall from 10 am-4 pm. In addition to the beautiful items available, customers will also be able to have a delicious snack or lunch prepared by local chefs, Mel and Fel.

Empire celebrates Anchor Day each year on the third Saturday in July—this year on July 15—with a parade down Front Street, a pop-up book sale at the library, a chicken dinner at the town hall, and an evening street dance with live music. The party is now sponsored by The Empire Area Community Center. This unique, small-town celebration commemorates the raising of an anchor from the depths of Lake Michigan in July 1977.

A new gift shop opened in Empire last month. Field Trip, offering home goods and apparel, is located on M-22 on the north end of Empire, across the street from Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate. The store carries products from local artisans as well as artisans from around the world. What the items have in common is that they are modern, fun, and unique pieces to add a pop of color and joy to any space. The owners, Trey and Lauren Springer, are a young couple in their early-30s who moved to the area unexpectedly at the beginning of the pandemic.

Visit the Empire Artisan Marketplace on Saturday, Nov. 26, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. where you’ll find truly unique, quality, handcrafted items—created and sold by local items. The marketplace will feature a great array of items to help kick-start your holiday shopping.

For nearly two decades Beryl Skrocki gently worked her way into the hearts of Empire community members, summer visitors and tourists with a unique style of silliness, compassion and joy that magically drew people to her, and also her surf shop and the Empire beach. Beryl’s life was as large as Lake Michigan, and her too-soon departure leaves an equally massive hole in her family and the Empire, surf and Great Lakes advocacy community. She passed away on October 13 at age 61. A public celebration of Beryl’s life will be held on Saturday, November 5, at noon at Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak in downtown Empire. Click here for more information and learn how to support the Skrocki family.

In this essay published in our late August edition of the Sun, Empire native Jessica Sharry reflects on moving from Northern Michigan to Finland and back, on practicing yoga, on immigration, on food, and on nature.

How is Empire still Empire? It’s one of the main hubs for the Sleeping Bear Dunes, it has epic beaches, and it’s right along one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the entire region. Yet, the town of Empire remains solidly quaint, comfortable, and relaxed. Sure, the crowds come through, and the beaches get busy, but the town simply swells with the ebb and flow, and returns to its steadfast self. There have been small additions with big, positive impacts over the years, but it’s truly remarkable how Empire has stayed a classic northern Michigan beach town. And for families with kids, it’s a place where they can be active, get dirty, and start fostering those uniquely vibrant lakeside memories.

If Jody and DC Hayden, owners of Grocers Daughter Chocolate, didn’t already win you over with their high-quality dark chocolate truffles, sumptuous cookies, or perfect-on-a-summer-day fudgsicles, you’ll almost certainly submit to their smooth and creamy gelato. In fact, don’t even try to resist. The Haydens will officially open their long-awaited gelateria next to the chocolate shop on M-22 in downtown Empire on Saturday, July 23.