Ezell, Kerby open Barb's Backyard Birds | Business - petsitterbank

Ezell, Kerby open Barb’s Backyard Birds | Business

Barb Ezell

INTERLOCKING — Former co-workers Dan Kerby and Barb Ezell often talked about the type of wild bird store they would one day open.

The plan was to create a retail space that would not only carry feed and housing for feathered flocks, but also be a place to spread knowledge about backyard birds.

It would also be a place to plan nature hikes throughout the region for other avian aficionados.

Dream became a reality when the two friends and co-workers for a decade held a grand opening Sept. 3-4 in the Interlochen Plaza. Ezell was there in name and spirit when Barb’s Backyard Birds opened for business at 2702 J. Maddy Parkway for the first time — even if life had a way of massively changing the plan in the preceding months.

The name of the place Ezell and Kerby talked about opening was never supposed to have a name in it. But Barb Ezell wasn’t supposed to lose her 10-year battle with cancer on May 20 either.

“We had tossed around some names, but it wasn’t going to be Barb’s Backyard Birds,” store owner Steve Ezell said of his wife, who died at the age of 71. “A friend suggested that, I asked Dan and he liked it. It’s a great tribute. That’s what we figured.”

Someday soon the Interlochen business will have a board with a picture of Barb Ezell. The words are in the process of getting a calligraphy treatment in tribute to his wife.

“We thought it would be fitting to have here there on the wall and tell her story,” said Ezell, who celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary on Nov. 27, 2021.

The sign on the wall will also answer a statement the naturalist often gets when he’s behind the counter. “Everybody says, ‘You’re not Barb,'” Kerby said.

Inside the store, Barb’s Backyard Birds wants to help customers answer any fowl questions they might have on the subject. There is even a chance to interact on Facebook and a website will soon allow email questions.

“We’re trying to establish is we want to be the place where people come in for answers,” Steve Ezell said. “Dan has a lot of knowledge. He’ll probably know 90 percent of the answers and if he doesn’t, we’ll do some research and get back to them.

“We want to provide that expertise.”

“That’s the fun part of it,” added Kerby,

The personal touch is what brought the Andersons into the store on Wednesday for a second time.

“Right now I’m tired of big box stores and I want to help with local businesses,” Kim Anderson said as her husband was at the checkout with bags of black oil sunflower seeds and saffron seeds for the hungry birds at their Interlochen home. “When you go into a big box store, they don’t always have a lot of information.”

A discount on the bags of bird seed didn’t hurt either.

“We also look for good prices, too,” Anderson said. “I’ll probably be back for a T-shirt some time.”

With his wife dying before the business opened, running the day-to-day operations falls to Kerby. That’s one of the reasons Ezell is working with giving him an ownership stake in the store.

“That was one of her final wishes,” said Ezell, who operates Interlochen Alternative Health in the adjacent space in the plaza.

Kerby brings his background as a naturalist to Barb’s, in addition to 16 years working at a wild bird store.

But his time as a bird lover goes further back.

Born and raised in Benzie County, Kerby said his grandmother and great grandmother always enlisted him to feed the birds and helped him identify them.

Kerby said his grandfather had a mini-orchard in the backyard, furthering his interest in nature.

A Michigan Department of Natural Resources program to build nest boxes to attract Eastern bluebirds in the early 1980s cemented it.

Kerby said after learning how to build a nest box, he was able to get the threatened bird to use the structure he constructed.

“The first time that happened I was hooked,” he said.

Steve Ezell said his wife had been active in gardening and backyard birding “for 40 years.” Barb Ezell worked in a wild bird store in Indiana and did the same in Traverse City after he retired from the US Postal Service and the couple moved to Michigan from Valparaiso in 2010.

Ezell said his wife was diagnosed with cancer in 2012. She had surgery at the University of Michigan and went through chemotherapy and radiation “off and on for eight years.”

When Barb Ezell had medical appointments, the couple often scheduled them at MidMichigan Medical Center in Midland, which cut travel time in half.

It was during one of these trips in the summer of 2021 where the Ezells visited Nature Niche and started talking with Martha Holzheuer about starting a similar store in the area.

Ezell said later that year was when the discussion about opening a store with Kerby became serious.

In March, Barb Ezell complained about some lower abdominal pain, which was not unusual. When it intensified the following day, Ezell took her to Munson Medical Center.

“We went into the emergency room and she never came home,” an emotional Ezell said. “She just went downhill from there.”

During her stay at Munson Hospice House, the Ezells discussed opening the store in Interlochen.

“She was in hospice and her and I had a few conversations,” Steve Ezell recalled. “I wanted to known to go forward with the plan and she said, ‘Yes, depending on Dan’s response. We couldn’t do this without Dan.”

Kerby was still on board and plans moved forward.

After Barb Ezell died, Kerby and Ezell were each provided with a chance to reconsider the business venture.

“I said, ‘Hey look, if you’re not feeling this and don’t really want to do it, I don’t want you to feel pressured,'” Kerby recalled.

Even though the two proceeded with the plans to open, both said it’s been difficult to push forward.

As the opening weekend approached, it didn’t get any easier.

“It was such a bummer,” Kerby said. “It was supposed to be her and I doing it. I’ve been friends with her for a very long time. With Steve being her husband, we both had a really hard time with it.

“It’s hard to get excited about doing it. It was tough.”

Now that Barb’s Backyard Birds is open, Kerby and Ezell are ready for customers to flock to the store for supplies and advice. Kerby said opening day Sept. 3 was followed by a strong Sept. 4

“It went well,” he said. “Saturday was really busy. It was probably out best sales day ever and Sunday was good, too. It was a good weekend.”

Barb’s Backyard Birds is open from 10 am to 4 pm Tuesday through Saturday and 9 am to 3 pm on Sunday. There is a desire to extend hours if they can hire another employee.

As Ezell looked around the space, he couldn’t help thinking about what his wife would have thought of the place.

“I wish she was here,” Ezell said Wednesday through moistened eyes. “She would have been so into this. She loved the fact that we were going forward. It touches my heart that she can’t see it.”

“She’s here,” Kerby replied. “Oh yeah. Her presence is felt for sure.”


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