Friday, March 9, 2007

To Hell and Back in a Morning

About 30 minutes by car northwest of Ann Arbor, nestled in the hills of the Pinckney State Recreation Area, lies Hell. Through the efforts of local businessman and Hell native, John Colone, the town is experiencing a growth in tourism. Hell hosted in excess of 12,000 visitors last summer on June 6th (6/6/6). Not bad for a town of about 72.

The"business district" consists of three establishments--a general store, an ice cream shop, and a restaurant. Screams Ice Cream from Hell serves ice cream from the end of March through November and features a gift shop brimming with whimsical hell-themed items. Behind the shop, you'll find a wedding chapel. Humor plays a big part in all this. As the post card for the Chapel says,"Let's face it...marriage can be hell. Why not tackle it with a sense of humor, by tying the knot in Hell's own wedding chapel?"

I spoke with Screams manager, Janet Fuller, originally from Hampshire, England about her appreciation of Michigan and the US. She spoke to the wide open spaces and availability of land, the public access to protected land, the friendliness of the people here, and the relative ease of access to health care compared to that provided by the national health service in Britain. Though, she allowed that it is considerably more expensive here. She also pitched a number of upcoming events in Hell:

  • May 20th, Blessing of the Bikes at TMZ Farms, an annual event that draws scores of bikers to Hell
  • July 7 th (7/7/7), Lucky Sevens Festival and Las Vegas Night
  • August TBA, Hell of a Cruise, an annual vintage and classic car show
  • September 8th, Dances with Dirt, one of the top ten trail races in the US (50 mile, 50K and 100K events)

Next door to Screams sits Smitty's Dam Site Inn serving a full menu of homemade lunch and dinner specialties including stuffed walleye, Delmonico steak. The dam in town, formerly the site of a mill, actually holds back the seven lakes covering 900 acres in the Pinckney Recreation Area, where you can kayak and canoe.

Sure, the Michigan economy is going through a rough patch, but the good people of Hell can teach a thing or two about marketing, promotion, and creativity. If you have lemons...where ever you find yourself, make some local lemonade.