After 17 years of seeing the same face behind the counter, Wild Birds Unlimited customers are welcoming a new owner, Kate Furtaw, who purchased the store from previous owner Sarah Zarka in late February. Furtaw, an MSU alum and East Lansing resident, was herself a longtime customer of the local East Lansing specialty shop and thought it would be an interesting new venture.
After she saw the shop was for sale, she began to look further into the company.
“The more that I researched and got to know people at the franchise level, it just seemed like a really good fit,” Furtaw said. “The philosophy of the company is to bring the joy of backyard bird feeding to people, and I really liked the idea of bringing joy to people.”
The 1600-square-foot space features birdbaths, birdhouses, squirrel feeders, hummingbird feeders, greeting cards, and high-quality bird seed of a different caliber than traditional grocery store seed, in addition to many other items.
“Birds are going to eat everything that’s in that bag,” Furtaw said of the seed. “There’s no fillers in it. It’s all pretty locally-sourced as well. Most of our stuff is from the Midwest. We do try to focus on American-made products when possible. A lot of our feeders come with a lifetime guarantee that, if anything were to break, you can come bring it back to the store, and I can fix it up, so that’s another nice perk.”
Furtaw said although her new presence at the store has been a surprise for many longtime customers, she has felt welcomed.
“[Previous owner Sarah Zarka] didn’t have any employees so 99% of the time, if you walked into the store, you’d see the same face,” Furtaw said. “I think that is a little bit of a shock for people because I think this store has been somewhat of a constant for people during the pandemic. Things feel really unsettled and uneasy, so I think to come to a familiar store and see a familiar face does feel comforting.”
“I think there has been a little bit of a surprise with the changeover,” she added, “because I don’t know how vocal she was about the sale, but I will say I have felt very welcomed. I think the customers are very welcoming, and it seems like a very nice group of people to work with.”
The store now features about five part-time employees. Changes Furtaw hopes to implement within Wild Birds Unlimited include the addition of a loyalty rewards program, painting, and installing fixtures for some cosmetic updates. She also plans to rollout online ordering, with free shipping on purchases over $75. As of now, customers can shop in the store or order items over the phone by calling 517-337-9920 for curbside.
Despite new ownership, the mission of the shop remains the same: to bring people and nature together, said Furtaw.
“It’s really about the joy of the hobby,” she said, “especially during the pandemic. I feel like we’re all cooped up inside, and so it’s really nice to have something outside of our homes to focus on. I know, myself, I’ve always been a bird feeder, but I got a lot more into it during the pandemic as something to focus on that’s outside of our house. Even my kids have enjoyed watching the birds throughout this whole time.”
Wild Birds Unlimited is located at 2200 Coolidge Road, at the corner of Coolidge Road and Lake Lansing Road, and is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.