Founders Society raising funds for Maltz Exchange Bank

Board members of the Founders Society of the Besser Museum picked an unusual spot last week to conduct their January meeting. They gathered at Soaps and Such, a new business located in an old building that once served as the Maltz Exchange Bank.

Built in 1872, the bank’s days are long since past, but its original walk-in safe still remains in tact. So too, does the wooden structure that first housed the Maltz Exchange Bank while the permanent building at the corner of Water Street and Second Avenue was under construction.

A hundred years later, in 1972, that wooden structure was moved to the Besser Museum’s property where it remains as one of several historic structures important to the area’s early history. Today, however, the building is in need of major repairs.

The Founders recently embarked on a campaign to raise funds for the refurbishment of the original bank building which is believed to be the oldest existing wooden building in Alpena. With that in mind, they decided to gather at Soaps and Such to check out the vault and learn from business owner Kelly Bruning what products and services she offers.

“The Maltz Exchange Bank building is believed to be the oldest wooden business still standing, but it needs major repairs,” said Besser Museum Executive Director Chris Witulski. “Restoration costs are estimated at $20,000 for windows, roof and siding.”

Witulski also said she likes the fact that tourists stopping at Bruning’s shop who express an interest in the history of the vault can then also travel to the museum to see the original Maltz Exchange Bank building.

Kathy Newhouse, current vice president of the Founders Society, said that to date the fundraising efforts have included placing canisters at various locations around town where people can make donations. The Founders also decorated a tree for the Season of Light display at the museum, she said. Accompanying the tree was another receptacle used for collecting donations.

Those efforts have been successful, but the group still has a long way to go to meet the estimated restoration costs. While at Soaps and Such, board members briefly talked about the possibility of having Bruning develop a product specifically for the museum, which could then be sold as another way of raising money for the project.

Soaps and Such is a unique, interactive bath and beauty products shop with a boutique design. It combines artisan crafting with education and interactive “making.” Patrons can create their own fingernail polish, perfume or body spray, then put their own label on it from Bruning’s fragrance bar.

Bruning recently created her own Sanctuary label perfume as a nod to the area’s designation as the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. A member of the Soapsmakers & Cosmetics Guild, she also is committed to making all her products as natural as possible and strives to offer products that meet the specific needs of her customers.

“Being a small business, I am able to accommodate and listen to requests from people,” Bruning said during a presentation to the Founders. “I then do research on my own and provide what the community wants.”

According to information from “The Town in Bits & Pieces,” a book written by the late Robert Haltiner, the wooden Maltz Exchange Bank building at the museum started out as an old Custom House that once stood on Frink’s Alley behind what is now the Alpena Oil Co. office building. George L. Maltz purchased the property and moved the Custom House to Water Street near Second Avenue, converting it into a temporary bank building while his new bank was being constructed. When the new bank opened, the little wooden building was moved back to its previous location on Frink’s Alley. There it remained until being moved to the Besser Museum in 1972.

Though established in 1872, the Maltz Exchange Bank merged with the Alpena National Bank in 1882. In 1931, it was consolidated into the Alpena Savings Bank.