Now in their 20th year at the helm of Halls Closets & More in Portage, Ron and Bette Hall started their venture because they wanted closet updates themselves and couldn’t find anyone to help.
“We lived in an older home, and in trying to create more organized, useful closets, we looked around and found there was no one locally who did that,” says Bette. “We tackled it ourselves. Then we helped a family member building a large house in Traverse City, and we found ourselves with a new career.”
It wasn’t their first venture, however. The pair met in 1976 when Ron was working at the Portage store of Boogie Records, the venerable music store that closed in 1995 after 23 years. Longtime Kalamazoo residents may remember the store’s downtown location, at the triangular corner of Academy Street and West Michigan Avenue.
“A friend got me in at the record store, and it was so fun,” says Ron. “I loved the music, loved the customers, loved putting on a new album for people to hear. There was a lot of action, but it was a really relaxed atmosphere. People even brought their dogs in.” He admits there were plenty of girls to meet too, and one of them was Bette.
“Ron had a nice smile, and I actually brought my older sister in to meet him, but there were no sparks,” Bette says, laughing.
A foray into furniture
As Boogie Records expanded to include sales of clothing, posters, accessories (ahem) and waterbeds, Ron found his role with the business growing, in spite of his longing to be an architectural draftsman (“That would have required more college than I was interested in,” he says).
When Ron and Bette realized that the store could sell more waterbeds if it had more space, they joined forces with Boogie Records owner Rick Rodbard and his wife, Cheryl, to open Northwoods Furniture in 1979, with Bette putting her design skills to work.
“I had studied gemology, because my original love was jewelry, but it wasn’t a lucrative idea,” she says. “I’d been home with our first child for a little bit but was convinced to come work at the waterbed store. I’ve always worked retail and love working with people, so it was a good fit for me.”
The two couples decided to dissolve Northwoods Furniture in 2001 and Ron and Bette found another up-and-coming business opportunity: custom closets and organization.
While music on vinyl is having a renaissance, and one can still find waterbeds for sale, it is home renovation that’s a good fit for the couple now as they operate their Halls Closets & More business. Since many people have been working and learning from home for two years because of the pandemic and because home renovation shows are popular on television, clients are seeking to make the most of their storage and workspaces more than ever.
Bette remembers thinking at the start, 20 years ago, “I have a design background, and Ron’s always been handy — this might be something small we could do together.” It didn’t take long before the business turned into full-time work for both of them, with growth coming via word-of-mouth, repeat clients and referrals.
“Closet upgrades were kind of a new idea in the Midwest at the time,” she says. “Our main goal was helping people living in homes with small spaces.”
Today, a good portion of the Halls’ work can be found in garages, pantries, home offices, study nooks and craft rooms, and they’ve expanded into organizing and upgrading small commercial office spaces as well.
“There’s a plethora of different areas that we can organize in homes and businesses,” says Ron, adding they have updated spaces at the Portage Police Department headquarters on Shaver Road, at a local dentist’s office and at their own church, Portage United Church of Christ.
“We knew from the beginning we could do more than closets,” says Bette.
Because clients are more aware now of storage options from social media and television, the Halls have to be ready to help with new trends, Bette says, noting that wall beds are enjoying a revival.
“It’s awesome when someone has ideas to show me. It helps me get a feel for what they want,” she says. “When they bring out their phone and show me their Pinterest ideas, I can tell them what works and what might not. I love when they research before and have an idea of what they’re looking for.”
Ron says the company serves about three to four clients per week. “That might mean several closets in a home under construction or a single client with a single closet,” he says, adding that most of their 500 annual projects (some clients have multiple projects) are installed in less than a day, though the firm’s timeline from consultation to installation has stretched to eight to 10 weeks because of supply problems. “Before the pandemic took hold, we could install within two weeks of design approval,” Ron says.
The Halls credit their longtime installers, Alan Mabie and Carter Howland, as valuable members of their team.
“We get so many compliments from clients on their service and the quality of their work,” says Bette.
“It’s really nice to hear people say they love what we’ve done, that it’s so much better than the way it was. That makes me feel good, to really help people enjoy their space.”