Island Living: For Mackinac Full-Timers, A Different Way of Life

Think you have what it takes to live on Mackinac Island year-round?

Tammy Frazier does. She was born and raised on the popular tourist destination and has lived there most of her life, save for a few stints in Mackinaw City and Cheboygan.

“It’s not for the faint of heart, as they say,” she said.

Frazier is one of about 500 people who call the island home full-time. She and her husband Anthony, or Tony, met there, married and raised their daughter Cassandra on the island for most of her childhood.

Frazier now serves as mayor Margaret Doud’s assistant, a position she’s held for the past five years. She also works at Doud’s Market and Deli part-time in the summer months, something she said is common for many island residents, who grew up hearing they need to “make hay while the sun shines.”

“A lot of us work dual jobs,” she said. “It’s expensive living on Mackinac Island and sometimes the wages don’t always match the cost of living.”

Small-Town Life with a Twist

Still, Frazier learned she prefers the clomping of horses to the honking of cars and plans to stay on the island for the long haul. Life on “Mackinac time” means having to contend with ferry delays, being slowed down with tourist questions in the summer and never really being able to go anywhere anonymously.

It’s quintessential small-town life, which can feel like living in a fishbowl, but also brings with it a real sense of community. If an island resident is sick or has fallen on hard times, people pull together.

“That’s one of the great things about Mackinac,” Frazier said. “We take care of our people.”

In practical terms, residents can’t easily enjoy small pleasures such as taking in a movie or going shopping. They must plan ahead by stocking up on staple foods such as meat and butter. Frazier makes a trek to big-box stores on the mainland twice per year in the spring and fall to stock her extra-large deep freezer to get through the summer and winter months. She relies on fresh produce and dairy items from the two grocery stores that stay open year-round on the island. Frazier said you have to be organized to make it through the year on the island.

“It’s a different way to live,” she said.

The Ebb and Flow

Life on the island feels like a roller coaster, Frazier explained. The population rapidly rises from Memorial Day to Labor Day thanks to tourists and international workers who staff the many hotels, restaurants and gift shops, then rapidly drops off.

People come back to experience fall colors and Christmas on the island, then drop off again, while residents settle in for the winter season. Two restaurants, the Mustang Lounge and Seabiscuit Cafe, remain open all year, as does the post office, some bed and breakfasts and the grocery stores.

“It just gets a lot quieter pretty fast,” she said. “It’s like turning off a light switch.”

Frazier said the island’s economy absolutely relies on people coming to visit, but the ebbs and flows give the full-time residents a break from busy tourist seasons.

“Thank goodness the people are coming or we wouldn’t be here,” she said.

Still, the quiet of an empty Main Street can be nice. Even during tourist seasons, Frazier enjoys exploring the stillness of the many trails that cut through the wooded center of the island. She likes to imagine the rich history of the island, from battles that took place to the generations of people that settled here before her.

For those seriously considering living on the island year-round, Frazier recommends renting for a year or two to see if it’s a good fit. The city is working on an initiative to ensure more affordable housing for those who do want to commit to life on the island or for those who grew up on the island and want to come back. For Frazier, the choice to live on the island connects her to her past and it’s right where she wants to be.

“It doesn’t stand still here, obviously, but it definitely is a different mindset when you live here,” she said.

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Photo credit: A Healthier Michigan

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  1. Great article. Brings back memories of me being a non-resident visiting the island several times. Flew to the island and stayed at a bed and breakfast; road bikes around the island; went horseback riding; took a carriage ride; and, ate lots of fudge! This article vividly brought back wonderful times! Thanks for sharing it!

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