Online fundraiser helps preserve old-time music venue

Christina Day

January 23, 2014

The power of social media is helping an old time Lansing institution, Phipps General Store, “keep the music alive.”

Don Mikush, a part-time resident of Crumpler, has spent many Friday nights over the last six years listening to old-time music at Phipps and in his words, was “taking it for granted.”

“I thought to myself, ‘I don’t think anyone knows what it takes to keep a place like this up’,” Mikush said. “My wife Sandra and I both thought that folks like us who go to Phipps would really love to help the owners a bit with the upkeep.”

Mikush approached owners Rita Scott and James “Dawg” Wood to identify the most pressing needs: covering the liability insurance and fixing the leaky roof.

Scott and Wood open the doors of Phipps every Friday night of the year, free of charge, so that local musicians and music lovers have a place to play, gather and listen. Wood, a folk-art painter has originals and prints on display and for sale in the store.

“It’s a special place with a special atmosphere,” Mikush said. “Rita and Dawg welcome folks of all skill levels and playing levels, and of course anyone can come and listen.”

The store, originally Phipps Dairy, was built in the 1920s by Scott’s grandfather, Bob Phipps. It then became Silas Creek Store and housed the area post office, which was run by Scott’s grandmother, Lessie.

The Phipps family, including Scott’s mother Robertine, ran the store until the 1950s. It was then closed, and the building used for storage, until seven years ago when Scott decided they should reopen the historical building as a gathering place for local musicians.

“Rita and I, and several members of the community, spent a year repairing the space and fixing it up, and then we opened for Friday night music in September 2007,” Wood said.

Over the years, Phipps has welcomed notable local musicians such as Steve Lewis and Wayne Henderson, as well as musicians from around the country.

Adam Steffey, a 2013 Grammy nominee who has played with Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski, and Matt Kinman, formerly of Old Crow Medicine Show have both played at Phipps Friday night jams.

“We are blessed to have great pickers jam at the store,” Wood said.

Mikush said he “didn’t know what would happen” when he started the online campaign on, called “Keep the music alive at Phipps General Store,” to raise $2,000 in 30 days to offset the cost of the liability insurance and roof repairs, but he didn’t have to wait long to find out.

“Within four days we reached our goal, and people are still contributing,” Mikush said.

In an update to donors, Mikush said there is more work to be done on the store and the online campaign will continue to welcome donations until it ends Feb. 9.

“It was fascinating and it was a shock,” Wood said of the campaign meeting its goal within four days. “A lot of donations were anonymous and you don’t know how to thank them.”

Mikush intends to keep all donors updated on progress made on the store through emails, photos and videos. He also hopes to parlay this campaign into a permanent fund to support Phipps’ role in preserving community culture.

Wood said he sees parallels between the role Phipps Dairy played in the community years ago and the role Phipps General Store plays now.

“The store served the community then, and now it’s for the community again,” Wood said.

For more information on the campaign, visit and search for “Phipps General Store.”

Music jams are held at Phipps General Store every Friday night from 7 p.m to “whenever.”

Christina Day may be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @cdayinwj