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Summer Days Are Perfect Time to Browse Offbeat Shops in Ann Arbor

June 26, 2008

By Georgea Kovanis, Detroit Free Press

Jun. 26–The pace slows in Ann Arbor in the summer.

The University of Michigan students who stick around for summer classes are less harried than they are during the school year. People sit at sidewalk cafes for hours. And rather than the competitive angst of football, weekends are filled with arts festivals and fairs, including, of course, the annual Ann Arbor Art Fairs (July 16-19 this year).

But my favorite reason to go to Ann Arbor in the summer isn’t so much the fairs or the fests or other special events.

It’s the stores.

I like them well enough in the winter, but in the summer, there’s something relaxing about strolling leisurely down Main Street, between William and Catherine and checking out the bath fizzies in the shape of cupcakes and the fake cockroaches and the latest University of Michigan paraphernalia.

Usually, I saunter a block or two northeast of Main to the Kerrytown District, with its historic brick streets. And its stunning paper store. And its Sunday artists market. And its fourth Thursday of the month summertime Trunk-a-Palooza, when a couple of dozen — sometimes more, sometimes less — vendors sell their garage sale and flea market items out of the trunks of their cars. (Info: www.glbtbooks.com/trunkapalooza or 734-302-3060.)

And then I head a block west of Main to my all-time favorite home and garden store, Downtown Home & Garden, with its imported serving dishes and high-end knives and its birdhouses and garden geegaws and its mascot, a big orange tabby named Lewis who doesn’t like other animals but loves shoppers and loves relaxing on his favorite cushioned chair.

If nothing else, the downtown Ann Arbor shopping district is eclectic. Need a Jolly Roger shower curtain? Check out Acme Mercantile!

It is devoid, for the most part, of national chains.

“You have everything you want within walking distance,” says Becky Long, a 24-year-old Ann Arbor resident and interior designer who was shopping the other day with her parents at Found Gallery, a little store in Kerrytown that features vintage and new items.

“You find all kinds of different things you wouldn’t find anyplace else,” says her mother, Marcia Cummings, who is 56 and lives in Springfield, Ill.

Ready to shop?

There are lots of stores in the Main Street and Kerrytown Districts, but these are my favorites.

So, c’mon, let’s go.

1. Downtown Home & Garden: In a building that is more than 100 years old and was once a horse barn, Downtown Home & Garden is a place to linger. It’s full of high-quality kitchen wares, including pricey pottery from Poland, excellent knives and bamboo bowls. Just as interesting are the handmade brooms from Berea College in Kentucky. On the garden side of the business, look for all things outdoors, including very cool pieces of willow fencing, the sort of thing that would be perfect to edge a flower garden. Prices start at about $11 for 4 feet of fencing. And while you’re there, look for Lewis, the store’s orange tabby cat. He’ll probably be asleep in one of the chairs on display. Special bonus: Every month, the store’s Web site publishes a coupon. Through the end of the month, it’s for a free loaf of bread from the store’s Zingerman’s bakery stand. 210 S. Ashley. Hours: 7:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Info: www.downtownhomeandgarden.com or 734-662-8122.

2. Ann Arbor Art Center Gallery Shop: The art center, in a former carriage factory, has gallery space, classroom space and, best of all, a gallery shop. Expect to find works from 300 artists, many of them from Michigan. Prices start at about $4 for a glass sun catcher and continue to about $1,000 for large sculptures. The cutest thing in the shop? The plush creatures — they’re reminiscent of Ugly Dolls — from Scrappy Nation. Made of vintage fabrics, they’re cuddly and cost $24-$72. Also in the light and airy gallery: tile works, paintings, photographs, jewelry. 117 W. Liberty, Ann Arbor. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, noon-5:30 p.m. Sunday. Info: 734-994-8004 or www.annarborartcenter.org.

3. Acme Mercantile: Billing itself as the world’s smallest department store — it’s just 900 jam-packed square feet — Acme Mercantile carries everything from toiletries to toilet plungers and pain relievers to pens. It’s an old-time general store with a twist. Looking for a rubber chicken ($8)? How about a skull-and-crossbones shower curtain ($18.75)? Or a Zombie brain gelatin mold ($6.50)? The items the store has the most difficult time keeping in stock? Days-of-the-week stick-on mustaches ($6.50 for a pack of seven) and Tide stain remover pens. The store also has a small clothing department. 111 W. Liberty. Hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m..-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday. Info: www.acmemercantile or 734-213-3722.

4. La Belle Maison: You don’t really NEED anything here. But between the European linens, the French flea market candlesticks, the crisp white porcelain from Portugal, and the candles, including Diptyque, and fragrances, you’ll find lots of stuff you have to have. For me, it was a $6 piece of soap in the shape of a pear. 333 S. Main. Hours vary, but usually the store is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday. It is also open by appointment and, occasionally, on Sundays. Your best bet? Call ahead. Info: 734-622-0065 or www.labellemaisonannarbor.com.

5. M-Den: Amid the galleries and shops along Main Street, the M-Den is a reminder to all that Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan. You’ll find all manner of Michigan apparel and paraphernalia, including Michigan-themed toothbrushes ($3.95) and a hammer with a pigskin grip ($24.95). Go Blue! 313 S. Main. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Info: 734-997-8000 or www.mden.com.

6. Ten Thousand Villages: It makes sense that the state’s only store in the chain of Ten Thousand Villages stores is in ultra-PC Ann Arbor. But I digress. Inside this fabulous store, which is committed to fair trade, you’ll find home decor items, accessories, toys, games and jewelry from around the world, including earrings from Kenya for less than $20, trivets made from recycled paper ($6-$14) by a women’s cooperative in the Philippines and rustic yet elegant birdhouses ($18) made in Laos. Take your time; there’s lots to see. 303 S. Main. Hours: Noon-5 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Info: 734-332-1270.

7. The Peaceable Kingdom: Yes, this store has lots of gift items, including bath fizzies that look like cupcakes, but its most interesting finds — in bins in the center of the store — are kitschy and inexpensive toys and novelty items, including a pencil sharpener in the shape of a human nose ($1.50), a cockroach key chain ($2) and a wind-up nun ($5). Perfect for party favors, gag gifts and tokens of affection. 210 S. Main. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Info: 734-668-7886.

8. Found: On the second floor of Kerrytown Market, just a block east of Main Street, this shop is one great find. It’s filled with a combination of new (taper candles in the shape of asparagus stalks for $8 each) and old (pages from vintage books for children as well as funky black-and-white magazine ads and articles). Many of the old finds are perfect for arty projects. You’ll find Scrabble letters, staircase spindles that can be turned into garden ornaments, outdoor faucet handles, hinges from doors and windows. If you have a good imagination, you’ll be happy here. And even if you don’t, you’ll be intrigued by forks that have been turned into angel sculptures and jewelry crafted from typewriter keys. 407 N. Fifth Ave. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Info: 734-302-3060 or www.foundgallery.com.

9. Hollander’s: This is quite a store to behold. You’ll find 2,000 papers in stock priced from a few dollars a sheet (a camel collage that is 20-by-28-inches is about $4) to $40 for a 24-by-36-inch silk-screened masterpiece from Japan. The sheets of paper can be used for everything from gift wrap to cards to book-making (Hollander’s offers classes) to interior decor. Some of the paper, which comes from all over the world, is so sumptuous and rich it looks and feels like fabric. The store also sells greeting cards, mugs and other gift items. But it’s the racks and racks and racks of paper that are the cat’s pajamas. 410 N. Fourth Ave. Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Info: 734-741-7531 or www.hollanders.com.

10. The Sunday Artisan Market: This isn’t a store; it’s an outdoor market. But it’s an interesting shopping experience. You can usually depend on at least 60 vendors to show up for this Kerrytown District happening that runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. from the first Sunday in April to the Sunday before Christmas. Recently, sellers offered homemade soaps and candles, photographs, paintings and more. Info: www.artisanmarket.org.

Contact GEORGEA KOVANIS at 313-222-6842 or kovanis@freepress.com.

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