Downtown Ann Arbor
Who’d think a college town like Ann Arbor, Michigan, known for the University of Michigan Wolverines, would be a terrific Real Shopping destination? But it is.
Ann Arbor is one of those rare towns that retains a vibrant downtown heart. The tree-lined streets are Midwest wide with beautiful, carefully preserved 19th century brick and wood buildings. And the shops are locally owned rather than national chains — just our kind of town!
A great place to start your shopping tour is on downtown’s Main Street at at the Peaceable Kingdom, a gift shop that features high-quality jewelry, folk art, bath and beauty items, and kitsch for the home — many of them animal-oriented.
Peaceable Kingdom isn’t some newbie to the Ann Arbor shopping scene. The store has been celebrating our animal friends for 36 years. As I wandered the store, I couldn’t resist purchasing a mother and baby zebra Christmas ornament for a friend who had recently returned from a trip to Africa. And, when you’re there, don’t forget to say hello to Jane Russell, the resident mascot terrier whose greets every customer. http://theaapk.com
Next door you’ll find 16 Hands Gallery, started by eight artists in 1975 as a co-op to sell their work. While the original artists no longer own the place, the gallery still represents local and national craftsmen and artists – more than 400 of them. You’ll find handcrafted fun and funky artwork, many one-of-a-kind, from sculptures and paintings to wind chimes and handmade paper items. The quality is excellent and the prices reasonable. www.16handsgallery.com
While you’re exploring Main Street, stop in at BarclayGallery. They have a unique collection of antique and contemporary Asian woodblock prints. They also feature a number of stunning Fortune magazine covers and some original Vargas pin up drawings from early Playboy magazines. Some of the pin ups are signed with “Ok HH,” Hugh Hefner’s approval of the original art for publication. More than a year ago, the owner’s home that housed thousands of dollars worth of print art burned. About $100,000 of the nudie artwork was miraculously saved when the Plexiglas covering them heated and bowed out during the fire, creating plastic bubbles that shielded the work from the flames. www.barclaygallery.com
Around the corner, on West Liberty , you’ll find Acme Mercantile, one of the most quirky general stores you’ll ever find. This little place, housed in a turn-of-the-century brick building with tall ceilings, has a little of everything –Tiki glasses, sock monkeys, jewelry, monkey cookie jars, coffin purses, and poker chips. And because it’s a mercantile, you’ll also find practical items, including band aids, panty house, hardware, and light bulbs. If there’s somebody on your list sho loves the weird and wonderful, you’ll surely find them the perfect gift at Acme. www.acmemercantile.com
One of my favorite downtown shops, located a block off of Main on South Ashley Street, is Downtown Home and Garden. Formerly a livery and stable, this 100-year-old business has evolved into an urban emporium for gardening and gourmet kitchenware. It has a drive through building where you can pick up plants, straw, or 50 pounds of black sunflower seed. For bird lovers, they’ve got a great selection of birdhouses and feeders. For plant aficionados, in summer the place bursts with plants and, even in winter, they have a warm and cozy greenhouse filled with interesting specimens. But my favorite part of Home and Garden is the indoor kitchen section where they offer an excellent selection of practical, high-quality (though not expensive) cookware, cutlery, canning goods, and serving ware, including a collection of beautiful Bolesławiec (pronounced: “bol-eh-suave-ets”) stoneware that originated as folk art in Poland. When I visited, winter was approaching so they also had a good selection of practical wool vests and shirts and terrific wool hats, including a winter Tilley hat I couldn’t pass up (see Real Finds). Whether you need a good pair of muck boots or a new bread knife, you can count on Downtown Home and Garden for solid, functional goods that’ll last for many years to come. www.downtownhomeandgarden.com
A few blocks from the downtown core is Kerrytown, a vibrant and historic neighborhood where you’ll find the open-air Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market (Wednesdays and Saturdays). For more than a century, the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market has been feeding city residents. The Farmer’s Market features more than 100 local vendors selling everything from handmade leather goods to eggs, produce, honey, locally grown meat and poultry, baked goods, artisan cheeses, and more. Today, many of the products sold reflect the city’s strong organic and farm-to-table ethic of fresh, local, in-season products. http://www.a2gov.org/government/communityservices/ParksandRecreation/FarmersMarket/Pages/Farmers’ Market.aspx
The Farmer’s Market’s proximity right next door to Kerrytown Market & Shops is great for shoppers. Kerrytown is a multi-story building that houses, among others, a produce market, a butcher (Sparrow Meats and Produce), a fish monger (Monahan’s Seafood), a coffeehouse (Sweetwaters Café), an artisan paper goods shop (Hollander’s), toy and clothing stores. Don’t miss Trackleman’s Smokehouse (go outside and around the building) where they serve delectable hot and cold smoked fish, including a delicate, melt-in-your mouth cold smoked salmon. www.kerrytown.com