Sand, beach chairs and a fire pit greet you as you enter the small downtown of Northport, Michigan. You’re not at Lake Michigan just yet though; you’ve reached the vacation survival specialists at North Shore Outfitters.
“We’ve got everything you need in the shop to survive your vacation from beach toys, sunscreen and beach towels to cottage stuff like candles and books,” says owner Will Harper. “We’re much more than just t-shirts. We’re a Northport, Michigan experience.”
“It gives families something to do,” Will says. “The worst thing is to have a family come up here and the kids are playing video games or looking at their smart phones. We’re trying to offer an alternative.”
You can rent for an afternoon, a day or the week. If you’re renting for a day or longer, they will deliver the equipment to your cottage so it’s ready when you arrive. The shop also carries tandem kayaks, kids stand up paddleboards and trailer bikes so the whole family is taken care of on your Northern Michigan vacation.
Inside the shop, which has the weathered feel of a surf shack, you’ll find local Michigan brands including M-22 merchandise and the Leelanau Candle Company along with sunglasses, shoes and other outdoor apparel.
The rustic atmosphere in the shop comes from the building materials. The wood paneling on the walls is from apple crates given to Will by area farmers, and the fireplace and countertops are metal from an old building in Northport that got torn down 20 years ago. The idea to salvage local materials came from Rachael Dean, Will’s business and life partner.
“Basically we did everything with donated or repurposed materials and renovated the shop on a shoestring budget,” Will says. “I love the way it came out, it’s exactly what I wanted.”
During the summer, Will and Rachael live in the apartment attached to the shop.
“It’s like living in a Jimmy Buffet song, it really is,” Will says. “I drive around town in a golf cart wearing flip flops, a t-shirt and shorts. That’s summer. We never have to leave here. Everything we want is within 100 yards.”
Growing up, Will spent his summers in Northport at his grandfather’s cottage.
“I’d be in Chicago all winter long and all I could think about was when’s the next time I’m going to get to Northport,” he says. “It just became from a very early age this focus of my life, and I associated Northport with all the best times I ever had.”