Creative shopkeepers and an inspired landscape have turned Northern Michigan’s small-town shopping districts into enclaves of irresistible. From Harbor Springs to Suttons Bay put on your shopping shoes on and follow us, Mesdames! Find the original layout in the September 2015 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.
Once upon a time, the French and Native Americans who founded Harbor Springs raced colorful, petite cabriole sleighs hitched to Indian ponies down Main Street. Not long after, wealthy resorters came by steamers to build gorgeous Victorian cottages and spend their money in the tiny downtown that has risen to that mission in classier and classier ways ever since—without losing touch with its roots.
In Harbor Springs, with Little Traverse Bay winking at your back, you’ll browse in little clapboard shops—some still have their original lath and plaster walls. As in any charming old village, little alleys and courtyards tempt from behind gates. Two European antique stores and top-quality art galleries add exclamation points to the Euro feel. Browse deeper and the shopping gets worldlier. By the time you’ve dropped into a seat at one of the harbor-side eateries, like Mustang Wendy’s Cask & Cuisine (129 E. Bay St.) or Stafford’s Pier (102 E. Bay St.), you’ll have realized shopping in Harbor Springs is a whole new rodeo.
Elizabeth “Dilly” Kirby of Elizabeth Blair Fine Pearls in Harbor Springs
T-Mag: I’ve just come off the street in flip-flops and a T-shirt—am I out of my league in Elizabeth Blair Fine Pearls?
Dilly: Never! Come as you are. When matching pieces to our customers it’s better to see the real, ‘every day’ version of them. Have fun in our store and understand that pearls can be worn any day and in any way. We want everyone to have a great experience when shopping here, so we have made it a point to design pieces in all metals, to allow our designs to be approachable at different levels. Pearls are a luxurious gem without pretense, so they suit many walks of life at any price point.
T-Mag: Man pearls?
Dilly: For sure! We’ve designed casual black pearl bracelets, leather and pearl necklaces to layer, as well as formal tux shirt studs and cufflink dress sets.
Our big success story is selling pearls to men for gifts; our return rate is extraordinarily low … happy recipients!
Something about an end-of-summer, early fall day in Suttons Bay makes you want to crawl inside a buffalo check shirt. That’s fitting, as this Leelanau Peninsula hamlet began as an outpost where woodcutters supplied cordwood to steamboats on their Lake Michigan runs. But no, you won’t find the homely, feels-like-a-Brillo Pad shirt variety here. Search the iconic white clapboard store Bahle’s (210 N. St. Joseph St.), however, and you’ll likely come up with versions in soft, pre-washed wool with mitered cuffs. Bahle’s, founded in 1876 and one of the state’s oldest family-owned businesses, has parlayed the family legacy into a haven of Great Lakes couture. The store’s stylish presence has fostered an entire shopping district along St. Joseph’s Street (M22). Like Bahle’s, these boutiques (and one rocking Scandinavian/Euro furniture store!) bridge that suave line between swank and grounded. This charmer of a village has plenty of chic little eateries to ease the shopping journey. Post-shopping, sink into a seat at a renovated old-fashioned movie palace, The Bay Theatre, for a world-class flick.
Peggy Miller (left) and Sarah Peschel (right) of At Home, 405 N. St. Joseph St., Suttons Bay
T-Mag: With Mario Batali’s summer home right down the road, we have to ask, What would he buy for his cottage if he stopped into At Home?
Peggy: An industrial style metal pendant light finished in his signature Croc orange.
T-Mag: I’m grilling fresh-caught Lake Michigan salmon for dinner. What At Home piece should I serve it on?
Peggy: An 18-inch oval Higuerilla wood platter that is handcrafted in Peru using sustainable practices to protect Amazon biodiversity.
Picture this: It’s the turn of the New Millennium and one of Ernest Hemingway’s former lady friends is still alive, beautiful and cocktailing at Petoskey’s stately Stafford’s Perry Hotel (100 Lewis St.). Her evening ritual has changed little since she drank here with Ernest himself back in the 19-teens, when he was yet an unknown. Imagine the couple: dark, dashing Ernest, just back from World War I’s Italian Front, and the statuesque woman, always smartly dressed because her family owned the downtown Petoskey department store. The point? Great shopping districts grow organically out of enclaves steeped in mystique and quiet old money. Welcome to Petoskey where leafy streets and renovated lumber baron mansions cascade down a bluff overlooking Little Traverse Bay to the Historic Gaslight Shopping District. Take your time and empty your trunk before you set out—there are 170 browse-worthy shops here. Pennsylvania Park (E. Lake St.) with its white gingerbread gazebo and adjacent restrooms is a lovely place to rest—especially with a gourmet sandwich from Symons General Store (401 E. Lake St.), a fine wine and foodie hive with a surprisingly long history.
Christine Jaconnette (left) and Brandy Malpass of Threads, 400 Bay St., Petoskey
T-Mag: I love that Camo Shift Dress by Alicia Bell that you carry. What do you think about pairing it with a Petoskey stone necklace for a Paleo look?
Brandy: I love the idea! I think fashion should be fun, creative and personal. And I like the idea of mixing the pattern of the dress with the unexpected texture of a Petoskey stone—with the added statement of it being a local symbol!
T-Mag: Carry anything I might also find in an L.A., NYC, or Paris boutique?
Brandy: Many of the lines we carry can be found in boutiques in New York, L.A. and even Paris. Rails shirts, MOTHER denim, White+Warren Cashmere, and Ulla Johnson are the first ones to come to mind. Our Northern Michigan clients don’t feel like they have to travel to the major cities to find what they are looking for, because we can bring it right to them. Furthermore, we curate those lines in such a way that it feels special and relevant to our customers, whether they are local or visiting us from another part of the country.