Ypsilanti's In The Mix (or Vice Versa)

Recent developments over in Ann Arbor's country cousin are making Ypsilanti quite a destination for those looking to support local artisan movements. Café Ollie recently obtained a tavern license, so they now offer a selection of Michigan craft beer and wine along with their coffee and comfort food. Next door the same owners opened the MI General Store, a specialty food store that specifically caters to all things Michigan-made: craft beer, fine wine, candies, snacks, and condiments. After a little over a month of operation, many folks are claiming the Wurst Bar is actually has the best gourmet brats, burgers, and large beer selection. And then there is Mix Marketplace, a brand-new artisans' market in downtown Ypsi (think of it as a farmers market but with artisan goods instead, much like Ferndale's Rust Belt Market.

"We had this empty beautiful building across the street and a lot of people were coming up with different ideas that were not going to work," explains Leslie Leland, who owns Mix New and Used along with her husband Markel and partners Ed and Bonnie Penet. "It's owned by our landlord, so we decided to start a dialogue about doing something over there."

Mix New and Used started out two years ago as a resale clothing, vintage furniture and housewares shop in half the space it currently occupies. Last April they expanded into new clothing, which really helped the business take off. "We're selling ‘art ware,'" Penet states, which she defines as "artistically chic women's clothing." They took over their full space in June, and also sublet to two local theatre troupes, which they call Mix Studio Theatre.

"We're mixing everything!" Penet exclaims. In addition to the performances put on by the theatre troupes, Mix also hosts monthly operas, poetry readings, and concerts. "We just roll back the racks and make space!"

All the partners are also artists, and Leland and Penet have sold their work professionally through various outlets and traveled the art show circuits for many years. "I remember driving through ice storms in Tennessee every January to get down to the shows in Florida," Penet says. "Now we always have a roof over our heads; we open the doors and it's all already set up!" For artists accustomed to the transient nature of art shows and the constant necessity of traveling in addition to creating, having a permanent home like Mix (and its various incarnations) is a relief, and the owners are thrilled that they are able to offer such a space to other artists like themselves.

For years the partners had felt that Ypsilanti was in need of a permanent downtown market; they even tried to convince one of their favorite markets in Ann Arbor to open a second location in town. In trying to come up with ideas for the vacant space, they began discussing the possibility of turning it into a market.

"We said, ok, how do we create a market?" Leland says. "It's not really our expertise."

So they decided to start with a sort of "best of the best" of artisan food producers who had recently launched cottage industry businesses after the state's cottage industry food laws were loosened in late 2010.

"People are really excited to sell what they're making in their homes so that's how it all started," says Leland.

Mix Marketplace debuted as a holiday pop-up store on November 1, 2011. It started with just 15 vendors. They were scheduled to hold two more pop-up market events in December and ended up increasing it to three due to its popularity. Leland remarks, "We [found it was] working really well; all the people coming out were amazed [by what we had to offer], and we were amazed by how many people were coming out!"

The pop-up events were so successful, in fact, that they decided to make them permanent. As of January 14, 2012, Mix Marketplace is now open every Tuesday from 3 to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with future plans to make it a permanent market with a café and wine bar upstairs serving prepared foods for on-site consumption and a full bar downstairs offering live entertainment. While the Ypsilanti Depot Town Farmers Market will be open again for the season in just a few months, Mix Marketplace will be able to offer a full indoor market experience while the various area farmers markets aren't operating, as well as a destination for relaxation with the bar and café.

"We've got a thriving downtown community," Leland states. "A lot of the older buildings have been redeveloped as upscale apartments and lofts that are a really good deal compared to what you'll find in Ann Arbor, so we have a lot of people living in the downtown area."

Particularly young people, college and post-college age, who are passionate about supporting local businesses and enthusiastic about the hand-crafted artisan food movement. The demand in the area is there, but prior to Mix Marketplace the supply was lacking.

The vendors are -- pardon the pun -- a mix of various artisan food producers and crafters of handmade goods. They hope to eventually have anchor stores with permanent presence in addition to the rotating roster (what's this about a gourmet cheese shop?). Right now one of the vendors from Mark's Carts, Debajo Del Sol, is set up at Mix so visitors can eat in addition to shop. Pastry chef Chris Wick of Miette is also there selling her delicate French pastries, and the Ugly Mug Café and Roastery has a satellite coffee bar set up inside serving lattes and cappuccinos.

There are some crossover staples from farmers markets, like local honey and eggs from locally-raised free-range chickens. You can also find handcrafted home products from vendors like JKM Soy Candles and Union Street Soapworks. Mix Marketplace also recently added some vintage booths and is looking to add more, in addition to the artists' and food purveyors' booths. "It's really just a nice market that's going to appeal to everybody," Leland states.

In addition to the marketplace, the space is available to rent for private parties and events -- anything from corporate events to weddings. With 2,000 square feet of floor space both upstairs and down, the space can easily accommodate large parties. Right now the kitchen isn't operational so food cannot be prepared on-site, but groups can bring in their own or have their event privately catered.

For more information about Mix Marketplace, becoming a vendor, or renting the space, check out their website at www.mix-marketplace.com or just give them a call at the store at 734-961-8704.

Nicole Rupersburg is a freelance writer, regular contributor to Metromode and popular Metro Detroit food blogger. Read her blog at http://www.eatitdetroit.com

All photos by Doug Coombe

Leslie Leland, Bonnie Penet and Ed Penet at Mix, Ypsilanti
Mix Marketplace at the corner of Washington and Michigan Avenue
Mix Marketplace manager Laura Gillis
Emily Jenkins Bastian of Tanglewood Bakery
William Bennett of The White Ravens playing at Mix Marketplace
Kent Baumkel of Kent's Confections
Union Street Soapworks
Kim Hoppe of OMGoodness
Terrence Ensign of Iceni Tea
Eli Stevic of The Ugly Mug
Leslie Leland
Ed Penet
Bonnie Penet