’Tis the season for finding unique gifts, and downtown Farmington happens to be chock full of places to find them – whether the folks on your list are young skater types, budding (or practicing) musicians, foodies, cosmopolitans, or, well, “flower people.”
So if you’re scrambling to find last-minute Hanukkah gifts, or wrapping up your Christmas shopping, consider parking your car at the Downtown Farmington Center and exploring these fun options on foot.
1 - The Cheese Lady
For those who might enjoy a Mitten-State-take on a European culinary tradition, you can’t go wrong with The Cheese Lady.
Joe and Kendra Mantey opened Farmington’s Cheese Lady store (there are six in Michigan) in 2014. “Before that, we’d been traveling to Europe for business reasons, and we discovered the culture of these specialty cheese stores,” says Joe Mantey.
Kendra Mantey, The Cheese Lady. Photo by Nick Hagen.
Like those stores, The Cheese Lady carries a wide variety of cheeses – approximately 150 – and you can take your time and taste each one that interests you before making a decision. In addition, wines, Michigan craft beers, jams, chutneys, charcuterie, olives, baguettes and more are on offer, as are kitchen items like utensils, cutting boards, towels, and tablecloths. There’s even a modest space used to display the work of local artists.
But what you may notice first upon entering is a big blue cow named (by customers via a Facebook vote) Moona Lisa. “Kendra and I went to Beemster, to this cheese plant that’s in the Netherlands, and they had this cow, … and we said, ‘We’ll take it!’” says Joe Mantey. “ … We lost her for a while, because one of the other Cheese Ladies stole the cow and took it to Grand Rapids. But we got her back. She just had some bovine envy.”
2 - Hewitt’s Music
To say that Hewitt’s Music is a Michigan family business institution is an understatement. (On the wall, you’ll find antique instruments and historic photos, including Clarence E. Hewitt Jr. playing saxophone on the “Soupy Sales Show” in the 1950s.)
Now just two years shy of reaching the century mark, Hewitt’s is one of the most established names in selling and renting instruments, in addition to offering lessons, repair services, sheet music, and instrument-related supplies.
Phil Hewitt. Photo by Nick Hagen.
The original store – technically born in current owner/manager Phil Hewitt’s great-great-grandfather’s basement – opened in Detroit to serve the needs of local musicians. Hewitt’s then made its home in Dearborn for 60 years; and 5 years ago, it relocated in downtown Farmington.
What prompted the move?
Hewitt smiles and shrugs. “Just changing times. And we were interested in finding a place with more of a downtown vibe. … We love it here.”
3 - Tre Sorelle
Many of us, as kids, play “store” with our siblings, but the Tre Sorelle boutique – which means “three sisters” in Italian – proves that sometimes, childhood imaginings can give birth to a real-world enterprise.
Founded 12 years ago by three sisters (Andrea Yeo, Patty Williams, and Bella Lawson) who, thanks to their ambassador father, were born in Argentina and lived in and visited different parts of the world as children, Tre Sorelle offers unusual jewelry, apparel, and gifts from around the globe.
Tre Sorelle. Photo by Nick Hagen.
The small store is tucked away at the back of a building it shares with Williams’ husband, Dr. Joe Williams, so it’s a bit of a local secret with a loyal customer base. And, because Williams travels a good deal for work, she curates a good deal of the store’s stock.
So whether you’re specifically looking for an off-the-beaten-path scarf or bag, or just looking to be surprised, Tre Sorelle is always worth a visit.
4 - The Vines
The Vines – an easy-to-spot small purple building on Grand River, right in the heart of downtown Farmington – is the place to go for centerpieces, floral arrangements, and rustic-style holiday decorations and gifts.
Because the truth of the matter is, The Vines won me over when I walked in a saw a small sign on sale that read, “When you stop believing in Santa, you get underwear.”
Though originally located near 9 Mile and Orchard Lake, The Vines has been in its current location for 10 years now.
The Vines owner/manager Michele Hinds. Photo by Nick Hagen.
“I went to a vocational school when I was in high school,” said owner/manager Michele Hinds, who grew up in Farmington. “I was really interested in window display design, but they didn’t offer that, so I took floral design.”
And where did the store’s name come from? “My mom’s from England,” says Hinds. “The Vines is the name of her childhood home.”
5 - PLUS Skateboarding
According to PLUS Skateboarding’s founder and owner, Rob Woelkers, the store opened in Farmington in 2003 primarily because there wasn’t already an established skate shop in the area.
But for its first 14 years in business, PLUS Skateboarding was, perhaps fittingly, located underground, in a space at the corner of Grand River and Farmington Rd.
“Retail has changed a lot since we first opened,” said Woelkers. “It used to be that no matter where you put a skate shop, you’d be fine, because if someone wanted to find you, they’d find you. … Now, though, any barrier that makes it harder to find you makes it seem all the easier to just click on a link on your phone. So we needed to be in people’s faces more.”
PLUS Skateboarding. Photo by Nick Hagen.
Though business inevitably slows during these less-skating-friendly months, customers come during the holiday season to get their kids starter boards, as well as more “skater lifestyle” items: shoes, hats, and shirts, including PLUS label items.
“The thing our new location really offers us is the chance to do things like, have people skating in front of the store, when it’s nicer out,” said Woelkers. “It adds an extra layer to the experience when you actually see people skating.”
6 - Clothes Encounters
Though Clothes Encounters owner/manager Larry Sallen originally got his start in men’s clothing, he decided, when opening his downtown Farmington store in 1987, to switch his focus to women’s wear.
The decision has paid off, since Sallen is not only still in business all these years later, but also has built a core customer base who likes what he’s selling.
Inside Clothes Encounters. Photo by Nick Hagen.
“We’re known for the uniqueness of our clothing, and our affordable price point,” says Sallen. “ … The clothes are very contemporary. I do buying trips all over. Not just New York and L.A., but I’m overseas a lot, too.”
For this reason, you’ll see items – which include accessories like jewelry and bags – from places like Italy and Israel. Tunics, leggings, and sweaters are big sellers at this time of year, and Sallen has been in business long enough to see generations within families become regular customers.
“Like any other business,” says Sallen, “it seems glamorous and fun, and it can be, but it’s also a lot of work.”