Shopping Midtown: Reporter finds unique goods, food, drink on eight-block trek
There’s no better time to spend a day in the D than late summer. Proximity to the river often means cool breezes, and a dearth of suburban-style strip malls means boutiques offering goods not available at the local big-box retailer. From artisan breads to designer footwear, a surprising variety of goods is available in one of Detroit’s many shopping districts. But to get a dense concentration of businesses within a walkable area, a good place to start is Midtown, with the cluster of businesses on West Willis Street near Canfield Street. If you’re like me, you’d never start a rigorous day of shopping without a proper breakfast, so start the day at Midtown’s Avalon International Breads, 422 W. Willis St. Try a fortifying cappuccino or a cup of the Meaning of Life house blend, delivered fresh from Seattle weekly. And you’ll probably need a chocolate brioche. Walking requires a lot of calories. Not a coffee person? Try a cup of decaf tea and a blueberry muffin. Or maybe something peachy — August is peach month at Avalon, said owner Jackie Victor. Caffeinated and fed, it’s time to trot next door to Flo Boutique Co., also on Willis. This boutique offers hats, clothing and jewelry you won’t find anywhere else. On the corner, the Spiral Collective offers unique artwork and knickknacks. Because I always need more of those. From there, it’s a quick jaunt to the Bureau of Urban Living, 460 W. Canfield St., opened last year by entrepreneurs Claire Nelson and husband Francis Grunow. “My husband and I live in the Canfield Lofts in Midtown, and we wanted to open a shop that had the kind of goods we want to shop for,” Nelson said. Offerings range from candles and fancy hand soap to wine glasses and artwork, with a healthy helping of Motor City-made items. Top sellers are “green” home products, Nelson said, and items from City Bird, a local company owned by brother and sister Andy and Emily Linn, whose stock in trade is items decorated with vintage Detroit street maps. Nelson also offers the Holy Grail of refined shopping — the tea towel. You don’t want to use just anything to dry your dish. Moving on, the biggest items currently sold at the Bureau are large canvases produced by a local artist who has transformed construction site banners used during the 2006 Super Bowl into artwork, Nelson said. Walking several blocks inevitably makes me think about my feet, and that means one thing: It’s time for a jaunt over to Sole Sisters, in the Mid-Med Plaza on 87 E. Canfield St., east of Woodward Avenue. The Detroit branch of the popular local chain — with additional locations in Rochester and Royal Oak, each independently owned — sells designer footwear in a wide range of prices. Big for fall is purple, said owner Powell Peabody, extolling the virtues of purple ankle-strap pumps and avocado suede boots, both in the Sole Sisters lineup. Top summer sellers are wedge sandals like those from J. Shoes — so sexy, but so comfortable. Also flying out the door are chunky necklaces. At Sole Sisters, be sure to check out the latest from ex-Detroiters Shawn and Shane Ward, creators of Detny Shoes. If you’re tired of walking, this could be a good time to hop in the car for a trip a few blocks up Woodward to the Detroit Artists Market. Running through the end of August, DAM’s Summer Crafts Market features locally created wood and ceramic art in a wide range of prices, said director Nancy Sizer. That’s in addition to the market’s ongoing Elements sales gallery, Sizer said, which is filled with jewelry, glass, fiber and smaller pieces. If you’re still walking, you’ve probably worked up an appe-tite. Midtown is peppered with restaurants, from the Mid Town Corner Café in the Mid-Med Plaza to the Cass Café, 4620 Cass Ave., home of the lentil-walnut burger, to Detroit institution Traffic Jam & Snug, 511 W. Canfield St. If you go to the Traffic Jam and don’t try the mushroom soup … well, I can’t help you. There’s nothing like an old standby, but I always enjoy checking out a new place, like Zaccaro’s Market, 3100 Woodward Ave. The gourmet grocer, open since April, offers prepared foods, sandwiches, coffee and delicacies. Prepared foods continue to be top sellers, said owner Cindy Warner, as do grilling items such as chicken and feta sausages. “Also our wine selection is doing really well,” Warner said. “A lot of folks come in and grab a bottle of wine to take to a party.” Treat yourself, your shopping day is done.