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Downtown Shopping

Tucked away on side streets and inside hotels are distinctive stores selling the unique, the vogue and the hard-to-find.

By Mary Timmer
Photography by Johnny Quirin

You won’t find a Gap or a Williams Sonoma — there’s not a trace of a department store.

And because of that, many people assume there is no retail in downtown Grand Rapids. But take a closer look and the city’s urban center may surprise even the most avid shoppers. Tucked away on side streets and inside hotels are distinctive stores selling the unique, the vogue and the hard-to-find.

In the Amway Grand Plaza, Boutique Emmanuel has specialty women’s clothing in casual, office and elegant evening styles, sizes 2 through 16. Don’t be fooled by the small store front; the boutique is larger than it appears, with a creative selection for all ages and lifestyles. For bargains, Emmanuel Too is the store’s clearance center.

Just a couple of blocks away, Gina’s Boutique at 40 Monroe Center NW brings a taste of Los Angeles and New York styles to West Michigan. Shoppers will find easy-going denim, tops and dresses, as well as professional attire. The shop features a bright, airy atmosphere and spacious dressing rooms.

Around the corner on Ottawa Avenue, F. David Barney Clothiers specializes in custom and made-to-measure men’s clothing. Even casual slacks are shown un-hemmed to insure proper fit for the discerning customer.

But quality doesn’t mean costly. The store carries “custom clothing options at affordable prices — not just top end,” said Bruce Tuttleman, sales assistant and fit consultant. “A lot more casual wear than customers expect, and an incredible selection of hand-sewn ties.”

Reynolds & Sons Sporting Goods at 12 Monroe Center NW, claims to be one of the oldest sporting goods stores in the state. Established in 1927, it’s family owned and operated. “We’re geared for urban footwear and hats,” said Jeff Reynolds, “but we also excel in rocket football.”

With a full line of football equipment, Reynolds & Sons is a destination store for customers who want to insure a proper fit. For streetwear, shop the selection of Nike Jordon footwear, or see the selection of New Era hats. Team and staff apparel is also available, as well as varsity jackets and other special order items.

Celebrating its 68th year in downtown Grand Rapids is Van Hoecks Shoes at 95 Monroe Center NW. It started as a Dr. Scholl’s store and has evolved into a destination for the hard-to-fit customer.


All City Kicks, below, carries streetwear, a fusion of skate and hip-hop attire.

“We do what other people don’t,” president Greg Clarins said. “We service the customer who can’t find their size anywhere else: narrows, slims and larger sizes. A woman who wants a shoe size of 11 and a half can’t walk into any (mall) store and find her size. We have customers who drive in from Lansing and all over to shop at our store.”

Schuler Books & Music at 40 Fountain St. NW offers music, DVDs, gift items and books, of course — and a café where shoppers can sit and enjoy a quiet escape from the streets. While there, you might catch an author reading a selection or signing books. If you don’t know what to read next, the knowledgeable staff can help you choose.

A trip to downtown is hardly complete without a stop at Groskopf’s, 112 Monroe Center NW, a fixture in Grand Rapids since 1881. Specializing in fine luggage and travel items, the store has a loyal following, said manager Doug Bickel. “Most of the customers we know by name. I know we have some third generation shoppers, probably some fourth, also.”

Groskopf’s has a wide selection of gift ideas, too, from out-of-the-ordinary games to wood jewelry boxes and fountain pens. The inventory changes regularly, giving frequent shoppers something new to see on every visit.

Another downtown store claims an even longer history. Founded in 1850, Preusser Jewelers hold titles as “the oldest jeweler in the state of Michigan” and “the longest-standing business of any kind in Kent County.” But don’t let its age fool you: The store carries an up-to-date selection of fine jewelry and some of the most recognizable names in the industry, such as Ritani, Christian Bauer, John Atencio, Sakamoto Design, Verragio and more.

Grand Central Market and Deli, 57 Monroe Center NW, opened in 2005, offering wine, cheeses, deli specialties, fresh produce and general grocery needs to downtown shoppers. Now under the new ownership of Tom and Cheryl Powell and Christina Klunder, the market is expanding to offer an even larger selection. Chef-created desserts, deli sandwiches on organic breads, and a hummus made on the premises are just some of the foods available.

Within walking distance of Monroe Center are shops on Weston and Division streets offering eclectic — and really hip — merchandise.

Bohemia Too at 10 Weston St. SE has a mix of antique furniture, beads, jewelry and upscale urban clothing for men and women. A Chinese cupboard displays hand-knit slippers from Pakistan. Shoes by Tsubo and Red Tape are at home amid cast iron teapots and contemporary carvings.

Next door, Premier Skateboarding sells the latest athletic shoes, apparel and skateboards, plus board parts and accessories. Here you can buy a $220 Nixon watch or a set of Hubba Lusty Lemmon Wheels for under $30.

And if you love streetwear, don’t miss All City Kicks, 139 S. Division Ave. The store operates by the motto “keeping it fresh,” introducing customers to such hip new brands as Play Cloths and 10.Deep. “Streetwear is a fusion of skate and hip-hop,” said Jason Stewart. “Over the years, the two styles have blended.”

Music fans have a couple of choices for buying their favorite tunes: Vertigo Music at 129 S. Division Ave., and Dodds Record Shop, 20 S. Division Ave.

“We are primarily an independent label, non-mainstream music store,” Vertigo owner Herm Baker said. “Music with a little more artistic integrity. You can get a Miles Davis record here, too. But we don’t carry ‘American Idol’-type artists.” The store also offers a wide selection of new and used vinyl records, posters, patches, T-shirts and used DVDs.

Dodds has been serving music lovers since 1951. Boasting a big selection of vinyl records and even cassettes, the store carries a wide variety of music styles.

“Everything,” said Gerry Dodd. “Popular, jazz, blues, country, and a small selection of classical.” Record enthusiasts will find their favorite vinyl along with new needles and other parts for their turntables. Remember Andy Williams? George Beverly Shea? You can find them at Dodds.

Close to the corner of Division Avenue and Cherry Street, Sanctuary Folk Art has displayed contemporary folk pieces for 11 years. Owner Reb Roberts welcomes shoppers to enjoy more than 500 paintings and 3-D art in a welcoming, come-as-you-are atmosphere. A champion of the local arts, Roberts displays only works by West Michigan artists.

On the north side of downtown, art enthusiasts will find works by more than 50 artists at LaFontsee Galleries and Underground Studio, 820 Monroe Ave. NW, which also carries personal accessories, urban crafts and home décor.

At the same address, Metal Art Studio sells handcrafted fine jewelry by several local artisans and the unique art glass chocolates by Hulet & Hulet Art Glass Confections.

Looking forward, plans are under consideration for a year-round indoor-outdoor market on Ionia Avenue just south of Wealthy Street that would feature locally made produce, food items, merchandise and art. While the market isn’t expected to be open for business until 2012, developers are excited about the project.

“We’ve done the feasibility studies, we’ve talked to the developers, and we’re confident that we can make it happen,” said Jay Fowler, director of the Downtown Development Authority. The agency frequently reviews plans for new retailers and expects downtown shopping to continue to grow. GR

Mary Timmer is a freelance writer based in Zeeland.


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