GTPulse: TC’s One Stop Shop For Plants, Antiques and Firewood

On the corner of Barlow and Carver is a little shop that I’ve gone past a dozen times, each time staring at the collection of hunter green, teal, jade and cream-colored plants that sat in the window. How much is the doggie in the window? No no no, how much is the prickly pear in the window? I couldn’t find out for the longest time. Each time I drove or strolled past it was always too early in the morning or too late in the evening. Eventually, the stars aligned and the other week while walking past, the Open sign was lit up and the friendly little cactuses were waving me in with their long arms. Upon entry, I saw that the storefront not only housed plants but also a big selection of antique items too. Shoestring Gallery is a Traverse Heights delight filled with oddities, treasures and trinkets you won’t find anywhere else.

Pati Wright has owned Shoestring Gallery for 12 years with her husband Norm. Before turning it into the antique store, she had fond memories of the building from her childhood.

“I always liked this building. It used to be a grocery store and I could remember my cousins would walk me down here for penny candy when I was a kid. I grew up here, born and raised Traverse City. I think it was Irish’s Market.”

The storefront took on a life as an Electrolux store sometime after the market closed.

“It was a vacuum cleaner repair shop for a long time. Every once in awhile people will walk in with their vacuum and look around and get pretty confused,” she said with a chuckle.

This doesn’t frustrate Pati, though. She has an unassuming friendliness and knowledge about her store’s items that make it easy to spend some time diving into the different items, and no one wanders into the shop without something piquing their curiosity. Although the store is called an antique store, it didn’t start out like that.

“So this little place here…it was 2007 and 2008 and during the recession. I couldn’t find work and one day my grandson and I were tooling around and we went by and we saw this for rent. Big, empty building. So I talked to my husband about it and he just lit right up and we moved in here just before Thanksgiving in 2009. I can remember I was sitting on the little step here and thinking, ‘My gosh, how am I gonna fill this little place?’”

The shop was initially filled with vintage clothing but she grew irritated with how much space hangers upon hangers of clothes took up, not to mention, all of the different smells that old clothes bring in. When she saw that the customers were buying up the trinkets more than the clothing, she knew bringing more of those kinds of items in was the right thing to do.

So the transition was made over to predominantly nonclothing items. The shop has covered the basics of a good antique store with items for sale like antique wood-burning stoves, pottery, Life magazines, signage, records, and record players, but they’ll also surprise you with an extensive collection of animal skulls ranging from a buffalo head from Olseons Farm to a giraffe. Norm spent his career as a biology teacher and his interest in reptiles has influenced some of the wares at Shoestring, including a 1960s science project of Meadow Vole skulls that won him a blue ribbon at a fair.

“My husband goes to flea markets and auctions and we filled this place up pretty fast. He’s always walking around, covering every surface of this place with more stuff and I’m behind him putting a doily underneath it all.”

So while he searches, Pati sells. And while Pati sells, Norm chops wood, too. If you’re in need of campfire wood they sell it for $6 a wheelbarrow full. Where else will you find antiques, plants and firewood all in one place? I don’t know, and I don’t need to know. I’ve got Shoestring Gallery to go to for that, and now you do too, for all of your bizarre and charming treasure trove needs.



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Categories: GTPulse