A Pear Tree Grows in Dixboro
With a British Isles connection
by Sally Mitani
"Dixboro's really coming up. There's the general store, Teacup Weddings [a tiny nondenominational chapel and reception hall], the coffee shop, the massage place, the tennis club. They have the farmer's market on Friday afternoons. When that's on, it's so like England," says Jan McCormick, pointing out the front window of her new Pear Tree Gift Shop.
Dixboro's leafy village green is dominated by the nineteenth-century white clapboard Methodist Church. Picturesque as it is, even most Midwesterners probably see it as more New England than England proper, but McCormick's crisp, musical diction might have you looking around for the tea and scones (which you can find next door at Moonwinks Cafe).
McCormick and her accent are actually Scottish, not English, but after growing up in Scotland, in Dundee, she moved to Oxford in the 1970s to be near her sister, and it was there she met her husband, John McCormick. They came to the Detroit area twenty-eight years ago, when he was brought over to work for Crain's Auto Week. He's now a well-known freelance automotive journalist and travels the world, but they've sunk deep roots into the tight-knit community of Dixboro. "I was a member of the church for a while," she says. "We brought over my parents when they were in their seventies. They're both passed away now, but we had the last five years with them. They became a big part of the church."
This is McCormick's first store, but she has some strong ideas. Unscented candles only: "Some people have allergies. And also, if you're having a dinner party why would you want the candles to overwhelm the scent of your food?" (She actually has some diminutive pear-scented, pear-shaped candles--as you'd almost have to in a shop named after pears--but they're wrapped so you can't smell them.) No Vera Bradley purses: "I wanted to stay away from the gift shop cliche." Instead, she carries similar wildly floral, but pricier, Amy Butler bags. "I like these much
better. They're of a beautiful quality." She doesn't want to devote too much space to baby clothes, but recognizing that baby showers are practically the raison d'etre of gift shops, she carries a respectable selection of Bibi and Mimi socks and leather booties.
She expects the shop to serve the classic gift shop demographic of "nearly all women, usually forties and up. But we have a lot of teenagers around here too," so in addition to serious grown-up jewelry, she has some fun and funky pieces as well.
McCormick, who has a degree in philosophy from the University of London and has worked as everything from legal secretary to fundraiser for Greenpeace, says she didn't really know how to operate a gift shop, but dove right in. In April she "went to the Chicago trade show"--the Chicago Market for Gift & Home--and "picked out the vendors I liked," giving some preference to local or regional artists. She had the former Allstate Insurance office, with its aggressively maize-and-blue-themed paint job, done over in bright ivories and pale lemon, and opened on June 1.
"My goal was to stock the store with things that are unusual, different, and not terribly expensive. I think I've managed to do that." As small as the shop is, it's a mini-department store: in addition to gifts she carries some housewares, like clocks, bowls, and throws; women's clothing and accessories; and, in a nod to all the animal adoption that occurs at the Humane Society down the road, pet gifts, like local ceramic artist Lilli Blackburn's dog- and cat-decorated pieces. "She'll do custom work too, from photographs," McCormick says. "There's weddings taking place down the road. There's the church with all its weddings and baptisms and christenings. People want gifts. I think I'm in a good location."
Pear Tree Gift Shop, 5153 Plymouth Rd., 585-5494. Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Closed Sun.
[Originally published in August, 2012.]