Big Changes at Small Stores
Busy Hands adds clothes, Biercamp beer
by Sally Mitani
From the July, 2013 issue
Is it a stretch to compare a raincoat made in California to a jug of beer made on South State Street? Maybe less of a stretch since Elizabeth Cline's book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion shot up the Amazon rankings and she started making the talk show rounds. In it, she draws an analogy between food and fashion. Both have their "fast" versions and, more lately, a "slow" counter culture, one that advocates that we pay more, buy local, and buy quality.
In some ways that's the retail theme of this new millennium, and there is no shortage of examples in Ann Arbor. Here are updates on two that are quietly following their own slow, less-is-more paths.
Busy Hands is known to most people as an extremely high-end knitting supply store, but owner Rebecca Konieczny ("you pronounce it Rebecca K," she says drily) wishes to correct that image.
From its beginning almost eleven years ago, Rebecca K says, Busy Hands has been "a place to buy things made by hand or things to make them yourself." Accessories like Laurel Burch bags, or jewelry ("I look for vintage-like things") have always been part of the picture. Then, last year, she began selling real clothes. There's not much, but it's of high quality and, with one exception, made in the United States.
Konieczny didn't have an Elizabeth Cline-style political awakening. She had a closet-organizing awakening while listening to a podcast about streamlining your life. The speaker (whose name she can no longer remember) said that "most people wear 20 percent of their clothes 80 percent of the time. I put the clothes I wear most in the center of my closet and started looking at the tags. They were all small manufacturers; they were quality fabrics; and they were mostly made in the U.S."
Long story short, these are the kinds of clothes you'll find at Busy Hands. The Mycra Pac black scroll coat, $259 and fully reversible, is her
flagship article. "The design and construction are superb," she says. "I've had mine eight years. I'm guessing I wear it 120 days a year, and I have yet to as much as sew on a button." She shows off several more items: a Leota wrap dress, in the classic Diane von Furstenberg style. "A lady in Stockton, California, makes these jackets out of silk rayon velvet," she says of her line of extravagant Downton Abbey-ish dusters (which look like they require a turban as an accessory, but, sadly, she has none for sale).
Her only line not made stateside is the selection of heavy silk tunics from a cooperative in India. "The beadwork is high quality. You can tell they were designed by a woman: the back is longer than the front, and"--she points to a lively circle pattern on one--"no embarrassing placements on the front."
Busy Hands, 306 S. Main (Suite 1C), 996-8020. Tues.-Thurs. noon-6 p.m., Fri. & Sat. noon-8 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m., Mon. by appt.
Biercamp looks like the kind of mirage you always want to appear in the north woods when you're hungry (and sometimes does appear if you're in the foodie mecca around Traverse City): homemade sausage, homemade bacon, homemade jerky, homemade hot dogs, pretty high-quality other stuff to put on, under, or near them, a cooler full of Towne Club and Faygo, and decor that owes a lot to chipped white enamel and family photos.
And now, two years after opening Biercamp, owners Hannah Cheadle and Walter Hansen also sell beer.
As a microbrewery, they could technically put in some barstools and sell by the glass, but they'd rather not. They'll give tastes, but they're selling only take-home growlers and half-growlers from the two taps behind the counter. One will always be their IPA, the other a rotating tap (wheat beer in early June). Cheadle says she thinks the word "growler," a sixty-four-ounce jug, predates the craft beer movement--it supposedly refers to the "growling" noise the jug makes when opened.
Their brewer, Teo Watson-Ahlbrandt, has brewed for several micros and recently finished his degree in biochemistry at EMU. "Since we don't have trade schools for brewers in this country, that was as close as I could get" to a relevant degree, he says. Another choice would have been microbiology: "I've also seen a fair number of engineers in this field too--the whole thermodynamics thing."
Watson-Ahlbrandt calls his operation "super small. I'd call us a nanobrewery, but that license doesn't exist in Michigan."
Biercamp Artisan Meats, 1643 S. State, 995-2437. Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Closed Sun. bier-camp.com
[Originally published in July, 2013.]