Dexter's Cottage Industry
All-natural paints and more at Boxwood
by Sally Mitani
Boxwood Cottage and Home is located in the pretty nineteenth-century Greek Revival house across from the Dexter Farmers Market, and the building has some awesome history: it once housed the nurses who worked in the tuberculosis hospital next door (the bigger house toward the library).
No one in Dexter, including the Dexter Museum archivist, Nancy Van Blaricum, could verify that story with a written record, but the building's owner, Johnny Weber, says he heard it "from two or three people" and is guessing that it must have been "somewhere around the turn of the century." He bought the Boxwood building and the old hospital next door in the 1990s and says they had been the residences of a couple of generations of the Payne family, going at least as far back as the Depression. (Weber is from old Dexter stock himself--his family owned Weber's Furniture on Main Street.)
Boxwood's main product could have come right out of a nineteenth-century general store. Owners Gail Hauman and Mandy Pomo are the only distributors in the area of American Paint Company's old-fashioned, completely natural paint made of chalk and clay. In soft, rich colors, it requires thinning with water, and, unlike latex paint, it must be sealed with a finishing coat or wax, and Hauman and Pomo can show you how. Hauman says, "It is eco-friendly, solvent free and zero VOC [volatile organic compounds]. I've been painting in here, and I don't think you can smell it, can you?" (Nope.) She was working on "an old mahogany nightstand I bought from my mother's friend. It will be ivory and teal." Hauman confesses that this is one of her rare DIY projects. She's not the artist--Mandy is.
Boxwood also sells a small selection of American-made nest-feathering home products like pillows, throws, and candles. Hauman's husband Scott, a professional "brander," came up with the business's name and logo.
Boxwood Cottage and Home, 3216 Alpine St., 580-2069. Tues. 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Wed.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed
Sun. & Mon. boxwoodbrand.com.
Dexter's downtown is like a charm bracelet, and it continues to add new charms. Another well-tended nineteenth-century house just off downtown's Main Street became a retail business when Denise Becker opened the Dexter Spice House on the ground floor of the former Chamber of Commerce building. (She and her husband bought the building six years ago and rent out the upstairs.)
Becker, a math and science teacher, took a year off from teaching middle school in Walled Lake to pursue her obsession with spices: "Food is my favorite thing! I like experimenting with tastes and flavors." The Spice House sells spice mixes, flavored olive oils, and balsamic vinegars. "Last night I used blueberry balsamic vinegar to make a blueberry barbecue sauce for salmon. My husband says it was one of the best things I ever made." At the moment, she says she's selling "a lot of the Adobo Lime Rub, but that's probably because I recommend it so much." Small trial-size bottles of any of her oils and vinegars are $4, or $15 for a set of four. "A lot of people pick three really safe ones like garlic or Italian herb, then they'll pick one crazy one like chocolate balsamic or bacon extra virgin olive oil."
She also carries teas, soaps, candles, and, because her daughter has celiac disease, a line of gluten-free soups and chowders. Becker says she's still experimenting with hours--"no one's coming in at eight a.m. for spices."
Dexter Spice House, 3215 Central Street, 904-7290. Wed. & Fri. noon-7 p.m., Thurs. 8 a.m.-2 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Sun-Tues. dexterspicehouse.com
There are more empty storefronts downtown too: Lazer Planet (Broad, just off Main) closed in October, the Verizon store on Main closed over the winter, and Bits and Pizzas, also on Main, shut its doors abruptly in March, just nine months after it opened.
Bits and Pizzas owners Mindy and Rob D'Oria had banked on Rob's New York-style pizza to break into a market that already seemed well-supplied with Italian-style pies. But while "they put a lot of money into the building," says a downtown business owner who asked not to be named, "I don't think they did their homework--we didn't need another pizza place, we needed Thai or Mexican."
The Little Green Apple Hallmark store has moved to the other end of Dexter Crossing Shopping Center. Sales associate Bill Johnson says the store was closed for a few months (Snap Fitness was eager to get into the space) but reopened in its new spot next to Foggy Bottom Coffee House in October. The store is owned by Tom Carpenter, who, Johnson says, owns "about fifteen" Hallmark franchises around southeastern Michigan.
Little Green Apple Hallmark, 4067 Dexter-Ann Arbor Rd. (Dexter Crossing), 424-2962. Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun. 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. hallmark.com
Steve Poole closed his B-Line Pizza Island (Busch's shopping center) sometime in February, less than a year after opening. Amir Ashtiani had been helping him out at his Dexter Mobil station across the street, selling B-Line pizza by the slice, but it wasn't enough.
"He was suffering, so I closed down my own kitchen to help him," says Ashtiani, the gracious, handsome Iranian-born proprietor of the gas station across from LaFontaine Chevrolet. "And to be honest with you, it was good for both of us. He said, 'Amir, without you I could not survive.'" Ashtiani says they were even planning to expand the food offerings when the weather got warmer, but Poole couldn't hang on long enough. "I did all in my power to help him, as a human being and as a good neighbor."
[Originally published in March, 2014.]