The former Vogel’s and Foster’s clothing store on S. Main in Chelsea is now home to two retailers with local ties who’ve split the 5,000-square-foot space. Whitetail—Mary Baude’s design, home, and lifestyle shop—moved from Dexter at the end of September, and Julie Konkle’s FarmSudz—a handmade natural skin-care storerelocated in July from its basement digs across the street. The two stores continue a retail tradition in the building that started more than 130 years ago with H.S. Holmes Mercantile. 

 “Our vision is to be like an old apothecary,” says Konkle, and she says it’s fitting that her products—from soaps to creams and ointments—now line the antique shelves. “We take seriously that we’re stewards of this place,” says Jan Richards, Konkle’s niece and the store’s business manager. “It’s full of so much nostalgia.”

Mary Baude moved Whitetail from Dexter, while Julie Konkle’s FarmSudz emerged from basement digs across the street. | Photo: J. Adrian Wylie

Konkle opens the massive 1880s safe built into a back wall, with hidden levers and compartments, that bears the name of one of the oldest department stores in the country. She leads a tour of the basement, with its rows of dusty record books from the early 1900s, and she notes the dirt floor that once served as the town’s horseshoe pit. “How cool is that?” she asks.

Most recently, the building was home to Mike Jackson’s clothing store that he ran for twenty-seven years before retiring. Konkle says she’s thrilled to move into the above-ground location with large windows and three times the space. “I bet our business has doubled” since moving, she says. “We’re getting so much more traffic,” because the storefront is more visible, and it’s stroller- and wheelchair-accessible.

Konkle launched her “accidental business” after she retired in 2017 from her job as a U-M clinical research nurse. She’d experimented with making goat-milk soap at home and “I had every intention of keeping it as a hobby.” She rented the basement space on S. Main when her husband worried that the septic system at their house wasn’t up to the task. When Chelsea zoning required that she create a retail space there, her business was born, and her product line grew. She says her customers include people with eczema, psoriasis, and other skin conditions: “Meeting customers’ needs is part of what makes this magical.”

Konkle uses herbs and other ingredients from local producers. She orders up to forty gallons of goat milk annually from Firesign Family Farm in Whitmore Lake (two of their goats were on hand at the grand opening). Beeswax for her products—including “best-selling” BooBooz Magic Balm—comes from Lesser Farms in Dexter. Staffers make the products in both their Chelsea and Jackson stores—and customers can observe them at work. “This gig brings all of us such joy,” Richards says.

Next door, Whitetail owner Baude has nearly tripled her previous Dexter space and filled it with furniture and home goods that she’d ordered in anticipation of an expansion. An interior designer with a design team of three, she says her style tends toward “streamlined traditional with soothing colors.” She’d first opened Whitetail in 2016 on Dexter’s Broad St. and moved to Grand St. in 2020. She was about to sign a contract for a larger space in Dexter when she got a glimpse of the Chelsea location.

“Oh my! The building itself is gorgeous,” she says, and she sees potential for outdoor events and entertaining in the neighboring alley. A Dexter resident, she often shops and dines in Chelsea and hopes to draw customers from the Common Grill across the street.

Gearing up for a late September opening, staffers were arranging furniture and stocking lamps, rugs, throws and pillows, wall art, designer books, and bar-ware. She hopes the new showroom will “help customers envision” possibilities for their home. There will also be a space in back to serve customers coffee. In addition, Baude will offer “soft, cozy, and elegant” apparel, and handbags, hats, and jewelry.

A Muskegon native who’s lived and traveled throughout the U.S., Baude says her showroom is influenced by that geography, including “rustic touches” from her time in Colorado, and “elements of the ocean and architecture” from three decades of family vacations to Rhode Island and the East Coast.

Whitetail is named after her former Saline farmhouse on ten acres, where she raised her two daughters. With other home goods, furniture, and interior design firms downtown, including Merkel’s landmark store, Baude says, “I’m a very strong proponent that there’s room for everyone … There are so many beautiful styles, and we all have something different to offer.”

Whitetail, 107 S. Main St. (734) 253–2066. Tues.–Sat. 10 a.m.–6 p.m., Sun. noon–4 p.m. Closed Mon.

FarmSudz, 109 S. Main St. (734) 593–7030. Tues.–Thurs. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 10 a.m.–6 p.m., Sun. noon–4 p.m. Closed Mon.

“I think Covid had a lot to do with me looking at the big picture,” says Jay Friend, owner of Withington’s, the wine and beer shop he opened last December in the former Mule Skinner Boots on Main. After twenty years of working as a wine distributor, he felt it was “now or never time” to start his own business.

Friend, who moved to Chelsea from Ann Arbor three years ago with his young family, received guidance from the Small Business Development Center at WCC to launch his shop. Since the closing of New Chelsea Market (see below), it carries the only non-grocery-store selection of wine and beer between Chelsea and Ann Arbor. Most wines are in the $10 to $30 range, he says, and his selections are personally curated.

“I’m open to anything that’s unique, well done, and done with purpose,” he says of his inventory. He sells domestic and imported beer, ciders, and mead—as well as specialty beers that are hand-delivered by small breweries, including Ferndale Project, Wax Wings in Kalamazoo, Mothfire in Ann Arbor, and Arvon in Grand Rapids. “I rely on my core customers to give me feedback, especially with beers.”

He says he enjoys “exploring wines from around the world … I see wine as an art form and an expression. There are so many ways to produce wine, and I like to follow winemakers who have a fresh take.” If a customer gives him a brand or type of wine they’ve tried, he says he’s confident about giving them a good recommendation. Friend also features a large selection of nonalcoholic beer, wine, spirits, and mixers for people “who are changing their habits or taking a month off.”

“Withington”—an old family name—is also Friend’s and his nine-year-old son’s middle name. Friend has decorated the store walls with abstract acrylic dot paintings created by his father, a retired art teacher who lives in Marquette. With his son’s school bus stop nearby, Friend says he can “hang out downstairs and do his homework here” after school. “It’s important to me that this is a family store.”

Withington’s, 112 N. Main St. (734) 593–9981. Tues.–Thurs. 10 a.m.–7 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m.–8 p.m., Sun. noon–5 p.m. Closed Mon.

At the end of August, husband-and-wife team Kevin Riley and Francisca Fernandez closed their specialty grocery store, New Chelsea Market. They opened it on Main St. fifteen years ago and moved to the Chelsea Shopping Center in 2012 when their original building was sold (it’s now home to Smokehouse 52 BBQ). The couple announced that “we are eager to put our hearts into having fun as retirees.” 

Chelsea Burger closed in early summer—however, the closure may be temporary. In a recent Facebook post, co-owner Alison Fredenberg writes that although “our original operating partnership fell through,” their “amazing friends and employees … carried a lot of weight to keep us open during a difficult time of labor shortages, food and supply shortages and rising cost of food.” The family is “working now to secure a partnership” so that it can reopen.