You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sun, Dec 16, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

At Ann Arbor's Falling Water, themes of peace and gratitude resonate this holiday season

By Lizzy Alfs


Blisse Beardsley, Kasia Bielak-Hoops, Jessica Johnston and Kristen Stelter inside Falling Water on Ann Arbor's South Main Street.

Joseph Tobianski |

When Jim Johnston recalls his 24 years of operating Falling Water on Ann Arbor’s South Main Street, one word comes to mind: gratitude.

“I’ve always thought about (Falling Water) as a gift in my life, and I’ve tried to honor that as best I can,” he said about his years as a store owner.

For many people, feelings of gratitude and peace are easily forgotten during the hectic holiday season. That’s why Jim and his daughter, Jessica Johnston, decided to erect a “peace wall” inside the store’s window at 213 S. Main St. this year.


The peace wall at Ann Arbor's Falling Water, where people can paste their names this holiday season.

Joseph Tobianski |

The window reads “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me,” and it includes a collage of signatures that is growing by the day.

“(The wall is) putting an energy out there that is saying, ‘we really support the idea of peace in the world for everybody,’” Jim said. “This just gives a physical way to say that.”

“It’s something that was interactive with the community that we thought really is the message of the holiday season,” he continued.

Jim and three other business partners opened Falling Water on South Main Street in 1989 after operating the store on South Ashley Street for a year prior.

“We didn’t envision anything, we just sort of opened. We didn’t know much about business, we really didn’t,” he said. But Jim, a lover of books and a former manager of the original Borders bookstore, wanted to open “a little shop that had books and a creative aspect to it.”

A quarter-century later, Falling Water is still that little creative shop with greeting cards, books, jewelry and other fair trade gifts from around the world. Jim said the store has evolved, but the nature of it has stayed the same.

Jim and Jessica are the first to admit that operating a small retail store is a challenge. Jessica said it’s getting increasingly difficult to survive in the “big business world.”

“It’s getting harder and harder for small businesses to operate in the big business mentality,” she said. “Take shipping rates, for example: we aren’t in a position where we can offer things like free shipping.”

They’ve made adjustments to the store throughout the years, such as bringing in lower-priced inventory and eliminating a gold jewelry line. Jim recalled a $3,000 hand-carved trout table that sold at Falling Water years ago.

“That was extraordinary, but those times have passed,” he said.

Still, he said, Ann Arbor has a “vital and vibrant” downtown area, and people are interested in supporting small business owners. He also said some customers have been coming in the store for more than 20 years.

It’s those customers — new and old — that make Jim and Jessica both passionate about what they do, and thankful this holiday season.

“We got a card in the mail that says, ‘I’m grateful for your existence,’” Jessica said. “It’s moments like that; it’s special.”

Jim added: “It’s not always passion, but I am still profoundly grateful for this store and to be a part of it and I always have been. That’s the truth.”

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at Follow her on Twitter at



Mon, Dec 17, 2012 : 3:21 a.m.

My connection to Falling Water began ten years ago when founder Jim Johnston shared the goal of Falling Water as "work so that each person who enters Falling Water has a better day because of that experience". I certainly have had a lot of "better days" because of the staff, Falling Water culture of caring about others, and the customers who spend time there. So to Jim, Jess, and all others who helped to shape this corner of our world, a huge THANK YOU!


Mon, Dec 17, 2012 : 3:08 a.m.

While some articles on local businesses feel like paid sponsorship, I appreciate the tone and focus of this one. I have always felt warmly welcomed at Falling Water and it is a favorite for guests when I give them a tour of downtown. Bravo to them for creating a space devoted to Peace - Lord knows we need it, especially in the aftermath of Newtown.

Wolf's Bane

Sun, Dec 16, 2012 : 11:59 p.m.



Sun, Dec 16, 2012 : 5:43 p.m.

So, Jim Johnston is the owner, quoted heavily throughout the article, and yet isn't pictured. Why not?

Jessica W Johnston

Sun, Dec 16, 2012 : 6:01 p.m.

Jim chose to not be in the photograph. Instead we invited our staff to be a part of the photo. Kristin, who's pictured, played a key part in the design and creation of the window.

Jim Corcoran

Sun, Dec 16, 2012 : 5:13 p.m.

Peace is more elusive than we think. Author C. David Coates wrote an eye opening poem which, like a mirror, exposes us to truths we may not wish to see. Here is a slightly modified version of that poem. "Aren't humans amazing? They kill wildlife - birds, deer, all kinds of cats, coyotes, beavers, groundhogs, mice and foxes by the million in order to protect their domestic animals and their feed. Then they kill domestic animals by the billion and eat them. This in turn kills people by the million, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative - and fatal - health conditions like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and cancer. So then humans spend billions of dollars torturing and killing millions more animals to look for cures for these diseases. Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals. Meanwhile, few people recognize the absurdity of humans, who kill so easily and violently, and once a year send out cards praying for 'Peace on Earth.'" The good news is that anyone can break this cycle of violence. Each of us has the power to choose compassion. Please visit these websites to align your core values with life affirming choices: &


Mon, Dec 17, 2012 : 7:57 p.m.

Happy Holidays to you too........

Unusual Suspect

Sun, Dec 16, 2012 : 9:25 p.m.

Very deep.

vicki honeyman

Sun, Dec 16, 2012 : 4:16 p.m.

what a nice article lizzy....and congratulations to jim and jessica for being a main street mainstay for so many years with their beautiful store. despite the corporate biggies looming over all small businesses, you've still got it goin' on! vicki honeyman, heavenly metal

Jessica W Johnston

Sun, Dec 16, 2012 : 6:03 p.m.

Thank you Vicki! Lizzy wrote a lovely article indeed.

Jessica W Johnston

Sun, Dec 16, 2012 : 12:22 p.m.

Hi Billy. Falling Water opened on Ashley on June 18, 1988. On June 18, 1989 we opened at our current location at 213 South Main. Jim worked at Borders until the early 1980's. He is an original founding partner of Falling Water.


Sun, Dec 16, 2012 : 12:12 p.m.

Falling waters was on Ashley for LOT longer than a does that mean this guy isn't the founder?