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Posted on Wed, Nov 10, 2010 : 6 a.m.

Downtown Ann Arbor's Michigan-themed Occasionally gift store may close next summer

By Janet Miller


Linda Brinker, owner of Occasionally Gift Shop, a Michigan-themed gift store she started in Kerrytown in 1987 and moved to the high profile corner of Main and Liberty in downtown Ann Arbor. Brinker will decide by January if she will close up shop, sell the store or continue for a while longer.

Janet Miller | For

Linda Brinker may give the iconic Michigan mitten a final wave goodbye.

After more than two decades stationed on a prime northeast corner of Liberty and Main streets in downtown Ann Arbor, the owner of Occasionally Gift Shop may be closing up shop. Brinker said she will decide in January whether she wants to sell the business, close her 1,300-square-foot shop or continue on.

Either way, Brinker said, she will stay open at least until August, when her lease expires. Jim and John Curtis, owners of the Fritz Building where Occasionally is located, have said they plan to add two separate bay windows on the Liberty Street side of the building to improve visibility and improve the pedestrian experience on that block.

It’s a demanding job - Brinker still puts in 70-hour weeks - and sales have never recovered from when Pfizer left town in 2008. And as Main Street has turned over from a retail hub to restaurant row, walk-in traffic has dropped by at least a third, Brinker said.

The days when she would stay open until midnight to capture late-night shoppers are gone.

“For years and years, I stayed open late, until things got quiet,” Brinker said. “A lot of retail left Main Street, and no one else was staying open late. It was just me, a lone, little island. It wasn’t festive.”

Occasionally became more of a destination than attracting the impulse buyer, she said. “For about two-thirds of our customers, we’re the destination. About a third are walk-bys.”

Still, there’s demand for her distinctly Michigan and University of Michigan products, from anything with cherries to oven mitts in the shape of the state.

The University of Michigan has continued to be a strong customer, ordering Michigan-themed gift baskets for visiting dignitaries and professors, and U-M students continue to be a strong market for her U-M shirts that come in 23 languages, from Croatian to Indonesian. She has the exclusive rights to sell the shirts, made locally, and she sells thousands of them annually. People traveling abroad also shop at Occasionally for gifts to take to hosts.

Many of her products come from small, Michigan vendors, from cutting boards in the shape of the state to mittens in the shape of the Upper and Lower peninsulas. Her gift baskets, which still account for a third of sale, can include Michigan-made food, such as Jiffy mix, Ann Arbor’s Clancy’s Fancy and Michigan jams.

Parents of U-M students are frequent customers, ordering birthday baskets for their children while they are away at school.

Detroit-pride gifts are also occupying a growing niche, Brinker said, especially Detroit-themed T-shirts. Visitors from Europe come in looking for Detroit-themed gifts because of its ties to the auto industry.

What started out in 1987 as a strictly gift basket business in Kerrytown evolved into a Michigan-theme gift store when Brinker realized the demand for the pampering gifts in the baskets - soaps and lotions - was not self-sustaining.

In 1989, she moved to the high-visibility corner at Main and Liberty to capture more walk-in business. Today, about two-thirds of sales are for Michigan-theme products with the rest University of Michigan products. She has two employees.

The store, she said, has been like a child. It would be hard to leave. But it keeps her away from grandchildren who live out of state.

“I miss my grandchildren, I’m getting old and it’s hard work,” Brinker said. She may move to South Carolina to be close to family, she said. “And I might open another (state-themed) gift store. But it wouldn’t be a Michigan store.”



Sun, Nov 14, 2010 : 2:23 a.m.

I hope everyone who has a word to say has at least been in the store! For everyones knowledge the owner was a foster mom, and has four children of her own. Everyone should be supporting small business, not because I am friends with a few but because that is what this town was, is & should be about! We should all support our local business owners!

Olan Owen Barnes

Fri, Nov 12, 2010 : 10:41 a.m.

The marketplace and customers determine what is or is not needed so everyone stop bashing drug stores and restaurants as they exist or are closed as a result of dollars chasing a product. The store in question will stay open if people go in there and vote to have it stay open by spending money.


Thu, Nov 11, 2010 : 11:38 a.m.

The linked story about the bay windows says: But, since the store will be leaving the space by summer......which I and one other questioned at the time because we'd seen no previous news of OGS's impending closure. This article, however, would seem to contradict that statement, at least to some degree. In fact, the owner hasn't even decided what the future of the store is, and at the very least plans to be there well into summer.


Thu, Nov 11, 2010 : 10:39 a.m.

Main Street Ann Arbor, the "food court" of Washtenaw County. Too much of anything is never a good idea. The various associations (pick any two) should mandate a balanced and diverse downtown.

Erich Jensen

Thu, Nov 11, 2010 : 9:59 a.m.

In principle I agree that the store is unique and local which I support heavily. However, after years of purchasing items at Occasionally Yours, I find the store rundown and the merchandise selection minimal and variable in quality. Sorry, do not want to offend the hardworking owner, but a facelift and improving the local inventory selection is being done elsewhere in stores and markets across the city and state. Please no more restaurants on Main Street!


Wed, Nov 10, 2010 : 12:13 p.m.

I hope they can keep the business going but it's probably inevitable that they will need to close. Gift stores such as this are becoming a thing of the past, which is really a shame. People are simply not buying these type of gifts as much. I used to run a retail store for years here in Ann Arbor, and probably 15% of our business used to be gifts. But starting in 2001 right before 9-11, the downward sales trend on gifts started. It wasn't just for us, it was all over - even nationally. The gift buying mart for retailers that used to be in Northville (Michigan Association of Gift Sellers) had to close up 4 or 5 years ago due to the sales reps not having enough business any more. I think lower demand due to a weak economy, changing buying habits over to electronics, and the building of so many Big Box stores has doomed the small gift shop. But I agree with Mr. Masing. Buying local whenever possible is something all of us can do to help the Ann Arbor economy.

Top Cat

Wed, Nov 10, 2010 : 11:40 a.m.

Sorry but I go in there once or twice a year but never buy anything as their stuff tends to be way over priced. Frivilous gifts tend to be out of place in the current economic environment.


Wed, Nov 10, 2010 : 11:25 a.m.

@shadowmanager...How bout cutting the sarcasm and going downtown and spending some money.


Wed, Nov 10, 2010 : 11:09 a.m.

I think we need to put another sub sandwich, a CVS or gourmet cheeseburger place in at that iconic spot. Can never have enough of those!

Hans Masing

Wed, Nov 10, 2010 : 10:35 a.m.

If you love local business like this, the key to keeping them around is simple: SHOP THERE! I have a vested interest in the local retail economy, being the owner of Tree Town Toys - but the reality is simple. If you shop locally, you do more than help a local retailer, you keep money in OUR community, support OUR taxes, OUR employment, and OUR economy. If you get a gift at a big box national chain, you may save a dollar or so now, but you are also shunting money directly out of our Ann Arbor/Michigan economy to elsewhere. When you shop at a local store, here is what you've accomplish. 1. You kept dollars in our economy For every $100 you spend at one of our local businesses, $68 will stay in the community. What happens when you spend that same $100 at a national chain? Only $43 stays in the community. 2.You embraced what makes us unique You wouldnt want your house to look like everyone elses in the U.S. So why would you want your community to look that way? 3. You created local jobs Local businesses are better at creating higher-paying jobs for our neighbors. 4. You helped the environment Buying from a local business conserves energy and resources in the form of less fuel for transportation, less packaging, and products that you know are safe and well made, because we stand behind them. 5. You nurtured community We know you, and you know us. Studies have shown that local businesses donate to community causes at more than twice the rate of chains. 6. You conserved your tax dollars Shopping in a local business district means less infrastructure, less maintenance, and more money available to beautify our community. Also, spending locally instead of online ensures that your sales taxes are reinvested where they belongright here in your community! 7. You created more choice We pick the items and products we sell based on what we know you like and want. Local businesses carry a wid- er array of unique products because we buy for our own individual market. 8.You took advantage of our expertise You are our friends and neighbors, and we have a vested interest in knowing how to serve you. Were passionate about what we do. Why not take advantage of it? 9. You invested in entrepreneurship Creativity and entrepreneurship are what the American economy is founded upon. Nurturing local business en- sures a strong community. 10.You made us a destination The more interesting and unique we are as a community, the more we will attract new neighbors, visitors and guests. This benefits everyone!

Somewhat Concerned

Wed, Nov 10, 2010 : 8:48 a.m.

I hope the store stays open because it has some cool and some weird Michigan stuff that you don't see many other places. I often find something to give friends who kid me about living in Michigan.


Wed, Nov 10, 2010 : 8:29 a.m.

Typo in paragraph 9: She has the exclusive rights....the "L" was left out of the word. I think the idea of adding the bay windows to the building is an excellent idea, and I hope it brings in more shoppers for Ms. Brinker. Good Luck!