People are fond of saying, "Detroit is different." Indeed it is. And its richness often comes from the "only in Detroit" things it has to offer. Here are 10 shops that we challenge you to find equal to anywhere else.
Architectural Salvage Warehouse
4885 15th St., Detroit; 313-896-8333; aswdetroit.org
Detroit is famous for its demolitions. Every year, thousands of buildings come down, from the mundane to the magnificent. But not all of the pieces end up in landfills. The good people at the nonprofit Architectural Salvage Warehouse painstakingly deconstruct buildings to save appealing architectural details. Those items are resold to the public at dramatically reduced prices. Buyers can look over bathroom vanities, clawfoot tubs, chandeliers, windows, vintage doors, doorknobs, lumber, bricks, wood floors, fireplace mantels, granite countertops, whole kitchens and everything in between, all the way down to saving the real iron nails used in historic construction. Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.
John K. King Used & Rare Books
901 W. Lafayette Blvd., Detroit; 313-961-0622; kingbooksdetroit.com
For decades, the hulking downtown warehouse has been a treasure trove, boasting a collection of "1 million books, give or take a dozen" in more than 900 subjects. The store's hand-painted sign and giant glove (a nod to the building's days as a glove factory) are an iconic sight for those taking the freeway downtown, and the store has a reputation the world over. Presiding over the collection is John K. King himself, a man who has been in the used-book business for essentially his entire working life. To find a used bookseller of this volume, you'd have to visit the Strand in New York (but you'd still find King's staff more helpful).
Vault of Midnight
219 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-998-1413; vaultofmidnight.com
For more than 15 years, this downtown Ann Arbor shop has served as a one-stop shopping destination for geeks of all varieties. Not only does it carry a large selection of graphic novels and comics, from decades-old rarities to the latest mainstream titles and hard-to-find small-press issues, but it also stocks a vast supply of vinyl toys, action figures, and, especially, tabletop games. If a game involves rolling dice, spinning wheels, advancing tokens, or picking up cards, chances are it's available at Vault of Midnight. And, frankly, if you haven't paid attention to tabletop gaming in the last 10 or so years, you should see all the creative new games on the market. (It ain't all Monopoly anymore!) Plus, the staff at Vault of Midnight don't just know their stuff, they live and breathe it.
1464 Gratiot Ave., Detroit; 313-831-0864; peoplesdetroit.com
Packed to the gills with rare soul, jazz, R&B, and rock, Peoples Records is known worldwide as a key spot for record hunters. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, but they leave you alone to dig as you want to. But if you ask what weird funk record they're playing, you're likely to get a graduate seminar-level response. And there's literally a European TV crew in the store filming once a month. They've bounced around Midtown for the last decade, but have found a cozy home at Trinosophes, with a huge bank of boxes with 45 singles.
460 W. Canfield St., Detroit; 313-831-9146; ilovecitybird.com
This charming boutique features work from local artisans that includes jewelry, housewares, cards, apparel, and accessories. It arrived on Canfield six years ago before the strip got super hip with Shinola, Third Man Records, and Jolly Pumpkin. It's worth it to stroll through and see a lovingly selected stock of locally made wares, and maybe sneak over to Motor City Brewing Works for a pint.
Bob's Classic Kicks
4717 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-832-7513; bobsclassickicks.com
Words like sneakers, trainers, and tennis shoes simply don't describe the range of wares at Bob's Classic Kicks. Yesterday's sturdy, athletic footwear has become today's bold fashion statement. But Bob's has them both: classic designs from Nike, ASICS, Puma, Adidas, Reebok, and other brands, as well as more bombastic, colorful, and trendy styles. In Detroit, kicks are serious business, and Bob's keeps its shoe game tight. The store stocks stuff for men and women, along with clothing, hats, and other accessories. Open noon-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday.
Dabls' African Bead Gallery
6559 Grand River Ave., Detroit; 313-898-3007; mbad.org
Olayami Dabls' African Bead Gallery and MBAD Museum is part of a sprawling outdoor art installation near Grand River Avenue and West Grand Boulevard. The site includes impossible-to-miss buildings covered in pieces of mirrors and brightly colored paint, a sculpture garden made out of reclaimed materials, and traditional African statues. It has been more than 15 years since Dabls set out to create what is now arguably one of Detroit's most iconic destinations. But underneath all the art, Dabls remains African bead collector and salesman. Some of the beads in his collection are more than 300 years old.
10238 Joseph Campau Ave., Hamtramck, 313-872-1777
If you're a fan of Detroit techno, and looking for the clothes, the music, and the accessories to let it shine, your first stop should be Detroit Threads. Proprietor Mikel Smith is a native metro Detroiter who was embedded in rave culture throughout the 1980s and 1990s. After almost two decades in business, his humble shop has become hallowed ground for visitors the world over. And when the electronic hootenanny known as Movement takes over Detroit's Hart Plaza, many global electro fans will make the pilgrimage to his Hamtramck shop.
Polish Art Center
9539 Joseph Campau Ave, Hamtramck; 888-619-9771; polartcenter.com
Are you or somebody you love a member of that international community that shares Polish heritage? It's called "Polonia," and it has left its mark on the city-within-a-city known as Hamtramck, which until the 1990s was majority Polish. You can choose from a selection of its cultural artifacts at the Polish Art Center, which sells a selection of books, handcrafted boxes, wooden toys, Polish-themed T-shirts, jewelry, and other ornaments. It's also a mom-and-pop shop, run by longtime Hamtramck residents.
Henry the Hatter
1307 Broadway St., Detroit; 313-962-0970; 15616 W. 10 Mile Rd., Southfield; 248-557-7770; henrythehatterdetroit.com
Has any piece of men's apparel been so devalued as the hat? Seventy years ago, you weren't fully dressed to go out without a lid. These days, if men wear hats at all, it's often kids' stuff like ball caps or wool headgear. But Detroit's African-American community never stopped thinking of grander toppers as necessary finery, and that's largely the reason why Henry the Hatter survives. They have it all, from hats made famous by celebrities to an attractive selection of classics, including pinch-front fedoras, trilbies, porkpies, homburgs, as well as a full selection of less ostentatious caps.