Tasteful retail

Former GRAM employees open new artsy store.
Susan Coombes and Lisa Radeck stand behind the counter at their store, Periwinkle Fog. Photo by Ashley Wierenga

When the Grand Rapids Art Museum’s gift shop closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, a hole was left in downtown.

But not for long. Former GRAM employees Lisa Radeck and Susan Coombes opened Periwinkle Fog, 125 Ottawa Ave. NW, in hopes of filling that void and providing Grand Rapidians and tourists with a fun, eclectic gift shop.

“We both love to travel. We always go to art museums and their stores, it’s such an important aspect to the art experience and we love to shop,” Radeck said. “We love finding those gems, whether they’re big or small. We love finding items we can connect to.”

Radeck left GRAM in 2018, “floating around trying to find the right project.” About a year ago, while traveling with her husband, Radeck received a call from Coombes and the process began.

Coombes was GRAM’s retail store manager for nine years, while Radeck worked in the visitor services and welcome center. The two quickly settled on their plan. With both having a penchant for travel, and Coombes living at times in The Netherlands and Hong Kong, a collection of local gems for people to find was a no-brainer.

“We weren’t necessarily looking for downtown, but after a few meetings with Richard App, we found we’d love to infuse part of what we did at GRAM and bring those customers and work with local artists and have a consignment shop.”

App, the city’s retail retention and attraction specialist, has a big vision for the retail mix in downtown Grand Rapids. Periwinkle Fog fits into that by providing a mix of a gift shop and local art consignment. Radeck said approximately 25% of the store will be local artists, ranging from woodworking pieces to photography, jewelry and pottery.

Other pieces will come from vendors the pair worked with at GRAM, puzzles and games, including some made by local toy company Uncle Goose. Public Thread provides accessories and handbags. Home decor and travel basics also will be part of the product mix.

With 11 hotels within walking distance of the store, and the only real gift shop in the Amway Grand Plaza, Radeck said a missing component to downtown was a place for travelers to pick up souvenirs. In a way, that’s what the GRAM store did.

“It had a door on Monroe Center and a lot of foot traffic came from outside and people stopped in, shopping at the store to get gifts,” she said.

For now, with approximately 10 artists on consignment, Radeck said the store is about maxed out in terms of available space. She said the shop is in a perfect place downtown to grow a little bit, but there’s always room to expand a waitlist of talented artists hoping to share their works.

Periwinkle Fog will be in tune with the local arts scene, as the owners network with their friends who work in different mediums, explore neighborhood boutiques and work with local events.

Radeck said they already have worked with ArtPrize and Festival of the Arts. The balance of appealing to both tourists and Grand Rapids residents can be a challenge, but Radeck is confident they will find the sweet spot.

“Both of us are connected to Grand Rapids, being raised here and living here, working with community groups,” she said. “Both of our jobs (required) us talking with the public on a daily basis, whether that was visitors or locals, and so we put that information away of what they’d like to see in their experience here. We’re hoping to provide that here for them.”

Periwinkle Fog is representative of the types of businesses Grand Rapids would like to draw downtown.

The city needs a lot more options in terms of things to do and a way to complement other activities to keep people downtown. Food and drink and special events have been staples in downtown Grand Rapids for years now, but App told Grand Rapids Magazine earlier this year it’s forming a more well-rounded retail selection, as evidenced by longtime sports retailer Gazelle Sports moving into a storefront this year.

Grand Rapids once was a regional hub for shopping, with multiple department stores and other retail outlets, but that changed toward the latter part of the past century with the mass exodus of downtown centers to suburban malls across the country.

Now, however, the pendulum is swinging the other way from a time when former Mayor John Logie famously suggested the sidewalks in downtown Grand Rapids rolled up at 5 p.m. Logie was mayor from 1992-2003, helping lead a period when many of the major additions that helped form today’s downtown were built, including Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place.

Periwinkle Fog is another step in a journey changing retail downtown.

“Obviously, Richard really sold us the vision,” Radeck said. “The really exciting plans, the three to five years of what could happen and that’s when we really started to look downtown, in the heart of downtown. It wasn’t really in the plans, but let’s do this because it might be at the beginning of something really special.

“What we hope will happen is we will have a good grouping in the center here of shops. We could use another shoe shop, a women’s clothing store, a small-scale department store of sorts. It’s all something that can enhance coming downtown to get something to eat, do some shopping, go to the museums. It’s rounding out a whole experience and having it walkable for them.”

The shelves of Periwinkle Fog, 125 Ottawa Ave. NW. Photo by Ashley Wierenga

This story can be found in the May/June 2022 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox, subscribe here

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