Investing in Expansion & Curation in Downtown
These local brands go all in on the brick-and-mortar shopping experience
By Alexandra Dailey | Oct. 14, 2023
In recent years, many stores have turned to online sales to carry their brands, forgoing the physical shopping experience. However, Becky Thatcher Designs and the FLEA collective are two northern Michigan-based brands that value a curated, in-person experience for their customers in cities across the North.
Becky Thatcher Designs
Becky Thatcher has been creating one-of-a-kind handmade jewelry for more than three decades. She combines gemstones with locally acquired stones and fossils from northern Michigan beaches to create wearable works of art.
“Our brand is based on responsibly sourced, unusual gemstones that are often paired with imagery of endangered insects and plants,” shares Thatcher. “By giving customers a vehicle for engaging in meaningful conversations about nature’s smallest creatures, we can raise awareness for endangered insects as we pursue paths for their survival.”
In 1983, Thatcher opened her first boutique in Glen Arbor, and throughout her career, she’s had shops located as far south as Key West and as far north as Harbor Springs. Today, her brand boasts three locations in northern Michigan towns—Traverse City, Leland, and Glen Arbor.
“Our locations and growth have been driven by staff and being a stone’s throw from the beach, an environment that influences my creativity and designs,” says Thatcher. “We established locations that were easily accessible for our customers as they enjoyed the beauty of northern Michigan, and it was also my hope and dream to live and work in this area. I knew to live here year-round that I would need to bring a business with me.”
Thatcher has had a presence in Leland for over 35 years, and with such a long history of creating jewelry and working with clients, she knows what her shoppers want. The items she creates don’t follow prescribed fashion rules or adhere to fleeting trends, but instead stay timeless, just like the natural world that inspires them.
“Experience has taught us that versatility and function are what makes a design last for our customers, so many of our designs can multitask,” explains Thatcher. “Add bark-textured earring wires to a pair of tourmaline earrings, and a new look is created. Our interchangeable bracelet collection allows customers to change bracelet tops as the seasons change or to change the bracelet base to a leather wrap for a new texture, creating options that are timeless and ageless.”
This fall and winter, Thatcher is looking forward to releasing new pieces in the Endangered Insect and Pollinator Supporter series and assisting customers in finding the perfect pieces.
“We do not focus on trends as much as we match colors to customers,” says Thatcher. “The designs become the spice that livens an outfit. When you help a customer find just the right design, it will transcend trends and become a treasured part of their wardrobe for years to come.”
Since 2012, the Pujos family has been providing their clients with a wide range of classic and unique women’s fashion through their collective of boutiques located in Traverse City, Suttons Bay, and Brooklyn, New York.
Over a decade ago, Anne and Pierre Pujos decided to purchase an available downtown TC space to open a boutique. The Exchange, located originally on Union Street and now found on Front Street, was where the “bazaar-inspired” collective began. It grew to include FLEA, Adore, and Clementine (pictured, which opened just this past May), for a total of seven storefronts.
“It was a leap of faith, opening a retail store and bringing in styles not seen in northern Michigan,” says Pierre. “And things grew from there, but the project wouldn’t have happened without Ines. The creative spark comes from Ines.”
Ines, who always loved being involved with their parents’ small businesses, officially joined the team in 2021 and runs the Brooklyn stores, as well as the business’ online presence and website.
“Our website is an extension of the brand and our stores,” explains Ines. “Our tried and true brands and items are available for online purchase.”
But the bulk of the activity happens in store. Described as eclectic, fun, bold, and versatile by Ines, the FLEA Boutique brand caters to multiple generations of clients shopping for everything from loungewear to lingerie, date night outfits to capsule pieces. To bring contemporary fashion to a broad age range, the Pujos family has invested in multiple storefronts, each with its own flavor and style.
“We curate the stores and present the ‘wow’ effect that surprises clients,” says Pierre.
Overall, the collective carries lines that are easy to wear and caters to different sizes and body types. With ethical manufacturing and sustainability in mind, the Pujos family has gravitated toward keeping the core of their inventory as wardrobe staples and basic pieces that clients can invest in for years to come, or as Ines calls them: “Classic things that don’t go out of style.”
“The pieces that sell the best are those that might initially be overlooked on the hanger but are very flattering on,” says Pierre.
“There was a lot of trial and error,” Ines adds in reference to the inventory and buying process. “We watched what people gravitated toward and what they didn’t. And we listen to what people want and don’t want.”
That people-first mentality is a defining characteristic of the brand and of the Pujoses themselves. The family is dedicated to employing locals year-round, supporting the local economy, and championing in-person shopping.
“It’s all about personal connections—connecting with vendors and designers, training employees well, and assisting customers; offering personal styling to help people find what they need; adding an edgy accessory to a classic look,” says Ines.
And location matters, too.
“Downtown Traverse City is extraordinary, and we need to cultivate this scene,” says Ines. “We need to preserve small, independent businesses—they’re important for the community—and we want our boutiques to be entrenched within the community.”
Correction: An earlier version of the story noted that Becky Thatcher first opened a store in Georgia. The first store was opened in Glen Arbor.