New in town: a cyclery, electric bikes, tie-dye, nautical wear and Asian Carp


By Jacob Wheeler
Sun editor

The most beautiful place in America … the second healthiest nationwide, with the best beaches and chocolate … an epicurean and film destination. How about one more feather for the cap? Leelanau County could become a prime bicycle destination too.

We’ve got the brand new Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, which officially opens on June 20 and could one day stretch 27 miles, from the Leelanau-Benzie County line to Good Harbor. (Check out video of a narrated pedal from the Dune Climb to Glen Arbor here.) We’ve got the M-22 Challenge, a biking, running, kayaking triathlon which takes place on June 9 but sold out weeks ago (after doubling in size).

With all these bikers coming to town, they’ll need a place not just to pedal, but to rent their wheels and fix the inevitable flat tires and rusty chains.

That’s where the Crystal River Outfitters Cyclery comes into play. Located in Matt and Katy Wiesen’s anointed “Recreational District” just east of downtown Glen Arbor, the Cyclery offers several dozen bikes available for rental, and a few for purchase too. Across M-22 from Crystal River Outfitters’ kayak and canoe rental, and next to the M22 store, the Cyclery boasts two fulltime bike mechanics — Phil Lang and McCord Henry (remember the awesome takeout food that McCord made at Maybings?) to fix your pedaling woes any day between 9 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., May 1 to Nov. 1.

“We’ve done bike rentals for years, but many people never even knew we had them,” said Matt Wiesen, who has owned Crystal River Outfitters since 2004. “This is one more way to share Sleeping Bear with our visitors.”

It’s a happy coincidence for the Wiesens that the Heritage Trail opens the same season as the Cyclery, and they’ll take advantage of it by painting a map of the trail on the side of the building. But Crystal River Outfitters has also developed three self-guided historic bike tours for its patrons: to Port Oneida, Glen Haven and around Big Glen Lake. All tours leave from the Cyclery, though the Outfitters will also deliver bikes to your cottage. Check out their website here.

Inside the store, the Cyclery sells diversified camping gear, tents and sleeping bags in case your bike trip strays far from Glen Arbor. The M22 store next door will also feature an outside wine tasting bar and two new pours from Black Star Farms — a sweet Riesling and Pinot Noir.
Crystal River Outfitters are once again the paddle directors for the fourth annual M-22 Challenge.

Electric bikes on Pierce Stocking Drive

Do you lack the stamina or athleticism of a Lance Armstrong? Does the notion of pedaling up those hills south of the Glen Lakes scare rather than excite you? Then perhaps Sleeping Bear Electric Bikes is your answer.

Phil Lepak is an aging baby boomer and recent transplant from New Mexico who owns a farm on French Rd and wants to remain active outdoors but without hurting his body. He recently secured permission from the National Park Service to rent electric bikes at the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive — an arduously hilly and beautiful 7.4-mile road off M-109, between Glen Arbor and Empire. Sleeping Bear Electric Bikes is the first of its kind within a National Park, and it could expand in subsequent years to other areas of the National Lakeshore. Check out the website here.

These high-tech bikes are made in California and boast compact lithium batteries behind the seat that, once fully charged, can take you 20 miles. But you don’t have to use the battery at all times. Just let go of the throttle by your right hand and pedal under your own power on the straightaways or while descending a hill.

“Last summer we were looking for both a ‘green’ and economical way to get around our property and community,” explained Lepak. “We were fascinated with the idea of electric cars, but they were just too costly. That led us to the electric bike, on which we could experience the beauty of our region, and get exercise without wearing out our aging Baby-Boomer bodies.”

Sleeping Bear Electric Bikes recently attracted the attention of the American Association of People with Disabilities, and could provide an opportunity for disabled Americans to enjoy the National Park on two wheels as well. Lepak’s bikes can be rented in the parking lot of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, on Thursdays through Sundays at 1 p.m., beginning June 7.

From cinnamon twists to tie-dye twists

The building at the corner of M-22 and Lake Street, where for 20 years Barb’s Country Oven turned out hot and delicious cinnamon twists, is now home to Brightly Twisted, a store selling tie-dyed clothing and accessories. (Read more about Barb’s Bakery here.)

Store manager Cindy Lewis co-owns the business with Tammy Stemas, a former Montessori school teacher who for 15 years has been making tie-dyed t-shirts for art fairs and opened a production facility three years ago in Dearborn, Mich. Brightly Twisted’s customers now include Nordstrom and Nieman Marcus. Lewis, herself, has a retail background. She ran Gucci and Ann Taylor stories in Philadelphia, and she’s known Stemas since the seventh grade.

“Tie-dye is timeless,” said Lewis, who has lived locally for 15 years with her husband Jon, a financial advisor and hops grower. They have twins in college and a son attending Glen Lake High School. “A little piece is nice, but we’re not encouraging people to dress completely in tie-dye.”

The Glen Arbor store is Brightly Twisted’s first retail location, and more stores could follow. Its creative products include shirts that are individually hand-died by careful artists, colorful handbags from Southeast Asia, fun plates, napkins, tablecloths, pillows and endless array of products that can be dyed.

Lake Affect celebrates affection toward Lake Michigan

No, that’s not a misspelling on the sign of “Lake Affect”, the new nautical apparel store next to the Leelanau Coffee Roasters. Owner Amy Wagner wanted a unique name that didn’t copy the well-worn title “Lake Effect”. So she settled on an ‘A’ that stands for “affect” — as in the way northern Michigan affects you, or the affection you feel toward Lake Michigan on a summer day. The unique name also got people talking, which is not a bad thing.

Wagner, who hails from Spring Lake, Mich., moved to nearby Leland last summer as soon as her last kid packed off to college. As a frequent visitor to The Homestead, she always wanted to own a store in Leelanau County, and having grown up in a boating family and spent 25 years in Connecticut, a nautical themed shop seemed appropriate.

“My love of the lakes is in my blood, having spent summers on Michigan’s inland lakes on my grandfather’s boats,” said Wagner, whose grandpa, Harsen Smith, was one of the founders of the Chris Craft corporation before selling the business in the early 1960s.

Lake Affect feels part Kennebunkport, or Cape Cod — behold the colorful display of Dylan’s Candy Bars (that’s Ralph Lauren’s daughter). And yet its products are decidedly Michigan. The Marüshka handprint clothing is made in Grand Haven, the “Lake Michigan Unsalted” shirts are Michigan Rag, the jams and sauces are from Brownwood Farms near Traverse City, and the “Glen Arbor is like Key West, only cooler” t-shirts boast local pride. Visit Lake Affect’s Facebook page here.

Beach photos

Bob Ashmun may be relatively new in town, but his photography studio, Ashmun Portrait Art, is enjoying its thirtieth year in business. Ashmun grew up in the General Motors bedroom community of Caro, Mich., where he opened the studio in 1983 after attending the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, Calif. He spent the previous five years visiting Traverse City, and closed the Caro studio last year upon deciding to move up north to greener pastures.

Ashmun Portrait Art, which opened in Glen Arbor last August, is in the space on M-109 previously occupied by Leelanau Interiors, next to the Sylvan Inn.

Being here allows Ashmun to shoot portraits that use the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the old pilings at Glen Haven or the vista at Pyramid Point in the background. Previous clients from downstate still make the trip north to appear in Ashmun’s photos, sometimes even if they have to return the same day. He considers that a great compliment.

“I’ve been shooting on beaches every since I started taking photographs,” said Ashmun, as his two-and-a-half year-old son Lakota looks on. “It’s a popular spot for families, and very few photographers spend as much time on the beach as I do. In this business I often don’t finish sunset shots until 10 p.m.”

Ashmun lives near Pyramid Point and hikes trails there and along Alligator Hill, depending on the wind and temperature on a given day. He loves to kayak, and his artistic eye gravitates toward the aged wood on northern Michigan’s old barns and farmsteads. Check out Ashmun’s website here.

New owner, old faces at Synchronicity

Grand Rapids native Dave Thomasma has been coming up north to his grandparents’ home on Glen Lake since he was a baby. The urge finally grew on him to relocate here permanently, and also to be close to his youngest daughter Molly, who attends the Great Lakes Maritime Academy in Traverse City.

For years Thomasma had admired Dick and Marion DeVinney’s eclectic art gallery Synchronicity, on M-109 just west of downtown Glen Arbor, which features the work of around 100 Michigan artists. When the DeVinneys decided to sell and retire, Thomasma came forward. He acquired the gallery on Feb. 1 and moved into the apartment attached to the building. (Read our feature about Dick DeVinney here.)

“I appreciate fine art and I’ve been an admirer of the gallery for many years,” he said. “It has an awesome reputation around the state. My intent is to keep Dick and Marion’s legacy alive.”

Thomasma is quick to point out that he’s not an artist, himself, but will be involved on the business side of things. Synchronicity’s employees know the industry and the artists, and they’ll continue to steer the ship. Tommie Mattson has worked at Synchronicity since it opened 16 years ago, and art aficionados will continue to see he cheerful face at the gallery.

Asian carp on a shirt, not in the lake

Western Avenue Grill mainstays Bill Skolnik (behind the bar) and Nicole Nemecek (serving your table) decided over the winter to open an online t-shirt business that capitalized on Sleeping Bear’s recent “Good Morning America” honor. The grill saw overflow crowds all fall and winter, and they knew that now would be a good time to capitalize.

Then, last month they learned of a vacancy in one of Ruth Conklin’s gallery spaces next to Dokan Jewelry & Design. Why not open a store too, thought Bill. Just weeks later, “Sleeping Bear Dreams” is open and selling creatively designed clothing like local artist Ian Vertel’s t-shirt, which features bears hanging out in the woods, imprinted with the words “Good friends make life bearable”. Their bestseller, though, might be a shirt that boasts an image of a fish skeleton with the words, “Save the Great Lakes … Stop the Asian Carp”.

It goes without saying that we’d prefer the invasive species on a shirt but not in the lake.

New chef at WAG

Jeff Ramirez is the Western Avenue Grill’s new chef. He graduated from the culinary school at Northwestern Michigan College and worked most recently at Blu with award-winning cook Randy Chamberlain. Prior to culinary school, Ramirez worked at various restaurants downstate. The Western Avenue Grill is building a nightly features board to complement its core menu all summer long.

Wall Street on M-22

The first thing you notice when you walk into Empire Value Advisors — previously located behind the Martin Company and now based in the former home of Glen Arbor Realty, west of the Glen Arbor Athletic Club — is the flat-screen TV on the wall with a ticker of Bloomberg News, which tracks stock indices in the nation’s financial district. The bustle of Manhattan would be light years away, were it not for the constant economic news that affects us all.

Empire Value Advisors president and founder Mick Seymour, a Notre Dame graduate and native of Birmingham, Mich., who has worked in the financial consulting industry for 17 years, moved here from New York in 2001 and currently spends his time between Traverse City and Miller Hill, where he and his family own a home.

While the outfit currently helps private equity firms that buy, grow and sell companies, Empire Value Advisors hopes to soon offer accounting and consulting for individuals looking to buy or sell small cottage businesses.

“Even though we don’t live off the tourism industry, our goal is to be a visible party of the area,” said Seymour.