We hit up an eclectic mix of shops and galleries all along the 3.5 mile stretch of Saint Paul’s Grand Avenue on a hot summer day in early August. The methodology was to start at an arbitrary point near the western end of the Avenue and proceed eastward. Our theme was arts and crafts and books and games. So we started with breakfast, as you do. The stretch of Grand Avenue I started at contains Ramsey High School, which I parked in front of. There were a number of restaurants there—Indochine, Pad Thai, Italian Pie, and an amazing looking seafood place that I may go back to. A Breakfast Quesadilla at the Saint Paul Grand Avenue French Meadow set me up for the day. And we’re off!
First stop is very close by in this 1600 block of Grand Avenue: It’s Wet Paint, one of the premier art supply stores in the metro area. Wet Paint has been in its location since 1976. They’re open seven days a week, they stock over 40,000 products, and you can also order online and have things delivered. My first impression was that Wet Paint is mainly for serious artists, but they’re not just for serious artists. They have kits for children, many kinds of craft supplies and they also have an in-store framing shop, and they don’t make an amateur or a browser feel unwelcome. I learned a lot visiting this store. First off, I learned that they have classes there. For instance, Drawing Pet Portraits in Pastel Pencil is coming up on Aug. 28, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., for $84. I also learned that famous local artist Ta-Coumba Aiken has invented a new color, well a whole range of colors. And they’re all black. It’s called Knew Black, as in Knew Black is the New Black. You can buy this in a custom oil paint medium made by Gamblin Oil Colors, or you can just buy the T-shirt if you’re not really a painter. Check out the website at www.wetpaintart.com for more information on this and other events and new products.
The next planned stop was Treadle Yard Goods. But I got distracted by another store, Sixth Chamber Used Books, 1332 Grand Ave. I am a sucker for used bookstores. This is a good one. I found out later from its website that it’s half of a two-store chain, the other half being Fox Den Books in River Falls, Wis. They claim that their online store, which includes the inventories of both, contains 60,000 books! They have a lot of new stuff that is not books. Among the things they sell are really interesting toys and games, handmade paper lanterns, socks, candles and incense with a literary theme, Macalester College swag, Harry Potter merchandise, and weird and interesting journals.
And so, on to Treadle Yard Goods, 1338 Grand Ave. This store was a revelation to me. I am not a seamstress, nor a quilter. My mother was, a bit, and so fabric stores are not totally alien territory to me. But it has been a while, and I am not au fait with the products or the lingo, so I had to do some research. Like, I found out what a fat quarter is. There were two prominent bin displays right inside the door—one was bolts of mouthwateringly gorgeous oilcloth, which made me wish I was more crafty. The other was a bin of “fat quarters.” (You’ll have to look it up yourself and also learn about jelly rolls and charm squares and fat eighths.) I suspected they had something to do with quilting and I was right. I browsed some more, and here are the further cool things I saw: Birch organic cotton in prints by Charley Harper, Liberty of London prints, an amazing selection of buttons, more quilting fabrics, including panels, some of which were staggeringly beautiful, a sign announcing their machine quilting service, fancy pincushions for upwards of $20, and the pattern counter. This was always a big favorite of mine when fabric shopping with Mom. I recognized a few brands, such as Butterick, McCall’s and Simplicity, but there were some that were quite new to me: Burda, Jalie, Shapes and others. A very cool thing is specifically vintage patterns, Decades of Style, which covers most of the 20th century, and Truly Victorian, which is self-explanatory.
The next visit was to Legacy Arts and Gifts, 1209 Grand Ave. This store, like many of the others along Grand Avenue, is in an old frame house of elegant proportions. They specialize in two types of things besides local art—Polish pottery, and amber jewelry from the Baltic. (You should check out their website to read about the amber artisans.) I gave both of these a long thorough look; they are both wonderful things, but I have too many tchotchkes already, so I have to rein myself in. But this was the only place where I bought something. I bought a lovely little teacup because of the pale blue glaze. It was hand-thrown and a pleasing combination of homey-chunky and pretty-delicate, and was only $20. I was also quite taken by the photographs, and the hand-turned wood products such as bowls and cutting boards, and quite a lot of the pottery.
The penultimate stop was Red Balloon Books, 891 Grand Ave., a children’s bookstore that also has books for adults, and all the other gifts and paraphernalia that modern bookstores have. This is one of the most attractive bookstores in town, and it’s no slouch in the products area either. They also have, unsurprisingly, lots of events. Unfortunately, we just missed Educators’ Night 2018, which was last Tuesday. Check their website at www.redballoonbookshop.com for upcoming events. Besides physical books, Red Balloon is a Kobo seller of e-books, so while you’re at the website, you might want to check that out. They have a number of innovative programs to engage readers of all ages: a birthday club, several book clubs, a music program, birthday parties and party room rental. And they have their own line of “merch”—posters and T-shirts and such.
The final stop was almost in downtown, in the beautiful old building called Merchants of Crocus Hill. This was Grand Hand Gallery, 619 Grand Ave. This beautiful, spacious, chock-full space has been here since 2004 and is owned by Ann Ruhr-Pifer. It features art in many media from across the U.S. but highlights local artists and the upper Midwest. It is meant to reflect an esthetic of hand-crafted authenticity, hand-carved, hand-painted, hand-blown, hand-thrown … and more, according to a legend painted in the doorway. I saw work by an artist I knew of from before, Betsy Bowen, who has her own gallery in Grand Marais, Minn. And I learned of a new (to me) poet: Louis Jenkins, who apparently had done a reading there, and had several volumes and one CD for sale. I was very impressed by, once again, pottery, jewelry and woodcarving, including a massive and beautiful wood bowl priced very fairly at $1,125 (sadly out of my range). There were also glass, metal, fiber and mixed media items, as well as photography, painting and a huge selection of artists’ greeting cards. One of the most original artists whose works really caught my attention is Dahli Coles. She makes bags, purses and other accessories out of old newspapers, heavily laminated into a kind of pleather-like texture.
After all this browsing and one instance of actual shopping, it was almost lunchtime and what with the heat, I needed refreshment. So as I head back Minneapolis-ward, a stop at one of the oldest, if not the oldest, Dunn Bros. coffee roasters just off the Macalester campus on Snelling comes to mind, along with iced latte. Just the ticket.
PHOTO CAPTION: Charley Harper print on organic cotton from Treadle Yard Goods