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Issue Date: October 2012

Best of Cleveland 2012: Shopping & Services

Seasonal Soap

Behind the amber tones and chocolatey swirls of Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve's seasonal Pumpkin Spice Soap ($7.65) lies the mind of a scientist. Founder Ida Friedman is a former nurse and biology teacher who discovered a knack for creating soap recipes during a year's hiatus from teaching middle school students. Her first product cured her husband's eczema, says son Sam, who eventually joined the family business and helps make the company's 170 products by his mom's side. The soap is cold processed for eight weeks to keep it as natural as possible. "It's laborious — you have to have very high quality ingredients," he says. The fall-themed soap's color comes mostly from local pumpkins, hand-scooped by Chagrin Valley employees, while the dark swirls are courtesy of cocoa powder mixed with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, turmeric and cassia to make an enchanting scent.

Kids Couture

Little girls no longer have to play dress-up to be more like their mommies. Project Runway Season 8 contestant Valerie Mayen's new line for girls, MiniCake, takes cues from her popular, trendy adult collection, Yellowcake. "[The line] is not so obvious for kids," says Mayen. "A lot of it is stuff that women would wear too, in their size." MiniCake, launched in April for girls ages 3 to 10, includes staples such as coats, skirts and dresses. But don't count on any cutesy prints or matchy pieces. These classics also have an edge, with bold colors and graphic prints. We love the black, white and red party dress ($56) so much we might start raiding our daughter's closet. 6500 Detroit Ave., Cleveland, 216-236-4073,

Vintage Cameras

While everyone seems to be going digital, Tremont-based Aperture Photography & Variety Store is focused on staying old school. Here you can buy film for your 35 mm Polaroid camera and rent a darkroom by the hour. It's also a mecca for old, vintage, antique cameras — 62 at owner Scott Meivogel's last count. Everything's been vetted, and everything's for sale. "There is absolutely nothing like holding a camera from the '50s or '60s," says Meivogel: "They're better built, they're heavier, the noises that it makes when the shutter clicks." At 35, Meivogel doesn't know everything about every old camera. But every day he learns more, as people have realized his store is the place to take the attic finds and the stuff in boxes from grandparents. Before he sells a camera, he cleans it, loads it with film and goes out for the fun part of his job — taking real pictures. "All you have to do," he says, "is read about it, try it and learn from your mistakes." 2541 Scranton Road, Cleveland, 216-574-8977,

Yoga Mat Spray

Melissa Klimo-Major let us in on a little secret: Most yoga practitioners don't really clean their mats very often. It's a pain, the mat gets too wet and yogis tend to dislike chemicals. Enter Klimo-Major's Terra Verde sprays ($6.50) with warm, comforting aromas of lavender, peppermint or lemongrass. They're a sort of heavenly, all-natural Febreze for funky yoga mats. Light and fragrant, they are the antithesis of a harsh chemical cleaner. The sprays are minimalist — the ingredient list features tea tree oil (which has antibacterial, antifungal and antimicrobial properties) and other essential oils, witch hazel, distilled water, and that's about it — plus they smell really, really good. "It's stuff that people could easily make at home," Klimo-Major explains, "but they probably don't have access to [large] amounts of essential oils." They've proven so popular in the yoga community, she's rolling out small-batch sprays for customers who want to create their own scents. She's played around with tons of combinations, and encourages customers to do the same. One tantalizing suggestion: blood orange and bergamot.

Make-Your-Own Store

Jim Leverentz realizes our lives are hectic, but he also understands the simple bygone pleasures of making something with your own hands. That's why Leeners has been offering enough of their own "You-Make-Kit" brand kits to fill an entire kitchen. "We actually do all the things that we sell," says Leverentz, whose wife Eileen owns the store, which opened in 1996. Every product at Leeners is developed, manufactured and tested in-house by the staff. "Almost everything we do comes from my childhood or my wife's childhood," he says of growing up on a farm. Varieties of the all-in-one kits include bubble gum, root beer, hot sauce and other classic food staples. Among the best sellers is the Ultimate Cheese Kit, which has all the ingredients (save the milk) and utensils to produce more than 50 types of cheese. 9293 Olde Eight Road, Northfield, 330-467-9870,

Baby Bowties

On the cuteness scale, it's hard to compete with a baby boy dressed up like a little man. Simple Hands Studios founder Alicia Zeigler Costello realizes the way grown-up clothes — shrunk down to a smaller size — can tug on our heartstrings. While pregnant with her son, she saw a picture of a baby in a bowtie. "I was like, 'Oh my god, it's so cute!' " she remembers. "I bet I can make that." The former headband maker found a new calling and a destiny for the quarter-yards of "masculine, but still interesting" fabrics she'd been collecting for months. Her clip-on bowties ($12) use a simple design paired with beautiful, unexpected fabrics, such as a red-on-red modernist line-and-dot pattern, or a purple, blue, black and white geometric design. "[They're] a nice way," she says, "to add that little splash of interesting design to a basic outfit."

Courier Bag

There was a time when being cool was all about starting the school year with a new backpack showing off your personal style — stitched initials, a few crazy keychains or maybe some Jackson Pollack-esque scribbling with permanent marker. Maybe that's why we love Michael Hudecek's Forest City Portage courier bags ($90-$200), with their reclaimed seatbelt straps and buckles. Choose one of Hudecek's distinctive designs, such as a sunburst-surrounded eagle shooting lasers from its eyes at a rather ferocious looking bear, or have him create a custom design just for you. Hudecek also uses mostly salvaged and recycled material for his products. "It really started because I'm a rather stubborn bloke," says Hudecek. "I decided one day that I could just as easily make myself a courier bag instead of purchasing one." Forest City Portage now offers a bevy of colorful and handmade bags and other accessories online and in local bike stores.

Vintage Gowns

Brides-to-be will scour the Internet and drive all over town in search of that perfect, one-of-a-kind wedding dress. But one place they probably don't think to look is their grandmother's closet. Luckily, Miranda Park has essentially done that for them. She visits antique stores, vintage shops and eBay looking for unique gowns dating as far back as the 1920s. Then she modernizes them and sells them at her Tremont boutique, Miranda's Vintage Bridal & Alterations. One of Park's favorite finds was a 1940s-era dress ($3,150) made of soft lace with tulle ruffles and lace appliqués. But some of the lace wouldn't hold up. "It was shattered," she says, "so I took the top off and replaced it with a new, silk organza strapless top. Then I made a flower out of the lace from the [original] top to put on the bodice with ribbon." 2671 W. 14th St., Cleveland, 216-298-9070,

Bike Rehab

travis Peebles and James Rychak revel in the joy of the old stuff. The co-owners of Blazing Saddle Cycle are surrounded by it. Dozens of bikes from the 1960, '70s and '80s line the wooden shop floor, hang from the rafters and crowd every corner of the former Detroit Road hardware-store-turned-bike-shop in Gordon Square. Even the display cases, pegboard and trophy 42-inch northern pike (caught in June 1975) remain. "The room kind of fits us," says Peebles. That's because Blazing Saddle specializes in custom restorations of vintage bikes. Made of steel and quality components, they're perfect for commuters because of their versatility and comfort. "Those bikes were built to last and the stuff today is not," says Rychak. And with cycling's resurgence, that's a good thing. "It's become fashionable to be on a bike again." 7427 Detroit Ave., Cleveland, 216-218-1811, BSaddle

Bike Jewelry

The delicate bicycle wheel spins on its miniature axle, a kinetic sculpture designed for the pleasure of a single wearer. Q2 Jewelry Collections' artist Qandle Qadir created the pendant ($110) after a friend opened a bicycle shop. "I had sort of forgotten about bicycles," says the Cleveland Heights resident. "[His shop] really brought me back to what a bicycle represents: What your first bike means to you as a kid is your freedom, the opportunity to explore the world outside your yard." Her hand-formed silver pieces are always a little different; one bike wheel may have more spokes than another; some have tiny messages. "I want my jewelry to be a hope, a promise, or a memory, captured in sterling silver," she says.

Food-Scented Candles

You don't have to cook to make your house-guests think you are a five-star chef. Just visit the Lit Wick Candle Co. & Gallery. Sure, the place sells traditional-scented candles. But its food-scented creations such as bacon, fried ice cream and banana nut bread ($5-$20.50) will tempt your nose and make your mouth water. Owner JM Tkalec's personal favorite is called tusk, a concoction he created by accident after spilling some cucumber essential oil into cilantro essential oil. He then added wasabi oil on a whim. The cool aroma of cucumbers calms the fiery wasabi, while the cilantro adds a clean — almost Ivory soaplike — undertone. The result is a soothing scent that actually reminded one of Tkalec's customers of her late grandfather. "She burst into tears as soon as she smelled it," he says. 123 Ghent Road, Fairlawn, 330-328-2308,

Fabric Store

When is cotton not cotton? When it feels like silk and sells for $33 a yard. The fabrics at Little Italy's Bolt & Spool are not the cheapest on the market, but dollar for dollar, owner Nan Webb's handpicked cloths are some of the most luxurious, beautiful things we've ever laid eyes on. Webb's store is a fraction of the size of a typical fabric shop, which means she's got to be choosy. She buys fabric during trips abroad: purple silk shantung and block prints from India, linens from Egypt and decadent bolts of cotton designed by high-end fabric companies such as Liberty London. "The quality is amazing," she says. "If you've got good fabric, the whole sewing process becomes much easier." The shop is a tribute to beauty, from the spools of intricately embroidered ribbons to the wicker baskets and Japanese pattern books. "You can't really read them," she says with a laugh, "but they're just so inspirational!" 2026 Murray Hill Road, Cleveland, 216-229-2220,

Personalized Wedding Gift

the two-color Cleveland skyline, like much of Brooke Witt's art, is deceptively simple, yet incredibly clever. The linear, Etch-a-Sketch-style graphic features the Detroit-Superior Bridge and the city's iconic skyscrapers. It paints our beloved Rust Belt city in quick strokes, anchored with an incongruous red heart and rounded typography — which is when you realize this piece of art is really a love note. A popular wedding gift ($27), the heart connects the names of the newlyweds with the date and location written below. "I've been giving gifts like this to my family and friends my whole life," Witt explains. "Not much personal information is needed to make it personalized." Within a month of launching her Near & Dear collection on Etsy, she was able to quit her day job. Which is good, because it gives her more time to add her personal touch, including hand-delivering a piece to one of her Cleveland Heights neighbors. "A couple houses down from me, I just walked a piece right down," she says. "They had no idea that I was even on the same street. It was very funny. I like to surprise people that way."

Earth-Friendly Kids Store

There are no flashing lights at Paisley Monkey, nothing that will burst into song when you accidentally hit it with your foot during a 3 a.m. feeding. The toys here are mostly wooden and rubber, and almost every product in the store touts some sort of eco-friendly feature. "I've always been an advocate of green products and recycling," says owner Tamara Racin. Her vision goes hand-in-hand with a commitment to the simpler pleasures in life. She seeks out toys with less packaging, sells and explains how to use two brands of cloth diapers, fills her shelves with organic onesies and toddler clothes, and reads every children's book before it hits the shelf. "We are all about promoting imagination and creativity," says Racin. "When I was a kid, we didn't have the electronics and we were encouraged to pursue art and music. We want to make sure it stays that way." 14417 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-221-1091,

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