Oberlin Blogs


July 8, 2014

Griff Radulski ’14

In that backwards way that Oberlin blessings come, this collaborative post between me and Ma'ayan came to be when my camera broke in the middle of May and I left town without taking any of the pictures I'd wanted for this post. As this is my antepenultimate entry, I can say with some confidence that it's both my first and last collaboration. What a privilege it has been! Thanks, Ma'ayan!

Ben Franklin 5-10 store
Oberlin's everything store. Photo © 2014 Ma'ayan Plaut

For most Obies, the first stop should be Ben Franklin, the downtown everything store. Do you need school supplies? good books? cute fabric? houseplants? ethical gifts? They have them all:

Houseplants on a store shelf
Two of my favorite sections! Peeking out from behind the happy houseplants is the table of ethically-traded gifts from around the word. Photo © 2014 Ma'ayan Plaut
Baskets and knick-knacks
There are also beautiful gifts from right here. Photo © 2014 Ma'ayan Plaut

Do you need mordant for your goldenrod dyeing project? You might be out of luck, or you might be very lucky indeed. I needed mordant a couple of years ago, and I asked Krista, the proprietor, who goes to my church. She didn't have any, but she called her sister Karen, who is a world-class dyer and spinner. Karen came to the store and told me all about the best mordants to use with goldenrod and how to do the dyeing and lent me pots to do it in. That is one of my favorite Oberlin stories to this day.1

Store front: Watson Hardware
Photo © 2014 Ma'ayan Plaut

My own first stop is usually Watson Hardware. After four years here I'm all set for desk lamps and colored pencils, but I need a ton of hardware: steel plates, hose menders, stainless steel screws. I love going to Watson. Everyone is friendly, and can point me to anything I need. Not only will they have it — solder, waterproof wood glue, a replacement nut for my bike, it doesn't matter — but, if my purchase is just a couple bucks, I also get to pick a thing I want in order to pay with credit.2 Recent presents to myself include a tape measure and a sharpening stone, both from my favorite aisle:

Small items for sale cover a peg board
Bits and blades. I haven't given in and bought my own circular saw yet, but it's only a matter of time. On the facing side are hand tools, measuring devices, and various wonderful gadgets, including a screwdriver magnetizer. Photo © 2014 Ma'ayan Plaut
Rakes and garden tools
This is my second-favorite aisle, and since Watson also accepts charges to the accounts of different departments, I browsed it on behalf of ENVS quite a lot. Photo © 2014 Ma'ayan Plaut

Jerry also cuts metal and welds for a reasonable fee. Since I don't own a welder yet either (nor, to be honest, would I be able to use it if I did), several pieces of my cider press were welded by the good folks at Watson.

Store front: Ginko Gallery & Studio
Photo © 2014 Ma'ayan Plaut

For specialty items, like art supplies or presents for parents, Ginko is a good place to go. All the art is locally made, and some of it just takes my breath away. I especially love the felted animals. The first ones I saw, several years ago now, were quite pretty and charming. Now they are truly amazing.

Pottery, animal sculptures, and other items for sale.
Photo © 2014 Ma'ayan Plaut

I also love the wood-turned art, and the ceramics, and the soaps. Most of it's out of my price range, of course, but it's all free to admire. Unlike some art store owners, Liz doesn't seem to mind at all. Plus there are kittens.

Store shelf with wood bowls and utensils
I need to learn to do this someday. Meanwhile I admire these. Photo © 2014 Ma'ayan Plaut
Pottery on shelves
Photo © 2014 Ma'ayan Plaut

Store front: Bead Paradise
Photo © 2014 Ma'ayan Plaut

For even more specialty items, like copper wire or small blue bottles with eyedroppers in them (you know, for fragrances, or poultry medications), you can always try Bead Paradise. Everything there is expensive (the prices are reasonable; the items themselves are just expensive items), but the people are friendly. Karen works there, for one thing. And they do have the most amazing little objects, like tiny boxes that close so well you can't see the lines.

Store front: Smith's Home Furnishings, Yarns
Photo © 2014 Ma'ayan Plaut

And there's always the yarn shop. Since I am a nascent weaver and have no plans to take up knitting, there's little there for me to buy, but everything to admire: soft alpaca blends, fluffy merino, washable baby yarns, all in a dreamcoat of colors:

Many colors of yarn on a shelf
Photo © 2014 Ma'ayan Plaut

Store front: The Oberlin Market: grocery, bakery, eatery
Photo © 2014 Ma'ayan Plaut

The Oberlin Market is tucked in a parking lot behind the two main shopping streets, almost perfectly between the back doors of Ben Franklin and Watson, which can make for a very efficient shopping trip (bonus points if you live on South Main). It sells (nearly) exclusively organic and/or fair-trade and/or otherwise ethical products. For most things, expect to pay about twice what you'd pay at, say, IGA (sometimes less, sometimes more). I shopped there when I could; I'm happy to pay a premium for the ability to access ethical consumer goods at a moment's notice. (Now that I'm gone, and don't have access to a farmer's market, let alone a little organic grocery store, I miss that maybe the most!) Not all of the Market's products are more expensive. Dry active yeast was fairly cheap when I purchased it; besides, just try finding more than the one-dose packets of dry active at most supermarkets. And pectin, for some inscrutable reason, was cheaper than anywhere else, including Rural King. According to my housemate Ari, the bulk spices also tend to be a good deal. Besides, they are beautiful:

Rows of spice jars
Plus, you can bring your own jars. They do provide bags for those unequipped. Photo © 2014 Ma'ayan Plaut

Store front: Tansu
Photo © 2014 Ma'ayan Plaut

On the other side of Main Street, Tansu is similarly tucked away. The boxes and cabinets that Jacques makes by hand are exquisite. I've only been in there once, to ask Jacques about where he gets his lumber; not only did he provide several tips about where I could procure some for my press, he also offered to provide help with any planning and design concerns I had. Since Tansu is only open from 12-4, I was in lab class during most of its open hours and in the woodshop itself during the rest, and I never took him up on it. But I never forgot the offer. Nor the boxes. Maybe someday when I am old and rich I'll buy one.

Reflections in a shop window
Photo © 2014 Ma'ayan Plaut

Now for the not-pictured:

The farmer's market! From fresh vegetables to cheese to beautiful organic baby blankets, the market has it all. During the summer, it lives in the parking lot of the public library (which is itself a treasure, but don't take my word for it; go see!). During the winter, it lives in Eastwood Elementary on East College. If you can get out of bed before noon on Saturday, check out the Market, which runs from 9 to 1 in the summer and 10:30 to 2 in the winter. The prices are lower than I, a native suburbanite, would have assumed, and — well, hopefully I don't have to convince you Obies and Obies-to-be to check out a farmer's market. Society is built on the bent backs of farmers. Do them a solid and buy direct.

I forgot to ask for a photo of Gibson's, but they deserve a mention anyway. I personally have little to buy there, especially since they don't have vegan chocolate chips, but I heard they make all the fresh food on the premises ‐ ice cream in the basement, baked goods and candy upstairs. I am duly impressed, and have forgiven them for refusing to take credit or debit.

Honorable mention goes to IGA, which isn't exactly downtown, but is a comfortable walk from campus (at least until you are laden with grocery bags, in which case the comfort level varies). It's a pretty typical grocery store except that they have an excellent selection of tea and Bob's Red Mill products. And — well, I wouldn't know — and I certainly wouldn't be able to tell you more via email — but I hear they have a bounteous Dumpster. In fact — and this I can tell you! — a group called Oberlin Food Rescue has been working to fight food waste and hunger in Oberlin and rescue food before it hits the Dumpster at all. They're a young group yet, but I am excited for their future! Keep an eye on them on their Facebook page.

Just a little farther along East Lorain lie Locke's GoGreen and East Oberlin Nursery, both of which are excellent sources for gardeners, aspiring gardeners, and people who do not yet know they are aspiring gardeners. Just saying.

And while we're wandering east from downtown Oberlin, there's one more store I just have to mention. The excerpt for this post originally read "downtown Oberlin has everything you need," but if your needs include chicken feed, cheap shrubs, and pickle-flavored potato chips, that is just not quite true. The place for those is Rural King #51, in southwest Elyria. Rural King has a policy of welcoming leashed pets. Rural King employees have a policy of feeding them dog treats. That is maybe all you need to know about Rural King. Oh, except that there is also free popcorn.


[1]Karen also helped me dye my sky sweater. And she taught myself and Sarah Francis, featured in this guest post, to spin this semester. If you have any interest in fiber arts, sooner or later you will probably meet Karen, and be much better off for it!

[2]I always thought Watson had a credit minimum of $10, but it turns out they don't. Nevertheless, I like to buy enough to make the fees worthwhile for them.

Responses to this Entry

Just wanted to say I loved your post about downtown Oberlin - and the pictures. For someone who has not seen the area - it was a great and very descriptive trip and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing Oberlin with us through the Internet.
Mike Nichols

Posted by: Mike Nichols on July 8, 2014 7:41 PM

Many of these places are dear to my heart, and many I have never heard of! (Rural King sounds like one heck of a missed opportunity.)

I want to give the farmer's market a special shout out: I played Irish music there with my friends almost every Saturday last year, and the vendors never failed to show us generous appreciation, both in words and in donations of the fresh food variety. It was as good for my soul as it was for my tummy. I agree with Griff - they deserve to be shown appreciation too, so if you can buy your food there, I say go for it.

Posted by: Ida on July 9, 2014 12:11 AM

My parents visited Rural King on one of their breaks here and I didn't ask them to bring me home pickled flavored potato chips! OH NO. I didn't know what I was missing until this post!

I'm really happy I got to collaborate with you because many of your favorite downtown locations are some of my favorites too. Now that I'm a homeowner, I spent more time at Watson's, and since graduating, I spend more time admiring all the pieces at Ginko and not just kitten cuddling.

Also a million yeses for the farmer's market! My favorite thing is that I get to talk to all the sellers (who are usually also the farmers) about the things they're growing and what's coming up next week — it's mealplanning but in a totally different way! There's a farmer who loves growing all different colors of peppers and even though I can't even really finish a little crate of the least spicy ones in a month, it's excited to hear him talk about all the varieties, what they taste like, and what they're good for cooking wise. (There's also a lady who sells wonderful fruits and veggies and we talk about all the different infusion projects we have going on in our kitchens. Yum yum yum.)

Posted by: Ma'ayan on July 9, 2014 9:37 AM

Mike, thanks for your thoughtful comment!

Ida, I am so glad you mentioned the music! It was good for everyone's soul. Or, mine, anyway.

Ma'ayan, the potato chips are Larry the Cable Guy brand and can probably be found in any reputable rural food establishment. The chatting is my favorite part of Market too. I will miss it!

Posted by: Griff on July 11, 2014 3:41 PM

We have a 5 and dime store here in Michigan. This post makes me so excited for the holidays! It breaks my heart that these small stores are slowing down. Awesome job and thanks!

Posted by: Jake on November 7, 2018 7:06 PM

Leave a Comment

Similar Blog Entries