Theme brings ‘North’ south

Published 6:48 pm Monday, February 6, 2006

By By ANDY HAMILTON / Niles Daily Star
NILES - The owners of Briar Patch Nature Designs owe a lot of their creativity to family roots. So, when Julie Hoch and Becki Gracey decided to open the store with an “up North” feel, they made sure they wouldn't forget the source of their talents.
That is why the two former nurses rest their items for sale on old family furniture.
For example, Hoch's book shelf that was passed down four generations from her great-grandmother and the small fold-up tables and cedar bowl crafted by her father both rest in the store. Plus, there is the bench that once sat in a hotel owned by Gracey's relatives, the table cloths sewn by her cousin and the wreath, also crafted by Gracey's cousin, that hangs on the bathroom door.
Another special touch to the store is the antique basket that Gracey and her Uncle Edward used on a fly fishing trip to the Upper Peninsula. The hike to the fishing hole seemed like miles to Gracey.
Uncle Ed is actually Edward Mihelich, an author of two books. One focuses on the U.P. and the other tells stories of long-time Niles residents or city officials. Mihelich was also a disc jockey in the 1960s at WNIL and a teacher of Latin, Michigan history, English and gun safety at Ring Lardner Middle School and Niles High School.
Hoch and Gracey met while working at the Rehabilitation Institute of Tri-State in Buchanan. Neither of the two had any retail experience when they opened Briar Patch.
Hoch located the store they operate out of in downtown Niles at 222 Front St. by sitting on a bench on Main Street watching the flow of traffic.
She eventually noticed a going out of business sale. After a call to Four Flags Chamber of Commerce and about a three hour wait, the store was all but handed over to Briar Patch.
Hoch and Gracey then filled the room with scented candles, quilts and the birdhouses handcrafted by Gracey and detailed with flowers, animals and berries. Briar Patch also sells baskets, embroidered sweatshirts, wind chimes and framed artwork.
The store is open on Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Briar Patch is closed on Monday and Tuesday.