Sandpiper offers eclectic gifts for any occasion

Published 9:05 am Friday, April 11, 2014

Suzy Barnes, owner of the Sandpiper, loves to spin locally-produced wool in the warm light of the shops’ front window. (Leader photo/JILL McCAUGHAN)

Suzy Barnes, owner of the Sandpiper, loves to spin locally-produced wool in the warm light of the shops’ front window. (Leader photo/JILL McCAUGHAN)

BRIDGMAN—“People say, ‘Don’t mix business with pleasure,’ but I just think that business should be a pleasure,” said Suzy Barnes, owner of the Sandpiper in Bridgman.

As a unique place to purchase an Easter or Mother’s Day gift, visiting the Sandpiper can be a pleasure for customers a well.

The shop houses a full-service flower shop, as well as a boutique featuring one-of-a-kind garments created by local fiber artists, home décor items, body care products, jewelry and accessories.

“We have over 50 local artists that we buy from. We’re not a commission shop, and our goal now has become to get money back into the local economy as fast as we can,” Barnes explained.

The business has evolved since Barnes first bought it from Judy Matthews in 2009. It had been a fixture in Bridgman for more than 40 years when Matthews finally decided to retire, and as a regular customer, Barnes was interested in keeping the shop alive.

“I have a house full of things that I bought here at the store over the years,” Barnes said. “Judy started talking to me about buying it because she felt like our tastes were similar. She just wanted it to keep going. It was kind of her legacy.”

Once Barnes took ownership of the shop, the current character of the store developed rather serendipitously.

“Everything just started out with an idea, and if it was a good idea, we went with it,” Barnes said. “Everything here’s been like that.”

For example, the Sandpiper’s emphasis on hand-knitted and -crocheted items stemmed for Barnes’ own hobby of spinning yarn in the front window.

“That all started by accident. I like to spin yarn, so I would buy the raw wool from the animals from a few local farms, and I just got to be addicted to doing it,” Barnes recalled. “So, I would do that in the window in the winter when I was here alone.”

Passersby noticed her activity and began inquiring as to whether they could purchase her hand-spun yarn.

“After about the 10th person asked, I realized I was missing an opportunity,” Barnes said. “So I started spinning for volume. Then, people started asking if I would make items for them from the yarn.”

Always ready to oblige, Barnes first relied upon friends who were accomplished knitters. Now, she employs eight master knitters from around the state of Michigan. While the shop is full of unique, handmade items for customers to choose from, Barnes still offers hand-spun wool from sheep and alpacas.

The eclectic collection of locally-made gifts offered by the Sandpiper also grew in a somewhat unplanned way.

“I just decided, ‘If I’m going to go shopping, what would I like to be able to get without driving to St. Joe or Benton Harbor or South Bend?’ What would I like to be able to get here?’” Barnes recalled. “And, my answer was, ‘I’d like to be able to get things that are quality, that are locally produced—things I can run in quick and pick up if I need something unusual.”

Barnes did not want to carry mass-produced items that she could find in any store across the nation.

“That’s not a gift. That’s not a treat. That’s not a piece of real value to me,” Barnes explained.

As word spread of Barnes’ desire for unique, locally-produced items, craftspeople and hobbyists began to approach her about the possibility of selling their creations through her store.

“People started coming in and showing me things. You know, ‘I make this beautiful soap. I live in Berrien Springs. I’m a nurse. Do you want to try it at your place?’” Barnes said. “So, I’d buy a small bit and try it out, and it just exploded from there.”

Barnes attributes a portion of her success in running the Sandpiper to her personal approach to sales, making it her goal to help customers choose the perfect gift for any recipient.

“Gift-giving just happens to be a talent of mine,” Barnes said. “When someone comes in and says they’re looking for a gift, I try to ask them sets of questions that will help me guide them. A gift should be personal. I wouldn’t recommend the same gift for two different people, ever.”

Barnes’ goal is to help every gift-giver choose a useful gift, rather than something that the recipient will not truly appreciate. She takes the same approach when creating floral arrangements.

“Flowers are like art. They come in every size, color, and shape,” Barnes said. “The outcome will always be better if you let us design for the person instead of taking that ‘give me whatever,’ cookie-cutter approach.”

Barnes also credits the shop’s success to her special employees, including Caroline Pfliger.

“She has been with me since the first year,” Barnes said. “She smoothed out all the bumps. Invoicing, inventory, all of those things. She’s an amazing person!”

Located at 4217 Lake St., the Sandpiper’s winter hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. On the second Friday of every month at 6 p.m., they also host a fiber-lovers open house. More information can be found at or by calling (269) 465-5936.

No matter what you’re looking for in a gift, whether it be for a child, a man, a woman or for yourself, it seems certain that you can find it at the Sandpiper.

“We have things that people have a hard time finding, like Polish pottery, jewelry that’s handmade, all sorts of things,” Barnes said. “It’s gifts, décor, fiber, fashion, flowers —kind of a little bit of everything.”