Small Biz Saturday: Caravan Gift Shop takes its handmade gifts online during pandemic

“Buy local, or bye-bye local”

Caravan Gift Shop has been in Nickels Arcade since 1927.
Caravan Gift Shop has been in Nickels Arcade since 1927. (Sarah M. Parlette / WDIV)

ANN ARBOR –  The Caravan Gift Shop is like a little Art Fair that happens all-year-round, according to Bailey Ahles, whose family has owned the historic shop in Nickels Arcade since 1992.  

Known by the gold camels on its front windows, the 93-year-old shop in downtown Ann Arbor specializes in handmade gifts by 100 different artists. 

“It’s definitely been really hard, I would say. Like most of the businesses in the Arcade, everyone is probably operating somewhere between 25-50 percent,” said Ahles.

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Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Caravan Gift Shop was 100% reliant on walk-in traffic but it had to close to in-person shopping for 14 weeks.

Although you wouldn’t know it from looking at the thousands of items on its shelves, Ahles said that the closure caused Caravan to hold back on some of its orders from artists.

“And that’s the part that is actually heartbreaking,” Ahles said. “The people that we carry in the shop, their passion is being an artist. You know, it’s not something that has probably ever been a lucrative career for them, so they are definitely feeling the hit of all of that.”

She said that the artists have been flexible with the shop’s orders but it’s hard to call artists and postpone things because it is so impactful.  

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