To the east of Traverse City, on Lake Michigan, there is a small town I like to visit to do a little shopping – I always know just what I want. The town is Leland and the shopping area I go to is Fishtown. Fishtown is the commercial fishing district, just a couple of big docks, that has provided a living for the resident of Leland for over a century through fishing, lumbering, and iron smelting.
On our last visit I learned its current history. A few years back a developer was interested in buying up the property to tear down the buildings for some high-end condos. Some local residents got together and bought up the property to preserve the building by using them for small shops and charter fishing companies.
Our visit this spring was a couple of weeks before high tourist season began so we had a leisurely stroll around and then ate the picnic lunch we had packed. I can share the stroll with you but I’m sorry to say lunch is finished up.
And I bought what I needed from Fishtown – some fish sausage and smoked whitefish. So good with cheese and crackers and beer or wine.
We thought a Friday in the middle of September, before peak color season in upper Michigan, would be a good time to take a quiet, relaxing tour of the Leelanau Peninsula. We were wrong – many other people had the same false belief.
The Leelanau Peninsula is a narrow piece of land that runs north between Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay. If you can see in your mind’s eye Michigan as a mitten, the Leelanau Peninsula would be where the pinky finger is. It is most famous for its cherries and wineries; there are 26 wineries on the peninsula. It is close to the 45th parallel that is ideal for growing grapes, especially white. But our goal this time was not to do the winery tours that are well advertised.
Our goal was to visit the small villages as we drove the perimeter of the peninsula, the small towns that we have visited before. It has been many years since we have been here so we had the advantage of visiting places that gave us the feeling of “coming home” while also having new adventures.
We stopped at Leland because I had purchased really good fish sausage at a store on the docks once upon a time, long ago. There were scores of tourists, but we found a parking space behind some shops. I grabbed my camera and walked towards the shops below where the fish weather vane and sign identifying Historic Fishtown.
And I smiled. This isn’t for tourists – unless you want to charter a fishing cruise. This is where fishing boats are docked and fish are processed.
This is where I bought some excellent white fish sausage and smoked salmon. Just what we needed with our cheese and cracker mid afternoon snack.
Thought of the day: I tell myself that places like this are where I most enjoy taking photographs. They feel authentic and have personality and I like capturing the personality of a place. But then I have to question whether this is any more authentic than the “touristy” street up the hill from Fishtown. Both are commercial and both meet a need for both visitors and the community. Is the shopping district any less authentic? No, it is also Leland – but still it seems to be very much like other tourist shopping districts in all parts of the U.S. I don’t get excited about capturing the personality of a shopping district designed to meet the needs of tourists. What do you think?