One of our best discoveries this past weekend was the Cherry Republic flagship emporium of all things cherry, located in Glen Arbor.
I'd known about it for ages -- and it has retail outlets elsewhere in the region -- but I'd always figured that it was kind of a tourist trap. Cherries are to northwest Michigan what oranges are to Florida, so once you get into Grand Traverse and Benzie and Leelanau Counties you pretty much can't spit without hitting cherry-themed merchandise. (Smoked cherry-whitefish sausage, anyone? I'm not making that up.)
This place, though, is fun, and self-consciously kitschy: It declares itself an independent republic, flying a banner of "Life, Liberty, Beaches and Pie." And the cherry products it sells are excellent; there are opportunities in the store to taste nearly every product. We'd been introduced to cherry salsa at Joe's Friendly Tavern in Empire last year, so we stocked up on it last weekend; the store also sells a very tasty cherry barbecue sauce, a host of cherry preserves ranging from jam to chutney, and lots more.
Adjoining the store are a winery and a cafe, both spotlighting cherry products.
And -- this is cool -- one percent of all sales go toward preserving the area's agricultural land, which is being quickly swallowed up by land developers and subdivisions; the old story of people moving up north to enjoy the rural atmosphere, then destroying the very thing they love until "up north" looks no different than any other suburb. One of the things I love about this part of the state is its commitment to community-supported agriculture and to planned growth with preservation of what makes the area special. (Mid-Michigan isn't there yet, and may never be, for a variety of socioeconomic reasons.) Anyway, it made us feel good to know that doing our Christmas shopping at Cherry Republic was also, in its own small way, helping local farmers, not only by purchasing their products but by helping finance programs that give them incentives to stay on the land and preserve their families' farming heritage in the face of encroaching development.
Cherry Republic does a brisk mail-order business, so give their website a visit. Oh -- and even though I try to keep this blog non-partisan, I would note that an election is going on, on the Republic website, giving you an opportunity to, among other choices, anoint a queen. Not that I'm trying to influence your vote or anything.