Business Spotlight: Thistle & Bess

In 2010, Diana Marsh was an elementary school science teacher in New York City. Her school, PS 58, was in Carroll Gardens, a little neighborhood in Brooklyn that’s known for its Italian shops and cafes. During the day, Marsh ran the school garden and told children about the wonders of things like the water cycle and photosynthesis.

One day, Marsh decided to start a side gig. She had always had an interest in antique and vintage jewelry, and she dreamed of opening up a shop someday. So after school, she began collecting antique jewelry pieces and selling them on Etsy. It was a fun project that brought in a little extra revenue, but, most importantly, it brought Marsh a step closer to pursuing her dream.

Marsh is not originally from New York City. She’s from Ann Arbor, a little town in Michigan that has just a fraction of New York’s population, and yet its small-town borders are so chock full with style and culture and personality that it feels as though it’s about to burst at the seams.

“Ann Arbor and Brooklyn have some definite similar vibes, especially the smaller neighborhoods in Brooklyn,” Marsh explains. “But I just knew that Ann Arbor was home, so I wanted to be back here.”

Marsh was visiting family in Ann Arbor over Christmas and found herself in Kerrytown, the charming historic neighborhood on the northside of downtown that houses the Farmers Market and and many restaurants, shops, and cafes. However, this trip proved to be more than just an average visit to Kerrytown—perhaps fate played a role, because after this visit, Marsh’s vision for her future store began to take a concrete shape.

“I walked by this storefront, and I knew opening a store was something that I had wanted to do, but this location specifically was pretty perfect,” Marsh recalls, “so I jumped everything and moved forward.”

And so was born Thistle & Bess, Marsh’s shop in Kerrytown. The next several years were a whirlwind for Marsh. She relocated to Ann Arbor and began collecting an assortment of items for her shop, from fine jewelry to bath and beauty products to home accessories to children’s clothing and toys.

“We head to London at least once a year to buy antiques, which is great,” Marsh explains. “We have some vintage barware and things like that. I would say at least a quarter of our merchandise is local. A lot made in Detroit, a lot of it Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti artists. We work with a Japanese artist, who’s one of our favorites, a lot of things in England in general, and a lot of US. We work with mostly independent designers, and we have relationships with most of our designers.”

This eclectic assortment proved to strike a chord with the ever-curious Ann Arbor community, and, soon enough, Marsh was the owner of a successful downtown business.

“Ann Arbor’s very well-known for the fact that we do have a lot of amazing independent businesses,” Marsh recognizes. “The people who are following their dreams and opening these businesses makes the community thrive. I think shoppers in Ann Arbor are looking for something different and well-made. Stuff that they’re not going to find just in any chain store.”

Anyone who grew up in Ann Arbor knows that local shoppers have a different taste than mainstream culture. However, not many people know what goes on behind-the-scenes of these distinctive downtown shops. For Marsh, it was a pleasant surprise.

“Business owners here are so wonderful,” Marsh gushes. “Wanting to collaborate and do things that benefit all of our businesses together. I don’t think you would find that in New York at all. We all work very closely, and our goal is to make this whole neighborhood be successful and busy and thriving. That means pulling everybody up together. I think that’s been the most amazing part of this, just to meet all these wonderful people, to come together to work on larger projects and work on the neighborhood together. I could not ask for anything else; it’s been wonderful.”

Not many people move to New York City with aspirations of moving back to their hometown someday, but if your hometown is Ann Arbor, that’s exactly what you do. Marsh’s story is proof that when you choose Ann Arbor as the stage for you to follow your dreams, it makes the city more magical for all of us.