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Sweater peddler Chris Triola looks through one of the mirrors in her Nickels Arcade store. In the foreground is one of her $650 full-length sweaters for sale.


Arcade shop features limited-edition knitwear



Chris Triola considers herself an artist more than a retailer and prefers her new sweater shop be called a “gallery.”

Certainly, her all-cotton, limited-edition creations are priced like artwork. Pullovers at her Nickels Arcade shop in downtown Ann Arbor start at $195 and prices go up to $650 for a long, coat-style cardigan. A skirt is $95 and scarves range from $52-$72.

“We’re not so expensive that people can’t afford us, yet we’re exclusive in that we’re hand-crafted,” Triola says of her four-month-old knitwear gallery.

The Lansing-based artist, originally a painter, sees each garment as a canvas.

Inspired by everything from natural objects along the Lake Michigan shoreline to ethnic textiles, she toys with themes. Her “Totem” collection is a version of Northwest Indian totem poles while her “ikat” collection reflects the types of weaving all early cultures did.

She says her sweaters have a style that matches the wants and needs of Ann Arbor.

“It’s very compatible with the way Ann Arbor women live. You can get very dressed up and still be comfortable.”

Ann Arbor women put comfort before style and appearance, she says, yet her pieces offer all of the above. Plus, the elegant sweaters pack easily and travel well because they don’t wrinkle and can adapt from warmer to cooler temperatures well, she says.

Women’s clothing shops come and go around downtown - Patricia Miles, Beth’s Boutique and the-women’s section at Renaissance are no more, for example. But Triola remains confident.

For one, her location in the Nickel’s Arcade has its artsy atmosphere going for it, she says. Matthew Hoffman - Ann Arbor’s famous jewelry artist - is there. So is the new Alexa Lee Gallery (upstairs) and also The Clay Gallery. They all add up to what Triola sees as a destination for shoppers, with a European flair.

At another exclusive women’s boutique in town, Owner Alexandra “Ecky” Payne says knowing what will sell in Ann Arbor is a “guessing game.” So far she’s winning.

Payne handles exclusive clothing lines at her Kerrytown store called Alexandra's. Simple dresses in wrinkle-free fabrics start at $79 with prices going all the way up to $400. At first, Payne starts to say her $400 pieces were a mistake to carry, then corrects herself, pointing to a casual outfit at the front of the store that she says is moving well at nearly $400.

The bottom line? Making a women’s shop a success in Ann Arbor requires “seven days a week, 48 hours a day and very little sleep,” Payne says. And, of course, good service and loyal customers.

She has visited Triola’s gallery and wishes her the best.

“I would hope Ann Arbor would support them,” Payne says.

“But Triola doesn’t just rely on Ann Arbor. Some patrons come from overseas, thanks to the international influence of the University of Michigan. For visitors who want to take home something unique and artsy from Ann Arbor, Triola’s sweaters fit the bill.

Visiting Opera Star Kiri Te Kanawa from New Zealand bought three pieces since the gallery opened in October, for instance.

Triola got her retailing start with a store in downtown Lansing, which still is doing well. Since opening her Ann Arbor store, she’s had to add four knitters to her work team.

Bonnie Bona, managing partner at The Chris Triola Gallery, wouldn’t release sales figures, but said holiday sales were great. The Ann Arbor store met its Christmas-season-sales goal by Dec. 23, meaning sales after that were a bonus. Thanks to heavier walk-by traffic, the store here does perhaps double the business of the Lansing studio, she said.

“People coming back for more, that was what gave me courage in the beginning,” Triola said. “I never set out to be just a sweater maker.”

The Chris Triola Gallery hours are: Tues.-Fri. 11-7; Sat 10-5; and Sun. noon-5.