If geeks love it, we’re on it

A visit to a Steampunk book store in Michigan

A visit to a Steampunk book store in Michigan

Steampunk shop in Michigan

A few months ago I reconnected with a friend that I’ve not seen since high school in what can only be described as a completely random happenstance; I was at a dinner party and he walked in. It was one of those “small world” moments.

He introduced me to his wife, Salathiel, and we all had a brief conversation of the “Wow, how have you been these last twelve years?” variety… You know, one of those. They never amount to much, but in this case we at least made it a point to become Facebook friends.

And that’s how I found out that Salathiel was going to be opening a Steampunk-themed bookstore.

A finely detailed model

The detail was phenomenal

It was a strange concept, yet it immediately made sense. I myself knew lots of gamers and geeks—hell, Icrontic has even thrown Steampunk-themed parties. I realized that there was definitely a subculture that couldn’t quite be defined by RPG gamers, Trading Card gamers, or Sci-Fi fans. This subculture needed a place. Well, I found it, and it’s called Off The Beaten Path Books & Cafe.

Off the Beaten Path is the most appropriately named business I’ve ever visited. It’s in a terribly bizarre location for a retail business. It resides in an inner courtyard of what appears to have been an elementary school or a weird medical complex in a previous life. You can’t really see it from the main road very well, but walk through the courtyard and suddenly before you appears a beckoning glow of lights and a warm-looking entryway. It’s reminiscent of a much-needed inn in the middle of an urban forest. When you find it, you are simultaneously relieved and a bit nervous. Just approaching the storefront, it’s easy to imagine yourself in another world.

The first impression is hard to wrap your head around. Is it a clothing store? Oh, I see some books back there. What are all these potion bottles and leather harnesses? It looks like what I would imagine a Wizard’s Tower would look like, were such a thing to exist. A random mish-mash of important yet unrelated things, all of which have a very specific order that makes sense to … well, someone. Still, it’s clean and very big. It’s definitely welcoming.

Game night at Off The Beaten Path

Game Night at Off The Beaten Path

Ostensibly, Off the Beaten Path is indeed a bookstore that specializes in a few specific genres: Horror, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Steampunk—but it’s really quite a bit more than that. In a way, it’s something like what a brick-and-mortar Icrontic would be for tech and gamer geeks: a physical manifestation of the perfect hangout for a devoted and tight-knit community.

I got a chance to meet some of that community. They’re like us in many ways: a bit mystifying at the outset, but very warm and open-hearted when you are willing to get over your uncertainty, step into a strange environment, and just say “Hello, I’m here.”

Steampunk Goggles

A Moste Interesting and Unique Collection of Finest Eyewear

Books and art at Off the Beaten Path

Want some art with those books?

I stopped in on Game Night, which they hold on Tuesdays. There were a few different groups playing various board games, but commanding the attention of stragglers such as myself were a group of intense people gathered around a table upon which was a model of an entire medieval-looking town, rendered in exquisite detail. They were throwing dice onto one of the towers, talking about “hits and crits,” and getting down to peer at various parts of the village. There were heated discussions about what various factions had done and which parts of the town had been damaged. It looked fascinating and delightfully geeky.

In the back there is a classroom where they hold educational events. Want to learn stage fighting? Model painting? Illustration? Health and Wellness tips? The finer points of book collecting? Their website advertises a never-ending search for “interesting, exciting, and extraordinary acts,” all of which can find a home in this store. The things they do here all seem unconnected and a bit random at first, but when you overlay the sense of community over the whole thing, it makes perfect sense.

The book selection is a bit light, but then this store just opened in October of 2010, and I imagine stocking new books is an expensive endeavor. As is normal with the genres, there are a lot of serial books, but unfortunately many of the series were “broken.” Again, growing pains. I still walked out with two interesting books (one Sci-Fi and one Steampunk-themed) of genres that I don’t normally explore. If they stick, I’ll blame Salathiel for introducing me to a new expensive hobby.

Game night at Off The Beaten Path

It wouldn't be tabletop gaming without arguing about rules

The collection of Steampunk-themed clothing is fascinating. Not having shopped for these kinds of goods before, I can’t really speak to the ease of finding unique items like this at other stores, but I will say that now I know where to go if I want a genuine leather journal-holder with a clockwork steel lock, or a leather harness with clips and loops capable of holding potion bottles, or a bandolier for holding throwing knives. Various feathered caps, goggles, and other accessories and acoutrements for the proper lady or gentleman of the Steampunk persuasion can all be found here. If you’re not quite so daring as to wear a leather harness or a derby with gears on it in public, they most certainly have more traditional clothing in the form of clever T-shirts and such as well.

Goggles and a hat

Why yes, that's exactly what I was looking for!

There is also a cafe; I didn’t have a chance to try any of the food or coffee yet, but I plan on going back to work from the shop for a day (because yes, they offer free Wi-Fi as well.) Salathiel assured me that the coffee was awesome (“It’s roasted by monks in Wyoming or something. For real!”) and I intend to find out.

This business could not have made it even ten years ago. It would have been too weird, too niche. The very existence of this store is testament to our changing times and our increasingly open-minded society that gamers and geeks are becoming embraced by the mainstream. As a gamer and a geek myself, I say “Huzzah!” to Salathiel and her weird bookstore. Don’t change a thing, babe.

Off the Beaten Path is located at 23023 Orchard Lake Road in Farmington, Michigan. And yes, in before “Icrontic road trip.”


  1. Chooch
    Chooch damn. now i need to visit this place when I come back to Michigan to visit the fam.
  2. kryyst
    kryyst I know where I'm stopping next time I'm through Michigan.
  3. BuddyJ
    BuddyJ What game were they playing? Mordheim? Malifeaux? Either way, I wanna join 'em.
  4. primesuspect
    primesuspect Mordheim sounds familiar. I may have heard that word.
  5. Lathielb Buddy J - they were playing Mordheim, but we play Malifaux on wednesdays. Come on down, I'm sure some has a spare army if you want to learn how to play. And thanks, Brian, for the great review.
  6. BuddyJ
    BuddyJ Sweet! Next time I'm in Michigan I hope I can come by. I have a Mordheim band already and am slowly getting into Malifaux.
  7. Chaotic Mordheim and Malifaux. Mordheim's on Tuesdays (and sometimes bleeds into Wednesday), and Malifaux is on Wednesday.
  8. Bandrik
    Bandrik Holy crap, since when did Michigan get something so cool? Nothing cool is supposed to be in Michigan... (/troll)

    Actually this sounds awesome. I'll put it down on my places to visit sometime, since I'm right on the Michigan border anyways. =P
  9. The Steamstress Brian thanks for the amazing article!I'm glad we did right by ya. :)
    To sum up what the heck's going on:

    Monday: Poetry forum night & occasional book collecting seminars

    Tuesday: Game night (card, board, scrabble, you name it!) and Mordheim (league starting 1st of feb)

    Wed: Malifaux & Mordheim pick-up night, Drum Lessons as well!

    Thurs: Stitch & Bitch night!

    Friday: Everything happens and it's great!

    Saturday: live music :)

    Bookstore is online at: http://www.otbp-bookstore.com
  10. rmhuntley I thought I was the only one that still played Mordheim
  11. Rachael they never had cool stuff like this when i lived in Michigan! :(
  12. Edalji The hardware on the fabulous eyewear looks like the same business that holds the parts of my fake leg together. I might just have to get it so I can have a matching set. :)
  13. ardichoke
    ardichoke Planning on visiting this place when I make a trip out to Farmington Hills next month. I'm excited :D
  14. Annes
    Annes GOOD LORD. I want a place like this around DC. I bet there is one. Time to find out :)
  15. FreshyP
    FreshyP I got the best leather journal there! But the sad thing is, I have no idea what to write in it.
  16. primesuspect
    primesuspect Looks like the customer base for a steampunk bookstore isn't quite what it needs to be. From the owner:
    So like I said earlier today, I have come to a decision and here it is - I will be closing the storefront and Off the Beaten Path Books is going to become an online store and traveling bookstore that I will be taking around to conventions around the country. The business is NOT closing just transitioning. We will still be at World Steam Expo and hopefully TeslaCon, too. With the current economy it is just not feasible to keep the storefront open with all of its additional expenses. This isn't forever, but definitely for the next year or two. The airship has been fixed and I feel like going out and exploring the world again :)

    So what happens to craft night? Drum lessons? Bellydance classes? Writing club? Etc.? Fear not people! I have been given access to a smaller space a few businesses down that will be just as homey as the current, but smaller and more manageable. More info on that will be coming. I love the community that has grown at the store and I wanted to make sure that I would still be able to nurture that. Stitch & Bitch forever :)

    So when is the store going to close? Our last day is going to be March 31st. Yep, that soon. So This will be the last bizarre bazaar on the 25th and I will talk to Thomas Downey to see if we can squeeze in one more dance that hopefully all of you will come and party with me one more time. We are going to close it out on the 31st with a last Katara concert in the space. We will still have our regular hours right up until the 31st, so please come and say "Bon Voyage"!

    I will also be having a ridiculous sale as I need get rid of all of the current stock and all of the fixtures and equipment. I will be selling the cafe equipment, book shelves, furniture, etc. I will definitely be creating an event around this, too.

    I would like to thank all of you who have shopped at the store, spoken about the store, and just been rabid supporters of the store. I couldn't have had a better time or better customers. You made it a pleasure to come to work everyday and I treasure all the friendships and connections I have made. So I will see you all at the Phoenix for the next Aether and at many conventions in the future:) Thank you all again.
  17. GnomeQueen
    GnomeQueen I'm bummed that it's closing, but I'm not really surprised. I AM super excited for the sale, though!
  18. Linc
    Linc Brian, Jason and I circled like vultures into the store today and picked up a dishwasher, desk (for Perry), crazy-old footlocker chest (for awesome-looking storage in the attic), and an ornate mirror.
  19. primesuspect
    primesuspect I felt bad. Sort of like jawas? We came in there and started carting stuff out and inspecting everything while the regulars sat there, freshly sad because they found out their hangout is closing, and gave us the stinkeye.
  20. ardichoke
    ardichoke I'm saddened, but not surprised by this news. Marysia and I visited the store last year while we were in the area. We thought it was a cute store, but felt like it had too small and niche of a selection.
  21. Ryder
    Ryder A dishwasher at a bookstore?
  22. Thrax
    Thrax But it's steampunk, you see, because it's a mechanical washer of dishes! They superglued some gears to it.
  23. primesuspect
    primesuspect It's a bookstore and cafe. Yes, there was a dishwasher at the cafe :)
  24. JBoogaloo
    JBoogaloo Looks great! I will have to visit it if I ever get my behind to MI.

Howdy, Stranger!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!