Teiara Dandy stopped in at Paper Trail Books in Royal Oak on a recent Monday morning for the second day in a row.
She was there on Sunday with her fiancee, who scored three paperbacks in “The Forgotten Realms” series of science fiction.
Dandy returned during a break in her classes at the nearby Oakland Community College in search of a vegetarian cookbook to help in her efforts to switch to a plant-based diet and still get enough protein.
“We just figured if we can try a used bookstore we’d find what we were looking for,” she says before vowing to become a regular at the new shop.
Paper Trail opened in August 2017 under the ownership of brothers Dave, 38, and Scott, 40, Brown. The brothers grew up in Troy and both have a love of reading, worked previously in bookstores (Dave at Borders, Half Price Books and an independent shop in Alaska, and Scott at Barnes & Noble) and moved back to Michigan to open their business.
“We have long wanted to open a bookstore,” says Dave Brown as he sips coffee while seated at a table covered with board games as Henry Mancini’s “The Pink Panther” soundtrack plays on a turntable behind the counter.
His affinity for music may be explained by his music degree from the University of Illinois in Chicago; Scott attended Michigan State University and graduated with an agriculture-related degree.
The music, coffee, comfortable seating, and events such as a series of poetry readings and an occasional book signing all offer the unspoken message: Customers are welcome to come in and stay awhile. Book clubs have yet to approach the owners, but they’d welcome hosting groups who want to discuss what they’ve read.
The shop’s tidy, well-organized shelves are in alphabetical order by author and labeled by genre to make browsing its 20,000 titles, as well as searching for a specific book, easy. Titles range from a signed edition of “Escape Velocity” by “True Grit” author Charles Portis to beach reads and include books for children as well as adults.
Prices range from less than $1 for selections on the clearance rack to hundreds of dollars for a collectible. If asked, the brothers will keep an eye out for a specific title for customers. Paper Trail’s 19,000 square feet of space also holds a smattering of vinyl, CDs and DVDs.
The brothers picked their location on South Washington in Royal Oak after looking at multiple properties in the surrounding area two Christmases ago.
Paper Trail Books
414 S. Washington
Royal Oak, MI 48067
Current New Yorker Emma Melrose says finding a trustworthy contractor to renovate their 1929 three-story Georgian Colonial in Beverly Hills was so important to her and her husband, Joe, that they interviewed several before deciding on Kastler Construction. What clinched the deal was owner Rick Kastler taking the time to show them other older home renovations he had done and respect for their home’s existing features.
As a result, along with building a three-story addition and three-car garage, installing new hardwood floors and expanding the kitchen and master bedroom, Kastler restored the glass kitchen cabinet doors and their wood grilles, retained all of the original doors and arches in the home, rehung the dining room chandelier and in one room left untouched the Pewabic tile floor from the historic Detroit pottery.
“They restored it, but with modernized conveniences,” Emma Melrose says.
Kastler understands the importance of finding the right contractor, and blogs on his company web site that consumers should pick a firm that’s licensed, insured and experienced in the type of work they want done.
Staying in touch long-distance from her current home was challenging, Melrose says, but was made easier with electronic communications and monthly visits she made to the couple’s home state of Michigan.
Kastler points out that communication—like that with the Melroses—is key in his business. For that reason, he’s created a new position in the office for customer relations.
Also critical is honesty, Kastler says. Clients do but shouldn’t shy away from stating their budget for a project, and contractors should be upfront about costs. Otherwise, the deal can suffer from the HGTV effect, where remodeling costs are drastically understated on home renovation shows.
To be transparent, Kastler estimates budgets for typical projects on his new-lead form. For example, additions are a minimum of $200-250 per square foot, basements without a kitchen or bath start at $30 per square foot, and kitchens up to 150 square feet range from $40,000-60,000.
With a staff of five field employees, seven office staff and a roster of sub-contractors, Kastler Construction builds custom homes and additions and renovates whole homes along with remodeling bathrooms, kitchens, basements and exteriors. Trending now are additions to allow for large kitchens, family gathering space and master suites that can include a bedroom, bathroom, walk-in closet and sitting area.
In 2017, the firm did $6.5 million worth of business and 2018 promises to remain as high, with four or five leads coming in every day, Kastler said. That’s more than double what the firm made 11 years ago, equivalent to about $3 million in today’s dollars accounting for inflation.
After 22 years, Kastler says he’s never tired of running his own firm. In fact, he spun off a sister firm, Visionary Cabinetry & Design, with partner Paul Kozicki.
“I actually love what I do,” he says. “I like the feeling of making people happy.”
425 S. Main Street
Clawson, MI 48017
When 9-year-old Paul Nielsen dipped into the magic kit his Uncle John gave him for Christmas that year, he quickly got hooked on the thrill of having an appreciative audience.
“The tricks inside there were really awful,” Nielsen recalls. “But my parents acted amazed.”
His parents nurtured their son’s interest, permitting their miniature Houdini to buy one trick from the revolving racks at Stuckey’s convenience stores during family road trips. But his big break came during high school, when Nielsen got a job demonstrating the magic tricks sold at a local novelty shop in his hometown of Peoria, Ill.
“I was performing every day,” he says. “And I had access to all kinds of props.”
As it turns out, Nielsen’s big break foretold his future. He still performs every day and has access to any prop he wants at Wunderground Magic Inc. in Clawson, a store he bought in 2007 after having been a customer there for about 10 years.
“I just had nothing to do and I was looking for something to keep me occupied,” he says. “It’s not nearly as lucrative as software, but it keeps me afloat.”
Nielsen, who has a doctorate degree in computer science and taught at the University of Michigan in the 1990s, founded the intelligent software company Soar Technology in 1997 in Ann Arbor and sold the business in 2006. While magic and computer science may seem like incomparable pursuits, both satisfy Nielsen’s drive to understand the way things work, he says.
Founded in 1971 in Ferndale by a previous owner, Wunderground marked 47 years in business on—when else?—April 1. In addition to selling magic sets, card tricks, theater props, books, DVDs, illusions and more, the shop offers classes for children and adults. Nielsen will also help find a magician for a children’s party and other special events.
Tony Adragna, a magician from New Baltimore, stopped in at Wunderground in March to buy a card trick entitled “Caught Red Handed.” He’s been a customer for at least 25 years, Adragna says, and likes that he can call Nielsen to order a special trick.
“He’s reliable and he’s quick,” Adragna says.
Adding to Wunderground’s mystique is an unconfirmed story that its basement was part of an underground speakeasy during Prohibition. Melodie Nichols, curator of the Clawson Historical Museum, says she has no evidence of the speakeasy story but no reason to doubt it either.
When not at his shop, Nielsen serves as chair of the Board of Directors for the American Museum of Magic in Marshall, Mich. He also performs at libraries, schools, community centers, private parties and other venues.
As for that thrill when performing for an appreciative audience that his parents ignited 49 years ago?
“I do like entertaining people,” Nielsen says. “I do like bringing that sense of wonder to their lives. It’s important.”
Jane Rock, of Royal Oak, liked the idea of having her physical therapy for a back condition in a swimming pool, but disliked wearing a swimsuit that revealed too much in the co-ed environment. So, she ordered a custom suit that would cover her scar tissue from childhood burns at Custom Swimwear by Exelnt.
Years later, Rock estimates she has 18 suits from Custom Swimwear, along with accessories like visors and cover-ups. She’s bought suits to wear during cottage vacations, as well as other getaways, and stocked some for summer guests during Custom Swimwear’s sidewalk sales.
Rock says she’s recommended the shop to friends, some of whom balk at the price of a custom swimsuit—about $170 and up.
“Once they try on one of these suits and they feel how it fits they don’t say another word,” she says.
Shoppers can buy ready-to-wear swimsuits displayed in the retail section of the shop, some of which are made there and run $50 and up or can be fitted in one of five private dressing rooms and choose from hundreds of fabrics for a custom suit.
While anyone can request a custom suit, even men, shop owner Trish Crowder’s found that her typical customer is a large-busted woman. That’s because mass retailers enlarge every part of a swimsuit when they make its cups bigger, even for slender or average women who happen to have large breasts, Crowder says. This makes it almost impossible for women with larger cup sizes to buy a good-fitting swimsuit off the rack.
“I can make everybody’s sizes,” she says, noting that she offers suits with cup sizes ranging from AA to KK. “But a big-busted woman can’t go anywhere else.”
Big or small-busted women may not want to: the shop has many repeat customers and serves generations of women in the same family, Crowder says.
Crowder has retail swimsuit makers and an unsuccessful shopping trip of her own to thank for her successful custom swimwear business.
“I couldn’t find a top and bottom to fit,” she recalls of her dressing room failure 38 years ago. Back then, women’s two-piece swimsuits were almost exclusively sold as sets and it wasn’t possible to buy the bra and brief in different sizes.
A self-described “artsy person” who took a sewing class at her St. Clair Shores high school but is largely self-taught, Crowder decided to make her own suit. Compliments from friends and acquaintances soon led to requests for handmade swimsuits for others, and Custom Swimwear by Exelnt Designs followed.
Crowder’s business has become so successful that in July 2017 she bought and renovated a storefront on Main Street south of 14 Mile Road in Royal Oak, investing almost half a million dollars for the purchase and re-do. Family, friends and even Custom Swimwear’s 13 employees pitched in on such tasks as installing laminate flooring, but Crowder hired professionals for a new furnace and roof.
She moved from Warren into the newly refurbished shop in December.
As word gets around that southern Oakland County has a custom swimwear shop with an owner who knows how hard it can be to find a good-fitting suit, Rock predicts Crowder can expect many more loyal customers like herself.
Custom Swimwear by Exelnt Designs Inc.
SE corner of 14 Mile Rd and Rochester Rd.
4732 Rochester Rd
Royal Oak, MI 48073
It was 2008, and chef Nicole Pichan-Seals had already looked at a couple of storefronts with the idea of opening a prepared meals takeout business. The plan was for her to staff it during the day and her husband David Seals, executive chef at Federal-Mogul headquarters in Southfield, would work there in the evenings.
Chefs Nicole Pichan-Seals & David Seals
Then David learned the Federal-Mogul food services were going to be outsourced. And the landlord at an especially tempting storefront on Main Street south of 14 Mile Road in Clawson said what the city really needed was an Italian restaurant.
The couple drew from Nicole’s northern Italian heritage—her great-grandparents lived in the Ascoli Piceno province, about 125 miles northeast of Rome—and David’s southern U.S. roots, where hospitality is almost a religion, and opened DueVenti. The name is a literal translation of their Northern Italian cuisine restaurant’s Main Street address, “220.”
The fine-dining venue owned by the husband and wife chefs marks its 10th anniversary in August 2018. With seating for 54 inside, and 16 outside in warm weather, its pressed linens and sparkling silverware blend with warmer touches like Nicole’s grandmother’s oil paintings on the wall, her portrait on a shelf above the bar, and a real grapevine that winds its way along another wall.
Nicole’s grandmother Eva Cafini-Theodoroff, of Oak Park, started painting as a hobby after her children were grown and went on to create more than 300 works of art over 40 years. She drew inspiration from food for her still lives, current events and her family, eventually painting every family member before she died in 2008.
While David prepared a cauliflower soup and sweet potato risotto on a Tuesday evening in February, Nicole fed pasta dough through a roller. She can thank her grandmother for inspiring Nicole’s love of pastas, gnocchi, risotto, and Italian breads like ciabatta as well as the sea salt-rosemary focaccia featured at the restaurant.
Diners at DueVenti can order from a full bar and menu of antipasti, zuppa, insalata, dolci (desserts) and piatti principali (entrees) including Piedmontese beef, fresh pastas, sea bass, chicken and rabbit, or can request the tasting menu.
The restaurant is available for private parties, which is partly what brought sisters Melanie Boswell and Suzanne Cross, both of Royal Oak, and Renee Lynch, of White Lake, there for dinner on a Tuesday in February. Cross’ daughter is getting married this year, and her aunts are giving her a shower at DueVenti in May. The trio were also celebrating Cross and Boswell’s March birthdays (the latter woman’s 50th).
Cross had eaten at the restaurant before with her husband, but it was new to her sisters.
“I’ve heard many people who are foodies recommend this place,” Cross says.
Lynch, who had spoken to Nicole on the phone previously to make the shower arrangements, says, “You get a good feeling here.”