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Birmingham’s Primi Piatti Market: Sharing the Gifts of Italy

Birmingham’s Primi Piatti Market: Sharing the Gifts of Italy

Birmingham’s
Primi Piatti Market: Sharing the Gifts of Italy

06

NOVEMBER 2018

BY HONEY MURRAY

LBN Community Series
Birmingham

Monica Bisignano Zamler, owner of Birmingham’s Primi Piatti Market, looks conspiringly at her manager, Brittne Drake, while recalling an experience with a long-time customer who recently had her first baby.

“Remember, Brittne?” she smiles. “Our customer who was no longer allowed to eat our ‘Parma’ sandwich with prosciutto (thinly sliced, dry-cured Italian ham), mozzarella, and tomato — that she ordered almost daily – once she became pregnant?”

MONICA BISIGNANO ZAMLER

OWNER, PRIMI PIATTI MARKET

“As soon as she was discharged from the hospital,” Monica laughs, “the first thing she did was come in to get that sandwich!”

“I remember that!” agrees Brittne.

At Birmingham’s north end, “down the hill” and cozily tucked into a row of small, unique, and well-appointed shops, Primi Piatti makes a visitor feel like they’ve been transported to the most charming and abundantly stocked Italian deli, market, and gift store in all of southern Italy.

Tall metal racks are brimming with tins, bottles, cello bags, jars, and colorful boxes filled with breadsticks and biscuits, gift-wrapped cakes and cookies, oils and vinegars, spices, candies, olives and peppers – and more — all Italian-made.

Glass deli-display cases are lined with salamis and Italian hams and meats; wedges and bricks and slices of Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino, provolone, ricotta and other imported Italian cheeses; fettucine,  ricotta-filled gnocchi, rigatoni, or whatever handmade pasta has just been lovingly made in small batches using the trustworthy pasta-making machine (also from Italy) which stands like a benevolent sentry behind the counter, ready to loyally attend to its tasks; and homemade meatballs and sauces, their rich, swirling aromas tantalizing every customer.

Rustic cupboards and painted wooden shelves hold fine, hand-worked Deruta ceramics, pottery from Vietri Sul Mare, hand-blown Murano glassware and glass goblets from Tuscany.

“The Italian meal is not just about delicious food,” says Monica. “It’s also about the presentation: the serving bowls, place settings, glassware, tablecloths. The entire experience is beautiful!”

Monica, who was raised in Birmingham, warmly recalls her upbringing in an Italian household.

“The Italian meal is not just about delicious food. It’s also about the presentation: the serving bowls, place settings, glassware, tablecloths. The entire experience is beautiful!”

“We were always about cooking and family,” she says, “and we still are.”

Monica recently purchased a home in Italy with her sister and brother-in-law and has been to Italy so many times that she no longer keeps count of the number of her visits. But she does bring home ideas for dishes and recipes – which her mom and son (a chef at a Metro Detroit restaurant) compete to replicate.

And she is always inspired by the Italian pottery she finds in her travels.

“I source from all over Italy,” she says. “Everything is one-of-a-kind. And we have such wonderful pottery gifts, even dog bowls, cat bowls, and handmade jars for pet treats.”

“We also offer an online wedding registry so couples can receive place settings, serving bowls and dishes, glassware, cutting boards, and other unique items that have a range of prices.”

Twenty-five-year-old Brittne has accompanied Monica on a couple of her trips.

“I went to an olive grove to see how they make the oil that we sell here,” she says.

As Brittne cuts the rows of roasted red-pepper shell pasta that exude from the machine she says, “I love anything Italian. My mom and dad are good cooks, and I’ve always liked to work with food. I heard about Monica, and am so glad to be working here, where everything is from Italy – except me,” she laughs, “though Italy is in my heart. I’ve learned so much here!”

“I couldn’t do this without Brittne,” exclaims Monica, “or all of our loyal customer following!”

On Sundays, the store fills with many of that loyal following who come to buy the homemade ravioli that is Sunday’s special item.

“It only takes three minutes to cook when you’re ready to make your dinner at home,” Brittne explains.

“I’m thinking about making beet and mascarpone or mushroom ravioli this week,” Monica notes. “And we always have meat ravioli, too, on Sundays.”

“On Saturdays in December, my mom, Nonna Bisignano, will be here making her pizzelles (thin, waffle-like cookies made using a special iron, sometimes with a light flavor of anise).”

 

“And I’ll be traveling soon again to Italy, to bring back more beautiful pottery pieces and other items,” says Monica. “I love to go to Italy, and it’s good to have a reason to go.”

“I’ve figured out what would make me happy,” she shares, “and it’s this!”

Primi Piatti Market
550 N. Old Woodward
Birmingham, MI  48009
248-566-3353
primipiattimarket.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lyudviga Couture Opens Store in Downtown Birmingham

Lyudviga Couture Opens Store in Downtown Birmingham

Lyudviga Couture Opens Store in Downtown Birmingham

28

NOVEMBER 2018

BY REBECCA CALAPPI

LBN Community Series
Birmingham

Nearly 20 years ago, Lyudviga Shneyders stepped off the plane from Crimea with nothing but $200 in her pocket.

Today, she’s a fashion maven and owner of Lyudviga Couture in Birmingham, providing only the best fabrics, original styles and singular customer service.

 

LYUDVIGA SHNEYDERS

OWNER, LYUDVIGA COUTURE

While the store has been in Birmingham for eight years, it’s been decades in the making.

“My grandma thought if I would learn how to sew, I would be able to provide for a family no matter what. So, she knew in her village where she was living, the most respectful lady was a seamstress,” said Shneyders.

By age 15, Shneyders was already sewing and designing for competitions. In fact, her design in one competition got second place because the skirt she created was narrow at the waist and flared at the hem.

“I didn’t get first place because it was too futuristic. Then, a few years later, the tulip skirt became popular,” she said.

“Growing up, I wanted to be an astrophysicist or an astronomer. I wanted to find out all the secrets of the universe. But Grandma said, ‘Go learn to sew first, then you can count your stars.’

It was the best decision I ever made,” Shneyders said. “I went to fashion design school at 15 and graduated at 19. Since then, it’s brought bread, butter and a lot of joy to my life.”

Lyudviga Couture has been a Birmingham mainstay for years, but it re-opened in June on Maple Road. The shop is big and airy with racks full of the latest original Lyudviga designs as well as high-end, ready-to-wear items.

“All brands I bring into my store are unique. I have no brands that are selling in at least a 15-mile radius. I pick them personally and work with the sales rep directly, especially with new brands, casuals. It’s a very good price point, but very good quality,” Shneyders said.

Trudy DunCombe-Archer, former judge and former first lady of Detroit, raves about Lyudviga Couture and has been a client for at least five years.

“I saw her designs and immediately upon seeing her designs I paid her a visit. My closet is just filled with her creations. Everything from gorgeous evening gowns to a classic black dress with outstanding detail,” said DunCombe-Archer.

“My closet is just filled with her creations. Everything from gorgeous evening gowns to a classic black dress with outstanding detail.”

Shneyders personally designs formal and evening wear as well as professional attire and anything a client might need to feel beautiful. She also sews the dresses she designs, especially the first one.

“I am a professional technologist. I have to know how the dress can be done in the most time sufficient way,” she said. “The reason I’m successful is I don’t lose even a second in the production line. When clients see how a dress is done and how the seams are made, they know this is not a dress my grandma made in the basement.”

 

Rhonda Walker, news anchor at Local 4 WDIV, also counts on Shneyders for her clothing designs.

“I’ve worn her designs for many years and I’ve known her for over a decade. I have her design clothes for the news or for special occasions,” said Walker. “She’s extremely creative and talented. A lot of her clothing is one of a kind. I love buying from small businesses and boutiques, but most of all it’s the person and how talented and creative she is.”

 

The design process starts with the occasion—black tie, cocktail, etc. Then, Shneyders gives homework. Clients are to go through magazines and find two or three dresses they like and what they like about them.

“I go through the store and show them my designer gowns. My gowns are one of a kind and are waiting for the right person. Sometimes it is love at first sight. But adjustments can be made,” Shneyders said.

At the second meeting, Shneyders goes through fabrics. Silks, laces, beading and velvet all come off the shelves, so she can show them what she has.

“The sensation of touching and feeling of it takes over. I also show about 100 different colors of silks,” said Shneyders. “I’m a big fan of natural fibers. If gown has to be made, and a price has to be paid, only nature can provide.”

For Lyudviga Couture, Shneyders travels the world for the best of the best fabrics. She buys direct from mills in Italy, so customers can get the very best pricing, without the department store mark-ups.

Then, she starts sketching and doesn’t stop until she has the design the customer wants.

“That first fitting reveals whatever they thought would look good on them, doesn’t,” said Shneyders. “I’m getting my customers educated on how clothes are supposed to be by pinning and showing them how they’ll look after alterations. I want a finished garment to look phenomenal.”

Lyudviga Couture is a one-stop-shopping experience. From one-of-a-kind garments and top-quality shoes and jewelry, to original handbag designs, Shneyders has everything a fashion-forward woman needs.

“Once upon a time, I was a girl who came to America with $200 in her pocket. But 20 years later, this is what I got. Whatever I did in my life, mistakes or achievements, has brought me here,” Shneyders said. “I still have a joy in creating and nobody can take that away from me.”

168 W. Maple Rd
Birmingham, Michigan 48009
(248) 540-0105
www.lyudviga.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dentists All Smiles Over Merger

Dentists All Smiles Over Merger

Dentists All Smiles Over Merger
24
OCTOBER 2018
BY REBECCA CALAPPI
LBN Community Series
Birmingham
Scott Meldrum, D.D.S., was looking to slow down.

Glen Maylath, D.D.S., wasn’t actively looking to merge his practice with someone else.

But in June, the long-time friends and colleagues combined their dental practices creating Total Dental Fitness, and so far, it’s working beautifully.

GLEN MAYLATH, D.D.S (l) & SCOTT MELDRUM, D.D.S. (R)

CO-OWNERS OF TOTAL DENTAL FITNESS
“I mentioned it to Glen, and he said, ‘Why don’t you come work for me?’ I looked at the office, thought it was exquisite, merged all my clientele here and I think it’s been fairly successful,” said Dr. Meldrum.

Dr. Maylath agrees.

“We’ve known each other for a long time, and it just turned out,” Dr. Maylath said.

Andrea Kowalyk, 44, has been a patient of Dr. Meldrum since she was a child.  She said she was uncertain when she heard about the new business relationship.

“I was nervous,” Kowalyk said. “I really trust Dr. Meldrum. Then he merged with Dr. Maylath and he’s great. I could be alright now if Dr. Meldrum chooses to retire. Both dentists are great at making sure nothing hurts you and treating you like you have a brain in your head They have great bedside manner and are very compassionate at what they do.”

For many years, Dr. Meldrum worked out of an office on Elm in Birmingham. He bought that practice in 1978 from his then father-in-law, whose family had owned the practice since the 1930s. Now, the two dentists work out of offices at 50 W. Big Beaver Road.

They offer the full spectrum of dental care for the whole family including a fully digital experience using leading-edge technology, same-day crowns and even some orthodontics.

“I think the biggest difference in our two practices is how my practice was a very small, old-fashioned dental practice,” said Dr. Meldrum. “We had one small computer, but most things were done on paper. I moved from the 1980s to the 21st century in one afternoon. Everything here is digital as much as possible. The instant modernization is the biggest change.”

Having worked solo for many years, the new business partners are enjoying talking shop.

“We want to make it a fun, positive experience. When they’re in the dental chair, we really engage them so they have a good time.”
“There’s certain dynamics of having other eyes looking at something,” said Dr. Maylath. “It’s nice to be able to have a different viewpoint or reaffirm a viewpoint.”

Said Dr. Meldrum, “I’ve always worked by myself. It’s fun to have a colleague to talk about dentistry in general. He and I can be candid when we’re in the back room eating lunch.”

While dentistry is the bread and butter of their business, they occasionally stumble into something much deeper. Dr. Maylath remembers patients who thought they were having teeth issues, but it turned out to be a brain aneurysm, multiple sclerosis and even a brain abscess.

While Dr. Meldrum has worked mostly by himself, Dr. Maylath went into the army after dental school and worked with other professionals on a daily basis.

“After dental school, I was in the army at different dental facilities. There were different dentists trained in different parts of the country, and that opened new options,” said Dr. Maylath.

A Paw Paw, Michigan, native, he knew he wanted to be a dentist in eighth grade. After attending Kalamazoo College and then University of Detroit-Mercy for dental school, Dr. Maylath was posted on an army air base in Germany for six of his seven years in the service. He also served at an evacuation hospital during operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield.

“When I came back to Birmingham over 20 years ago, I decided that if I’m going to establish a practice, why don’t I make everything digital. We’ve been doing it for more than 20 years. My whole goal is to stay on the leading edge with crowns in a day and laser dentistry,” he said. “Whether it’s new technology or something that’s been done for many years, we still treat people how we want to be treated. That’s key. And that aspect doesn’t change whatever the technology is.”

That philosophy mirrors Dr. Meldrum’s.

 “It doesn’t make a big difference in how I fix someone’s tooth. But it helps with the business,” said Dr. Meldrum. “It was tough for me to get used to, but now I’m used to it and it’s more efficient.”

Total Dental Fitness is also supported by Diana McQuirter, D.D.S., who sees patients a few days a week.

 

The practice is an experience. Patients can use video games, such as a snowboarding simulator, in the waiting room before or after their appointment. Parents appreciate the distraction for the whole family.

“We want to engage the patient,” said Dr. Maylath. “We want to make it a fun, positive experience. When they’re in the dental chair, we really engage them so they have a good time. When they see what happens, they tell their friends and they refer their friends.”

Read our previous story about Dr. Scott Meldrum:

http://localbiznews.net/dentists-old-school-approach-puts-focus-on-people/

50 W. Big Beaver Road
Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
248-642-5020
totaldentalfitness.com
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Greek Islands Coney Restaurant in Birmingham: 24 Years of Food, Families, and “Opa!”

Greek Islands Coney Restaurant in Birmingham: 24 Years of Food, Families, and “Opa!”

Greek Islands Coney Restaurant in Birmingham: 24 years of food, families, and “Opa!”

11

OCTOBER 2018

BY HONEY MURRAY

LBN Community Series
Birmingham

“Opa!” exclaims John Kotsogiannis as he stops by a booth to greet a long-time customer with a warm handshake and a clap on the back. “Where’s your daughter? Still in New York?”

As the two men chat for a moment, John nods his head and smiles at other lunch patrons who are picking up or ordering carry-outs or looking at menus, seated in his restaurant’s newly renovated booths and tables.

“We’ve been in Birmingham for 24 years,” says John. “I’ve seen families grow up here.”

JOHN KOTSOGIANNIS

OWNER OF GREEK ISLANDS CONEY RESTAURANT
IN BIRMINGHAM

Kelli and Mark Stebbins and their four children are one of those families.

“Mark and I walked here today from our home in Bloomfield Township, three miles away,” says Kelli. “We’ve been customers for 20 years! I’d ride my bike and meet Mark here when I was pregnant with our first child.”

“It was so cozy,” she continues. “We’d talk about what our child might be like while we ate what are still our favorites today: a hamburger for me and a gyro for Mark – though we’d often come for breakfast, too!”

“Yes, and with the kids, breakfast always included Mickey Mouse pancakes, which was exotic for them,” Mark chuckles.

“Part of the reason we come,” Mark says, “is the people: John and his fantastic staff. John always has a really positive outlook and a big smile.”

“And,” grins Kelli, “he always let us take four suckers!”

“If kids want to go to a place – even for the suckers,” John laughs, “the parents will follow. It’s about good, fresh food but, also, all about the nice experience.”

“I had a customer yesterday who was in from Miami,” John shares. “He said, ‘We have upscale restaurants, European places, fine dining – but nothing comfortable like this, with good atmosphere, food, and price.’ We just like to treat people the way we like to be treated while serving food we enjoy eating, ourselves.”

“All of our Greek dishes are made from scratch,” states John. “People especially love our homemade spinach pie and our lentil or chicken lemon-rice soup.”

“A lot of people now like to get home quickly after a long day and then eat at home,” Bill says. “So carry-outs—especially salads — are a very large part of our business.”

“And we sell a lot of chicken here. We have a lady who works cleaning chickens all day and then marinating them for 24 hours.”

Their most popular menu item is their Greek Islands Special Salad, with grilled chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, beets, cucumbers, feta cheese, and Greek dressing – which they make themselves and sell in bottles, along with their homemade Ranch dressing.

“We have customers who come from New York and Chicago and buy three, four, five bottles of our dressing,” John says.

Manager Bill Gikas, who grew up with John in Thiva, Greece, adds, “The dressings have no preservatives. And we have low-cal versions, too.”

“All the area schools – the students, parents, teachers — come here to get salads for meetings and to take home, and for catering their all-night parties and other events.”

“A lot of people now like to get home quickly after a long day and then eat at home,” Bill says. “So carry-outs—especially salads — are a very large part of our business.”

“People love that our foods are so fresh. We get produce and other deliveries five times per week,” shares John. “Nothing in our walk-ins is older than two days.”

“And now, our décor is fresh, too,” he continues. “My wife, Mary, chose the colors, the materials: everything! We were closed for eleven days and completed the work, including brand-new bathrooms.”

“I wanted to give Greek Islands a more modern feel, up-to-date and elegant,” explains Mary. “I’m not a designer by trade, so it took me a while…I had a vision and, after lots of tile and paint samples, we got it to work!”

John’s whole family is involved in the business, along with his original partner, George Stefanakis, and his kitchen manager and newest partner, Ali Zacellari.

“My daughter Marisa, who studied graphic design and product packaging at Michigan State, created our menu,” John says. “And daughter Ana, a true family leader and a nurse anesthetist, keeps us all healthy and in line,” John laughs. “She’s always calling to say ‘Add more salads to the menu!’ And ‘Did you exercise today?’”

“I’ve worked a lot of jobs,” John relates, “starting at American and Lafayette Coney Islands as a teen. I treat people, staff and customers, the way I’d like to be treated. Most of my staff has been with me for years. We do the right thing, always, and we have done so for 24 years.”

“I’d like to be around for another 50,” he jokes. “Well, maybe 25….”

Greek Islands
Coney Restaurant
221 Hamilton Row
Birmingham, MI 48009
248.646.1222
www.greekislandsconey.com/birmingham/

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LATEST BIRMINGHAM POSTS

Woodward Camera: 50 Years and Still “Developing”

Woodward Camera: 50 Years and Still “Developing”

Woodward Camera: 50 Years and Still “Developing”

12

SEPTEMBER 2018

BY HONEY MURRAY

LBN Community Series
Birmingham

Rob Isola sets four used, instant cameras and a roll of Advantix film onto the processing check-in counter of Woodward Camera in Birmingham, ordering double prints of each photo.

“These are my mom’s cameras,” he smiles. “I can’t convince her to go digital. And the film is kind of a relic. The pictures on it are, I’m sure, over ten years old. I found it in her basement.”

BERT WEIDNER III

OWNER OF WOODWARD CAMERA

Woodward Camera, celebrating its 50th year in the landmark building that was designed specifically for their business, offers on-site processing – and sales of cameras, equipment and accessories; state-of-the-art video systems; photo gifts; classes; monthly photography contests – and is run by a longtime staff with decades of photography experience.

“I’ve got the best staff I ever had,” says T. Bert (‘Bert’) Weidner III. “With my wife, Ruby, and daughter, Elizabeth, we are able to have this one-stop shop and offer everything a photography customer could need.”

Though their main business is the sale of digital cameras, including Canon, Nikon, Fuji, Panasonic, Sigma, and Sony, Woodward Camera also buys and sells used equipment.

“Many of the high school photography teachers have their students use the older 35mm film cameras, so we are able to provide those here,” Bert says.

“On the other hand,” Bert adds, “we are also very excited to offer the newest, multi-area camera coverage devices for live video streaming, including one by Sling Studio. It’s very popular for recording and for social-media sharing of special events, and churches like to use the system for overflow areas or for unobtrusive photography during ceremonies and services.”

“Another exciting product,” he shares, “is the Nikon-DL, a compact, digital point-and-shoot camera with a one-inch sensor.”

“When we were built, we had 50 competitors within 20 miles. Now, you have to go 50 miles to find one. If you didn’t change with the times, you were gone.”

“I’ll tell you a secret,” Bert says. “Everyone thinks that pixels and megapixels are what’s important for photo quality. But really, it’s all about the sensor. The sensor provides the power that creates the image.”

“In a mobile phone,” Bert continues, “the sensor is smaller than half of your baby fingernail. But with the larger sensor, it’s possible to get unique, gorgeous pictures with virtually no light!”

Unlike many photo store owners, Bert has not been a photographer by hobby or trade.

“I was given a camera by my grandfather when I was thirteen,” Bert says, “and in prep school I worked part-time at a camera store, but my camera experience was really through sales.”

Bert became sales executive for a photo wholesaler, selling cameras and accessories to camera stores. He also worked for Sylvania, providing flashbulbs to all types and sizes of retail distributors — from large chain stores to independent outlets like Arnold Drugs.

“I had very good learning experiences and saw the ‘good, bad and ugly’ of how businesses are run,” says Bert.

“Most people that opened camera stores 30, 40 years ago were photo hobbyists. They either became business people, or they went out of business. Some hobbyist businesses work out, some don’t.”

“When we were built, we had 50 competitors within 20 miles. Now, you have to go 50 miles to find one. If you didn’t change with the times, you were gone.”

And, though Woodward Camera has continued to “change with the times,” they still offer processes and services that others have discontinued.

“We take over one thousand passport photos every year,” says Bert. “We are the only business in 50 miles that develops large quantities of film and can also produce prints up to 44 by 60 inches in size. And we have a very popular service called the ‘Shoebox Special.’”

“For $79,” he explains, “we can take a shoebox-full of a customer’s assorted prints and photos – even of different sizes – and put them all on a zip drive or DVD. We can also take slides and put them on a DVD. We offer many classes, and we have self-serve kiosks for customers to get instant prints from their mobile phones or portable storage devices.”

“We can mount photos for gifts and keepsakes – including mugs, ornaments, jewelry and other items, as well as one-day photo books, calendars, and puzzles. And we can print photos as art onto glass, metal, or as washable plaques – which many people around here do with photos of their Dream Cruise cars, for display in their homes or garages.”

As a business on Woodward Avenue, Bert has been proud to participate in the Dream Cruise for the past nine years by offering, in tandem with the Piety Hill chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, special seating, refreshments and Dream Cruise viewing for any veteran.

Another popular local event was their recent, inaugural Detroit Zoo Photo Safari.

“It was a fantastic and rewarding event,” Bert says. “Participants paid $20 (or participated, free-of-charge, with Detroit Zoological Society membership) and could enter the zoo early and take unlimited photos using $300,000 of photo equipment on loan from us, with help from our employees, who were posted throughout the zoo as ‘photo ambassadors.’ We look forward to doing that again.”

“I love what I’ve been doing for the past 50 years,” Bert exclaims.  “I am still enthused. People say Woodward Camera is a camera shop, but it is actually the greatest and best toy store for photography, ever!”

Woodward Camera
33501 Woodward Ave.
Birmingham, MI  48009
248-642-1985
woodwardcamera.com

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Join One of Zelma’s Groups and See the World

Join One of Zelma’s Groups and See the World

Zelma Gottlies, Owner of Zelma Travels

Zelma Gottlieb is always on call.

“I can always tell how my day is going by how many calls I get at 9 a.m.,” she said. “I rarely let a call go to voicemail.”

Gottlieb is a one-woman show at Zelma Travels. She organizes group tours to places as close as Stratford, Ontario, and Traverse City, to as far as Italy, France and across Europe.

“Our Italy trips are very beautiful. We do the Cinque Terre, Amalfi Coast, we also go to the buffalo farm in Paestum,” Gottlieb explains.

“We’ve had amazing experiences with people.”

Carey Gary is one of them. As she was retiring from teaching high school culinary arts, she told her husband she didn’t want to be around for the start of the school year. Through her local paper, The Plymouth Observer, she saw an article about Gottlieb and her travel opportunities.

Gary went to the Community House in Birmingham and signed up — and three other family members as well.

Five trips later, Gary is still getting more people to travel with Gottlieb.

“Zelma really enjoys going to Italy because she has so many local guides she connects with and that’s part of the draw,” said Gary. “I keep telling people about it and they all want to go.”

Gottlieb’s calling as a travel facilitator came in 1973 at a small office in Flint. She had a young family at the time and told the owner she still wanted to be part of her children’s lives, so she worked parttime.

Client Tim Turino of Madison, Wisconsin (left), Zelma & Gil Gottlieb (right)

For the next 30 years, her role grew as did the agency from one location to two: Grand Blanc and Fenton, and she was now running the business.

“In 2003, when the airlines stopped paying commission, we had to give up the storefronts as people started to book online,” she explained. “We drove west in 2004, supposedly in retirement, and I got a call from the president of the Community House in Birmingham. It was the most wonderful place to work at the time.”

She booked travel tours for the Birmingham community until the program was cut in 2016. She had so many loyal clientele, they wouldn’t let her retire. Now, she’s Zelma Travels, which started booking two trips per year in 2016, and is now up to six.

“I’ve done a lot of group travel for Europe, we just did a great Traverse City wine tour, Stratford festival, Niagara on the Lake. We do some group things around here. For instance, Flint has a stellar art museum,”  Gottlieb said.

“Travel is wonderful. You don’t have to go on the most expensive tour to see the same things. You can always upgrade on certain things. You have to be brave enough to go off on your own a little bit.”

In her experience, the primary stopper for people not wanting to travel is fear. “One of the interesting things about travel is they’re all so intimidated. If you wait for your friends to go, you’ll stay home. When you’re out traveling, you always have to go around the corner. You’ll always find amazing things around the corner,” she said.

A tour with Gottlieb, or Zelma as she’s known, leans toward a more high-end experience. When you’re traveling by motor coach, she serves box lunches, “because I have a pet peeve about stopping at fast food.”

Additionally, the hotels she books for the trips are more upscale and she has a personal relationship with the proprietors.

“I’m also very conscious of people who are alone on our trips. I make sure they’re not sitting alone at breakfast. I always try to introduce people who have things in common,” she said.

Carey Gary appreciated the friendship and flexibility on the tours.

“Her groups are small, which I like. It means you get to know people. When your week is up, you’ve had a nice experience with them,” Gary said.

“When we were in the Cinque Terre, we were close to Pisa. It wasn’t on our itinerary, but in an hour, she made it happen. I know that doesn’t happen with other travel groups. I certainly always appreciated her flexibility,” Gary said.

When she’s working with her clients, some express a concern with security, which Gottlieb understands. In 1984, she was with a tour in Paris. As they walked into a restaurant, terrorists threw a hand grenade in and began shooting. Gottlieb was hit in the foot with shrapnel.

“I tell people they have to be mindful. You have to look around and you can’t be oblivious to your surroundings,” she said. “When I go into a place, I always look where the exit is. If you want to travel and be out in the world, you have to be mindful.”

For now, she’s busy planning an October trip to see “To Kill a Mockingbird” in Stratford, a fall trip to Tuscany and a June tour in Paris.

“It’s a wonderful way to meet people,” she said. “People make everything; people make the world. We’ve met incredible people who’ve traveled with us.”

Zelma Travels
810-287-0066