Jane Miles of Clawson’s American Flag and Banner shakes her head and laughs as she recounts how, in 1978, she came to own the long-standing business.
Jane Miles, Owner – American Flag and Banner
“Yes, we’ve been around for 101 years, though I haven’t been here all that time,” she quips.
“It was time, after college graduation, a B.F.A., and unrelated jobs, for me to find work in my artistic field. I didn’t want to teach, so I was considering other outlets and saw an ad for a ‘sew-er’ for American Flag and Banner, located in Detroit, and owned byRobert Erdman.”
“During the employment interview, which was the weirdest of my life, Mr. Erdman asked me several personal and what I thought to be bizarre and, maybe, inappropriate questions: ‘Did I want to start a family? If so, when? How much education did my husband have? How much money did he make?’”
“I was offered the job on a Friday afternoon and thought about it all weekend, but decided not to take it.”
“When I called Mr. Erdman on Monday morning with my decision, he said, ‘that’s too bad … I was thinking you and your husband might like to buy the business.’ Well, my husband’s dream was always to own his own business. So soon after that interview, we did end up buying it.”
First located in Detroit on Fort Street and called Detroit Flag at that time, what is now American Flag and Banner finished, in 1923, the original flag that draped across the J.L. Hudson store on Woodward for Armistice Day and other patriotic holidays. The world’s largest flag at 3700 square feet, its stars were six inches tall, and a mile of rope was required to hang it. Its replacement, made in 1949, was seven stories high and needed 55 men to put it in place. Stars for Alaska and Hawaii were added in 1960 by six seamstresses and in 1976, after being hung a final time, the flag was donated to the Smithsonian Institution.
“There’s another flag we are known for, too,” says Miles. “During the initial year or so after we bought the business, we created the first flag for the African country of Liberia.”
Flags for every state and from every country – as well as items for schools, sports teams, and the armed forces – are available, and American Flag and Banner continues to create custom items.
“We just made the ‘Roaring Lions’ flags for the Detroit Lions,” says store manager Emily Dancy, “as well as their ‘WCF’ flags, the initials for William Clay Ford.”
“We also repair flags,” Dancy adds. “And if they can’t be repaired, we can dispose of them properly.”
Longtime customer Marc Secontine, owner of The Varsity Shop on Adams Road in Birmingham,says, “This is such a nice business. It was great to buy the American flags, flagpoles – and flagpole lights – from them for our business.”
Currently, spread out on tables in their store’s adjacent workshop, are fabric, patterns, tools and “goop” for making a special-order sports banner for Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.
Though at one time American Flag and Banner had ten employees who did the sewing of flags, there is now one main sewing staffer, Claudia Geiger, who is also a commercial artist, the store’s design manager and Miles’ longtime friend and schoolmate.
Working in perfect unison as the team they’ve been since their days at Cass Technical High School in Detroit and as BFA students and sorority sisters at Wayne State University, Miles lays out the pattern pieces that Geiger has made, applying the sticky liquid over them that transfers the outline to the underlying fabric.
“It’s easy for people to order inexpensive, computer-printed flags online from China, for example,” Miles shares. “But our handmade flags and banners are gorgeous, hang beautifully, and they last.”
“My computer’s up here,” Geiger adds, chuckling as she points to her head. “And it seems that when we make their flags and banners, the team really does win more often!”
With a wall of storage for patterns that she has drawn as a testament to their work, Geiger recalls past projects.
“Years ago, we had a whole room full of patterns, and we made the most amazing, hand-sewn felt and appliqued flags and banners. It was art. Now, clothes are so inexpensive, and there aren’t that many people learning or wanting to sew. And fabric and patterns do cost a lot! But I meet people and ask, ‘How do you live without a sewing machine?’”
“We’ve been so fortunate with our sewing machines,” says Miles, pointing to the wall-length sewing table. “These are the original machines that came with the purchase of the business. They have old-school ball bearings. We maintain them, and repairmen are in awe of how well-made they are. And parts for them are still out there!”
Many of their other tools and supplies were also included with the business’s purchase by Jane Miles and her husband, Bill, who passed away early this year, and were brought with them when the business was moved to Clawson in 1980.
“Clawson is a great spot for us,” Miles says, “a most wonderful and patriotic town and place to be.”
The Star-Spangled Banner still waves – and has been waving for over a century – at American Flag and Banner, located in Clawson since 1980.
And in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 national tragedy, hundreds of people, in a line that circled their building, waited in the rain to purchase flags and show their patriotism.
“The people were amazing. They were patient and supportive as we made each sale – which, for those who needed flagpoles, took extra time, then, to drill the proper holes for installation,” explained Miles.
“There were no planes flying, either, so luckily Bill found an empty truck that was able to bring us products. Meanwhile, customers were buying everything we had and stripped the place of U.S.A. knickknacks – and even bought my own patriotic clothes off of me!”
“But the best thing was the sense of community as those in line became acquainted during their wait. You could hear people wishing those behind them, ‘Good luck with that wedding!’ or ‘I hope your mom recovers quickly!’ as they entered our store.”
“It’s a wholesome business. Through all of our years, even though a good flag can be a luxury item, no one has ever written us a bad check or lied about their history to receive our veterans’ discount. And that,” concludes Miles, “is just another form of patriotism.”
Flipside Records in Clawson is a trip back to Hippie Detroit time, somewhat reminiscent of Plum Street, with its chartreuse walls and incense burners.
Todd Fundaro, Owner
If you came of age in the ’70s, picture the Trading Post, another long-gone Hippie haven on Woodward and 10 Mile.
For those much younger, it’s your Boomer parents’ basement, minus the parents — just the tunes and the ambiance, plus lots of new music your folks never heard of.
“You never know what you’ll see in here,” says Todd Fundaro, Flipside’s owner, who proclaims you’ll find “anything I can legally sell and make money on.”
Royal Oak’s Frank Wilder, a self-proclaimed movie freak, stands in front of the store’s “Death of Digital Sale” sign, leafing furtively through the DVDs.
“I usually stop in every couple of weeks,” Wilder says. “It takes me about 15 minutes to see if there’s anything I want.”
Another regular customer, Jim Morrissey from Clarkston, is rummaging around in the “Audiophile” section of original master recordings and says he owns a $30,000 stereo system that fills one wall of his house. He prefers LPs to CDs. “Mostly you can find things here that you can’t get anywhere else,” he says.
Today, Morrissey brought in some stereo equipment that he hopes to sell to Fundaro, who features a whole section up front with some very good deals on used models, and also new equipment such as turntables and accessories. Under $200 for a used Bang + Olufsen turntable, for example (“but the needle needs replacing and that costs $150,” the store owner explains).
Fundaro, who grew up in Ferndale, started working with his father, Frank, when he was a teenager. Frank and a partner sold coins, stamps and other collectibles in a shop at 10 Mile and Coolidge in Oak Park. Then the market fell out, and they needed something else to do. That was 1980.
“We tried used books,” Fundaro recalls, then added used records, competing with the only other place around at the time, Sam’s Jams in Ferndale. When Frank’s partner split in 1983, he and Todd moved to Clawson, putting Flipside on the must-browse Oakland County circuit ever since. Frank passed away in 2012, and Todd has carried on with a small staff and an enormous inventory. Like maybe half a million things under one roof. Nobody knows for sure.
“We sell, buy and trade here,” says Fundaro, now 55. “A lot of our super expensive vinyl we sell online. We just bought a huge bunch of Kate Bush LPs from the ‘80s and ‘90s. We bought another collection recently of 4,000 LPs and 6,000 CDs, and way back in the day, we bought a 10,000-LP collection.”
Younger kids come in and buy older LPs, music that their parents turned them onto, “but mostly they’re buying the newer stuff, which is very expensive,” Fundaro says. “We used to buy new records when we were young for $8.99. Now they buy three new albums and it’s $70 to $100.”
But LPs are just some of the inventory here.
Look up, and a pair of silver Led Zeppelin blimps hang above, along with other musical ephemera. Look around and there are video games and accessories, toys, posters, band-related T-shirts, head-shop stuff, 45s, books, board games and weird toys—unlikely combos of mixed heads and torsos (a monkey face on a fuzzy Mickey Mouse, for example) created by local artist Gwen Joy.
Up near the front counter of this cavernous, 3,300-square-foot outpost, find Beatles memorabilia, a roll of Trump toilet paper, a rack of Hot Wheels (a steal at $2.99 each), “Mystery Bags” with 10 CDs for $5, Indy-label artists, and new and used music in nearly every form and genre, from Ambient to Zydeco.
Well, not everything, at least not on this visit. Toward the front of the store, another regular, Denis Nobliski, is having no luck finding a copy of the “Fragile” album by Yes.
“I originally bought it in the ‘70s, says the Rochester Hills resident, who, like Morrissey, says he favors LPs over CDs, adding, “Albums just blow the CDs away.”
Flipside’s Fundaro knows that truth: Today, vinyl, which fills a large percentage of the racks in his store, is gold. LPs survived the onset of 8-tracks, tapes, CDs, MP3s and streaming, and so has Flipside, now in its 35th year. Flipside just received a plaque from the City of Clawson to commemorate the event.
And if it weren’t for the fact that Clawson’s main intersection is ripped to shreds, traffic is down to one lane and miserable, and anybody’s GPS will take them in circles to find parking near his store, on 14 Mile Rd., just east of Main, Fundaro would be celebrating.
Instead, he has to wait until at least the end of June until the mess on the streets clears out and sales can get back to normal.
“We’re down 40 percent since the construction began (in April), says Fundaro. “Everyone around here has the same problem.”
But the good news: When construction’s over, summer will be in full swing, Clawson’s streets will be beautiful, and Flipside can break out some cake and candles. Let the summer begin.
41 E. 14 Mile Road
Clawson, Michigan 48317
(Hint: Park in the rear of the store or in the nearby Ace Hardware lot.)
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.”
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.”
Too much traditional advice for taking care of your vehicle in the winter—keep your gas tank at least half full, use a lighter weight oil than what you use in warmer months, and check your battery’s water level—is way too 20th century!
For example, modern underground gasoline storage tanks should be leakproof, and less prone to letting groundwater seep in, so there shouldn’t be water in the gas you dispense at the pump. Today’s oils, many of them a blend of real and synthetic oils, don’t turn into sludge anymore when temperatures dip: Follow your owner’s manual recommendation. And today’s batteries are sealed. You couldn’t add water if you wanted to, says Robb Remick, owner of Top Tech Auto businesses, in Clawson and Royal Oak, and TLC Car Care, also in Royal Oak.
Robb Remick, Owner & Gary Gibson, Clawson Manager
Whether your mechanic does the job or you prefer to do it yourself, you should get your vehicle ready for Old Man Winter around Halloween, or Thanksgiving at the latest. However, with the growth in the number of leased vehicles that owners return to a dealer after a few years, many owners neglect a pre-winter inspection, he says.
But to keep your vehicle on the road and humming along, he recommends winterizing it.
“The coolant is the A-No. 1 thing” to check and top off or to replace, if necessary, after flushing the system, says Remick. Old coolant gets dirty, breaks down and could freeze, leading to leaks into your oil or onto your driveway.
“When it gets really cold, we get a ton of coolant leaks,” Remick says.
In addition, owners should inspect and make sure their vehicle’s windshield wipers and washer fluid, battery, oil and tires are tip top, he says. For tires, pay attention to proper inflation, adequate tread depth and need for rotation to ensure even wear and a smoother ride.
Once tire tread has worn to less than 2/32-inch, Top Tech recommends replacement. Regarding snow tires, Remick says they’re a personal preference, but may be necessary in northern climates that see lots of snow, or for those with long, steep driveways.
A Top Tech technician can test a vehicle’s battery to ensure it holds a proper 12.5-volt charge.
Whatever you do, Remick says, use a winter-grade windshield washer fluid containing alcohol and don’t add water to stretch your supply.
“We’ve seen frozen (windshield washer fluid) lines during the recent cold snap,” Remick says.
Once winter hits and road crews start using salt to melt snow and ice, take your vehicle to the car wash regularly and spring for the few extra dollars to get an underbody flush.
“Salt creates rust on the suspension components and can cause premature failure on break lines and fuel lines as well,” says Gary Gibson, manager of Top Tech in Clawson.
Using Top Tech’s recommendations and scrapping outmoded, 20th-century advice can help keep your vehicle running through whatever Old Man Winter has in store.