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April McCrumb, Ann Arbor 2013

Catching Fireflies

April McCrumb, arts entrepreneur

by Sally Mitani

From the April, 2013 issue

The new gift shop Catching Fireflies, across the street from Zingerman's, takes the place of Emerald Dragonfly. Despite the similarly buggy names, the two stores are entirely unrelated, a fact that Catching Fireflies owner April McCrumb believes will be obvious to anyone who steps inside.

"Emerald Dragonfly treated the space as a gallery--you know: white space; picture; white space; picture," McCrumb says. With exuberant, sweeping gestures, she strides swiftly around her shop, showing how there's hardly any white to be seen, except for a Honeymooners-era sink/stove unit that demarcates the "kitchen" area of the gift shop.

Entering Catching Fireflies is kind of like walking through a life-sized fairy door: dazzling bursts and puffs of color and texture in every direction. "Whimsical" is a word McCrumb uses a lot to describe the tone--that and "clever." In the kitchen she points out fish-shaped GurglePots: "they go gloop, gloop, gloop, gloop when you pour."

"Ironic" isn't one of her own words, but Seinfeld lovers might note that Kramer's coffee table book about coffee tables (see season five) would be at home here: Fireflies carries some casually self-referential merchandise, like a zipper pouch made out of zippers, and a pill container shaped like a giant capsule.

McCrumb's story is an encouraging one for artists. She graduated from EMU in the mid-1990s with a degree in special ed (she did student teaching at Bach) but decided not to look for a teaching job because, get this: she was making too much money as an artist! Or, more broadly, she was making too much money as a very energetic arts entrepreneur, finding wholesale outlets for her paper art and decorated frames (which she is still making and selling; with no particular fanfare, they occupy two or three shelves). She decided to open her first Fireflies store in Berkley and, later, another in Grand Rapids.

Now, fortyish, she and her husband, Steve, whom she met in 1994 ("He's been in it for the whole ride")

...continued below...

own, in addition to their three Catching Fireflies stores, a craft gallery in Berkley called the Yellow Door Art Market. "It works like an antique market in terms of logistics, but it's artists, because not every artist is into the wholesaling thing. What else is there besides art fairs and [online market] Etsy?" Artists rent stalls and pay her a small cut, and she admits that Yellow Door is also her own permanent art expo; many Yellow Door artists have been invited to funnel their work into her Catching Fireflies inventory.

Practical-minded, McCrumb doesn't really buy into the mystique of the gift shop. "Like everyone else, I shop the big gift shows, twice a year in Atlanta and New York." In addition to shopping at them, she and Steve also have a booth at both of them, wholesaling her own art. Stocking a gift shop is "a little like a treasure hunt. It's all about putting together your own unique mix."

Catching Fireflies, 419 Detroit St., 531-6293. Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.    (end of article)

[Originally published in April, 2013.]


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