Flash with a Heart of Denim
Pitaya lands on State.
by Sally Mitani
Pitaya, the new women's clothing store in half of the former Shaman Drum (the half that was once Wild's Menswear, if you go back that far), hit the ground running. The second week it was open, the staff was unpacking boxes of dresses trucked over from its Royal Oak branch to restock already depleted racks and shelves.
The store is a kaleidoscope of short skirts, denim, jersey, dark plaids, sequins, shiny satin, and large zippers, all at bargain prices. "It's rare that we have anything over sixty-nine dollars," says Michael Mazor, owner of the sixteen-store chain, strategically placed in college towns and hip urban settings ("never in malls," Mazor says, pronouncing the word with distaste). His perennial best-seller: a $12 slinky cotton jersey shirt, designed by Mazor and manufactured in the United States for Pitaya.
Mazor is in town for a month or two to oversee the opening, along with a small entourage including his art director and a manager from the Louisville store who's training the staff.
Mazor began importing ethnic clothing from Guatemala to finance his Latin American travels and opened his first store in Bloomington, Indiana, in the early 1990s. He doesn't do as much design anymore and has recently hired a buyer, forcing him to relinquish some artistic control: "I'm replaceable as a designer, but I'm not replaceable as an administrator," he says, trying to sound as if he likes it that way.
Most Pitaya stores are in the Midwest, and Mazor mainly manages them by phone and Internet. He divides his time among places he likes: Indianapolis (where the company is headquartered), Seattle (where there is a store), and Santa Monica, California (where there's not).
Mazor says he's wanted to be in Ann Arbor for years but only if he could be on this particular block of State Street. In fact, he says he contacted Shaman Drum before it closed "because, well, you know, the way independent bookstores are going under these days. Not that I
was trying to be a vulture or anything," Mazor says, sounding slightly uncomfortable about replacing the type of business that provides the retail atmosphere that allows his stores to thrive.
Mazor has no plans at the moment for other stores. In fact, his next move may be to close his store in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood. "It's a dog," he admits. "My father said one of these days I was going to make a mistake, and that might be it."
Pitaya, 315 S. State. 761-4444. Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-7 p.m. www.pitayaonline.com
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[Originally published in December, 2009.]