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Carol Lopez holding a hand-carved rabbit from Mexico.

Peacable Kingdom Is Closing

Another blow to Main St. retail

by Sally Mitani

From the March, 2017 issue

It would be funny if it wasn't so sad: Carol Lopez, owner of the Peaceable Kingdom, got a letter earlier this year from one of her suppliers in Latin America saying, "Please don't buy Peruvian folk art made in China."

As that plea suggests, many contemporary customers seem to have no idea what folk art is. But it's dear to Lopez's heart. In fact, the store's name refers to a series of paintings by nineteenth-century American folk artist Edward Hicks. And the dwindling supply of real folk art--handmade in the creator's own indigenous tradition--is one reason why Lopez is closing Peaceable Kingdom, probably in April.

The other is a dwindling number of shoppers. Her store is one of a shrinking handful of businesses on Main St. that sell things at all, let alone things that have been conceived and executed by individuals. "Dr. Rahmani changed it, and the city allowed it," she says, referring to the accelerating rents in the area since Plymouth ophthalmalogist Reza Rahmani began buying and renovating buildings there.

Lopez was working as a bookkeeper when she started Peaceable Kingdom in 1973 on the far west side, where Pilar's Tamales is now. After a few years she moved to 111 W. Liberty (now the Vin Bar), then bought her Main St. building in 1986.

Lopez is well acquainted with mass-produced trinkets too--the center aisle of Peaceable Kingdom is a campy tribute to them--but the perimeter of the store is devoted to the serious and affordable arts and crafts that used to draw people to Main St. to shop. "At one time we were mentioned in Time magazine," she recalls, in an article about successful downtown revitalizations.

She doesn't lay all the blame at Rahmani's feet, citing a third factor: online sales. In her store, she says, she has often overheard customers speculating out loud whether they can get her merchandise cheaper on Amazon. But even Lopez was shocked when recently at a party "the wife

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of a city councilperson said she bought everything on the Internet, even toilet paper. It was tacky," she says, for someone in her position to show such public disregard for local commerce.

Though she's eighty, Lopez emphasizes that she isn't retiring because she wants to but because she simply can't operate profitably any more. Not wanting to sound "too sour grape-y," she pauses to praise Downtown Home & Garden, Literati, and the Vault of Midnight for finding ways to take downtown retail into the twenty-first century. And she adds that not all change is bad. Long ago, as a student at MSU, she dreamed of being a veterinarian, but the chances of a woman getting into the program were slim: "People wouldn't hesitate to point that out to you. Well, I was just up there, and there are girls in hip boots all over the place. It was really fun to see them. I wanted to shake them and say, 'You don't realize how lucky you are!'"

Lopez isn't certain what she'll do with her building but has some ideas about what she won't: "No coffee shop, no hair salon. I'd like to do something for the street, make something interesting to look at."

The Peaceable Kingdom, 210 S. Main St., 668-7886. Mon.-Thurs 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Fri. 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sat 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m-5 p.m.    (end of article)

[Originally published in March, 2017.]

 


On March 10, 2017, Merilynne wrote:
I am so sorry that PK will be closing. It has been my go-to for gifts for my grandchildren for years. I will really miss you. You helped make Ann Arbor my kind of place and I'm sad to see it all changing. Boo, Dr. Rahmani.

On March 26, 2017, Ryan Tobias wrote:
I really don't understand the vilification of Dr. Rahmani here. He has invested money to beautifully renovate buildings filling them with a mix of local, regional and national retail and office users bringing more tenants and people downtown. Of course the "city allowed it"! Perhaps you could make the argument this has raised rents but Lopez owns her building, this will only benefit her. I'm sorry to see the store go but pointing the finger at Rahmani is unfair and off base.

 
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