Rockin' with Zelda
Who's that fashionable figure on the porch at 406 E. Liberty?
In her leopard-skin leggings, leather jacket, and long blonde hair, she's out there every day, rocking in her antique chair. She seems to be looking for something, and she is--not a lost love, but customers for PhoneHome Repair, the Apple and Samsung Galaxy repair and accessory business owned by Kort Linden and his fiancee, Katrina Chizek.
"Zelda's a real attention whore," says Linden of the mannequin, who took up her post within weeks of the store's opening last March.
The roots of the business are in California, where Linden's brother, Kohl, started a cell phone repair business out of his car in 2010. It did well enough that Kort helped Kohl open a store, and then opened one of his own. Their father--an "inventor, tinkerer, marketer, and entrepreneur"--invented a mobile billboard attached to a motor scooter, then later to a power wheelchair, that traversed the surrounding neighborhood to market the business. The overwhelmingly positive response prompted Kort to open two more stores there.
The business and his future changed when Chizek, a musical theater performer, stopped in for a phone repair. The couple, in their mid-twenties, fell for each other. They decided to move to Michigan last year after visiting Chizek's family over the holidays, recalling how much they loved Michigan's changing seasons, and finding the Liberty St. storefront available.
Linden's father, ever the marketer, recommended a sign-wearing mannequin to promote the new store. "I looked at some," says Linden, "but none seemed durable enough for Michigan weather." But then he thought that if the mannequin kept moving, the elements would have less chance to do damage.
He and Chizek shopped thrift stores until they found an antique rocker to complement their store's vintage architecture, then, with the help of an engineer friend, rigged a windshield-wiper motor and marine-grade battery to provide the motion. They then dressed Zelda and secured her to the chair. Her name, Linden says, is a tribute to the video game The Legend of Zelda.
Zelda also has
blue and brown wigs, often wearing the blue during Michigan football games and patriotic holidays. Balloons and an easel joined her on the porch during the Art Fair. She wore a cat mask for Halloween, a cheesy Christmas sweater with embedded flashing lights, and sparkly attire for New Year's Eve. The hard-working mannequin, who spends her nights safely inside the store, also routinely shows off the store's accessories. Several customers have come in asking for the iPhone armband that she wears.
The couple estimates that they've spent about $300 on their display doll. "She's been worth every penny and more," Linden says, "because she gets people to notice us."
"She definitely has a fan club," adds Chizek, noting the many passersby who stop to take pictures and videos. "We have one gentleman who comes in to let us know if she isn't rocking properly."
Has anyone tried to purloin the lady or her retail accessories as she rocks away her days? "No," says Linden, "because she's attached to the chair and always moving."
[Originally published in March, 2014.]