Selo/Shevel's Last Days
Downtown retail's First Couple retires
by Sally Mitani
From the December, 2013 issue
Elaine Selo says the offer on the three-story building on the corner of Main and Liberty that she and partner Cynthia Shevel own came as a surprise. She had ordered plenty of Christmas stock for her first-floor Selo/Shevel Gallery, and people were snapping it up at a pretty good clip in early November. The gallery, which opened in 1982, will close "in March, or when the merchandise runs out."
"Once these items are gone, they're gone," Selo says, but she wasn't making a sales pitch--rather, a broader statement about the one-of-a-kind, museum-quality art and craft that she and Shevel have been collecting and curating from around the world since the 1960s. They cut their teeth stocking their head-shop-turned-gift-shop, Middle Earth. Eventually they found themselves traveling the world. Selo, seventy-two, and Shevel, seventy-eight, want to retire, but they have no plans to leave Ann Arbor. "I hate Florida," says Selo flatly.
"A lot of what we have, people will never be able to get again," she says, as the last pockets of third-world artisans age out. For any enterprising scouts out there who want to pick up where she left off, she offers a tip. "The hard part wasn't finding wonderful things but figuring out how to get them back to Ann Arbor." They had adventures. They carried wads of cash--"of course, you can't use credit cards to do this kind of shopping." They had to think quickly and inventively. In Burma, because of trade sanctions, "we had to ship merchandise to another country, have it relabeled, and then ship it here." Does that mean she's a criminal? "Probably," she smiles delightedly.
Selo says she's bound by a confidentiality agreement not to reveal who bought the building and claims not to know what the new owner has in store but says, "If we didn't own the building, we could never have afforded to have a gallery.
"I love Main Street. I love the way it's distinguished itself. For the last thirty years, we've had very enlightened landlords and creative business owners who have been able to work together. I hope the building will continue in that tradition."
Longtime employee Tod Barker, who does the gorgeous, ever-changing window displays, plans to open a store of his own in Chelsea or Dexter, with "home goods, furniture, repurposed accessories, and serving ware."
[Originally published in December, 2013.]
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