Tech toys, gold, and red hots
More Marketplace Changes
by Sally Mitani & Tony McReynolds
In January Ben Falk opened Beagle Brain in the spot Ana Banana recently vacated in Nickels Arcade. Falk, one of those lithe, T-shirted, deceptively youthful-looking (he's thirty-seven) technogeeks, thinks of it as primarily a computer repair shop with a price scheme tailored to student needs: free estimates and up-front flat fees rather than hourly rates. Also, he and his staff of three get their hands dirty: "We do a lot of hardware repairs that most places won't do. We do soldering. A lot of places will tell you to switch out the motherboard, which is a three-hundred-dollar part and a hundred dollars labor, but to do a fix on it, you can switch out a ten-dollar part."
Marketplace Changes doesn't cover service businesses, but Beagle Brain also has a retail side: an eye-catching array of accessories, particularly laptop cases and sleeves, iPod accessories, and headphones. "They make the store look nice," says Falk. "They're colorful. If you go down to Office Max, you can't find a lot of laptop sleeves-it's all black bulky business bags." Falk has dozens of svelte, colorful computer bags, backpacks, and sleeves from the Finnish company Golla, for $15 to $40. He also stocks a minimal but well-researched selection of printers, routers, and speakers.
He claims he makes little to no profit on any of his retail business: "We compete with online. Students in particular know how to go online and order whatever they want at the cheapest price and have it delivered to their door. To be honest with you, I don't believe in electronics retail. It's not viable at this point with the Internet. So why do I believe in this little shop? Well, because it's not a store, it's a repair shop, but everything I sell in here is the good stuff, and I sell it at a competitive price."
Beagle Brain, 2 Nickels Arcade, 623-9000. Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.- 7 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. beaglebrain.com.
business on Jackson Road called the Gold Gallery is trying to graft a jewelry store onto a gold-buying service. "We want to buy gold and sell jewelry," says jeweler Fred Monroe, who trained at Urban Jewelers and says he's "a fabricator, not a caster. I work with sheet and wire." Joanna Kokkales, who shies away from being described as an owner or partner ("I'm the developer"), has expertise in appraisal. She explains, "We want to sell Fred's designs. We're not a pawnshop." Kokkales and Monroe have been collaborating since 1998, when they both worked at another local jeweler, Austin & Warburton.
The Gold Gallery opened in late January, and Kokkales and Monroe envision their shop as a kind of multipurposed aftermarket for gold jewelry that will support Monroe's own jewelry lines and also provide an income stream to Kokkales's favorite charity, the neonatal unit at St. Joe's, where she is on the board of directors. They lay out several scenarios that make use of the talents of either or both of them. Say, for example, you come in to sell Grandma's engagement ring: they'll pay you for the gold, but Monroe will design and make a pendant using the diamond. You'll probably still come out ahead, they say, because Monroe works not only in gold but also in less expensive metals like silver, Argentium Silver, and niobium-a reactive metal that takes on color when an electrical current is run through it.
A collection of luminous, rainbow-hued hammered-niobium earrings and necklaces was the only thing on display when we stopped by in February. "We're just going to experiment-repair and resell, or maybe add other art," says Kokkales. "I used to paint glass ornaments and clothes. We might have a corner for that. It might turn into a very eclectic little store."
The Gold Gallery, 4900 Jackson Road, 327-9900. Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and by appointment. thegoldgalleryA2.com.
Red Hot Lovers closed for Christmas, and to the surprise of its East University neighbors, it never opened again. In the shadow of the new Zaragon apartment complex, the scrappy little haven for Chicago-style hot dogs looks even more funky and shacklike now than it did when Alan Cantor and Tim Blackburn opened it twenty-five years ago. The owner since 2007 has been Troy Slade, a 2003 U-M grad who lives in New York.
Though Red Hots' bedraggled look was part of its appeal, the kitchen was in dire need of renovation. Behind the scenes, Slade had been trying to negotiate a five-year lease so that he could recoup the cost of a major kitchen overhaul, but negotiations are now over. Landlord Dick Johnston, who owns the Aprill insurance agency, finally declined to renew the lease. Johnston didn't return our calls. Slade promises he'll reopen Red Hots somewhere else near campus by this fall.
[Originally published in March, 2009.]