Elmo’s Hideaway, beneath Elmo’s Main Street T-Shirts, is no Birdland or Village Vanguard. Still, it sure gave owner Elmo Morales a thrill when his first paying customer was musician Dick Siegel, who reserved the place for an Obama fund-raiser. That’s just why Morales opened it—to tap into memories of going to Greenwich Village hot spots with his high school friends, including a teenage Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then still known as Lew Alcindor).
The Hideaway isn’t fancy—it’s essentially a long, narrow room with a serving counter, a stage, and a back room. But Morales hopes small groups will use it to tap into some big dreams of their own.
Morales ran track in high school, but since his school—in a rough neighborhood near Harlem—didn’t have a track, he trained running up and down the hallways. He got so good that the U-M gave him a full scholarship. He says he and then–athletic director Don Canham ended up like son and father, and he credits Canham with teaching him how to be a successful man. “I identify with Jimmy Stewart’s character” George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, Morales says. “I carved out a good life for myself.”
He was Community High’s gym teacher for many years, inspiring kids to be more fit. On the side he ran the T-shirt business and, with his wife, Susan, Bodies in Balance fitness—”We were the first ones to bring spinning to Ann Arbor,” Morales says. “It’s gentle spinning, not Nazi spinning.” This spring he turned his other T-shirt shop, on East Liberty, into Arbor Annie’s and Arbor Andy’s, selling high-quality tie-dyed clothing and accessories by appointment only. It’s “gorgeous stuff,” he says—”forty-dollar, fifty-dollar tie-dyed dresses . . . the same fabric and tie dye for men, but T-shirts, dress shirts.”
He took over the Hideaway space after Chess Express left early this year. At sixty-two, he’s in good health, his wife is his best friend, their two kids are grown, and their house in Scio Township is paid for. So he was still smiling even when the Hideaway’s first paying customer, Dick Siegel, had to cancel.
“Siegel got a call and was asked last minute if he wanted to be [Bruce] Springsteen’s warm-up act,” Morales explains. Instead of a small fund-raiser in the Hideaway, Siegel ended up playing the Obama rally at EMU’s baseball stadium. “He had three thousand people,” Morales says, happy for his friend. “It became eleven thousand when Springsteen showed up.”