“Everyone wants to expand their businesses,
and here we want to shrink ours,” says Mary Bowe, owner of the Dexter Picture Frame Company, which is leaving Dexter gradually over the spring and summer. The move will leave Dexter without a frame shop for the first time in years–in 2007 Bowe, her husband Peter, and Peter’s sister Sara bought out a frame shop called Elaine’s, and before that, Diane Schmid owned a frame shop on Main St.
The Bowes (pronounced like David Bowie) met and learned their craft in the early 1970s at Frame Works in Plymouth and pulled in Sara to open the Saline Picture Frame Company in the late 1980s. They’ve since added a couple more overlapping companies, which made for a confusing business card. Besides the two frame shops, there was the short-lived Side Door Gallery in Dexter (now more of a virtual concept) and an online store at salinepictureframe.com.
Mary says they’re reluctantly leaving Dexter to streamline the logistics. Though it has the charm of a mom-and-pop shop, with Mary giving off-the-cuff discounts and letting customers rummage around the slightly damaged or overstocked items in the basement, she says it’s one of southeast Michigan’s biggest framing operations. The basement holds the massive saws, molding, clamps, and drafting boards Peter uses to make frames, but other parts of the business are in Saline, which requires a lot of travel. They win contracts at universities, hotels, office complexes (“Peter installs, and that’s huge”), and they’re also one of the winners in the Internet shakeout, almost by accident. Hosting an annual silent auction to benefit Food Gatherers in the early 2000s, “we figured out how to put art up online” to view and buy.
The frame store will transform into the Painted Trout, which will be moving from across the street and entirely taking over the lease September 1. By February, they’d “already established a beachhead here,” Mary says, in the former Side Door Gallery. She and Painted Trout owner Lauren Kingsley are friends, and their merchandise is compatible. Mary’s store has always dabbled in accessories and jewelry contributed by the Bowe family’s artistic friends. The Painted Trout sells fly-fishing gear, but also accessories, art, and crafts, especially those with an outdoor theme.
Musing in a time of transition, Mary wonders why, in a strange architectural coincidence, their business “always seems to end up in meat lockers.” The Dexter store’s pre-Civil War building began as the Stebbins Hotel, with horses stabled in the walkout basement to the rear, but was later home to a butcher shop-deer processor-sausage maker. And the building they bought on Ann Arbor-Saline Rd. in the late 1990s was previously Otto’s Cheese Shop, also a sausage maker-meat locker. In small farm communities back before people had their own freezers, she explains, a meat locker was “like a safe deposit box. Families would rent space and have their own keys.” That custom had died out by the time the Bowes bought the building–Mary heard that “Mrs. Otto stored her hats” in the lockers.
Dexter Picture Frame Company, 8063 Main St., Dexter. 426-1581. Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Closed Sun. dexterpictureframe.com
Community development director Michelle Aniol reports that Dexter has several large food-related projects in the works.
The Mill Creek Outdoor Adventure Center has passed through the early phases of planning approval to become a canoe and kayak livery and restaurant. When Nate Pound bought the property it was split across Webster and Scio townships, but all parties have since agreed to allow it to be annexed into the city of Dexter. The project still has no liquor license, and Dexter has no more to give out, but the state can issue licenses through community DDAs. Mill Creek’s not in the Dexter DDA area, but the boundaries could be redrawn.
Null Taphouse has alcohol aplenty, but it wants to add food. “It received special land use permission to include a dining room,” says Aniol, but “with one condition. The hold-up is the sewer can’t take the additional load on the system.” Null houses two breweries, Jolly Pumpkin and Northern United, and creates wastewater with high levels of “biological oxygen.” Null has received a grant from the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development to be guinea pigs for a next-generation waste treatment system. If it works, they’ll be able to move forward on the food front.
Finally, the Dexter Creamery plans to be open in time for summer in the former Nichols and Stafford space at 8106 Main–the nature of the business provides plenty of incentive to keep things moving. Chris and Janine Jones will be selling frozen yogurt and fancy popsicles.
Dexter Crossing was looking dismal this winter, but things are about to happen there, too. The Alpha Koney Island was closed for remodeling. According to Alex Perlman, associate director of mall owner Oxford Commercial, the Stamatopoulos family has taken it back from the management company that was running it. Perlman says it will reopen under a different name with a new “concept focusing on early morning through lunch.”
Perlman says that Oxford has been working hard to “create spaces that are move-in ready for tenants. We’re getting really aggressive with rental rates. We’re in talks with a full-service restaurant.” At press time, Elmo Morales, longtime owner of Elmo’s T-shirt shop in Ann Arbor, had not yet signed a lease for his planned Ping Pong Palace at Dexter Crossing, but Perlman says, “All roads point to a successful deal there. We’re at the finish line.”