Dave Hirth and Doug Horning opened their fifth M Den in the former Steve & Barry’s space at the end of March. It’s by far their biggest Michigan memorabilia store, with 11,000 square feet spread over two floors. “We always had a dream of being able to provide everything for the Michigan fan,” says Hirth. Now, there’s room “to do everything we always wanted to do.” That includes an expanded line of women’s, juniors’ and kids’ clothing on the second floor, along with a huge gallery of framed U-M photos, and a Michigan-themed home furnishings department with linens and draperies, tailgating paraphernalia, and patio and game room furniture. Most of the first floor’s taken up with U-M gifts and licensed Adidas shoes, gear, and clothing.
Hirth and Horning are Ann Arborites in their mid-sixties and lifelong friends who met in sixth grade. Both went to U-M and graduated with degrees in education. What they really wanted to do, though, was open a sporting goods store. But neither had any business experience, and they couldn’t get financing. “We were politely told by some banks in Ann Arbor that maybe we should teach for a while,” Hirth recalls wryly. So they went into teaching and coached high school sports on the side.
The coaching led to a long relationship with Stein & Goetz sporting goods on Main Street. Then, in 1976, Bud Stein and Ward Goetz announced they wanted to sell the store. Hirth and Horning, ten years into their teaching careers, saw their chance, went to a local bank, and this time managed to get a loan. They didn’t even consider keeping their day jobs. “It was dive in with both feet or don’t dive in,” says Hirth. “You can’t make things work if you don’t do that . . . so we took the plunge.”
Unfortunately, just a few years later, big-box sporting goods stores started popping up, selling cheaper versions of their top-end products. Their business took a big hit, and Hirth and Horning started looking for ways to reposition themselves. They’d always carried Michigan clothing, and when they saw an empty storefront in Briarwood mall’s center court in the early ’80s, they took another plunge. “We put in a store that just carried Michigan clothing and gifts, and we called it the M Den.”
They, changed the name of the Main Street store to M Den, too, got rid of the sporting goods, and did so well they were eventually able to open a third location in Livonia and a fourth in Novi. M Den is also the sole concessionaire for the Michigan athletic department (the contract comes up for renewal at the end of June), and it has the Michigan clothing concessions at Michigan Stadium and Crisler and Yost arenas.
Now that they’ve hit the big time, Hirth and Horning have no plans to expand further. “The State Street location is a major, major, major step,” says Hirth. “We’re expanded.”
M Den, 303 S. State. 686–3002. Mon.–Sat. 9 a.m.–9 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.–6 p.m. www.mden.com