Ann Arbor lost its beloved Red Shoes gift shop in Lamp Post Plaza on E. Stadium earlier this year, after the death of owner-artist Catherine Thursby.
Now the location has a new tenant, one familiar to both west-side shoppers and those who love personalized goods: Leyla Conlan has moved The Write Touch by Leyla from its cozy digs in a strip mall at the Jackson-Dexter Rds. fork to the former Red Shoes space.
The move gives her nearly three times as much space and “a huge increase in foot traffic,” Conlan says. She says mall operators estimate that the parking lot sees 300 cars an hour–most of them headed to Trader Joe’s, a few steps from her store.
Conlan learned about the vacant space from a friend of Thursby, who contacted her shortly after Thursby’s death in December.
The pandemic’s social distancing had her thinking about growing. “We were in such a small space that it was difficult to manage customer flow,” she says.
The business’s looming thirtieth anniversary also made her think it was time to move. The Write Touch was founded by Adele Brinkman as a personalized stationery and card company. Conlan worked for her, and added her name when she took over the business in 2018.
She drew on a deep well of retail experience: her mother, Ayla Conlan, founded Ayla’s, the downtown designer boutique known for its innovative fashions. Sadly, Ayla died of breast cancer only four years into her venture, which was subsequently rebranded as Ayla & Co.
Like many townies, including me, one of Conlan’s first jobs was at Jacobson’s, where she was a member of the Miss J Board, a group of young women who advised the store about student fashion tastes and put on events aimed at teen and college-aged customers.
She went with Jacobson’s when it moved from E. Liberty to Briarwood. She was the assistant store manager when it closed in 2002 and was replaced by Von Maur.
At the Write Touch, Conlan has added more clothing, like fashionable quilted vests, as well as contemporary jewelry and Vietri pottery from Italy. She carries �xADMichigan-made cutting boards crafted from reclaimed wood, including one big enough to hold a long side of smoked salmon.
Her best-selling item, though, is a $20 baby toy called a crinkle. It’s a small, soft, quilted square with material inside that makes a crunchy-sounding noise when pressed (just imagine the baby giggles). The plaything is outfitted with a teething ring and can be monogrammed with a name or initials.
Conlan says former Red Shoes customers have stopped in to look around the store, telling her how much they miss Thursby, which makes her think of her own mother. She keeps a portrait of Ayla inside the front door as a source of inspiration
Gesturing to it, Conlan says, “We try to carry on her legacy, and Catherine’s legacy, and build a legacy in all of this.”
The Write Touch by Leyla, 2386 E. Stadium, (734) 662-9171. Tues.-Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Closed Sun. & Mon. thewritetouchmi.com (under construction)