“I love chocolate, but chocolate doesn’t love me.” That sentiment could apply to everyone who’s tried to run a chocolate shop at 330 South Main. In the last three years, it has changed ownership, and name, three times. The most recent casualty, the Chocolate House, closed at the end of last year. Owners Jacob Smith and Aaron McRae couldn’t be reached for comment.
“We had too many irons in the fire,” Hans Masing says, explaining his and his wife Tricia’s decision to close Tree Town Toys, their six-year-old toy store in the Plymouth Road Mall, at the end of its lease in December. “We were literally working twenty-hour days, and that’s not sustainable.”
Online competition was a factor in their decision to close: “It is very difficult to compete against Amazon and other large online retailers.” Ironically, Tree Town Toys lives on in an online incarnation. It’s part of another online business called Dragonfly Depot that now takes up most of the couple’s time. Masing says they act as a buyer for over thirty-five toy and gift stores around the country.
The closing doesn’t affect Rider’s Hobby Shop, which last fall moved into part of Tree Town’s space. Masing says Rider’s owner Brent Martin worked out a deal with the landlord to stay on. “Our arrangement with Rider’s only went through the end of the year,” Masing says, but “when we really looked at it in detail at the end of the year, we couldn’t commit to another five years in that space.”
Fewer hours at work has meant more time at home with their kids. “A couple of weekends ago I spent four or five hours building Legos with my son, something I haven’t done since we opened the store,” Masing says. “We found ourselves working so hard helping everyone else’s kids have a great childhood, we were neglecting our own.”
“The time has come for us to say good-bye,” Tamar Fowler told customers in an email on January 11. Sole Sisters, her sassy, girly shoe store will close at the end of January. In March 2010, Fowler moved from her original location on Fourth Avenue around the corner to Liberty, hoping the higher visibility would kick up a little more business. She says, “That first year we did better, but the second year it fell off. So many stores on Liberty have closed, and foot traffic has decreased: Borders, Poshh, @Burger, This & That.” Fowler had been thinking of packing it in, and when her father had a serious accident on Christmas day, that gave her the final push.
The other Sole Sisters stores in the Detroit area are still up and running (she emphasizes that Sole Sisters is not a chain: each store is independently owned). The others are in Rochester, Royal Oak, and downtown Detroit.
“Sorry, the yellow chairs are not for sale,” says her email in closing. The bright yellow chairs with weirdly elongated backs, where men liked to sit while women shoe-shopped, were originally bar stools, which she put new bases on. They’re going back to her house.
This article has been edited since it appeared in the February 2012 Ann Arbor Observer. The spelling of Rider’s name has been corrected.