By Mary Runser | Photos by Susan Ayer
This is one in a series of articles we’ve been doing on local business owners and their businesses. What follows are profiles of two interesting businesses that are thriving despite the odds.
The Eyrie — Depot Town’s Home for the Work of Michigan Artists and Artisans
Janette Rook, owner; 50 E. Cross Street, Ypsilanti, Michigan 48198; (734) 340-9286; www.theeyrie.net
Janette Rook describes her shop as an art and gift shop that features items from more than 220 Michigan artists. Those unique items include jewelry, accessories, greeting cards, photography, pottery, blown glass, handmade candles and soap, and much, much more.
Janette, who is originally from the Lansing area, worked as a flight attendant for Northwest Airlines in Norfolk, Virginia, prior to moving to Ann Arbor in 1998. She continued her career in the airlines industry, eventually becoming a union leader. After gaining years of experience as a union leader, she became union president, just before Northwest merged with Delta. “Delta was a non-union airline and so a major battle ensued. Unfortunately, we lost the union vote by a small margin, and so I decided to leave after that, and went to work with SAG-AFTRA, where I mainly represented and negotiated for the union broadcasters in Michigan.”
Soon, Janette began to feel that she wanted to make a change, and she decided that she was going to open her own retail business. Over her years of traveling for work and shopping in different retail shops, she realized how generic everything was becoming and how each shop she visited seemed to be the same as the last. “It’s like that because retail shop owners tend to go to the same shows to purchase their inventory items for the year,” she explained. Those items are generally mass manufactured leaving little room for diversity or uniqueness in the shopping experience. Janette wanted the focus of her store to be on things that are crafted locally because she believed it would be better for Michigan’s economy — and just more interesting.
Motivated by the goal of doing something different, Janette opened The Eyrie in April 2012, at 9 E. Cross Street. The original location received a lot of support from the local artist community, and its success helped The Eyrie establish roots in the downtown Ypsilanti community. But its proximity next to the river, farther away from the hub of activity in Depot Town, was not ideal for attracting new foot traffic. So, in February 2014, Janette moved to the larger and more visible space she now occupies at 50 E. Cross Street. “[At the original location] I did things to try to spruce up the space, including planting flowers outside. A few neighborhood women volunteered to help with the gardening and landscaping, and they made it look absolutely beautiful. I was so grateful for what they did…. The incredible people and sense of community here are just a few of the perks to having your own business in downtown Ypsilanti.”
Another perk is being in a community which appreciates and welcomes a kind of shop that is different from most other retail shops. “About 99 percent of the inventory in The Eyrie is Michigan made,” Janette said. The remaining items are used mostly to add color, fill space, or break up a certain pattern. “When I first moved into this [much larger] space, I thought I had plenty of product to fill it up. I realized fairly quickly that I could throw a bowling ball through the store it was so empty.” Looking around the store now, one can clearly see this is no longer the case!
So how exactly does Janette go about finding the items that fill The Eyrie’s shelves? “I purchase most of my inventory outright, directly from the artists — about 75 percent actually — and then the other 25 percent I get from artists on consignment.” Doing it this way allows Janette to curate a wide variety among The Eyrie’s offerings, and consignment allows her to try items she’s not so sure will sell well. “There are several indie art fairs that are great venues for seeing new work and meeting artists. DIYpsi, the Detroit Urban Craft Fair, DIY Street Fair in Ferndale, and Dally in the Alley in Detroit are just some of the excellent [places] where you can find up-and-coming artists and artisans,” she continued. She said it’s actually really easy for her to find the items she wants to carry. “There are so many people in the area and state creating amazing things. Ypsilanti is just blooming with creativity and talent.”
Since opening in 2012, The Eyrie’s customer base has grown significantly. “I think that being in Depot Town so close to the restaurants creates a mutually beneficial atmosphere because people like to shop when they go to eat and drink, and vice-versa. It’s a key combination [for] the long-term vitality of both retail and dining establishments in a given area,” Janette said. The diversity in Ypsilanti also means a wide-ranging customer base for The Eyrie. “What that means is that I have to be able to strike just the right balance, [carrying] items that will be attractive to the middle-American consumer while also carrying those items that speak to and about Ypsi’s more diverse and funky side.”
Janette’s goal with The Eyrie was to create something unique and different, and she has done just that. “I wanted to create something to make me feel good and to make others feel good,” she said. “I feel pretty good every day when I come to work. It doesn’t really feel like work. Even making less money is worth it for the way I feel every day. If I want to do something, I can. I don’t have to check in with someone before trying something new. Almost every day, I get positive feedback and get to meet creators and see their art as well — where else do you get that?”
Tiny Buddha Yoga
Studio -- 1717 Pauline Boulevard, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105; Boutique -- 213 South State Street (upstairs); Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104
Risa Gotlib, owner; (734) 926-5040; www.tinybuddhayoga.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Risa Gotlib, owner of Tiny Buddha Yoga, knew from a young age that she wanted to be an entrepreneur; her path to getting there just took some unexpected twists. Born and raised in Ann Arbor, Risa went on to attend U-M, where she began her college career as an economics major. “I always wanted to own my own business, or at least be in charge of one. I’ve been a non-conformist from a young age,” she said. However, within the first year of college, she knew that economics was not really the path she wanted to follow. She became interested in psychology and biology, and began a pre-med curriculum, pursuing majors in each, but her goals shifted once more prior to graduation. “I realized again, nearly too late, that I didn’t want to be a doctor, but I decided to graduate with those degrees as I was closer to getting them than the economics degree.”
After graduating from U-M in 2007, Risa moved to New York, where she would live for the next five years. When asked about her impetus for moving, she explained that having lived her whole life in Ann Arbor up until that point, with three sisters all in the same age group, she felt as if her family knew everyone in town. She found herself simply wanting a change. “I wanted to experience life outside of Ann Arbor and see what it was like to have some anonymity. I didn’t have a job or an apartment when I left. I just filled my car up with my belongings, mostly clothing, and left for New York.”
Risa’s various job experiences over the next five years each provided her with knowledge she would carry into her future endeavors as a business owner. Her most memorable and educational experience was with MOSCOT Eyewear, a family-owned New York institution in luxury eyewear. Three months after Risa started with MOSCOT, her boss, Kenny Moscot, encouraged her to take on a bigger role in the company, and she became Director of Sales for International and Domestic Wholesale. She worked in that position for about one year, getting the opportunity to travel to Europe twice during that time for international tradeshows. When her boss became ill with cancer, prompting management roles to change, Risa decided to move on from MOSCOT’s, but not without taking away a lasting appreciation for the guidance and mentorship her boss showed to her. “[Kenny] really was a friend and a mentor to me, and I gained an incredible amount of knowledge about how to run a business and how to treat people while working with him,” she said.
While living in New York, Risa also found power yoga. She’d done yoga before, as an alternative to physical education in high school, and she tried another style when one of her sisters began practicing to help her scoliosis.
“I wanted to be like my big sister, and so I started studying Iyengar yoga as well. I liked this style but I was not so committed to it that I had to do it every day. That came later, during my period of time in New York. I’d quit my job, broken up with a boyfriend, and was considering selling everything and moving to India to take yoga teacher training. I realized, though, that I would just be running away from my problems and life if I did this, rather than facing them head-on.”
In 2012, Risa returned to Michigan to be the director of sales for a start-up company in Detroit. She left her job after a short time, realizing that it was not what she wanted. In spring 2013, she began doing yoga teacher training and then started teaching classes around Ann Arbor. The next step that came for her was starting Tiny Buddha Yoga Studio, a transition that seemed to take place seamlessly.
“I’m really not even sure how or when it happened,” Risa said. “I just began looking for spaces, and then I signed a lease on a space, and found myself quitting all my other yoga teaching jobs, and in January 2015, I officially opened Tiny Buddha Yoga Studio.” Risa had a following of students from the various classes she taught, so the studio started strong from the get-go. “I really am so blessed. I have this feeling that I’m like a cat, and I hope that I have more than nine lives because I just told you about six different times when I should have fallen flat on my face but landed on my feet instead.” The studio now, according to Risa, runs itself. And with eight other teachers on her staff, Risa will soon have the opportunity to lead her own teacher training. “I want people to be able to bring all of their yoga experience with them, but then to hone it to my style of teaching for the Tiny Buddha Yoga Studio.”
With her energy and spirit for achieving, Risa did not shy away from pursuing a new project in addition to the studio. In September 2015, she opened Tiny Buddha Boutique, a yoga clothing store. She got the idea for the boutique when, one day, a yoga teacher from Rasa Flow Yoga came in to take a class at Tiny Buddha and explained that the owners of her studio were relinquishing their space (upstairs at 213 South State Street) and moving to Santa Barbara, California, in May 2015. After learning this, Risa walked outside and immediately called the real estate management company to tell them she’d like to rent the space. In July 2015, she began renovations and opened the boutique in September.
Risa has always been very passionate about fashion and design, so opening the yoga clothing store seemed like a natural progression…. “I’ve always been into funky yoga clothes and always tried to find the weirdest yoga clothing possible.” That interest has now blossomed into an entire boutique filled with funky yoga clothes. “There’s actually a huge fashion trend in yoga clothing with so many cool brands in New York, California, Europe, and South America [making things that are] so beautiful and different, and there’s a huge market for it. I’m actually surprised, but happy, that no one else in Ann Arbor has taken on this trend.”
Yoga helps you to understand the ways in which your body is supposed to move. The asanas help burn off frenetic energy allowing you to be quiet, to meditate and reflect. There are many other aspects, such as behavior and nutrition, which are all important to the practice of yoga — and to the nurturing of the entire being. Risa tries diligently to address and emphasize all these aspects at Tiny Buddha Studio, offering a place where people can come together to support one another on their journeys to overall health and wellness. While there is much competition in the world of yoga, the most inspiring feedback Risa said she has received about her studio is that it feels like home.