With construction cranes across the skyline, a thriving art, music and restaurant scene and a prominent appearance in a recent high-profile superhero movie, one might mistake Metro Lansing as a burgeoning megalopolis. But all it takes is a dash of reality from a real big-city veteran to keep things in check.
“It’s nice to see how open Lansing is to new ideas and different lifestyles, but it’s not L.A.,” said Dannie Stewart, co-owner of the new Metro Retro store in Old Town. “They don’t call it La-La-Land for nothing.”
Stewart, who used to own a clothing store in downtown Los Angeles, recently moved to mid-Michigan with his husband, Lansing native Ted Stewart. Last month, they opened Metro Retro in Old Town, Lansing’s answer to metropolitan bohemian neighborhoods. The quaint boutique district is the area’s best foot forward when it comes to appealing to quirky personalities like the Stewarts.
“When you have a pink mohawk, you tend to stand out,” said Ted Stewart. “And Dannie’s extremely outgoing — he’ll talk to anyone about anything. It takes a while to get places sometimes.”
Metro Retro’s tagline, “Vintage and Virgin,” aptly sums up the funky clothing/homeware/tchotchke shop. The store plays heavy on gently used name-brand gear, but also features a lot of new items, including clothing by Sonoma, Sweet Girl, Guess, New York & Co. and BKE.
“The Old Town community has been extremely welcoming and helpful and supportive,” Dannie Stewart said. “I’ve lived all over the world and run a business in L.A., but I’ve never met people this nice who are this genuinely concerned with your success. The people who live and work in Old Town want new businesses to flourish and will do anything they can to make it happen.”
Stewart said he was approached by several nearby businesses who asked to help as he and his husband were working to finish the interior in time for their soft opening last month. One of his new neighbors even donated some shelving units.
“I thought he was selling them to me, but when I asked how much, he said, ‘No no no, just take them, they’re yours,’” Stewart recalled. “I’ve never even heard of that happening. There’s just something to this area that brings out the best in everyone.”
Stewart was born in Berlin and traveled the world before landing in southern California. He has never lived more than a few years in any place, but he intends to finally settle down in Lansing.
“I never thought I’d be happy in a city with fewer than a million people, but this is my kind of place,” he said. “It feels like home.”
Ted Stewart, meanwhile, maintained his Lansing roots. He’s good friends with Rhea Van Atta, owner of the nearby Old Town General Store. And as the Stewarts build their clientele, they plan to keep their other jobs — for now, at least. Dannie Stewart works at Kelly’s Pet Grooming in East Lansing, and Old Town regulars may recognize Ted Stewart’s pink mohawk from his weekend gig at Golden Harvest.
“Our (bosses) have been very nice to give us the time to be able to get the store off the ground,” Ted Stewart says. “The goal would be to one day be able to just work here, but for now, it’s good to be busy — exhausting, but good.”
This Saturday, Metro Retro will host a grand opening celebration, including light refreshments and perhaps some live entertainment, if things fall into place. The store features a courtyard, which Dannie Stewart hopes to use for outdoor parties and mini-concerts this summer.
“We have neighbors upstairs, though,” he said. “They seem nice and I don’t want to piss them off with all kinds of noise outside, but we do want to host some unusual events to stand out. I mean, come on, look at this place.”
The 1,000-square-foot store is lined with street artinspired murals by MSU art professor Britta Urness.
One corner is stocked with offbeat 3-D art that looks like it’s straight out of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” A disco globe spins slowly on the ceiling above a mannequin head donning a pink wig. Admittedly, the store does kind of scream for festivities on a regular basis.
“We had a soft opening last month, and the response was overwhelming,” Dannie Stewart said. “Hundreds of people showed up, and we sold some of our more outrageous things. Word’s starting to get around, and it looks like people are starting to go for us. I think this is going to be a good fit for Lansing.”
Metro Retro 304 E. Grand River Ave., Lansing 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday (517) 220-4951, facebook.com/shopmetroretro