Husband and wife team Mary Liz Curtin and Stephen Scannell opened Leon & Lulu in 2006, after rehabbing a former roller skating rink that was originally built in 1941. The large store is a popular destination for shoppers, who are encouraged to enjoy popcorn and a free cup of coffee and just hang out.
The couple received national recognition for adaptive reuse of the 15,000-square-foot Ambassador Roller Rink in Clawson, Mich. The store features the original rink floors, hockey scoreboard, disco ball, and over 300 pairs of skates, which are used in displays, and sometimes on employees’ feet as they skate around the store.
The catchy name came from the owner’s original pets, a cat named Leon and a dog named Lulu. Now, customers can find Spot and Bertie “working” there, making the store all the more charming.
This one-of-a-kind shopping mecca specializes in carrying an array of weird and wonderful things that can’t be found just anywhere. Customers delight in the selection of high-end and custom furniture, as well as a wide assortment of gifts, accessories, women’s clothing, knick-knacks, books, and even a few kitschy kitchen utensils. There is also a kid’s section full of fun stuffed animals, games, and other toys.
Four times a year, shoppers can enjoy Leon & Lulu Artists’ Markets, featuring Michigan-made arts and crafts including jewelry, pottery, photography, knits, paintings, and more. Participants can visit with over 30 local artists, enjoy a hot dog, and browse the vast selection of furniture and gifts Leon & Lulu offer every day.
As their business grew, Curtin and Scannell realized they needed more space. The couple bought the former Clawson Theatre, called “The Show” five years ago for $350,000. Conveniently, it’s the building adjacent to Leon & Lulu’s original location, and also built with 1941 charm and character.
The theater served as Clawson’s movie house for 21 years, showing its last film in 1962. After that, the building was used mostly as a warehouse until it became vacant several years ago. It needed major renovations, including HVAC, electric, plumbing, and a new roof. Curtin said the only things that were still good were the trusses.
Embracing the history of the former theater, the 7,800-square-foot building required a massive $500,000 renovation to restore the appearance of a classic downtown main street theater, which included the restoration of the vintage marquee to its former glory.
Aptly called “The Show at Leon & Lulu,” the uniquely renovated space features an extensive greeting card selection — most by independent or small makers, a big selection of Michigan-centric products, a custom framing department, and home furnishings — including new and antique pieces.
The décor is eclectic and quirky at Clawson, Michigan Gift Shop: Leon & Lulu. Fans of antique trucks will be amused by the 1940s Chevy pickup parked in the center of the store.
“My husband and I were delighted to bring another Clawson landmark back to life,” Curtin said, adding that the theater gives them more room for merchandise, charity events and, of course, loads of fun.
“It’s a fun atmosphere,” Curtin said of the 7,800-square-foot addition that opened this past September. “We had a blast doing it.”
Ironically, it was the Clawson Theatre that her husband had an appointment to look at 11 years ago when the roller rink caught his eye.
Always growing, The Show at Leon & Lulu now also includes the Three Cats Café, which began with serving pastries and added lunch to its offerings in late December.
The menu changes daily but always offers a selection of soups, salads, and sandwiches. Curtin calls the offerings “fresh and light” and are targeted to the typical Leon & Lulu shopper. They even use the fresh herbs that are growing inside the store in an antique planter box.
“Our store is a destination location. We want to provide our shoppers with a pretty lunch place,” Curtin said.
Q&A with Leon & Lulu:
Smart Retailer (SR): What inspired you to start your business?
Leon & LuLu (L&L): It was my husband’s idea. He has always been in retail and thought we would make a great team. I thought he was nuts when he found our first building, a 15,000-square-foot roller rink.
(SR): What sets your store apart?
(L&L): Our size, selection, and visual merchandising are all terrific, but I think the customer service and sense of fun and adventure are really the keys to our success.
(SR): What shows do you attend as a buyer? Do you have a favorite?
(L&L): I attend Dallas, Atlanta, NY NOW, High Point Furniture Market, and the Windy City shows. We also attend many clothing markets, some international fairs, and handmade shows. I’m fickle and my favorites change.
(SR): How does your website play into your business?
(L&L): We do not sell much online and are happy concentrating on the stores.
(SR): If you were given $100 to invest in your business, how would you use it? What about 10,000?
(L&L): 100 bucks, I would buy lunch for my staff. Their happiness always pays off, and $10,000 would be a nice start on the new roof for the roller rink.
(SR): What would you identify as an important turning point in your business?
(L&L): Each major category we add is a turning point. Our clothing department has had an enormous impact on our traffic and led to increased volume in all departments. We also expect our café (opened at the end of 2016) to be another big improvement in the experience for our customers.
(SR): What traits do you have that you find makes you so successful in this business?
(L&L): We pay close attention to every detail of the customer experience and that is a big part of our success. I also really, really like merchandise. I like searching for it, buying, and displaying it.
(SR): Do you have a creative process, some method that helps you think outside of the box?
(L&L): I love visiting stores of every kind and seeing how they merchandise the goods, treat their customers, and how they create their unique ambiance.
(SR): Tell us about your locations. What are some of the best / worst things about your locations? Is there anything you would you change if you could?
(L&L): It is a pleasure to have two historic buildings side by side! On the plus side, we are easily accessible from any place in the Detroit area and we have lots of parking.
Clawson, Michigan Gift Shop: Leon & Lulu Facts at a Glace:
Location: 96 W. 14 Mile Road, Clawson, MI 48017