By M.J. GALBRAITH
DEARBORN — While other vintage shops have come and gone, Dearborn’s Retro Image Co. Antiques and Vintage has persevered, establishing itself as a go-to location for unique pieces of jewelry, clothing, and furniture.
The husband-and-wife ownership team of Jay and Karen Kruz have seen the grandchildren of their first customers walk through the door, three-and-a-half decades later.
While the items Retro Image, 14246 Michigan Ave., sells are decades-old, this is not some dusty old antique store. The mid-century fashions and furniture the shop carries are as hip and contemporary as ever, and it’s the era that Jay has centered his business around since first opening the shop.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been changes over the years. Jay says that they used to carry more items from the 1920s and ’30s and that items from the 1970s are gaining in popularity these days. It’s the sort of small shift to meet customer demand that has helped keep Retro Image open all these years.
Furniture, too, was an adaptation. While the store initially focused on clothing and accessories, it began carrying furniture as its customers grew older and needed to outfit their apartments and houses.
“We flex to what people want,” says Jay. “But if it’s cool and quality, it’ll be here.”
The vintage business is a field that Jay prepared for from a young age. He grew up in a family that owned jewelry and coin stores; his father worked coin shows. By the age of 14, Jay had started working in the resale business with It’s the Ritz, which was then located in Old Redford and is now located in downtown Birmingham.
But it was a walk along Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles that sparked the idea for Retro Image. There weren’t many retro shops in metropolitan Detroit in 1980, Jay says, and seeing the many vintage shops along that famous California shopping district inspired Jay to come back and start his own version in Dearborn.
Jay met his future wife, Karen, in 1989 and got into the estate sale business in 1990, starting with Karen’s mother’s house. Running estate sales has become an important component of the Retro Image business. Karen, who had worked in retail and as a nail technician, decided to join the business full-time in 2000.
Being married and running a business together seems to work well for the couple. By focusing on what they’re best at, the pair has found a way to keep work at work and not bring it home with them.
“She does the business end of it, the technical things,” Jay says. “I do the negotiating and buying, getting inventory. She helps disperse inventory.”
Should they need to get something done at the shop, Jay and Karen live just a few blocks away. The couple have long been members of the Dearborn community, both as residents and as business leaders. They take part in neighborhood clean-ups; Jay’s been on the East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority board for about seven years. They’ve watched the changes that the shopping district has gone through over the decades and are excited by what they’ve seen lately.
Downtown east Dearborn has quietly become a shopping hub for local creatives. The retro cool of Jay and Karen’s shop has long been a magnet for people coveting unique and interesting furniture and accessories. Celebrities like Jack White, Renee Zellweger, and Michelle Monaghan have shopped at Retro Image, they say.
With nearby businesses like Green Brain Comics and Blick Art Materials and the new City Hall Artspace Lofts, Jay and Karen believe that a new district is forming and that it’s only going to get better. Even the rumored arrival of a vintage clothing store across the street isn’t seen as a threat, but instead as rather as one more reason for people to visit downtown east Dearborn.
“We’re not the biggest or financially successful business on this strip, at all. But I think we draw really good and interesting people to Dearborn,” says Jay. “And I think that’s important.”
Name: Jay and Karen Kruz
Year Retro Image opened: 1981
One interesting job you had before running Retro Image: Jay restored pinball machines and jukeboxes and worked in a coin shop. Karen worked retail in Fairlane Town Center in the ’80s when it was hopping and did nails for 15 years.
What’s your favorite item you’ve come across over the course of your career: Stunning leaded glass “Tiffany” chandelier.
What’s the best tip for shopping for retro and vintage items: When you see something that piques your interest, buy it. Everything doesn’t have to match in your home. Retro pieces make everything more interesting.
(This story was reprinted from Metromode Media. It also is available at: www.secondwavemedia.com/metromode/innovationnews/RetroImageProfile.aspx.)