By Pam Houghton | Photography by Jerry Zolynsky
An estate sales company and a consignment store started dating, got married and birthed a store name Le Shoppe Too. At least, that’s the line the lively owners like to use when explaining the origin of their iconic furniture and collectibles store in Keego Harbor.
It’s a marriage that specializes in mid-century design, says Rick Behar, who owned estate sales company Managed Estates with art teacher Leslie Miller before the two joined forces with Deborah Slobin and Julie Sundberg, owners of the original Le Shoppe store in Walled Lake.
“We have one of the top mid-century furniture inventories in the Midwest and probably one of the tops in the country,” he says.
“Detroit was so affluent in the 1960s and ’70s, and a lot of beautiful things were bought by people at that time.”
Half a century later, those people are “downsizing or moving into retirement communities” and want to minimize the contents of their homes: thus, the influx of mid-century pieces.
What makes mid-century so iconic?
“The art of the design is in some ways timeless, so people who have an eye or feel for design naturally gravitate toward that era,” Behar says.
Slobin agrees and says Michigan was the “hub” of mid-century design.
“All the famous designers came out of Cranbrook,” she says. “Dealers from all over the world come here because this is the place to buy true mid-century modern.”
Slobin, whose three loves are “fashion, food and furniture,” spent more than 20 years in the food business, selling upscale meats to hotels and country clubs in South Florida. When she returned to Michigan several years ago, Julie Sundberg invited her to partner in a new retail venture. Capitalizing on Sundberg’s passion for “re-loving” older furniture and Slobin’s natural people skills, the two opened the first Le Shoppe store in Walled Lake. But not before Slobin developed an encyclopedic knowledge of mid-century designers, easily citing the origins of several collections in Le Shoppe Too, including a living room set from Adrian Pearsall, whose designs Slobin says were considered “quirky and whimsical.”
Within a few months of opening their roughly 1,800-square-foot store, the two knew they needed a bigger space.
Meanwhile, Behar and Miller were “getting opportunities for off-site sales,” Behar says, and needed space of their own.
After crossing paths at estate sales, Slobin and Sundberg offered to host an offsite estate sale for Behar and Miller in their Walled Lake store. The sale went well, and over time they developed a mutual respect for each other’s knowledge and business acumen.
Coincidentally, the business owners had each looked at the Old House of Denmark store in Keego Harbor as possible retail space. By now well acquainted with each other’s individual skills and strengths, they thought why not combine the two businesses?
So they did, and in January 2015 they leased the Old House of Denmark store and opened Le Shoppe Too.
The store has 17,000 square feet of space, far more than the original store in Walled Lake and enough to hold an ever-changing inventory of mid-century, contemporary and 20th-century furniture, art, lamps, fixtures, accent pieces, jewelry, upscale women’s clothing and other collectibles — including Sports Card Central, Behar’s original business — downstairs, and a clearance center and auction space upstairs.
When it comes to sales, distance hasn’t been a deterrent, notes Behar.
“We are actually shipping a lot to the coasts — East, West, South, New York, Los Angeles, Texas — almost daily — from people who find us through the Internet.”
They also recently supplied all the contents for the very first mid-century store in Shanghai, and their pieces appear on the ABC TV show Astronaut Wives Club.
“We watch the show and try to find the pieces that came from us,” Behar says.
Their first auction, scheduled for October, will be held upstairs and broadcast live on the Internet.
“Bidders from anywhere in the world can bid, along with the people physically in the room,” says Behar, an experienced auctioneer. Eventually, the business owners plan to conduct monthly auctions in the store.
Not surprisingly, the partnership has been “really good,” Slobin says. “Rick and Leslie had the background for doing estate sales, and we had the background of knowing furniture, the consignment business and acquiring merchandise. Rick knew how to run auctions, and Leslie has a really good background in art.”
Most importantly, what they do is a “people business,” Slobin says, and “we all have a passion for people.” NS