Rachel Lutz’s busy daily rounds bring her to the Peacock Room, her ladies’ shop in the Park Shelton in Detroit. A woman walks into the store beaming, and Lutz tells her she envies her smile. The interaction is so friendly you’d think they’re acquainted, but they’re not. The woman has just gotten off a jet from Los Angeles and this is her first stop; she had to come in and see the store with her own eyes after looking it over on Facebook.
After this delightful encounter, Lutz settles in for hot chocolate at nearby coffee shop 14th East. She quickly declares that she has no formal training in retail. It was something she stumbled into to pay her way through Wayne State University, where she studied marketing and public relations.
“I had a few jobs, working at Nordstrom or selling luxury home goods. When I said I was opening a shop, people offered to give me all these fashion magazines. I haven’t picked up a fashion magazine in probably 15 years! But I find a lot of that stuff is scripted and inorganic, anyway. I’d rather read up on Detroit history instead. And when I’m off somewhere buying, I try to think about what a customer in Detroit wears. My style is more about being authentic and natural with people.”
Lutz grew up in the Detroit suburbs, but had one foot in Detroit from a young age. She was always surrounded by business and politics, as her father was involved with political campaigns and other struggles, such as the successful drive to save Orchestra Hall. She grew up in what was then known as Detroit’s Cultural Center, a toddler given the run of her father’s offices on the second floor of the Whitney mansion before it became a restaurant, a child attending chamber music concerts and going to the Whitney for dessert. As a young teenager living in Huntington Woods, she was taking the bus down to the Maccabees Building, walking over to volunteer for pledge drives at WDET. Lutz says she was under the spell of Detroit’s cultural scene.
She qualifies that carefully, saying, “I grew up enjoying Detroit for what it is, not what it could be or should be. This was my adopted neighborhood, and it wasn’t just a neighborhood, it was a scene.”
Give her background, it was only natural that Lutz would become a second-generation Midtown business owner. But her space in the Park Shelton almost didn’t come to be.
“I thought it would be perfect for my kind of retail: Perfect location in a historic building in a lively neighborhood. … But they showed me the space and it was drywall and an ugly green rug that was held together in places with duct tape. It looked like some generic office space in Shelby Township.”
After haggling over a redesign, Lutz signed the lease and was allowed to remove the drywall. What she found astonished her: the elaborate friezes and ornate decoration of another age.
“We really hit the jackpot,” Lutz says. “Especially because it’s all still intact. So many people treat Detroit like it’s open season.”
These treasures of yesteryear are safe with Lutz, as they’re the perfect frame for her chic boutique. And how is business, anyway? Lutz says, “Good enough to open another shop in 10 months!”
Yes, Lutz has opened yet another shop, called Emerald, in the very same building, partly because her experience in the Park Shelton has proved so successful for ladies’ apparel. It’s a fun little space, more like a gift shop than the Peacock Room, with manly little knickknacks, from beard balm, old-fashioned shaving gear and Tokyo Milk unisex fragrances to cuff links, vintage playing cards and a vintage poker set, to a good range of books for the thinking man, on such topics as architecture, local history and more. On one wall are bags from the Seattle-based Filson, which come with a lifetime guarantee. On a central table are all sorts of hats — bowlers, pinch-front fedoras, opera hats, apple caps — as well as gloves, trunks and vintage luggage. Unlikely big sellers are the novelty socks, which feature bikes, dice, even Abraham Lincoln. It’s a quirky collection, to be sure, and it’s working, as people drop in continually to browse, buy a vintage Detroit postcard, or even more.
“In retail, location is so important,” Lutz says. “A lot of people don’t understand. People work here, people live here, people play here. Too many people underestimate Detroit.”
The Peacock Room and Emerald are inside the Park Shelton, 15 E. Kirby St., Detroit; 313-559-5500; peacockroomdetroit.com or emeralddetroit.com. Free parking in nearby structure with store validation.
Make her smile
Five hot gifts from the Peacock Room’s Liz Roekle
1) Jewelry: “We have everything you could want: shiny, punk, studs, spikes, glitz, glam, Swarovski crystals.”
2) A tiny clutch: “One thing all women need is a tiny handbag. It has to be big enough to contain three things: lipstick, a phone and ID. If you can smash all three in there, that’s your go-to.”
3) Scarves: “Scarves are always great gifts, but they’re especially fashion-forward now. They can be casual, or they can complement an evening gown. We have some Lurex scarves with a little glitter in them that can be worn as an attractive shawl. It all depends on how they’re worn or woven.”
4) Little black dress: “Women generally love a little black dress. But with colors and prints being super-hot right now, if you can find a flip option, that’s best. An LBD with a funky patterned flip to it allows you to dress up or down, maybe with a scarf to dress up or a cardigan to dress down.” Hint to the guys: “Look at the size of her dress in the closet. Your spying will pay off.”
5) Sweaters: They’re so versatile, you can wear them with a flyaway look, as the boyfriend cardie. Some chunky oversize sweater go with tights. They can be decorated with crochet or pieces of lace. You can wear them with brooches. We live in Michigan — never been disappointed in a sweater.”