Oakland Press – 4.17.06

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Owner fulfills hobby by ‘catching fireflies’

Arts, crafts business opens second store in Rochester

After graduating with a teaching degree from college, April Sytsma took a year off before getting a job.

She paid the bills by selling arts and crafts at shows around Michigan. Little did she know her hobby would become a full-time career. She never even interviewed for a teaching job.

"I would never have dreamed that I would be where I am today," said Sytsma, 31, of Beverly Hills.

The business, catching fireflies, just opened its second store in Rochester. The other store in Berkley was opened in 2002.

Sytsma and her husband, Stephen McCrumb, named the store after a favorite piece of artwork.

The business was started in her home with handmade photo albums and picture frames she decorated with ribbon and charms. After going to some trade shows, her products were picked up by retailers, and Sytsma could afford to hire employees, she said. They worked in a store in Berkley, adding merchandise to offset the rent. Local artists commissioned their work in the shop.

"Our store started gaining popularity through word-of-mouth," Sytsma said.

Eventually, the staff moved into a bigger shop and began adding other goods.

Sytsma extended her line of products, called a.i. paper design, and added gifts for men, women, children and pets. "I basically buy things that are clever and fun, and things that I like," she said.

Men can choose from gag items such as unputtable golf balls and self-esteem cereal bowls. Children can pick whimsical toys such as Slinkys and mood rings. The shop also carries handmade soaps and lotions, garden and kitchen accessories. Local artists still sell products there such as jewelry, hand-painted furniture and glass vases. In March, catching fireflies opened the second store in an old train depot. The 1876 building has crooked floors and drafty doors, she said, fitting with the uniqueness of the shop.

Many of her customers come from the Rochester area, so opening the store there was a natural.

Besides handmade albums and picture frames, Sytsma extended her product line to include intricate gadgets like jewelry holders and door hangers.

The products are sold through the company Web site and 600 stores across the United States. Eventually, she would like to open more stores.

Prices range from $7 to $70.

Sytsma earned her bachelor’s degree in special education from Eastern Michigan University.

But she always loved art, she said. "When you love what you do, there’s just no better way to go through life," she said.

-Lara Mossa of the Oakland Press

Observer & Eccentric – 4.6.06

Rochester_eccentric_1b Quirky store settles into Rochester
catching fireflies filled with unusual items

April Sytsma laughs through her work day.

She can’t help it. She’s surrounded by some of the quirkiest, most whimsical and downright comical wares ever amassed under one downtown Rochester roof. "This is something that will be here for the season. It’s a quirky frog prince dip bowl," says Sytsma, 31, giggling as she pulls off a ceramic amphibian leg to reveal a cheese spreader.

Sytsma steps from the kitchen wares section of her store, Catching Fireflies, to the pet department and picks up what looks like a rubber ball with a long tongue attached.

"Here’s a recent thing we got in. These humongous tongue dog toys," she said, pointing out that her own dog, an English bulldog, Samson, loves playing tug-of-war with them. "It’s so cute because he’ll bite onto it and he’ll look like he has a long tongue. It’s hilarious. It’s silly. But we like to make people laugh."

Sytsma and her husband, Steve, have been making customers smile with their eclectic mix of toys, gifts, art, housewares and accessories in their downtown Berkley store, also called Catching Fireflies, for the past five years. They recently closed a second store in Grand Rapids and opened their Rochester location — in the 1,500-square-foot former train depot on University, east of Main Street — last month.

The Grand Rapids natives, now Beverly Hills residents, had been looking at Rochester for the past few years as a possible second store location. Sytsma has shown many of her own collage shadow boxes, frames and scrapbook albums at Art & Apples festivals and the Berkley store attracts regular customers from the Rochester area.

"This train depot came up for rent. It’s perfect," Sytsma said. "Our Berkley store is in an old pharmacy. It had that sort of style. It’s not new construction. We sort of like that about it because it adds to our charm because a lot of our stuff has that nostalgic flavor.

"The timing was right, the place was right and the rent was right. It all sort of came together. We’ve only been open three weeks and it’s already proving to be a great success."Rochester_eccentric_3b

FROM FESTIVAL TO STORE

The business evolved from the handmade paper collages that Sytsma began creating 10 years ago while studying special education at Eastern Michigan University. She incorporated paper, charms and found objects into frames and albums and sold the finished works at art fairs. With the help of her husband, sister-in-law and an assistant, she attended more than 30 art festivals a year.

"We decided maybe we should try selling to stores. It proved successful and since it was, we hired people to help make the stuff. Because we didn’t want people at our house every day, we rented the Berkley location."

The front half of the store carried Sytsma’s art, as well as works by other artists.

It was both "a scary leap of faith," with the rent double the couple’s monthly home mortgage payment, but also "a nice way to get a taste of what retail would be like." Now they employ 18 people between the two stores as well as a.i. paper design, the art studio that’s located a mile from the Berkley location.

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BEYOND THE CLASSROOM

Although Sytsma finished her degree in special education, she never taught.

Her husband, who also attended Eastern Michigan, taught elementary school in Taylor, before becoming the "business end" of the store.

"People come in here and they’re going to get a smile on their face. We’re young at heart. The store shows that," she said with a laugh.

Her personal style shows it, too. On this particular day she’s wearing pigtails secured by flower accessories, drop rhinestone earrings trace of glitter shadow on her eyelids.

"Quirky and fun. That’s what we’re all about."

Visit www.catchingfireflies.com to sign up for the store newsletter, enter monthly raffles and see the latest inventory. Store hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday. Call (248) 650-3318.

Originally published April 6, 2006

Woman’s World – 4.18.06

Womans_world_2b_1 I started getting catalog requests that mentioned they saw us in Woman’s World so I ran out to our local grocery store and snagged one right away.  What a nice surprise feature.  It helped us sell a boat load of these cute characters!Womens_world_b

suttons bay + glen arbor = fun weekend up north

Downtown_suttons_bay_bIn the midst of all our business travels this summer, Steve and I got a chance to get away to Northern Michigan for a weekend.   We met a few of our friends at The Grand Traverse Resort and the boys headed out for some golf while the girls made their way to the beautiful Leelanau Peninsula.

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First stop, Suttons bay.  This is a very sweet little town with lots of lovely shops.  One of my favorites is Michigan Artists Gallery They have lots of unusual items made by local artists.  One of my favorite artists they carry is Jesse Hickman.  His fanciful folksy fish cannot help to make you grin.

Hats_and_haberdashery_b Another one of my ‘must stop’ shops is Hats and Haberdashery  Their displays and unusual mix of products from around the world create a delightful shopping atmosphere.

Also tucked around a corner is the wonderfully whimsical The Happy Woman Once again, fabulous displays and unique goodies.

We were lucky enough to also enjoy the art fair that was going on that weekend down by the beach.  Scrappy Nation won my personal award for the best booth.

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Next stop, Glen Arbor.  There are also lots of great little shops and galleries nestled in this sleepy town but by far my favorite is the Cherry Republic  We first stopped at the store where we sampled cherry jams, candies, crackers and even salsas! (all delicious)

Then we visited the winery and picked up wines and cherry flavored sodas of sorts.

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And we ended the stay with some scrumptious cookies and tart cherry smoothies at the cafe.

What I love about this place is that every detail is addressed from the gorgeous gardens to the quirky signs to the quality products and great service.

It’s always one of my most enjoyable stops when I’m visiting Northern Michigan.

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Whenever Steve & I travel to do a trade show we always try to weave a little fun in after the workday.   We just recently got back from the California Gift Show which takes place in downtown Los Angeles.  Unfortunately there’s not too terribly much happening right downtown so we ventured off and explored beautiful Santa Monica.

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Walking along the sidewalk headed towards the pier I couldn’t help to notice this playful trio of beach homes.  I just love how the sherbet flavored colors compliment each other.

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Once we made our way to the pier we bumped into a grand variety of talented entertainers, musicians and artists.  It was a wonderfully eclectic mix and I was thoroughly enthralled because I am a junkie for festive environments (just ask my husband… any signs of white tents, music or any commotion in a park or closed street and I’m there)

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After having dinner on the pier we headed towards Third Street Promenade which consists of a fabulous collection of stores and of course more street performers and musicians. There was even a Skinny Minnie store (we carry a lot of their vintage flavored printed tees at our Berkley location)

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The fanciful white lights hanging from all the trees created a magical atmosphere and it was the perfect ending to our short California rendezvous.

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