512 South Main

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, December 1990,
December 1990

Author: Grace Shackman

From simple farmhouse to elegant urban hair salon

For more than a century, 512 South Main has mirrored downtown's changes. Originally a small brick house in a residential neighborhood, it was absorbed into the growing Main Street business district as Claude Brown's secondhand store and pawn shop in the 1930's. It's since grown and evolved - under a succession of owners - into a printing firm in the 1950's, an antiques shop in the 1970's, and an elegant hair salon today.

Gottlob Schumacher roomed in a house on the same block of Main in the 1920's. He remembers that at that time the area "was strictly residential, all the way up to William." Even the block north of William was sprinkled with houses, including Bertha Muehlig's home at 315, the Marchese house at 321, and Dr. Conrad Georg's home where the Quality Bar is now.

When Schumacher lived on Main Street, 512 was still owned by Conrad and Katrina Schneider, who had moved into it in about 1886. (The house was probably built in the 1860's.) Like so many Ann Arborites, Conrad Schneider was a German immigrant from the Stuttgart area. He earned his living as a painter, working out of his home. In an interview in the mid-1980's, his grandson, the late William Shadford, remembered him as "capable and industrious."

The Schneiders had five children, most of whom continued to live nearby after they grew up. Daughter Augusta married William Major Shadford and moved to 535 South Ashley, to a house almost directly behind her parents. Daughter Pauline lived just down the street in a house next to what is today Great Lakes Fitness & Cycling. Her son, Ed Ryan, is shown on his tricycle in the picture.

The building changed to a place of business in 1931, when Claude Brown moved his store there from Ann Street. Brown used the two main floors for his business, living in the walk-out basement with his wife, Leah, a cook at Delta Sigma Delta. Originally from Canada, Brown was a heavyset man, weighing about 250 pounds, who had lost an arm in a railway accident. At his store, Jim Fondren remembers, "you could get anything you wanted." Brown sold mostly used clothing, but also had furniture, household goods, jewelry, and even antiques.

Jim Crawford, who knew Brown as a fellow member of the black Elks, remembers the store as "jammed all up," with both floors filled and some of the merchandise, such as old washing machines, spilling outside. According to Crawford, "Brown knew what people wanted. He was always willing to sell, trade, or deal in some kind of way. He also operated sort of a pawn shop. He would give someone, say, ten dollars for something, and if they didn't later come back with twelve or fifteen dollars, he would sell it." During World War II Brown became adept at locating used appliances, like toasters, which were scarce because new ones weren't being made: their factories had been turned over to war production.

When the Elks Pratt Lodge was going through lean years and could not afford a permanent meeting place, Brown let them use his store on Sundays. Crawford remembers that they would "just move the junk back and find chairs to sit on." Although a shrewd businessman, Brown was generous to his fellow Elks, giving clothes and other items to families in need.

After Brown, 512 South Main was owned by Bernadine and Frank Sprague, who also lived on the premises. The Spragues made two additions to the building: they doubled the size of the original narrow house and added onto the basement, which is above ground in the back. Bernadine Sprague ran a printing business called "Letterart" in the building. It advertised services ranging from "expert mimeography" to special mailings. For a while a wig shop rented some of the premises, as did various offices.

In 1967, Richard and Sandra Russell opened an antiques business at 512. They named their store the Old Brick after the building, but later changed it to the Yankee Trader. The Russells made one more change, adding a second story atop the outside portion of the basement.

In 1983 Russell left the antiques business to concentrate on his career as a general contractor. Since then, Laky and Kim Michaelides have used the building for their hair salon.

Laky, who was raised in Israel by Greek parents, speaks Greek, Hebrew, French, and Arabic as well as English. In 1988, the Michaelideses remodeled the outside of the building, restoring a first-floor window that had been replaced by a door, painting the building gray, adding an awning, and landscaping both front and back. They received a Pride of Ownership award from the Board of Realtors for their efforts. Now they are remodeling the inside, in Laky's words, "to keep abreast with styles of the time, to give what clients expect from a classic place."

The biggest recent change in the building was beyond the Michaelideses' control. A couple of years ago, Ideal Auto Body turned a parking lot next to Laky's into a new office--and chose a startling post-modern style to do it in. The result is one of the most jarring architectural juxtapositions in town: a series of shiny metallic steps that appear to march up the sober brick building's north wall.


[Photo caption from original print edition]: Downtown stopped at William Street when Ed Ryan (top left) posed in front of his grandparents Conrad and Katrina Schneider's house soon after the turn of the century. Even after the building was converted to business use during the Depression, several successive owners lived upstairs--including Bernadine and Frank Sprague, who more than doubled its size (top right) by the 1950's. The building is now Laky and Kim Michaelides's hair salon.