Exceptional Retailer: 42 Degrees

31
Dec

FOR THE LOVE OF GLASS

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42 Degrees in Ann Arbor, Mich., was built on a love for glass, a legacy that’s carried the shop for nearly 20 years. Now a new owner, who is a familiar face, is guiding it into the future

You can’t miss the glass. No matter where you look inside 42 Degrees, there’s glass. That’s not particularly uncommon in the smoke-shop world nowadays, but it’s been this way since 42 Degrees opened its doors. Glass is, was and always will be the main focus.

It’s a legacy that’s been crafted over nearly 20 years, a legacy that’s now come full circle.

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These days new owner Patricia King carries the torch at 42 Degrees, the trailblazing Ann Arbor, Mich., smoke shop. It’s her rightful place considering she’s been with the shop since the beginning, since before it was a smoke shop, back when it was just a good idea in a guy’s garage.

“Back when headies first started being made,” she says proudly.

Let’s back up: 42 Degrees opened its doors in 1999, but before that, its founder was at the forefront of the heady glass movement. Matt Cyrulnik is his name, and back in the day, he and his crew started selling heady glass at Grateful Dead concerts, eventually starting a distribution company out of his garage in 1995. King — who most people in the industry just know as PK — was right by his side, a young, energetic and eager worker soaking up the glass world.

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Back then, they linked up with heady artists such as Banjo and Mike Fro (who are both from Michigan), Jason Lee, Ease, Shad, Bearclaw, plus the illustrious Jerome Baker, among others. The result was Stoney Creek Glass, a distributor of heady glass that also gave the glass blowers around Ann Arbor a place to call home.

The business model was ahead of its time: Stoney Creek wholesaled raw glass materials and had a glass-blowing studios, so the local glass blowers would come in, buy materials, rent space, go to work, then sell the finished products back to Stoney Creek.

“We’d put it in our shop,” PK says.

It was a nice little ecosystem, the type that was unique back then. PK was in the middle of everything back then. She ran the office and the warehouse, overseeing all the behind-the-scenes work necessary to make a business hum along.

In 1999, Stoney Creek led to an actual storefront, which is when 42 Degrees was born. It was created out of a love for glass, so of course glass was the most important thing. When Cyrulnik opened the shop, he made PK a manager.

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“It was based around local work,” she says. “Heady work. No imports. We really supported the community as a whole. We sold really higher-end items.”

When Cyrulnik wanted to leave the industry in 2008, one of their friends bought 42 Degrees. PK continued to run the day-to-day operations. When that second owner wanted a change earlier this year, PK decided it was her turn to run things. She took over as owner of 42 Degrees in the summer.

“I’ve been managing the shop since 2008,” PK says. “Nothing has really changed other than now it’s my money.”

With that, she wants to bring back the heyday of 42 Degrees and Stoney Creek Glass (which doesn’t exist anymore). In recent the years, the shop needed to carry less heady glass to keep up with the times. It didn’t start selling cheap imports or anything like that — and the inventory was still 80 percent glass — but it wasn’t stocking as many high-end headies.

“My goal as the new owner is to bring back the headies,” PK says. “My goal, the big change, is to bring back in the artists that I really appreciate and love.”

So far, since taking over, she says she’s brought in work from 30 artists that are atop her list.

“That’s my vision,” PK says. “Get it back to what it used to be and keep up with the times.”

Its location makes 42 Degrees a fascinating shop. In Ann Arbor, it’s right next to the campus of the University of Michigan, which has almost 45,000 students. It’s also in an area that is home to about 100 glass blowers. Those two facts make for a bustling business.

At 42 Degrees, the normal clientele generally falls into three categories: the college students, whose tastes vary but are generally pretty trendy; the aficionados, who are the collectors, the people who know the glass game and appreciate heady work; and the everyday people who wander in looking for smoking accessories.

“We get all walks of life,” PK says.

And she’s happy to watch it all unfold right before her eyes. Her staff is small, only three employees, so she’s very hands-on. It’s a good role for someone who went to school for business management, but it’s a somewhat surprising landing spot for her.

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“I never imagined this would end up being my career. It wasn’t ‘this is the industry I want to be in’,” she says. “I was brought into this industry.”

Over the years, though, she’s come to love and appreciate all the glass she spends her days around and all the fantastic artists who create it.

“I’m happy about it,” PK says, “because I have an incredible passion about the glass and the art. I appreciate it so much. It’s always been something that I’ve loved. Coming into work and being around glass and people who are connected in that way, it’s been awesome to be able to love your work, genuinely.”

 


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