Middle Earth is a novelty gift shop co-owned by Cynthia Shevel and Elaine Selo, located at 1209 S. University Ave. Its motto is "Harming only the humorless since 1967." It was Ann Arbor's first head shop in the 1960s.
In October 2014 the partners announced plans to close the store by the end of the year. Shevel explained the decision to the Detroit Free Press:
Shevel said she considered selling Middle Earth as her lease expires, but uncertainty surrounding future lease rates made it difficult to complete a transaction.
She said Middle Earth's past rent was "very reasonable," but there was no guarantee it would remain affordable.
What's more, she said retailers are facing extraordinary pressures.
"This is happening around the country," she said. "Small businesses are becoming an anachronism. You have Amazon — the Walmart of the Internet — and the rents are going way up , especially in Ann Arbor, the downtown area. We never would have been able to have a gallery on Main Street if we hadn't owned the building."
Downtown Ann Arbor is bustling with an influx of new restaurants, but the number of independent retailers has fallen in recent years.
"To have a viable downtown, you need both retail, restaurants, entertainment," Shevel said. "As the rental rates go up, you're going to find probably more restaurants and bars because they can afford it."
Earlier this year, Shevel and Selo closed their Selo/Shevel Gallery at 301 S. Main Street (the corner of Main and Liberty), and sold that three-story building to Detroit ophthalmologist Reza Rahmani, who runs the Rahmani Eye Institute. Shevel and Selo do not own the building where Middle Earth is located.
According to an MLive report: "Selo and Shevel met 48 years ago while attending the University of Michigan. The year they met, Shevel, a California native, opened Middle Earth gift shop in a sublet room on East Liberty Street. The shop later moved to 1209 S. University Ave. It was inside the Middle Earth store on South University Avenue where Selo and Shevel started their Selo/Shevel Gallery in 1982."
In the news
Middle Earth owner Cynthia Shevel reflects on 47 years in business – MLive, Oct. 11, 2014
47-year-old Ann Arbor shop Middle Earth closing – Detroit Free Press, Oct. 9, 2014
Ann Arbor's Middle Earth retail shop to close after 47 years – MLive, Oct. 7, 2014
AADL Talks to Cynthia Shevel – Ann Arbor District Library Podcast, April 29, 2013
Where’d You Get That? Middle Earth sells Ann Arbor Ts and totes designed just for their shop – The Ann Arbor Chronicle, Sept. 24, 2008
Ann Arbor's Middle Earth store for sale – Ann Arbor News, Jan. 24, 2008
Best Gift store: Middle Earth – Michigan Daily, April 12, 2006