Gentle Vibes Vintage is a clothing store located at 731 W. Cross St, directly across from Eastern Michigan University’s campus. With bright colors and a variety of antiquities, paired with the friendly owner, this alluring small business is a place that anyone in Ypsilanti should visit.
Owner Michelle Birawer has been back and forth between Detroit and LA her entire life, loving both cities uniquely. She has a love for 60’s fashion and has been running her own businesses for close to 20 years.
“In 2016, I opened my first brick and mortar store in Hamtramck, Michigan and then a series of weird events brought me to Ypsi,” Birawer says.
In the middle of 2021, Birawer opened this location of Gentle Vibes, a shop that she owns and operates alone. “I opened this store in May, but I started this business from my living room when I was living in Depot Town on River St at this house called ‘The Pleasure Dome’,” says Birawer.
At the time, she was working at Urban Outfitters in Ann Arbor, where people would often ask where her eccentric outfits came from. “I’m like ‘do you really not know what thrifting is?’” Birawer says. “I would just invite people over to my house and they would shop from my personal closet, because I would buy stuff that didn’t fit me just because I’m in love with it.”
When starting a business from home, there comes a point where your inventory gets too large, especially since you always have to find new items to offer if you want customers to continue coming back for more. With that, there’s a time where purchasing a storefront is essential.
Gentle Vibes offers items from deadstock wear from the 50’s through the 90’s to well-made vintage basics and anything that is super psychedelic. Everything in the store is cleaned, steamed, and ready to wear.
Birawer came up with this business name around 2010 when she decided to open an Etsy store and begin selling things on Ebay.
“I used to have an experimental noise business that I wouldn’t call a record label because I never released an actual record, I released cassette tapes, and I called that Harsh Tokes,” Birawer says.
After some thinking, the self-starter felt that Gentle Vibes could go in the complete opposite direction of her previous name choice.
Without a doubt, the aesthetic of the store goes hand-in-hand with that of Birawer’s personality. After moving from a three-bedroom house in Detroit to a two bedroom apartment in Ypsilanti, she gave herself a rule that her new place had to follow a color scheme, due to the limited space and often abundance of items.
“You should see my apartment, it’s pretty obscene,” says Birawer. “There’s no room for fun anymore.”
While her home may not be as lively as it could be, Birawer has tons of amazing items to hang around in the store. One of the best parts of her job is that she gets to shop for a living, so she loves every one of the thousands of items that she is surrounded by each day.
“I love housewares because I can’t bring them home like I said, so I admire them here,” she states. “I’m basically recycling, people often confuse what thrift and vintage is, like what I do and why I charge a little bit more.”
Still, especially being in an area full of many broke college students, Birawer tries to keep the prices affordable.
“If I’m getting a deal on something, I’m gonna pass the deal on, like I mend everything, I’m saving things from the landfill, most of the stuff is on-trend and cute and still has lots of life left in it.”
While the freedom of being your own boss and running your own business can be amazing, there are also tons of struggles and hard times that come with it.
“People that don’t have business don’t understand that a bad two weeks, a bad three weeks, a bad month, literally is enough to make even a business that you perceive as being successful, close,” Birawer says.
Hardships aside, Birawer loves running Gentle Vibes and hopes to work more with EMU to make the Cross Street stretch more full of life, like what South U is for students at U of M.
“My big thing is I want to make this part of [Ypsilanti] fun for students because this is their first glimpse into what the rest of the city has to offer,” Birawer says. “This place is magic, and I want everyone else to see that too.”
When beginning her time at EMU in 2000, Birawer stayed in Ypsilanti for 10 years and her immense love for the down to earth community somehow ended up with her return.
“I just love Ypsi, it’s not too far from Detroit, it’s a low density city, there’s really cool things here and there’s not a lot of chains, which I love,” says Birawer. “I wanna get students to really be pumped on Ypsi, because it’s the only way the city’s gonna thrive.”
Coincidently, the location of Gentle Vibes used to be a place called ‘Art Attack,’ where Birawer would buy art supplies as a student, so her buying the same spot was sort of full circle.
“I was in this business for 15-16 years before I opened an actual brick and mortar shop, there’s a lot of overhead in this, apply for every grant you can possibly can, even if you do not qualify for them, stay on top of taxes, it’s so easy to fall behind and the IRS will audit someone like me before they audit someone like Walmart,” Birawer states.
If you are someone who is interested in a future of owning a small-business, Birawer advises you to have a clear business plan, save money, and have people to back you if possible.
“Be in it 100% because if you’re not, your customers are gonna know that you’re not in it 100%, I have really bad days, and honestly those are days where I don’t make money because the vibe is just different,” she says.
With something for everyone at great prices, this vintage shop is a perfect place to stop into on a rainy day or become a frequent visitor of. If you’ve just moved to Ypsilanti or are simply looking for cool new spots to check out, take a trip to Gentle Vibes as soon as possible.
Follow the shop on Instagram @gentlevibesvintage to see fun content and stay up to date on deals and events.
Visit the stores website at www.gentlevibesvintage.com.