ROYAL OAK – It’s been a month now since Chosen Books, a veritable community institution, shuddered the doors of its Royal Oak store.
Now, as a new proprietor, with a curiously similar name, prepares to hang his shingle at 120 W. Fourth St., readers called upon Between The Lines – en masse – to tell them a bit about the new guy in town and give them an update on what happened to their old favorite.
Welcome to the neighborhood
The new awning is a vivid shade of purple. Emblazoned across it are the words “ChoZen by BC,” and the Z is not only capitalized, but super-sized, literally splashed across the center.
“The reason for the purple is as an homage to my mother,” said B.C. Cabangbang, the well-known interior designer and community activist who is hoping to open his new shop by Thanksgiving. “I get my sense of style from her. She had purple bolero suits in the ’70s that she had tailored from a men’s shop, not a dressmaker like other mothers do. Plus, she loved the violet-eyed Elizabeth Taylor, and I love Elizabeth Taylor’s politics.”
Cabangbang, whose well-appointed home once graced the cover of a BTL special home issue, said the resemblance of his store’s name to the previous occupants was unintentional.
“That just happened by accident,” he said. “The concept is that it would be my taste, my style, that you see in the store. I like the word Zen because it means peace and enlightenment. It will have some Asian design elements, but more a contemporary fusion of Asian and European. It’s like an Asian boy with a beret hat. It’s Asian fusion.”
ChoZen by BC will carry a wide assortment of items, including glass jewelry from Murano, Italy, brass and silver jewelry, glassware, martini sets and serving bowls. Cabangbang will also feature his own line of fragrances and candles (“They’re called Zents, to plays off the Zen.”) and what he calls, “jewelry for the home. I believe lamps, vases, pictures, artwork and mirrors are jewelry for your home.”
In addition, ChoZen by BC will feature greeting cards and gifts for all price ranges, as well as a large selection of pride merchandise. As of now, there will be no adult video rentals. According to Cabangbang, the city has refused to allow for such, despite the fact they were integral part of the previous store for well over a decade.
In search of a new home
As charming as the new ChoZen by BC promises to be, longtime customers of Chosen Books say nothing can replace it. And the good news is, nothing needs to. Chosen Books owner Joe Karasinski says he is currently in negotiations to relocate his store to Ferndale.
First opened in Detroit in 1981 by Karasinski’s son, John Cook, his partner Bill Ashley and the couple’s business partner, Paul Bruce, the shop acted as a sort of community center long before Affirmations opened its doors. By the late ’80s, the store had relocated to Royal Oak, but only after a hefty amount of legal pressure encouraged the city commission to grant the gay owned and themed business a license.
Bruce, who had left to open up the Medical Book Center near Wayne State University, was murdered in his store in 1990. Ashley died of AIDS in 1992 and Cook succumbed the disease the following year. That’s when Karasinski stepped in and with help from Ken Jacob, a friend and employee of his son’s, kept the store’s doors open. Jacob was a regular fixture at the store – and a great part of its charm – until he suffered a debilitating stroke in 2004.
But through all the personnel changes, Chosen Books flourished. Even as independent bookseller struggled, Chosen persevered by focusing on their adult video rentals. But the store was never just a porn shop. It was a social center of sorts for gays and their friends.
Karasinksi is hoping the new Chosen Books will be the same, even as he prepares to make adjustments.
“They try to contain you to 20-percent porn,” he said of Ferndale. “So we have to take it. They won’t let us have an adult business because, according to the zoning, there’s no room. So we’ll have to fence in our porn section where our DVDs are, and other stuff like magazines. But who’s to define what is porn?”
Ferndale’s zoning ordinance will simply force Chosen Books to go back to its roots, said Karasinski.
“It will be just like it originally started, a bookstore, and we’re going to partition off the porn section. We’ll camouflage it to where it will be acceptable.”
Like the new store in Royal Oak, Karasinki is hoping to have Chosen Books open at its new location by the end of November, and promises to provide BTL with details as soon as they’re finalized.