Mike LaSage and Rick Harris found true love late in life. LaSage had been married, but his wife passed away. Harris is divorced. They began dating four years ago and for the past two years they have been in the printing and apparel business together, with a shop down in Westland.
But when an opportunity came up to be supportive of the LGBT community in Ferndale, it just felt right. And a series of quickly evolving steps has led them to what is today known as The Aff Store & More!
“We were both married for many years, so we are late bloomers,” LaSage said. “The big things were being able to be involved. We want people younger than us being able to have it easier.”
They came up to attend a Faith Initiative event, and fell in love with the center. They went on to do some t shirts for an event and the relationship with Affirmations grew from there. In the front cafe space the former occupant, Grab n’ Go Sushi, closed shop and the front sat empty except during special events.
“Dave Garcia, (the executive director of Affirmations) asked us if we’d make some shirts and put them up so the space didn’t look so empty. We’d take orders for shirts and come out for special events. That’s how it started,” Harris explained.
But then two things happened. First people were suggesting that since the area was a cafe; why not sell some food or snacks. Secondly, the guys started to dislike their Westland location by comparison.
“Going down there seemed like a task, but coming here is somewhere we want to be. I’m so much happier coming in here,” LaSage said.
The couple staffs the store and provides items on consignment, although Affirmations remains in control of the space. LaSage and Harris provide the labor for free, and Affirmations gets 50 percent of the profit from anything sold.
The Aff Store & More has screen printed and embroidered shirts on hand or to custom order. Plus they now sell beverages, pre-made sandwiches, pizzas, burgers, chips, snack cakes, candy bars, and other snack foods and pride-related items. The bulk of sales come from doing shirts for groups and events, such as softball league shirts.
“When we do group orders it helps keep a family business going, but it also helps keep Affirmations going too,” Harris said.
The business is growing slowly, but steadily. They recently began opening for lunch and their current hours are Tuesdays through Saturday. Another exciting development is the activities that take place in the cafe space each Friday from 7 p.m to 9 p.m. Each week there is a different theme, with things like game night, trivia night and open mics. These are relatively new, but the couple hopes they will take off.
Another step in the growth process is the addition of an online store, which also benefits the center 50 percent. That can be found through the Affirmations website at http://www.goaffirmations.org/?page=AffStore.