I recently posted a piece on things I miss in Howell.
One of those things was the amazing clothing store that bore the name of its owner: Christine Beaubien.
The store, which occupied the current Toyology space on Grand River Avenue in downtown Howell, was THE place to buy upscale, chic and creative clothing, drawing customers from throughout Southeast Michigan. Lots of shoppers from outside Livingston County (and plenty within), would couple a trek to Christine Beaubien’s with drinks and a meal at the equally hip and trendy Honeydew Cafe, located right next door in the space currently occupied by the Chinese Delight restaurant.
The heart and soul of the operation was its owner and namesake, who was always on the lookout for items that were different and beautiful, and who chose her merchandise with an artist’s eye. Like I said in my earlier post, it was there that I purchased several pieces from the Blue Fish line of hand-painted, creative and quirky cotton pieces that were equal parts hippie, hobo, comfort and fashion.
As well as high-quality, beautiful merchandise, Christine Beaubien’s featured top-notch service and a friendly, relaxed shopping atmosphere.
The store closed almost exactly 20 years ago, in March 1996.
Through the magic of the Internet, Christine Beaubien — who is now Christine Reichow — got in contact with me, and we were able to manage a wonderful phone conversation in which I got caught up on her life.
She remembers her time running her clothing store as “wonderful.”
“Sometimes it was difficult to balance it all,” she said.
In classic, small-town merchant style, Christine lived with her family above the store in the two-story, 2,500-square-foot apartment she created by knocking down walls and repurposing space.
“It was a huge space,” she said. “It was so much fun, and I loved being part of downtown. I loved being able to walk to the movies, to the grocery store, getting to know people. It was very personal, and it really was wonderful.”
Originally from Farmington Hills, Christine and her first husband, Dennis Beaubien, would come to Livingston County to visit his parents, who had moved to Brighton.
“We couldn’t afford Brighton,” Christine said, “so we drove around enough so that we found a little lot on Alstott Road off Peavy Road, just a couple miles south of Howell. We lived there 16 years before we moved downtown.”
At the time, Christine was a stay-at-home mom who wanted to bring in some extra money, so she began doing alterations work. “I was a self-taught seamstress,” she said.
As her alterations business grew, she rented a loft space for $100 a month in the former Adams Antiques storefront downtown, near Cleary’s Pub. Then, she moved right behind Howell Travel (which is now Uptown Coffeehouse) and, in addition to her alterations work, she began bringing in merchandise to sell.
Then, she opened Christine Beaubien’s, and ran the store for a decade.
Christine recalls two high-profile people who came into her store early on.
“Around Halloween one year, Gov. John Engler came into the store,” Christine said. “He was coming through town and came in, took some pictures, but didn’t buy anything.” Christine’s daughter, however, presented the governor with a hand-painted tie.
Lee Meriwether, the former Miss America who played in the long-running 1970s crime drama “Barnaby Jones,” and who married Howell native Marshall Borden, bought some merchandise at Christine Beaubien.
“She paid with a check, and the address on it said ‘Hollywood,’” Christine said. “I thought it couldn’t be that she was Lee Meriwether, but she was, and she was so, so nice.”
The early 1990s were a time of explosive growth in Livingston County, which provided both benefits and challenges for downtown merchants.
“A lot of us panicked with Walmart coming in,” Christine said. “And at about that same time, the outlet mall was coming, too. It really challenged our confidence level.”
Those years were a “bittersweet time,” she said. “And it was sad, too, because of the ending of a long-term marriage.”
After the store closing and her divorce, Christine moved to Troy. A couple years later, she married Richard Reichow. He was retiring from GM and had just taken a job in California, where they lived for a couple years in St. Helena, near Napa Valley.
While living in California, Christine, who had studied art at Michigan State University, took free art classes at Napa Valley Community College. She studied oil painting, and then moved onto water color.
“Painting had been a lifelong dream,” Christine said. “It was wonderful to actually have the time and the encouragement from my husband. He said ‘you need to do this.’”
These days, Christine is a successful artist who lives in Bonita Springs, south of Fort Myers on Florida’s Gulf side. She does commission work, and displays her paintings at art shows. She sells her paintings at her website, www.christinereichow.com, and she’s president of the Tower Co-op Art Gallery on Sanibel Island, which features the works of 24 different artists.
Her husband helps with her brisk art business, doing her reproductions, and packaging her paintings for shipping.
“I have a really nice life here in Florida,” she said, “but Howell will always be in my heart.” She tries to get up to Howell every summer.
In an interesting twist, the owner of ISMI (Internet Services of Michigan), the business that bought the Christine Beaubien building, was a young entrepreneur named Charly Caldwell. He moved to Florida and opened a similar high-tech business in Fort Myers. He has since hired Christine’s youngest child, who also lives in Fort Myers.
“It’s like a Howell reunion,” Christine said. “You don’t feel alone down here.”
She fondly remembers George Moses, owner of The Marketeer, who helped her with her store’s advertising when she was in business, and she misses Gus’s breadsticks and Hazen’s Blueberry Farm.
She also misses living in Michigan.
“The people of Howell and Livingston County are so wonderful,” Christine said. “You know that on one level when you live there, but you don’t really know it until you leave. Those people were the best people. If your car broke down in Livingston County, someone would stop to help you; it’s not like that everywhere.”
Be sure to check out Christine Reichow’s website at christinereichow.com.