The Lost City of Gold
Former Corktown souvenir shop is living up to its treasure-promising name
Photograph by Brad Ziegler
For some, the search for the “Lost City of Gold” — aka the Eldorado General Store — ends on the corner next to Corktown’s historic Tiger Stadium.
Step inside and you’ll most likely be greeted by owner and “Chief Trinketeer” Erin Gavle — a self-proclaimed gypsy who left corporate life to turn a knack for finding antiques, art, and vintage clothing into her dream job.
After graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in advertising, Gavle found herself bouncing back and forth from the East and West coasts, but felt her calling was to do something bigger and more creative.
She’s collected treasures all her life, but never knew it would become her business.
“For a long time I was sort of a cheerleader for Detroit from afar,” Gavle says.
She returned home for a wedding in 2013 and ended up staying three weeks longer than anticipated, and wound up discovering the Detroit she’d always been intrigued by as a little girl.
“I just kind of drove around and sat in coffee houses and soaked in what was happening,” she says. “It was really important to me to sit in these different neighborhoods and actually experience what was happening down here. … I thought, ‘Wow, I can actually move back home, potentially start my own business, and instead of talking about how great Detroit is, I can show people.’ ”
And show people she did. With the help of her real estate broker cousin, she tracked down the owner of a historic Corktown fixer-upper.
It took almost a year’s worth of work (including the fact that there were no windows), but in July 2014 she opened up shop.
Eldorado General Store is housed in a late-19th century building that used to be a Detroit Tigers souvenir shop. It looks like a mini Flatiron building, and also happens to have a loft upstairs, where Gavle lives.
During the year of waiting for the building to be ready, Gavle did what she loves most — she took a road trip.
“I bought this really big sketchy van and drove across the country,” she says. “I got most of the (store) inventory from that trip.”
Inside the store, natural light pours through the large windows, putting a giant chandelier and all of Gavle’s treasures on display.
“A lot of these things are souvenirs or memories that I had,” she says. “They represent little pieces of happiness to me, and it’s been really exciting to share those things with other people.”
Every corner of the store is filled with hand-picked gems like old horseshoes, Tigers paraphernalia, men’s and women’s vintage clothing, handmade jewelry, locally made goods, and more. The one thing that brings every item together is a price tag that lists the city where Gavle discovered it.
“I like to juxtapose two extreme differences of Parisian elegance, and a very classy sophistication, but also a sort of rustic, Southwestern, bohemian sort of vibe,” she says.
“I really love the Southwest … the deserts are super magical. I think everyone needs to go … and scream really loudly and dance, and soak in the magic and wildness.”
Customers find items they never knew they needed, such as a perfect suede-fringed jacket Gavle found in Wyoming or crystals from Venice Beach. They also tend to wander around longer than anticipated, and Gavle comfortably interacts with them.
A vintage flag is one of the first things you’re drawn to when you walk into the shop. Gavle is quick to tell the story of how she acquired it, why it has 45 stars, and that it was hand-sewn in 1907.
Gavle says what brought her back to Detroit is a lot like her view on finding the perfect vintage pieces. “I really embrace the character flaws; I think they tell a story,” she says.
While many of her customers are locals, she also gets a lot of international traffic.
“I keep calling them extreme tourists because they’re coming from Australia and Europe, and I get a lot of people from Toronto,” she says. “It’s almost like an anthropological study to really be able to ask these people questions like, ‘Why are you here in Detroit?,’ ‘Is this for work or for fun?,’ ‘What brought you here?’… It’s been really interesting to see the shift of mindset on Detroit through my customers.”
Open 12-7 p.m. Tues.-Sun. 1700 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 734-664-8633. eldoradogeneralstore.com