Hamtramck’s Lo & Behold! Spins Singular Vibe

Sweet and ‘Lo’: A Hamtramck book and record shop spins its own singular vibe
Lo & Behold! owner Richie Wohlfeil in his shop, surrounded by records, books, and ephemera. // Photograph by Ellen Wolbert

If you ask regulars at Hamtramck’s Lo & Behold! Records & Books what draws them to the small establishment at 10022 Jos. Campau, the first thing they mention isn’t the shop’s ambience or merchandise; it’s owner Richie Wohlfeil.

“It’s a one-man operation, and Richie always greets you really warmly,” Torya Blanchard says. “He’s just really sincere.” Regular Rob Wozniak agrees, explaining: “I’ll come in and say I’m looking for something, like bop, and he’ll show me a bunch of jazz records I’ve never heard of.

“I walk out of here with, like, seven records. It’s great.”

Wohlfeil listens intently to Wozniak’s praise, and beams when he finishes. Lo & Behold!’s proprietor certainly isn’t a dominating personality type, but his warm manner makes a strong impression as soon as he greets you at the door. Tall, skinny, and in his late 20s, Wohlfeil resembles a much beardier Ryan Gosling, and he projects an honest interest in promoting community as a shopkeeper.

That’s not to say that Lo & Behold!’s ambience and merchandise aren’t fascinating on their own. Take in the narrow length of the shop from the old green couch against one wall to the bench under the piano near the back or the decorative LPs, 45s, and vintage movie posters dotting the walls above bins of records for sale. Books rest against one wall on hand-built shelves, and back-stocked titles are stacked in undulating rows almost to the ceiling in back. A bridal dress, still in its original box, tops a rack of vintage clothes. And hovering above the scene are giant cardboard cutouts of the titular characters from the old-school video game “Space Invaders.”

The space has previously housed similarly creative endeavors, including Detroit Threads, the Design 99 studio, and the Hamtramck Hoard House vintage shop. Wohlfeil’s involvement began in late 2010, when he began selling materials published under his Lo & Behold! imprint in a corner of the Hoard House. Although the Hoard House eventually petered out, Wohlfeil’s involvement grew, and he took over the shop, renamed it, and started retooling it last winter.

“I’ve never had a shop before and I can’t afford it,” he says. “Once I realized I had the shop by myself, I realized I had to get my stuff out of the shop or basically move my record and book collections in here.” A portion of Wohlfeil’s vast personal library went on sale in the newly renamed establishment.

Although Wohlfeil may be new to the business of running a record shop, he’s been developing the skills to work in one from an early age, and he has his grandmothers to thank for it.

“My Grandma Judy taught me how to junk and my Mimi hipped me,” he says. Wohlfeil started digging into his Mimi’s eclectic record collection in elementary school, first getting into doo-wop and later discovering classic psych like the 13th Floor Elevators. When he was a little older, his Grandma Judy would take him along on her garage-saling excursions and buy him a box of records in exchange for doing some chores. “I would just buy anything,” he says.

Wohlfeil now has an encyclopedic knowledge of music to show for it, and his junking skills have become even more valuable as a shopkeeper. At the time of our visit, he was sorting through a newly picked collection of decades-old books, magazines, postcards, and even DIA programs, preparing some of them for sale.

Wohlfeil seems committed to enriching his community, promoting art, and spreading it into the right hands. Local bands play shows either in the store or the neighboring lot every couple of weeks, and Wohlfeil says he’d like to increase the number and variety of events. He enthuses at length about the support and sense of community he’s experienced since taking over the shop —from other local shopkeepers, from customers, and from the City of Hamtramck.

He mentions that a Hamtramck fire truck pulled up next to the lot adjoining Lo & Behold! during a recent concert. “Everybody thought they were gonna shut it down and started milling away,” he says. “And they were like, ‘No, play another one. That was really nice.’ They’re supportive, as long as I’m creating a positive environment for the community. And that’s how it should be.”

Blanchard says Wohlfeil is seizing a vital opportunity in Hamtramck. “In Detroit and in Hamtramck, there’s a lot of room to open a lot of different shops right now,” says Blanchard, herself an entrepreneur (she owns the Good Girls Go to Paris crêperie). “Young people that don’t seize this opportunity to open up a record shop, open up a vintage shop — I don’t get it. I just think he’s a great example of what people his age should be doing.”

But getting Lo & Behold! going is still an uphill battle for Wohlfeil, who’s working on getting the store reorganized, spreading the word, and breaking even at the same time. Business can still be pretty slow, with lone customers drifting in and out intermittently over the course of an afternoon. “I work as a sound engineer in the evenings so I can eat,” Wohlfeil says. “This place takes care of itself, and it barely does that.” But he’s enthusiastic about his regulars’ support, and an expansive future for the shop. “It’s really just a word-of-mouth thing in the best possible way,” he says. “And I like that.”