In 18 years, Jeffrey Pickell, owner of Kaleidoscope Books and Collectables in Ann Arbor, has amassed a dusty historical archive ripe with University nostalgia, 1960s memorabilia and 16th century artifacts.
Soon, though, Pickell will rediscover all of his store’s items one by one as he packs up for a smaller location much farther from campus than Kaleidoscope’s current hiding place between Mr. Greek’s and Urban Outfitters at the State Street and Liberty Street intersection. Pickell said the upcoming storewide excavation was prompted by his landlord’s decision to double the price of rent. It’s “new gentrification,” Pickell said. He said a cookie shop is taking the store’s place.
Though in no way as much of a student staple as its leggings-peddling and food-frying neighbors, Kaleidoscope has offered a between-class escape for the curious since its opening. Rackham student Elizabeth Everson snuck into the store to pick up three books from an old children’s series for her mom for Christmas. Everson had witnessed her mother’s descent into nostalgic euphoria after her mother saw the books in the store’s window display during Homecoming weekend.
At his post behind Kaleidoscope’s front counter, Pickell almost disappears entirely among the clutter of Nixon bobble heads, Joe Camel collectibles and decades-old concert posters. Pickell spends the bulk of each day at his hobby shop, swapping news with regulars and acting as tour guide for the store’s twisting mazes of bookshelves and cabinets. Pickell said he doesn’t take vacation days off except for his son’s birthday, which happens to be on Christmas.
In the nearly two decades it has graced State Street, Kaleidoscope has been “a shop for collectors and nostalgia buffs who want to feel positive about something in a complex and frustrating world fraught with adult problems,” Pickell said.
Pickell has a philosophy behind his dedication to knickknacks: There are two kinds of people in the world – collectors and the pitiable rest of humanity. The collecting-inclined are people who can connect to an inanimate object. They look at a used children’s book and see a childhood friend. The other half of the population, Pickell said, sees objects as simply utilitarian.
Books in Kaleidoscope range from 50 cents to $5,000 – the latter being a first edition Bible from 1570. The organization of the store’s bookshelves is a far cry from the Dewey Decimal system. The fiction section means a dozen stacks of books on the floor grouped as “horse story” fiction.
Pickell is most proud of his well-developed collection of hardback first editions. He has the first editions of nearly every Philip K. Dick book, as well as former Michigan Daily editor and famous activist Tom Hayden’s first book, “Rebellion in Newark,” which Hayden signed when visiting Kaleidoscope last year.
” ‘Oh shit, a hard cover copy!’ Direct quote,” Pickell said of Hayden’s discovery of the rare book in his store.
Hayden’s visit was of particular interest to Pickell, who was himself a member of Students for a Democratic Society, the student activist group Hayden founded. Always willing to delve into the annals of history, Pickell will throw in a first-person perspective on SDS’s slide into violent radicalism along with the vintage Jimi Hendrix poster you’re trying to buy.
Sprinkled among the books is an array of random odds and ends only a seasoned “nostalgia buff” like Pickell can make complete sense of. One corner, though, holds a display no University student could miss – Pickell boasts the largest collection of Michigan football and basketball memorabilia in the country. The highlight of the collection is a program from the first football game played in Michigan Stadium, against Ohio Wesleyan in 1927.
Not far from the Michigan football homage is another University relic, a record album recorded by the University of Michigan’s Glee Club decades ago. The album, titled The College Spirit features a young couple gazing into the distance with expressions of inexplicable elation, proving that some things haven’t changed much.
Other things, though, clearly have. You can spend more than a few minutes in Kaleidoscope without running into an item that sets off a “blatantly inappropriate” alarm. From “Little Black Sambo” books to stereotypical dolls, articles of the pop-culture racism that permeated American culture for most of the 20th century now survive in Pickell’s store. But Pickell and longtime employee Bob Siegert make a point that it’s important to preserve racist memorabilia so that the lesson that they were once allowed to exist isn’t forgotten.
“You can see the whole evolution of civil rights by looking in cases in this store,” said Siegert.
It’s just a shame that next semester students will have to make it to 200 N. Forth Street to do so.