32-year-old Erin Gavle combined her love for travel and her knack for treasure-hunting into her business, Eldorado General Store in Detroit. The boutique carries a unique assortment of vintage and found curiosities from her life travels. She’s a former New York City advertising executive who left her cushy job and moved home to Detroit to pursue her entrepreneurial dreams. She took the risk of uprooting her entire life to find peace of mind doing work that doesn’t feel like work at all.
Name: Erin Gavle
Venture: Eldorado General Store
Location: Corktown, Detroit
Education: Michigan State University / Miami Ad School
Hometown: Livonia, Michigan
Open since: July 2014
Detroiter since: May 2014
How did you start out in your career?
It’s funny because I wouldn’t say that I’m in a career now. Or even that I have a “job.” Owning Eldorado General Store has become a seamless mixture and extension of who I am and what I do. It’s really more of a lifestyle. I knew my love for adventure, exploration and travel would never settle. I also began to realize that my expertise is in treasure hunting, or as I’ve labeled it ”trinketeering”. I figured out how to combine the things I’ve always loved doing to create a “job” that fit around the lifestyle, priorities and structure that are important to me.
In my previous life, I was a creative in advertising in NYC. I was trained in traditional, digital and social mediums that engaged audiences on all platforms. I had the fortune of learning how to wear a lot of hats throughout the creative process which proved to be crucial skills in opening and operating a business. Leading up to the conception of Eldorado, I learned that the hardest step is the first one. I spent a lot of time meditating and finding the strength and courage from within to silence my head and follow my heart. I eliminated everything that didn’t really serve a purpose in my life and started from scratch, only allowing the things that I loved back in. The plunge into new and unchartered waters is not an easy decision so it became essential to truly believe in myself.
Most importantly, I learned you can do anything you put your mind to. ANYTHING. If you believe. (And hustle your ass off.)
Photography by Khaaliq Thomas
Tell us about your business venture.
Eldorado General Store is a well curated vintage general store where you’ll find one of a kind trinkets and talismans. It’s a treasure chest in brick and mortar form and a mix of southwestern rusty horseshoes, tattered blue jean shirts and vintage Native American jewelry, juxtaposed with a parisian elegance of gold sequined tops and gigantic crystal chandeliers. The perfect pairing of a gypsey lifestyle. It’s honestly (and quite literally) everything I would throw in my suitcase and travel the countrysides with.
Most of the contents in the shop are from my travels, each memento containing happiness from memories I’ve had or places I’ve been. Basically, Eldorado is my souvenir shop. I’ve also been really fortunate to carry some products made by local Detroit artists—organic lip balms, soy candles, handmade jewelry, fragrances, etc. Things that I use and can’t seem to live without. It’s really wonderful to find handcrafted items that are made with passion and by people who are also following their dreams.
How did you come up with the idea for your business?
Eldorado is the Lost City of Gold. The dream. The Holy grail. And the relentless search for happiness. It represents the perception of wealth and the struggle for creativity. Growing up in metro Detroit, I’ve always had a love affair with the city. To me, it has always possessed this intriguing sense of wonderment, beauty and magic. Detroit IS the lost city of gold. And it’s my Eldorado.
It’s a city that, even though the world labeled “bankrupt,” is really overflowing with perseverance and strength. Opportunity and resources. Doers and makers. It’s home to some really talented, smart human beings and it became my passion to be a part of that army.
When did you first realize you wanted to become an entrepreneur?
I’m not sure if I ever knew what I “wanted to become.” I knew I wanted to be “successful” but never really allowed myself to question what “successful” meant to me. I just assumed it meant climbing the corporate ladder in advertising at an award winning agency in NYC. Then one day I realized, if I was working this hard for someone else’s American Dream…what would happen if I worked this hard on my own American Dream?
Once I quit my job in corporate America, I was able to recognize that my personal definition of “success” was not defined by wealth but by happiness. I spent a year re-prioritizing my life to find balance and discovered that entrepreneurship was the answer to having the most control over my own happiness. I haven’t looked back since!
What advice can you give to young people looking to open up retail business?
Realize that no one knows what they are doing. Everyone is just faking it. If they can do it, so can you. Surround yourself with positive, inspiring, nurturing people. You’ll need a team of supporters to keep cheering you on. It’s definitely not easy to follow your dreams and open your own business, but it sure is worth it. You’ll have tiring days, and hard days. And days where you’ll question everything you’re doing. It becomes super easy to put yourself down or lack confidence. Your support team will keep reminding you how awesome you are.
Save your pennies! It will always take longer than you expected and cost more than you budgeted to get up and running. Becoming an entrepreneur is an investment in yourself. The sooner you start living like you are broke, the better. If you want something bad enough, you start prioritizing being your own boss versus drinks out with friends. Take calculated risks. I always think worst case scenario, but am ready for best case scenario. That way all my bases are covered. It’s not a glass half empty/half full thing. It’s accessing the entirety of the situation from an outside perspective thinking ahead a few steps like a game of chess. Remember to trust your instincts!
Tell people your plans because it holds you accountable. My word is very important to me. So when I tell someone I’m going to do something I have to follow through. I’ll say things aloud just so I can’t back down. Be persistent. There will be a lot of “nos” standing in your way. Don’t stop because you’ve hit a wall. Figure out how to jump over, go around, or dig under it. If it were easy, everyone would be a business owner.
Be grateful. Continue to tell yourself you can do it. Even if you’re not sure you can. Leave notes around your room if you have to. Positive reinforcement starts from within. Be kind to yourself. You’ve never done this before. Remember that failure is an opportunity for success.
What were your best resources when it came to opening up your business?
People. I just kept telling everyone I met what I was doing. You’d be surprised how many people can help you. The world’s a small place and if you put the energy out there, the universe will help you connect the dots. I’ve had so much help from family and friends, neighbors and complete strangers. It’s been a really overwhelming experience. Also, thank goodness we live in the age of the internet. Three words: Google Knows All. My google search after opening a business is really quite humorous. You never realize all the random shit you need to figure out. Most importantly, talk with a good business banker, lawyer and accountant immediately. They will help you organize your business and make sure you’re on the straight and narrow. The sooner you do this the smoother your business will run and the more confident you’ll feel.
Which tools do you find most useful for your business today?
I’m lost without my phone, computer or camera. And of course I need a suitcase within arms length at all times. To-do lists are my magical key to success. Equally as important is a notebook and a pen. I write down everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. There are so many random thoughts flying around in my brain at any given moment it’s imperative I write it all down. Not to mention the satisfaction of crossing something off is probably the main reason I write things down to begin with. Most importantly: Music. It keeps me sane.
What is a typical workday like for you?
A typical work day is anything but. As a new business owner, I find myself constantly learning and experiencing new things. It’s a puzzle. I feel like every morning I wake up and the universe dumps out all the pieces and I have to put it together. Time is always of the essence so I’m learning to become proficient in multitasking. I had to accept there will never be enough time for the never-ending to-do list. So, learning to prioritize is everything.
Overall, I’d say my new gig is pretty cool. I get to listen to music, hang out with cool people and collect pretty things.
Best part of owning your own business so far?
It’s hard to pick just one moment. I am truly grateful for everyday I get to spend investing in Eldorado. I meet such interesting people that come into the shop. I love when someone finds a trinket or treasure they adore. I get giddy when things from the store find new homes. It’s kind of awkward.
I think a really special moment was when I first arrived to Eldorado after a cross country road trip where we had been collecting all the inventory for the store. I hadn’t opened yet. And I hadn’t seen the building since I’d met with the landlord eight months prior. My cousin (and co-pilot on the trip) was driving, and as we pulled up I realized my entire family and a slew of friends were screaming and cheering out front. They brought champagne, made signs, brought balloons. It was one of the most emotional moments. I was wiping away the tears as I got out of the van. It was really such an overwhelming feeling knowing that people were routing for me and my dream. It started to all feel real.
Up until that point, it was two girls on a buying trip driving from California to Detroit. I think another rad moment was when my dad called me one morning to tell me he saw Eldorado in The Detroit News. He was really jazzed about it. And that was pretty cool.
Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
You know, it’s really hard to say. If you would have asked me five years ago where I’d be, I definitely wouldn’t have said here. So, I can only hope that I continue to push myself and am surrounded by people I love and that love me. Although, I’m inching closer to venturing into the design world I’ve always wanted to create my own jewelry and clothing line. I also secretly really want to be a DJ. And own a rollerskating rink. Or a castle.
What advice would you give your 20 year old self?
Believe. In yourself. In your crazy ideas. In your dreams. To have the strength and courage to follow those dreams. Know that you are stronger than your insecurities so don’t let your insecurities or those of others hold you back. Remember, you are only competing against yourself. And, it’s never to late to start something new. Have the confidence to trust your instincts and feel relief in knowing that everything works out. Enjoy this crazy ride, you only get one. So live as passionately as you possibly can.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
While at Burning Man one year, I met a man who was a Life Coach. We talked about hopes and fears. And just life in general. At the end of our conversation he asked me to close my eyes and picture my dream. He then asked me, “What’s holding you back from accomplishing that dream?” He wasn’t looking for an answer from me. That was the question I spent a year figuring out. That one simple question let me break down the barriers into smaller more manageable hurdles that stood in between me and my goal.
Where are you favorite places to eat in Detroit?
Katoi (the former Thai Truck in Two James). Hands down. Although I’m currently void of Katoi while they set up their own brick and mortar in Corktown, I’m counting down the days until they open. I’m also a sucker for anything on the menu at Rose’s Fine Foods. The Lavendar Lemon Soda is like springtime in my mouth. Astro has a craveable egg sandwich. The rosemary bagel with veggie cream cheese from Detroit Institute of Bagels is a solid combo. In the mornings I love grabbing a coffee at Astro, Red Hook or Anthology and taking a drive around the city. It’s really inspiring to me.
My apartment is definitely my favorite hang out spot at the moment. Opening a business is definitely an undertaking. Free time is non existent at first. Now, that I have a little more free time all I really want to do is soak in inspiration. I love having a glass of wine, discovering new music, and digging through old picture books.
Favorite part about living in Detroit?
The people. Detroit is so full of energy. It’s such a great vibe for artists, makers and doers to be a part of. Everyone is really focused on their passions and helping others achieve success. The sense of community and camaraderie is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. A friend recently told me “All Boats Rise Together” and I think that is the sentiment most Detroiters can relate to. We are all working together.
Follow more of Erin’s journey and life lessons in our free eBook
The Young American Guide To Finding Your Entrepreneurial Passion Written especially for young, aspiring entrepreneurs who work day jobs, live with their ‘rents, or are just stuck in a rut. The 27-page easy-to-digest book is available for sharing, downloading, and printing. Inside you’ll learn hacks for discovering your passion-fueled business and how to research, plan and work on your idea while you balance adulthood. Get it here.