By Candace Platt
Balloons! Coloring books! Guitars! Greeting cards! There’s a store in Chelsea where you can find all of these things and more. Appropriately, the name of this magical place is Just Imagine.
Owner Bill Harris credits the store’s first manager with suggesting the name, but when asked why he agreed to it, Harris said, “It’s the perfect name for this store: just imagine finding all the fun things you like in one place.”
Over the years, the store has moved from East Middle Street to Main Street and now back to West Middle Street. The latest move has located Just Imagine next door to Serendipity Books, one of two bookstores Harris discovered when he first visited Chelsea about fourteen years ago. “The most important thing you can have in your home is books,” Harris said. “Finding two bookstores in a town this size helped my wife me decide that Chelsea was the place for us.”
A few years after the Harris family relocated to Chelsea, the second bookstore, Cranesbill Books, went out of business. That created the opportunity for Harris to open his own business in 2010, and Just Imagine was born. “People love to hang out downtown,” said Harris. “That’s part of the fun of living in Chelsea. What better way to have fun than in a store full of books, toys, and music?”
Harris has always made books a major focus of Just Imagine. But with nearby Serendipity offering both new and used books, he is free to focus on special interests: “Indestructibles” for baby’s first book (a line of picture books that are waterproof and tear-resistant); classic picture books and bestsellers for children; various young adult series; fantasy, science fiction, and mystery for readers young and old; and nature, hobby, and cookbooks for adults. Harris makes a special effort to support the community by carrying books by local authors.
Just Imagine also works in tandem with Chelsea District Library each year to make available the books of authors participating in the library’s Authors in Chelsea program. This year’s program featured books written by Helen Frost and illustrated by painter and photographer Rick Lieder, plus books by authors Michael Buckley and Nora Raleigh Baskin. Some of these books for elementary and middle school students are still available at Just Imagine.
Unusual and top quality toys for toddlers to ten-year-olds fill Just Imagine with color and a sense of excitement. For little ones, the store carries most of the items offered by Melissa & Doug, a well-respected brand of developmental toys for the younger set. Wooden puzzles, dollhouses, coloring books, stuffed animals, games, magic sets, and dolls of various sizes are evident everywhere you look. Play rugs, cooking sets, balls, a myriad of arts and crafts, and vehicles including trucks, tractors, and school buses abound. There are also board games and jigsaw puzzles – particularly popular with adults. From front to back, there are treasures on every shelf in the store.
A musician himself, Harris planned the store at this new location around music. Just beyond the front desk (which is flanked by balloons of every color) is a piano that customers are welcome to play. It’s not uncommon to find patrons holding a ukulele or guitar they plan to purchase and tuning it at the piano. The area is put to good use at other times, too. Just Imagine has held a couple of recitals in the store, featuring students of local cellist and music teacher Sara Cumming. The store also offers guitar, ukulele, bass, and mandolin lessons given by local musician Alex Anest.
Surrounding the piano are various stringed instruments: acoustic guitars, electric basses, ukuleles, and even a dulcimer. Displayed in the same area are brass instruments: primarily trumpets and cornets. Just Imagine sells all of these instruments as well as strings, picks, reeds, and mouthpieces, plus music books and CDs featuring jazz and other genres including classical, Celtic, bluegrass, new age, and Cajun.
Harris is both a strings and brass player. He plays bass guitar and both the trumpet and flugelhorn – an instrument which resembles a trumpet but with a wider cone-shaped bell. He was a member of a brass quintet for awhile, but now is more likely to be found playing bass guitar at jam sessions with Tom Girard’s Hum N Strum group in Chelsea. Although jazz seems to be his first love, Harris also plays bass guitar for his church choir. It’s no wonder Harris has given music such a central role at Just Imagine.
At the rear of the store is an area where resale items are displayed. Harris’s wife Nancy runs Hearts Community Service, a charitable organization that works with many agencies including Catholic Social Services, SafeHouse Center, Pregnancy Counseling Center, and the Capuchin Mission in Detroit. The charity distributes donated items including household goods, furniture, and clothing to the homeless, and to returning vets, shut-ins, single mothers, and others in need. “Recently,” Harris said, “the list of recipients has included a number of Flint residents.” To supplement funds contributed to Hearts Community Service and enable it to purchase items such as new pillows, towels, and cribs, Harris reserves a section of Just Imagine to sell some surplus items: jewelry and jewelry boxes, art, knick-knacks, as well as children’s clothing and toys. To make arrangements to donate to Hearts Community Service, contact Nancy Harris at 734-433-1101, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Harris assists Nancy with Hearts Community Service on his days off, and she occasionally helps out at Just Imagine. One of their three grown daughters lives in Chelsea and also fills in at Just Imagine if needed. It looks like a fun place to work, and it’s definitely a delightful place to shop.
Just Imagine is now located at 115 W. Middle Street in Chelsea. The phone number is 734-562-2040. The store is open 11:30-6 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday and 11-7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, and is closed Sunday through Tuesday.Just Imagine