Small Business Saturday: Quark - Greater Lansing Area Moms

Small Business Saturday and this week we stopped by Quark in Downtown East Lansing!  Owner, Renee Leone just opened Quark on Grand River Road.  

Quark is a gift shop that has something for everyone and Renee is very knowledgeable about items she sells!  She is passionate about both her business and the journey that led her to Quark.  And as she shares, it is the interaction of science, art and everyday.

If you have not been to Quark take a walk around Downtown East Lansing and check it out!  

Welcome to Greater Lansing Area Moms, Renee! 😊🔬⚗️

Tell us about Quark! 
Greetings! I’m Renee Leone, owner of Quark! a new shop offering visitors ‘Gifts at the Intersection of Science, Art and Everyday’. 

I opened Quark! in August 2021, in Downtown East Lansing, so we’re still very new on the block. I guess you could say, I’m rather passionate about curiosity, science, art, and wonders of our world. These four elements go well together, and they are what Quark! is all about. 

The best part is, you don’t have to be a scientist to feel at home in Quark!. Science is in all our lives –  interests, hobbies, work and daily life — and if you have curiosity, you’ll enjoy a visit to  Quark! and maybe find something you love!

What’s your background? What made you go into what you’re doing now? What has been your biggest inspiration?
Life is short and there is much to explore and do! My path has been full of diverse interests and experiences. 

As a former therapist, I worked in the mental health field for ~a decade before exploring other areas of interest. I first explored my interest in the art and science of gardening by installing gardens for two of Michigan’s top garden designers while simultaneously developing my skills as a multi-media artist. I’m proud to say I have works in a variety of homes both within and outside of Michigan. 

I later became Certified as a Montessori directress; co-founded the MSU Science Festival with Michigan State University in 2012, developing and running the Festival for 5 years before passing on the baton; and now I am the owner of my dream store, Quark!.

Each experience has led me to and prepared me for the next. A love of science and desire to better understand relationships with ourselves, each other, and our world, led me to courses in biology and psychology, and a career in Mental Health. Applying my experience in the mental health field, in turn, moved me to pursue and develop my creative interests in garden design and art. 

When my husband and I researched school for our young son, I became reacquainted with the work of Maria Montessori. The brilliance of Montessori’s curriculum, her understanding of the interconnectedness of diverse areas of study, and the beauty, foundational, even structural, presence of science in her lessons (especially her ‘5 Great Lessons”), led me to pursue certification and work as a Montessori Directress (teacher). Each pursuit utilizing all my varied, cumulative experiences.

When my husband’s work took our family to Cambridge, England, I had the chance to experience my first science festival. The festival gave me free access to presentations, demonstrations, and activities by world renowned scientists. I was astounded and inspired. When we returned to Michigan, I went to work on a proposal for a Michigan State University Science Festival, after all, if Cambridge University could do it, so could MSU! 

We have world class scientists and students too! Well, MSU liked the idea and hired me to build and run the festival, which I did for 5 years before passing the baton on to a wonderful colleague. 

It was time to pursue another interest which had begun to take shape…a science store that would reflect the connection of the science to the wonders of our world, our interests, hobbies, and work, through items we would use and love every day.

Do you offer any sort of classes or interactive sessions for children and/or adults?
We always have a microscope out and a variety of items to view, from insects and leaves to fossils and other curiosities!

Quark! is also working on building partnerships with local establishments to collaborate on science presentations. This past January Quark! coordinated with ArtLab and friends at Nature Discovery, for a ‘Winter Birding’ presentation. 

Sadly, due to necessary adjustments in Covid safety protocols the event had to be cancelled. On the upside, however, connections have been made and the groundwork for future events has been laid. We will keep you posted!

What do you love about having a business in Downtown East Lansing?
I love the dynamic community East Lansing offers. It is rich with curiosity and a love of life-long learning. East Lansing and the Greater Lansing area present a wonderful diversity of families, MSU/LCC/visiting students, as well as education-oriented faculty, staff, and professionals. One will always find resources and kindred spirits in such communities, no matter what you are curious about, and I find that exciting.

Other Downtown East Lansing businesses you enjoy?  
Oh, this is a tough question, there are too many to list really. I love discovering new foods and the Lansing/East Lansing area has so many great restaurants to choose from. 

If pushed, I can say Georgio’s is a family favorite, and I find I visit Campbell’s Market Basket a fair bit too! Non-food related; I always enjoy visiting the Curious Book Shop!

What has been the most challenging part of running your business during COVID, and how did you overcome it?
Opening a brick-and-mortar retail store is always a challenge, let alone doing so during a pandemic. The most challenging part of COVID, thus far, has been the unpredictability of the MSU in-person schedule. 

I support the safety precautions being implemented, but this does not change the fact that certain policies can greatly impact everyone’s comfort level, income and ability to visit indoor public spaces.

Did COVID cause a shift –  that you would not have otherwise tried – and yielded an improvement? 
Yes! It is my understanding that COVID is what made a small space in downtown East Lansing available for rent. If my understanding is correct, just before the gravity of COVID became apparent, the former occupant decided to consolidate their work and presence into their other, larger location. 

The space was empty for a while before I, by chance, ventured out for a walk and saw the ‘for rent’ sign. The risk involved with opening my store was greater than ever, but I decided to explore the possibility. Holding onto the hope that life might return to some sense of normalcy in the coming months, I took the chance to make my business plan a reality.

Given the reality of COVID, however, taking this step meant being and staying small; honing the selection of goods I wanted to sell; and finding innovative ways to keep costs down-for myself and my customers, while at the same time being true to the eco-friendly and sustainability philosophies I value.

What are some exciting plans as we move forward 2022?
In addition to experimenting with new inventory items that I hope customers will enjoy, I look forward to collaborating with others on interesting and engaging science presentations to our community.

Is there any sort of promotion you would like to offer GLAMom’s followers?  
Mention of this article for one week after it is first posted and received 10% off items.


Images and graphics provided by Quark!

Thank you to our generous Small Business Saturday sponsor, Downtown East Lansing

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