Renee Leone has always followed her curious mind, which led her to things as varied as teaching science to elementary students, creating the Michigan State University Science Festival, and now, her first retail business. Quark! – a store that opened at 549 E. Grand River Ave., on Aug. 4 – sells gifts “at the intersection of science, art and everyday.”
Leone has lived in the state for over 20 years, and spent the last five years researching products, creating her own items, and gathering ideas for Quark!. Once the space on Grand River Avenue became available after the Greater Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau left, Leone was thrilled to get in touch with the building’s owners to discuss her store joining the community of downtown East Lansing shops.
Leone spoke to ELi about what makes the East Lansing area the perfect spot for Quark!, named after the subatomic particles that are the building blocks of atoms.
“I feel that East Lansing is such a dynamic place, and there’s so much science taking place here,” she said.
“It’s one reason why I proposed a science festival to MSU. There’s world-class science taking place here in East Lansing, and I think the community is excited about science and engages in science,” Leone said. “I think they welcome ways to introduce it into their daily lives in fun ways that make them smile. That’s one of my goals, to really share science, and highlight its connection to our everyday lives and all aspects of our everyday lives.”
Customers can find plenty of unique gifts, educational material, apparel, jewelry, and more on the shelves, which are stocked with products that showcase the connection between art and science. T-shirts with glow-in-the-dark star charts, periodic table elements, wall decals, posters, globes, tote bags, scarves, ties, pocket notebooks, zipper bags, mugs, placemats, bookmarks, regional guides, and even mechanically-operated light switches are for sale.
In a way, the store almost resembles a museum gift shop, full of educational and entertaining items, fueling a customer’s curiosity no matter their age.
“The collection I have here, I feel like I have curated in a way,” Leone said. “I really had to dig to find items that people would enjoy. There were certain things I saw in my travels that I thought ‘I would love to have that in my store, to share and sell.’ Others were just topics that I really wanted to see what artists were doing, and others, some of them I just created myself.”
Leone has crafted art focused on science before, since she strongly believes in the importance of art and putting the ‘A’ in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) education. One result has been Leone’s creation of mechanical light switches that are featured in the shop.
Ultimately, the goal of each product is to encourage people – no matter their background or education – to ask questions, follow their curiosity, and see the universal connection science has to everyday life.
“I don’t think you have to be a scientist to have fun and enjoy science that’s in our lives. I think it’s fun to have items in our lives – useful, functional things – that kind of cultivate that connection that we have with science in fun ways that when we see, look at them, or use them,” said Leone.
“It makes us smile because we’re acknowledging that part of our lives that we enjoy and don’t always have the opportunity to have reflected back at us,” she said. “Whether it’s in our hobbies because we enjoy skateboarding or birdwatching or skygazing, or if it’s in our profession like mathematics, accounting or stocks, or medicine, it’s just fun and connected.”
Just as Leone strove to learn what it was that interested her students to encourage exploration of that passion, she also desires Quark! to have the same effect.
“So many people think ‘science isn’t for me, science isn’t my thing,’ but they’re more than likely engaging in it in ways they might not realize because they’re approaching it from a different perspective,” she said.
For now, the store does not have an online shop, but gift certificates will be available for purchase in the store in the near future. Quark! Is located at 549 E. Grand River Ave., and is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Quark! Is closed on Monday.
This story was updated at 11:40 a.m. on Aug. 27, 2021, to clarify information about gift certificates.