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The Daily Tar Heel

Office supply store Crazy Alan's Emporium open under new ownership

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Michele Kowal and John Sullivan, the new owners of Crazy Alan's Emporium, pose for a portrait on Oct. 1, 2023.

Despite owner Alan Cohen's retirement in late August, Crazy Alan’s Emporium remains open.

The 20-year-old office supply store in Chapel Hill has two new owners.

The new co-owners and business partners, Michele Kowal and John Sullivan, are excited to execute their new vision for the store in the reopening. Kowal said they had been talking to Cohen about purchasing the store for almost two years. 

“I have been going to Crazy Alan’s for the 12 years that I’ve lived in Chapel Hill,” Kowal said. “I’m a pen fanatic. I absolutely love pens — both John and I do.”

Sullivan said he and Kowal first met as teenagers, when they worked together at a store that Sullivan's mother owned.

"We were basically best friends in high school,” Sullivan said.

He said he and Kowal reunited about nine years ago when they both moved to Chapel Hill.

“We’re both pen fanatics, and so it made sense for us to kind of come full circle and work in a store together again,” Kowal said.

Sullivan said they will keep many aspects of the store the same. They will be making some changes though, with a focus on making the store accessible, including new local inventory and hosting community events. So far, they have made the front of the store more wheelchair and stroller friendly, Sullivan said. 

“I really am coming at it from a perspective of making it accessible to everybody, inclusive to everybody and making it just a safe space for people to come and browse and enjoy their time,” Kowal said.

She said she wants to create a community space where people can attend events based on what the store carries, including art, penmanship and letter-writing classes. 

Sullivan said he knows a lot of people come into the store to look at the card section, and that he and Kowal will bring in some new card products. He also said they will increase the stock of new local items and art supplies.

Aya Elhalawany, who has been a staff member at Crazy Alan's for four years, said she is excited about the new inventory Kowal and Sullivan are bringing in. She said the staff has worked hard to reorganize the store, and that her favorite part in the process is the improvement.

“Me and Michele are very like-minded on the items that we want to carry,” she said. “We're sort of on the same wavelength about what we want to bring in and how we want the store to look. And that's been super exciting. I’m glad that we're working together really well.”

Kowal said accepting community feedback has made the entire process more exciting. She said she has asked the community have patience with her and Sullivan throughout the reopening process.

“We've got a big dream,” she said. “And it's just gonna take us some time to actually get to where we want it to be.”

Sullivan said the store will hold a grand reopening in early November.

“I'm so happy for our customers that have been coming for a long time that they can still come to a place that sells stationery and art supplies and paper,” Elhalawany said. “I'd love for people to come in and stop by and take a look at how the store looks.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included incorrect information about Crazy Alan's Emporium's opening date. Although the store is open now, a grand reopening is planned for November. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error. 

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com 

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