Miami-Dade County

Arango store reopens in South Miami

Marianne and David Russell on Tuesday as the Arango store reopens on Sunset in South Miami after being forced out of Dadeland Mall due to a rent increase.
Marianne and David Russell on Tuesday as the Arango store reopens on Sunset in South Miami after being forced out of Dadeland Mall due to a rent increase. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Fifty-five years after opening, and 10 months after locking the doors for good at its landmark, 50-year-old shop at Dadeland Mall, the redoubtable arango design store is back in a new urban incarnation — in downtown South Miami.

The little shop that introduced Miami to modern high-design housewares, furnishings and accessories reopened this week in a storefront on Sunset Drive to the delight of its legion of acolytes, about 200 of whom crowded an opening reception at the store on Sunday.

“I’m so glad,” said Eva Marie Kiene as she purchased a lightweight armchair and shopped for accessories Tuesday morning. “I’ve followed them everywhere. It’s different. Just my taste.”

The arango store long enjoyed an outsize reputation not just as a long-lived, one-of-a-kind retailer, but also as cultural lodestone, hosting design exhibits and programs of lectures, classes and workshops over the years.

The new arango — the name is not capitalized, in the minimalist spirit of its founders, the late Judith and Jorge Arango — will strike patrons of the Dadeland store as both familiar and fresh.

Classic pieces by famous European purveyors like Alessi, iitala and Georg Jensen mix it up with new work by independent American designers, all carefully selected and artfully arranged by the shop’s longtime owners, the married team of David and Marianne Russell.

The displays are now leaner and sparer, with less furniture in particular, given that the new space is about a quarter smaller than the mall store, but the store’s welcoming, do-handle-the-merchandise ethic is unchanged.

Not having the constraints of catering to a mall clientele means both the selection and attention to customers can be more personal, the Russells said.

Like the Dadeland store, the South Miami shop has a gallery wall dedicated to rotating exhibitions — right now, glassware by fferrone and work in metal by gentner, both from Chicago. On Sunday, the Russells brought in the designers to speak at arango with students from Design and Architecture Senior High.

“It gives us once again the joy of doing what we want to do, and that makes us very happy,” David Russell said.

The store was founded on Biscayne Boulevard in 1959 by Judith Arango and her then-husband, the Modernist architect Jorge Arango, both proselytizers for a movement that sought to make beautiful, useful objects available to all at an affordable price through mass production.

But the store struggled until it moved to Dadeland just as suburban expansion in the area exploded, and with it the market for contemporary furnishings.

The Russells, who bought the store when Judith Arango retired in 1994, were not planning to plunge back into retail. After a steep rent hike forced them out of Dadeland, the couple retreated to their Bird Road Arts District warehouse, where they mounted exhibitions and ran a pop-up store while pondering what to do next.

They ended up closing the warehouse and selling all remaining back stock and displays with a mind to reviving a dormant arango foundation to promote design and design education.

“We were never going to do this again,” Marianne Russell said with a laugh.

But one day they stumbled across the compact storefront at 5864 Sunset Drive, which had been recently vacated by its longtime tenant, a frame shop. Not incidentally, the building style is distinctly apropos, a mid-Century Modern.

They thought the re-energized South Miami main street, with its foot traffic and eclectic mix of shops and restaurants, was the perfect setting for what they do. Within days, they signed a lease.

They still hope to branch out further into education and exhibition, but realized they still needed a bricks-and-mortar presence in a high-traffic location to do so, the couple said. David Russell also wrote a design curriculum for high-school students, and says he would like to teach, perhaps at DASH.

“We thought, ‘We need a platform,’ and we were lucky to find this,” Marianne Russell said.