Sometimes you just have to take a big leap of faith.
About six months ago, Dean and Elizabeth Bonzani, owners of the beloved ZANI card and gift store in town, did just that: After 20 years in business, they decided to sell and concentrate their energies completely on other creative efforts.
The tipping point was Dean’s 50th birthday in March.
“I was kidnapped and taken on a surprise tour of southeastern Arizona mining towns,” he explains. “On those long desert stretches, I had time to seriously reflect on this milestone. It’s time to believe in myself.”
Believing in himself will mean devoting more time to his greatest passion: The making of music.
When he’s not running ZANI, he’s deep in the bunker of Flup Lab, the music studio at his home in Cheshire.
Dean provides guitar and vocals and is the chief lyricist for the group V1, whose music is “feral,” he notes, and includes another guitarist, a bassist and a drummer.
But that’s not all: He also wants to focus on recording projects and his solo music act.
He’s good on the stage, he says, perhaps harkening back to his birth.
“I was born at the University of Chicago in the doctor’s arena, where they show the medical students how to deliver a baby, because it was cheaper,” he relates. “That was my first show, my first audition, but I was hooked.”
Dean says he has always sung forcefully and opened up his pipes so much on the patio at Altitudes recently that he hasn’t played there since.
“It’s time to bring on the full force of personality to bear—for both of us,” he says.
Tired of being tethered to the cash register and suffering retail fatigue, Dean says they plan to hit the road and enjoy adventures, together.
Elizabeth says she wants to concentrate on her ceramics business, which is called “Snow Moon Flower,” a Japanese koan for a very rare and special event.
“When the moon is shining on a flower that is coming up out of the snow,” she explains. “That’s about how often I make a pot that I think is really awesome.”
The potter specializes in functional high-fire stoneware vessels for the kitchen in a farmhouse style that is “rugged and good for day-to-day wear and tear,” she says. “That’s how I make it, and that’s how I live.”
She is also developing a specific vessel for the fermentation of vegetables.
“I’m really into wild fermentation, naturally fermented cabbage being the most common,” Elizabeth explains. “It’s easy to do, and it’s extraordinarily beneficial for you. It’s good for digestion and puts back the natural bacteria you need.”
Her studio and wheel are in the sunroom, and her kiln is in the garage.
So, soon it will be working from home for the couple, and even turning their house into an artist compound with various studios.
“We’re also providing healing and counseling for those who need it,” Dean says. “We already do that a lot at ZANI. We’re truing up the alignment of our soul’s purpose. The call to the next phase is thunderous in our ears. It’s absolutely about abandoning fear and putting complete trust in the universe.”
The couple met in 1983 when they were both students at Northern Arizona University, and Dean served Elizabeth in the cafeteria.
They hit it off on the first date and have been married for 27 years.
They have a son, Christopher, 25, who has been living in Colorado but is moving to Ashland, Ore.
In fact, it was the influence of their son and the transformational festivals he attends that inspired them to set this new life course.
“I really do credit my son and his friends living the life of the creative 24/7,” Dean says.
These events, like Flag’s recent Firefly Festival, have increasingly involved the couple.
Dean even fashions what he calls “Signs of Intelligent Life,” placards for attendees to carry in crowds.
“One aspect of the festivals we appreciate is that there are all ages, from little kids up to older folks with flowers on their heads,” he observes. “The tie that binds them is they are all geared towards togetherness, a personal and transformational cultural evolution that is moving the race forward through the exchange of cutting-edge thinking.”
Looking back in business, the Bonzanis launched ZANI on a shoestring in the spring of 1993, focused on futons and opened up inside a small space on South San Francisco.
Ultimately, they moved to the heart of the downtown and the historic Doc Raymond building on North Leroux Street.
From the beginning, they concentrated on creating the “ZANI look,” a distinctive aura that reflects their flamboyant, exotic and colorful style.
When the economy tanked in 2008, the owners eliminated futons and expanded the items coming from small artist groups, craftsmen and small companies, mostly in the U.S. and Canada.
In January 2011, they moved to the current location on West Phoenix Avenue, another historic site on Old Route 66.
Bathed in sunny light, the new spot fit them and their business, providing an improved and upbeat ambiance.
“I love the location; it’s fabulous,” Elizabeth says. “I love looking out the window and seeing the Peaks, and I love all the parking.”
They are used to sharing staffing responsibilities at the store and spending lots of time together, although Dean admits he is not always easy to live with.
An Aries, he has a challenging personality, and his wife says he is passionate, intense, energetic and “so brilliant.”
Prospects for selling the business are good.
“There are two parties who are very excited and pursuing the possibilities with all pertinent parties, so it’s a race to the funding,” Dean notes.
There are some sad things about leaving ZANI.
“I will miss aspects of the business,” Elizabeth says. “I will miss going to the shows, and I will miss all of our great customers, who I get to see a lot, and some of our vendors are really good friends. That will be kind of sad.”
One thing that surprised the Bonzanis after the word went out they were selling was how much they mean to their customers.
“We love them, and, as it turns out, they love us,” Elizabeth says.
Visit ZANI for cards, gifts, exotic papers and many other unique items at 107 W. Phoenix Ave. The store is open Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. To chat with the Bonzanis, call the store at 774-9409 or visit www.zani-online.com.
To read recent Flag Live cover story features, see www.flaglive.com/index.cfm?section=cover.