Wow. What a year Detroit's Midtown and Downtown has had in attracting new and relocated businesses to its core. Welcome to each one of you. From our perch in Midtown since 1982, we have been hoping for this day. Waiting for others to put their stake in the ground and grow the army of small businesses here most cities have to offer. Now we are beginning to see a ground swell in Detroit.
When I started a communications and design business on Forest and Third, most people thought the brains flew out of my head. There was none of the what-a-great-place-to-be. You are a real pioneer. It was more the variety of you-are-nuts. But even then, there was an amazing group of existing businesses to help point the way for the up-starts. It was this balance of the seasoned veteran businesses, the survivors, with the new start ups that made for a dynamic not-to-be-found elsewhere community of small businesses.
When we opened on Forest and Third in what had been a vacant dentist's office in a 1904 building, there was a small core of businesses battling urban flight -- even though the moving trucks were all going the other way. Although Saks Fifth Avenue on Second and Hudson's Downtown both closed in the early '80s, there was Emily's (Say Something Nice About Detroit), followed by Pure Detroit in the '90s who had the courage to begin life as the only business in the David Whitney building. We had Elizabeth Street Cafe, before the stadiums were constructed, and Alvin's on Cass which was a gathering place for their Greek salads and the new sounds of the next generation of Detroit's musical community. A frame shop owned by Pat Haller in New Center had an incredible base of business. A wine shop and shoe repair were a vibrant part of the Concourse shops in the tunnel between the Fisher Building and the G.M. Building. And London Luggage, begun by a returning World War II veteran, still had the lights on -- as it does today!
A glass blower was working his craft on Third and Prentis, and a Dairy Queen lived
next door on Canfield. Fred's Key Shop and the Third Avenue Hardware were there then as now -- giving witness to what was possible in what was then known as the Cass Corridor.
What we didn't have was the likes of Sue Mosey in Midtown who knew how to attract businesses one by one, and the support of those businesses from folks who worked here, but lived elsewhere. When we began a program to encourage shopping in Detroit (1987-1990) by those who both worked here and lived here, there were 500 small merchants in 10 areas throughout the city, many not known by those who passed by on their way to the suburbs. "Shop your Block" -- was the campaign and the rallying point we developed then, which continues today in Southwest Detroit. But the very idea we had 500+ merchants to build a program around still staggers my rememberance of that time.
So, here's what I hope for all the new businesses who have come to town:
- That you enjoy the depth of support and mutual benefit we have had these past three decades. It takes work and staying power to reach out and develop a community that celebrates not only the newcomer, but those who have had the courage to stay through some pretty dark days.
As I sat in the space in the Madison Building last month for the December Board Meeting of the Convention Bureau, looking out on the city lights, the stadium and the streets filled with people, I looked around me at folks that have been working hard and quietly for years to make this destination all that it could be. I thought that is the heart of our business community here and it all begins with one person and what they can make possible.