THE BLOG
01/04/2013 03:41 pm ET | Updated Mar 06, 2013

Welcome to the New Businesses -- Thank You to Those Businesses That Stayed

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.
  • I hope that you will serve as an advocate for other small businesses that signify Detroit holds experiences and places for our suburban brethren to visit and embrace. We still have much work to do to encourage our own folks to stay and play -- beyond a game or a performance. There once was a time in the early 90s that Kathy Wendler and I held a ceremony on the "Day of the Dead" at Woodmere Cemetery -- to bury the "negative attitudes about the City of Detroit." May that need stay buried, but the work must continue to convert our own metropolitan community.
  • Raise your hand and volunteer -- for the board, for events, as an ex-officio spokesperson for all the initiatives that make your place possible: Midtown Detroit Inc, The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, the Parade Company, The Detroit Metro Convention and Visitor's Bureau, the Downtown Detroit Partnership, Greening of Detroit -- to name a few -- they all need your help and new dedication.
  • To all the technology businesses taking hold -- lend your talents and resources to identify how to do more business with each other, to match those wanting to give with those who need help. How about a data base of professional services offered by companies in the city, or matching the needs of non-profits with employees who are looking for ways to help the child, the family, a school?
  • And finally, that you say thank you to the businesses you hopefully frequent who have been not only survivors but committed to staying the course. Say Thank You to Scott and Carolyn at the Traffic Jam, (and Cliff Bells, and the Bronx Bar). Give a high five to Chuck at the Cass Cafe and Bud Leibler at the Whitney. Tell Fred's Key Shop and Third Avenue Hardware that they made it possible for you to be here. Tell Anne and Jackie that you intend to visit them at their new space. And tell Liz Blondy at Canine to Five you appreciate her business. Ditto to Steve Cordon at Inland Press, and all the others I have missed. There is a significant body of knowledge and heart that these businesses and so many others represent, and are deserving of our thanks and patronage.

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.