I live and work in midtown Detroit in the area known as the “New Center.” This area is in the midst of a new housing boom. Lofts and condominiums are springing up as fast as the land can be acquired. The area is recapturing the grandeur of the 60’s and 70’s, when it was the business hub of Detroit. The neighborhood just north of New Center, known as the Boston-Edison District, was renowned for its beautiful homes. Folks are buying the properties and renovating.
In 1998, General Motors announced that it was leaving the New Center to move into a state of the art complex created by Ford. When “GM Culture” abandoned the area, Crowleys, Pegasus and other businesses that had defined the area followed suit. By 2000, the area had lost its economic vitality. The State of Michigan attempted to infuse Midtown with consumers by moving employees into the old GM building. The frugality of mortgage burdened state employees was severely underestimated. We’re cheap. There are a very limited number of retailers and the area has yet to find a suitable replacement for the quality and ambiance of Pegasus or Lellis.
Midtown Detroit is on the economic rebound but process has been excruciatingly slow. The demographics have shifted dramatically, over the past 5 years, but the retail environment has not caught up to the new consumers. The area purports to have a population that has higher average incomes per capita than anywhere else in Michigan. Unfortunately, there are no supermarkets or upscale eateries to compliment the burgeoning middleclass professionals.
“THANK GOD FOR CVS”
When I had an automobile and credit cards (post-divorce), I was perturbed that CVS and the area liquor stores had high-priced groceries on their shelves. Since that time, I surrendered my Lincoln towncar at the end of the lease and did not drive off with another pimp. I have learned lessons in ghetto economics along with a dose of humility, here, in the Motor City.
When I first moved in the area in 2000 with 2 cars and good credit, I only ventured in the CVS to obtain prescriptions and vitamins. It was almost an aggravation to stop there en route to my many destinations. 5 years later: no cars, no nagging wife and no credit cards, CVS has become my market, my drugstore and my health food store. Walking 4 blocks with a gallon of milk in one hand and a 200 ounce container of laundry detergent in my weak hand is better than 20 minutes on the treadmill and 4 sets of weight lifting. The trips to CVS also equalize my drunken excursions to Popeyes and White Castle.
“A LITTLE HELP IS ON THE WAY”
At the corner of Woodward and Custer a sign claims the lot to be the future site of a Walgreens. I’m praying that some smart independent grocery chain (Spartan can you hear me?!!) will decide to grace us with its presence. Rumor has it that a very good downtown restaurant will be reopening the recently abandoned space in the Fisher building. The blaring hip hop music in the Clubhouse Tavern has been scaring off the more uptight theater goers. In any event, the area is in need of some balance to the 4 liquor stores, the 5 lottery dealers and Burger King et al. The guest at the St. Regis Hotel and pedestrians like me want and deserve better retailers.
“TODD AND BUFFY: WHERE ARE YOU?”
The new housing starts in Midtown will most certainly force retailers to return to the area. It can’t happen soon enough. I love White Castle hamburgers but I’ve had them for Sunday dinner one time too many!
Recently, I was accosted by a Gaggle of Matrons as I was crossing the bridge from Cadillac Place (old GM building) to the St Regis Hotel. The women had made a louie instead of a ralph. They had been told, by the concierge, that there were “shops” they could visit. I directed them to the New Center One building and was summarily accosted by another person on the bridge. We chatted for 4 or 5 minutes. By the time I got to the escalator, in New Center One, the Gaggle of Matrons’ tour was over. They had not ventured into the furrier’s shop and were a little intimidated by the ghetto fabulous fashion of Biz R! I was tempted to send them over to the Fisher building for a dose of Pure Detroit but I decided to leave well enough alone. They looked like they were farmers on vacation, so I expected they were on their way back to the hotel to beat down the concierge for sending them on such a lousy tour.
The retailers that remain in the area have loyal followings that allow them to keep afloat. I pray to the god of retail and commerce to deliver us a market and a better pizza joint (sorry Papa Romano!). We have 2 decent bars, 2 pharmacies and Chinese take out, so I’ll be able to make it in the meantime. Buffy, I need you and Todd to complain to the Economic Development Corporation so we can have some upscale eateries and at least one real good bar.
If it worked just south of here in Cass Corridor, it can also happen here.