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Suburban trade centers giving back to the community

Jim Koester is like the P.T. Barnum of Metro Detroit.

Koester is the owner of Gibraltar Trade Centers, two sprawling retail hubs in the suburbs of Taylor and Mt. Clemens. Vendors here sell everything from rare baseball cards to cowboy boots to wedding dresses at discount prices.

But even Koester's weekend markets were not immune to the state's economic downturn. Vendors complained of slower sales. And he was acutely aware of how job and pay cuts were affecting his customers.

Two months ago, Gibraltar Trade Centers began offering free indoor table space to anyone who needed it. Normally, a table could rent for up to $100 weekly or more for special events.

Now, Koester said he is extending the offer through the end of October. The vendors are happy, and the customers are coming back.

“It's been great for the people and it's been great for us,” Koester said. “Previously, business was up when the economy was down. But it has been a slow year (and) it's nice to get back to our regular activity levels.”

The only rules to the free table offer are this: The items have to be used – like those sold at garage sales. And the tables are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Gibraltar is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

What is great is that people are finding their so-called junk is really valuable, Koester said. And families in need can turn around and use their profits to buy clothing for $1 an outfit and school supplies right there on the spot.

Koester started the Taylor center in 1980 and the Mt. Clement spot a decade later. The 73-year-old ringmaster feels like it was the right time to give something back to Detroit.

“Gibraltar is like a small town. You talk directly to the store owners and they get to know their customers,” Koester said. “It's great that there's a place where everyday people can start their own business.”

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