One year. One city. Endless opportunities.

Downsized but not down and out

Tameka Gutierrez is a girlie girl. Pink cell phone. Pink laptop. You get the picture.

So it is hard to imagine this petite flower working the assembly line at Chrysler's truck plant in Warren, building big ol' Dodge Rams and Dakotas. But she did, putting in 11 years there. She loved the pay, hated the stench. She suffered through stitches (the result of using air tools for too long) and broken bones (fractured ankle from a forklift accident).

Even then, she had a Plan B. Gutierrez wanted her own store and, eventually, a clothing and cosmetics line. Her drive was so strong that the Harper Woods resident registered a business name eight years ago in hopes of making it happen.

These days, it seems everyone in Metro Detroit has a Plan B. With two out of three auto companies barely out of bankruptcy, no one wants to be hanging out there unprepared. Forget being a lifer and a fat pension. Right now, we all just want to maintain whatever kind of life we have.

Part of the problem is people weren't worried or frugal or whatever when they earned $30 or more an hour plus lots of overtime. Families bought big houses, boats, you name it on the basis that the good times would roll on forever. (What do they say about people who assume too much?)

Back to Gutierrez. She is a prime example of how to do it right. While she held a steady 40-hour job, she earned a Bachelor's degree in fashion design. She worked days while her husband worked the second shift to share caretaking duties of their two daughters.
On her off hours, she went to fashion shows, visited vendors, sniffed around empty storefronts. But she held onto that steady paycheck because it meant something to her, to her family.

Then, things changed. She got bumped. That means Chrysler told her to change shifts or else. So Gutierrez started working midnights. So when buyouts came around, she was the first to turn in her paperwork.

“It was an awesome run, but my time was over,” Gutierrez said.

Last year, she opened What a Girl Wants, a women's apparel and accessory boutique on tony Mack Avenue in Grosse Pointe. Yes, a black woman with a fashion-forward clothing store in quite possibly the whitest suburb in Southeast Michigan. And everyone shops there -- tweens, plus-sizes, even the more mature matrons of Lakeshore Drive.

Gutierrez loves it. Every single second. Even the days when she has three customers and only one buys something.

“I have good weeks and I have bad weeks,” Gutierrez said. “I'm in it for the long term.”

She talked to two financial planners before going solo. Her husband and uncle painted the store and got it ready to open. Gutierrez bought all of her store's fixtures from a going-out-of-business sale at a local mall. Display tables that normally cost $1,200 she picked up for $30.

Gutierrez even skips cable television at the store to save the $88 every month. She decorated the store with pictures her vendors sent her. She only orders new merchandise when something else sells.

“There is a middle where you can find good, quality clothing at an affordable price,” Gutierrez said.

Maybe the auto companies could learn a few things from one of their own.

  • Print
  • Comment

Add Your Comment:

You must be logged in to post a comment.
The Detroit Blog Daily E-mail

Get e-mail updates from TIME's The Detroit Blog in your inbox and never miss a day.

More News from Our Partners

Quotes of the Day »

NICHOLAS FISHER, expert at Stony Brook University in New York who took part in a study which found that bluefin tuna contaminated with radiation believed to be from Fukushima Daiichi were present off the coast of California just five months after the nuclear meltdown.