One year. One city. Endless opportunities.

Low barriers to entry

Why would anyone want to start a business in Detroit?

Simple answer: There are “low barriers to entry,” according to Joe Posch, owner of Hugh, one of the swankest new shops in the city.

In other words, no one stands in your way. And, more importantly, there are lots of people (some 900,000 strong) who really, really, really want to see you succeed.

This is what I learned Tuesday night at Open City, a gathering of small-business owners within the city limits. They meet monthly at Cliff Bell's on Park Avenue to drink beer, talk shop and support newcomers to this thing called Detroit retail.

Open City is basically a support group for people who want to become urban entrepreneurs, explained Claire Nelson, owner of the Bureau of Urban Living, a Detroit shopping destination for distinctive home accessories.

The vibe was cool yet restrained at the gathering. The mix included local artists, wanna-be business owners and those who recently took the plunge into ownership. They debated real estate, the benefits of becoming a limited liability company and whether Ed Hardy is hip or horrible. (I argue horrible, but that's just my opinion).

The theme was creative commerce and the panel of four business owners hit on the highs and lows of working in and with Detroit.

Posch cheered the low rents, but he also encouraged listeners to consider Detroit as a place where they could be true to their vision. In Motown, you can be the expert or authority on a topic, open a business about it and not have to compromise as much as one might in New York City or Los Angeles, he noted.

Greg Lenhoff, owner of Midtown's Leopold's Books, was in the audience of Open City exactly a year ago, he said, pondering opening his own storefront. Now, he has a bookstore that draws students from nearly universities, those visiting the Detroit Institute of Arts across the street as well as those full from a great crepe at his neighboring restaurant Good Girls Go to Paris.

“To be honest, I was nervous about moving back to Detroit. … But there's a baseline hunger for retail in the city of Detroit,” Lenhoff said. “Everyone was willing to walk in and give me a chance.”

Rachel Leggs encouraged those without funding to dig deep and jump in head first. She has a brownstone in Corktown, Rachel's Place, that sells vintage clothing, accessories and more.

“I was the biggest thing standing in my way,” Leggs said. “Now, I feel like it's what I'm supposed to be doing.”

Nate Faustyn is one of four owners of the new Burton Theatre also in Detroit's Midtown. The school auditorium turned movie house has been open about two weeks now and is doing well – despite the constant line of parking tickets on the owners' cars.

Perhaps the city's police department might not be the theater's biggest fans, but Detroit and area residents are. Faustyn brought down the house when he told the story of a nearby Starbucks employee who literally shook with joy when she heard there was a movie house near her and her family.

Faustyn thanked her as well – just as he thanks everyone who comes to the Burton Theatre to see a show. Or three shows.

“I'm so nice it probably makes them sick,” Faustyn said. But that is why people come back.

And that is what makes Detroit so dear to me. Here are people who should be at home on their couches with a girlfriend or spouse rubbing their sore arms, legs, feet. Instead, they came out and offered their insights and support to one another. To keep Detroit going, to feed their families, to make a city a little more open to new business owners. I'm still feeling the love.

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  • 1

    I'm loving these positive and upbeat stories and blogs about Detroit. I'm glad there are other people out there that don't just dwell on the negative things of Detroit and resign themselves to thinking nothing good at all about the city.

    Keep it up and I hope after the one-year Time assignment is over, this blog will continue.

  • 2

    I'll echo the sentiments, Karen. I am most enjoying the reporting on local businesses and entrepreneurship. Everyone is already keenly aware that one of Detroit and Michigan's biggest problems is the lack of a diversified economic base. The real story is the people who are working to change that, both on the large and small scale.

    As a story idea, I'd be really interested to hear what sorts of efforts are going on in the area's universities and community colleges. I would hope, and maybe overly optimistically, that Michigan's excellent higher education system could become the laboratories for the 21st Century's Henry Fords (minus the overt racism, of course).

  • 3

    I'd like to chime in and say 'well done' for these positive pieces, too. I grew up in the area and, after recently returning to Detroit for a few weeks, I expected to find the usual hand-wringing.

    When I first saw 'The Tragedy of Detroit' cover story, I cringed — but I was surprised not only by the unique investment of the Time team, but the scope of this ambitious blog, which has quickly become a favorite among some recent pieces about Detroit (which I recently wrote about here).

    Doom and gloom is easy; so is cheerleading — balancing these two impulses is tricky and you're doing an excellent job of posting constructive stories while remaining grounded in the troubling reality of the city. Thank you for that.

    • 3.1

      That was an excellent post, Kino. Only thing I'd disagree with is tearing down the stadiums. Sports surely isn't for everyone, but teams are centers of civic identity, tourism and commerce. Granted that money for stadiums should never come at the expense of infrastructure, schools, etc., but in a perfect world (I know) they can be anchors for cities. Anyway, I always thought the Ilitches and Fords deserved a little credit for keeping/moving the teams downtown, especially given the sorts of tax incentives they would receive in places like Pontiac and Auburn Hills.

  • 4

    Karen, thanks so much for such a nice piece about Open City! It's a terrific thing that happens there each month, and the warm community of entrepreneurial spirits in the city is really fostered there.

    (I don't mean to sound new-agey there, but it's true.)

    The Time team is really doing a fantastic job of uncovering the upside to living in Detroit. It's not without its challenges but we're all here because it is so rewarding. Thanks so much.

  • 5

    Nice article. Its very easy to take low punchs at everything Detroit. But there are many opportunities and things that people can learn from Detroits situation. Crisis often forces change that may not otherwise come about and living in Detroit for the past few years, I have been impressed with the ingenuity of Detroiters to face challenges head on. From urban gardening to tackling the mortgage crisis long before most of the US even knew what a mortgage crisis was, Detroit neighborhoods and residents have been forced to address these issues and have often come up with very innovative solutions.

    I'm glad to see at least this Time report is willing to dig deeper and see what Detroiters are doing to solve problems rather than reduce her to a punch line.


  • 6


    Glad you were there last night and heard the panel for Open City - great group of young entrepreneurs and thanks for sharing their stories. We need to continue to get their message out and appreciate that Time is working on that!


  • 7

    Does Open CIty have a Website?

  • 9

    [...] since we all love Detroit , I want all my fellow NFL Lions fans to check out detroit.blogs.time and tell me what you think about[...]

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