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.