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Detroit wide open

Nifty little article in The New York Times this weekend about Detroit. It is by Toby Barlow and talks about the recent opening of French-inspired hot spot Le Petit Zinc in the city.

Best parts:

I was recently sitting at the bar of Le Petit Zinc talking to the owner, Charles Sorel, when he said something I found shocking: “I can't imagine opening a business anywhere but Detroit.”


Which leads to another entrepreneurial advantage Detroit possesses: instantaneous and automatic publicity. “Open a business anywhere else, and no one will notice,” Charles said. “Open it in Detroit and everyone talks about it.”

Read the whole thing here.

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  • 1

    read this piece earlier and have read Barlow's NY Times stuff in the past - liked the first excerpt you pulled but not the second one so much

    uncomfortable - it feels as though Barlow's saying and doing the right stuff, but for the wrong, or not quite right, reasons

    • 1.1

      "Look at me! Look at me! I moved here and didn't leave! It's a provincial backwater that's a mess, but I didn't leave! Look at me! I'm a New Yorker in Detroit!"

    • 1.2

      Yo, An Ouce of Action,

      "Barlow's saying and doing the right stuff, but for the wrong, or not quite right, reasons"

      Curious as to what my wrong reasons for doing the right stuff? Please tell me! And where's my Purple Heart!?! AND my Medal of Honor! It's not an either/or, I want both damn it. Both!

      Eat. Drink. Love Detroit. Onwards.

      Read more:

    • 1.3

      Me, me, me. Yeah. You nailed it. That's what it's all been about. So, now that we've covered that, let's get back to the more pressing question, where's my Medal of Honor? Where's my Purple Heart? Seriously, it's no fun gazing at myself in the mirror without them on.

    • 1.4

      Maybe your Times readership will fashion them for you.

    • 1.5

      I think your insight that I am providing a point of view of a transplanted New Yorker living in Detroit is interesting since I am, in fact, a transplanted New Yorker living in Detroit, and since it was The New York Times who asked me to write the series (two years after I moved here) and since their readership is not for the most part composed of Detroiters, but rather of other New Yorkers (or people who for the most part probably share the same perspective of the Detroit Brand as New Yorkers do,) i.e. people who think that they could never see themselves moving, living, or existing here. In the series I have focused on how the city can provide affordable housing for the arts, how it can serve as a model for alternative transportation, and how it comes with a community that supports local business. I completely fail to see how that is in any way shape or form indulgent or even self referential or, as a format, markedly different from the other writers contributions in the series (offering New York Times readers a similar perspective from Iowa and Atlanta ) But when the New York Times readers do come forward with those medals, I certainly won't reject them. I'm not proud, only argumentative. :)

    • 1.6

      As a native of the Detroit area who now lives in New York (State, not City), I can't see the problem. People of intelligence can be born, grow up and live anywhere, just like anyone else -- there's nothing in having been born and raised elsewhere that negates the validity of a perspective. If it's good, it's good and leave it at that. If it's not, let's talk about the problem of the POV, not where the guy was born, raised or lives now.

      Are his ideas good but you feel his his attitude about Detroit is snotty? If that's it, tell us how and why -- but where he was raised isn't the point. That's just a way to divide people instead of drawing them together to find a solution.

    • 1.7

      as quoted in post 2.2 below:

      "[Charles Sorel] said something I found shocking: “I can't imagine opening a business anywhere but Detroit.”

      From a local, I would have just written it off as city pride, but Charles is, as he himself puts it, a citizen of the world."

      Nice way to negate the opinions of 'locals' based on assumptions of their background and experiences. Fine reinforcement for all those lovely New Yorkers who do that anyway.

    • 1.8

      oh, now you're just being absurd. Why wouldn't one value a comparative statement more highly from someone who actually had experiences they could compare it against (for instance, running another restaurant in another market) versus someone who had never worked in any other market. If you want to be defensive and sensitive, fine, but if you want a real debate than you've got to more intellectually rigorous than this.

    • 1.9

      Some could feed you a line of shit and you wouldn't know the difference as you grovel at their feet while a 'local' who doesn't talk up their experience elsewhere would get blown off.

    • 1.10

      Divide and conquer -- some people never learn. So long as you divert your energies into pointless arguments of which subset of individuals knows better than the other with people who are essentially on your same side, you'll be left with no energy or focus for the battles which really matter. What a waste.

      There's room and validity to a wide variety of perspectives, and it is just self-defeating to knock people because they don't come from your approved background, or because they have a different style. So one guy is modest and quiet about his experience and one is flamboyant and open about his -- they can each bring something of value to the table.

    • 1.11

      Ah yes, ounce, I have written about local artists (from Detroit) and local shop owners (from Detroit) and locals (from Detroit) who are training other locals (from Detroit), and local (Detroit) growers, but somehow when I talk to someone who is not a local and they express admiration for the city, then they are feeding me shit and I'm groveling. Nice. Yes. Glad to see you taking the discussion to a higher plateau.

  • 2

    Actually, I think the second quote is dead on, and it's not the first time I've heard it - in fact, I've said it myself.

    The good news is that all of these new places getting attention actually deserve it. Le Petit Zinc is a terrific little place. So is Good Girls Go To Paris and Supino's. Any city would be lucky to have them, and I'm happy they're getting their due.

    As for Assignment Detroit posting this Toby Barlow article?... It appears the New York Times also has an embed in the city, and I think they scooped you on this one.

    • 2.2

      Huh? Barlow lives here and frequently has stuff in the Times. He relocated here from New York and sometimes it seems as if he wants a Purple Heart or Medal of Honor for doing so:

      "[Charles Sorel] said something I found shocking: “I can't imagine opening a business anywhere but Detroit.”

      From a local, I would have just written it off as city pride, but Charles is, as he himself puts it, a citizen of the world."


      "we are all raised to think of business as a sort of vicious spy-versus-spy, cutthroat activity where every competing establishment is out to stick a shiv into the other. You'd think that this kind of blood thirst would be even worse in Detroit, which — with Jimmy Hoffa's disappearance, Eminem's lyrics and our old, quaint Devil's Night tradition of burning down houses — has acquired a certain reputation for toughness."

      "We"? "Our"? One minute he's spouting New York attitude and the next condescendingly tying to Detroit.

      And Detroit's "toughness" is its heart, its persistence and resilience, in spite of the violence that occurs.

    • 2.3

      Actually, your Open City post was one of the few things I've seen from this "special assignment" that actually lives up to its stated ambitions. My only question is, why are Detroit's private security patrols given hard copy in the magazine over stories like that?

      I'd like to see more along this line of successes and challenges of doing business in Detroit... How do the folks at Wheelhouse make it work? Who's responsible for Eastern Market looking so good right now, and how did they do it? How did Detroit lure an Iron Chef to open a restaurant here? Are downtown retail rental rates really as expensive as people say?... Why? How on earth did a place like Slows come to have 2 1/2 hr waits for a table, while Mercury Coffee Bar folded in a matter of months?

      These stories are universal in their portrayal of people trying to make it, and yet utterly unique due to the fact that they are happening in the challenging confines of Detroit.

  • 3

    Of course, my favorite part of the article (sent to me by a friend in the NYC area who is also from Detroit) was this:

    "Detroit residents with an agricultural bent were beginning to take advantage of the 40 square miles of unoccupied open land here, an area almost the size of San Francisco. Greg Willerer, for instance, sells Charles spinach, flowers and zucchini at an affordable price, all grown within the city limits."

    This is the sort of thing I like to hear about the Detroit area -- starting over in a healthier, more locally sustainable way.

    • 3.1

      Detroit seems to have to restart about once every one hundred years ~

      Founded 1701
      Destroyed by fire 1805
      Hazen Pingree's potato patch plan 1893
      Auto era begins 1903


  • 4

    Your TIME blog treats the city of Detroit as if we are a backward place full of ignoramuses that eat caveman gruel with our hands. This state has some of the top ranked universities in the world, and has some very educated people who know not only food, but music, drama, etc etc etc.

    There is poverty and unemployment, but that is true anywhere. And private security firms.

    I still don't see why TIME had to send a group of outsiders to ooh and aah about anything here that is at all educated or desirable. If nothing else, how about hiring locals who have a sense of perspective and history? I believe that you may just have found some college grads in Michigan who were up to the task here. Amazing concept, huh? But think we have the best university system here, rivaled only by California, which actually has more cut-backs that we do.

    I do think that if you lived in Detroit in an area of poverty for a year, and wrote about the generations who have been unable to get out of the HS dropout/welfare/poverty cycle, that would actually be useful. Set yourself up for being mugged or shot at, like "real Detroiters" and then you would have credibility. Not reviewing fancy restaurants, but how about some places that get held up at gunpoint on a regular basis?

    But to park yourself in Indian Village, with private security firms and then act as if this is a hardship post is very pretentious. Get out there and really report on the action! Live in the real Detroit with the 30-50% unemployment rate, if you really want to prove your worth as reporters. Anyone can go to a restaurant in Royal Oak or the Book Cadillac. I'd like to see you brave the elements here. Go down to Devil's Night, and then hunker down in the war zone for a year!

    • 4.1

      Wow, relax.

      I personally would like to thank Time magazine for doing this blog and for covering such a wide range of topics within the city. I love hearing about new business and the individuals that are doing their part to bring this city back.

      As to the comment above, I think you are being completely unfair in your judgment. I haven't read any article that paints Michiganders as "ignoramuses that eat caveman gruel with our hands" and I would think, born and raised in Michigan myself, I would most certainly be offended if I thought this was the case. If anything, they have painted most of their subjects as heroes among us. Yes, Michigan does have some of the best universities in the country and I don't think any journalist on this panel has attacked that reputation. If you read more than a few articles you would realize that many of these reporters do have a stake in the city, many having ties to Detroit before this assignment.

      This is an example of the classic problem we have seen with getting any change enacted in this city. For years we have called for help, for someone to recognize our plight and to do something about it. But when someone finally offers to do something, we can't get past our pride. We put up a wall against Lansing, Time, or whoever else has been deemed "the other" and then we wonder why things haven't gotten better. True, you can argue that this Time assignment probably should have come 20 years earlier, when the need was still great and the topic of Detroit wasn't so taboo, but I am nonetheless glad they are here and I am not going argue with what geographic block of the city their residence lies.

      Lastly, thanks to community outreach, Devil's Night has been reduced to a size equivalent of the activities within most cities around this country. By insisting on identifying the name of this fine city with an event that peaked 20 years ago, you are perpetuating stereotypes and negating all the work members of the community have put in to make Detroit a better place to live.

    • 4.2

      Grewupindetroit, are you serious?

      Yes, you're right. Let's interview "real Detroiters" and perpetuate the already overly-negative stereotypes about Detroit, and reinforce to Time's national audience that it's filled with people who get "mugged and shot."

      Your response is indicative of the reasons why Detroit has been stagnant for decades. It doesn't trust outsiders to do anything; it won't allow business or political leaders from outside the city limits to come in and cleanse the city of the corrupt leaders running it (read: city council).

      Luckily, I think Dave Bing has the intelligence and fortitude to combat dolts who think like you, and return the city to some semblance of its wonderful past. I just hope the people of Detroit have the intelligence to return the favor and re-elect him.

  • 5

    I think that both sides of the fence are important in this assignment. Time should not be wasted pitting the good against the bad. Detroit is so much more than that. The stories detailing the gritty tragedies of a forgotten population found in the impoverished, un-employed, under-resourced and under-educated are important as it gives very solid form to what went wrong in the handling of a city that was a economical behemoth in a bygone year and prompts us with the important question "What needs to be done to initiate a reversal of this very tangible problem." Between this and the "happily ever after" success stories, there are many shades of grey, of people who are just going about life as usual, wondering where they fit in, in all of this. But the success stories are just as important, they allow us to see that the very heart of Detroit is beating strong despite all of the "clinical opinions" that the plug should be pulled on this city.
    Detroit is at a crossroads that can very well put it at the forefront of the Recovery in America or the tail-end, depending on the decisions that it makes in the next 5-10 years. It is almost a blank slate, with the ready availability of cheap land including commercial real estate (thank you real estate bubble), un-skilled workers (thank you 15-28% unemployment rate) skilled workers (thank you laid-off and fired automobile engineers) Detroit can be an economical giant again. They should be courting the likes of technological giants that have stabilized the Pacific Northwest and Silicon Valley. Detroit could lead the "Go Green" movement, it can be the veritable "phoenix rising from the ashes" but sometimes the pride must be set aside and we have to move away from the idea that the Auto Industry will be the sole Savior for Detroit once again, and diversify.

    As a Chicago native I hope to make Detroit my home in the near future, and not only witness this rise to fame again but to also be a participant, and most likely I will be doing this in one of the hardest hit areas, but hey every great achievement has humble beginnings. It will be a new start for me and Detroit.

    • 5.1

      There's nothing stable about Silicon Valley and the Pacific Northwest. Not too long ago it was part of the Pacific Northwest that was going back and forth with Michigan for the highest national unemployment rate.

      The real shame of Silicon Valley is that, while technology might be introduced there the manufacturing benefit is realized overseas, with the product coming back to the US for sale. This pattern is incredibly damaging to the US economy. Without manufacturing the US is nothing but arrogant hot air.

  • 6

    I keep hoping people will learn from their mistakes -- relying on the corporate world is what got Detroit (and many other cities) into the mess they are in now. Courting them is like trying to dance back down the cattle chute which landed you in this unhappy spot in the first place. Don't do it!

    Think outside that box -- you already know it doesn't work any more -- go green is one path which has the chance to be much better -- just make sure it is real healthy green, not just the marketing green veneer of yet another user corporation. Sustainability is a better way to look at it -- independent, self-sufficient, sustainable and NOT dependent on the fickle whims of profit driven ueber-corporations. Make a HEALTHY and SUSTAINABLE life for the people the center of your community. Stay clear away from "technological giants" and other huge profit-first driven organizations and stick with small businesses which can operate on a scale where they KNOW their customers and actually care about them.

  • 7

    I was wondering why a really good comment to this blog from levisayshi came through on my blackberry, as a reply to this posting by TIME, but did not get posted here? It was critical of this blog, but I cannot imagine you would censure it, as mine was not taken off.

    • 7.1

      Ad hominem attacks directed against the blog in general are pretty worthless and asinine. If you have a problem with a specific post then specifically address them and keep the comments on topic. I'm sure then any comments will be more likely to remain posted.

      When Steven Gray was on WDIV's show Flashpoint earlier this month one of the remarks made by the host during the introduction asked what would it be like once everyone stopped being polite to the yearlong guests. Are we at that point already? Do you really want to show the world how much of an @ss you can be to your neighbors? Seriously, if someone new moved into your neighborhood and, over coffee or a beer, expressed their concerns about the city would you respond by attacking them or would you explain to them what their misconceptions are and why they are wrong?

  • 8

    I thought the two posts which followed were better, but I have a saved copy of levisayshi's post in my e-mail, while, like you, grewupindetroit, I no longer see it here. If it doesn't reappear, let me know and I can e-mail it to you. (You can find me easily enough online since I use my real name)

  • 9

    Good luck to him whether or not he's being held up as a "precious" member of the Detroit restaurant entrepreneurs. He's got a tough winter ahead in southeastern MI and I wish him well.

  • 10

    I hope you former Newsers are capable of reading and linking to the Freep, too:

    Short on cash, neighbors swap skills, services
    Exchange groups grow in popularity around metro Detroit

  • 11

    Why do comments that come through on my email as posted on the TIME blog not show up here? There are several now.

    TIME people: do you withhold or delete posts? If so, why? If not, you really need to check your blog service, as it is not fair. Some of the deleted posts were quite insightful.

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