People doing business on the far East Side have a good sense of what commerce once was in Detroit and what it can be.
Smaller businesses can be found in the East English Village neighborhood between Harper and Mack avenues to the north and south and Cadieux Road and Outer Drive to the east and west.
Larger stores and new housing are in the Morningside, Warren/Conner and other neighborhoods to the west as far as Conner Street and to east surrounded by the Grosse Pointes.
Mom-and-pop small businesses occupy old downtown-style commercial corridors, such as Mack, East Warren and Harper avenues. New strip-mall developments filled with supermarkets and chain stores sit on the neighborhood’s western side at major intersections, such as Warren and Conner and Mack and Alter Road.
It all adds up to ample opportunity for people looking to start a business, to build a new housing or retail development, or to buy a home.
“There are a lot of new shops and services coming into the community,” says Maggie DeSantis, president of the Warren/Conner Development Coalition, one of many local organizations dedicated to improving the area.
Small businesses in old downtown-style storefronts along the avenues still thrive throughout East Side area, making its corridors some of the most vibrant retail areas in the city.
Brian Pikielek still sells bicycles from his store, Bike Tech, after almost 25 years. The storefront occupies an odd triangular parcel near Balduck Park where East Warren intersects with Opal and Canyon streets.
Bikes for sale line the store inside and out. Employees sometimes fix customers' bicycles outside on the sidewalk. People regularly ride by and wave. Others stop in for first-class service that small businesses are famous for.
“This type of business will always be here,” Pikielek said. “You can’t get your bike fixed at Wal-Mart. That’s important.”
His statement comes from years of experience. He has spent most of his life working along Warren, serving the residents of the surrounding densely-packed and well-kept neighborhoods.
In that time Pikielek has watched numerous businesses come and go, including other bike shops. But he believes there are opportunities for people with an original business idea or want to serve a basic need of the community.
“People have a need for that type of business in this community,” Pikielek said. “The neighborhood needs this kind of business. The kids need it, too. We need a bakery, a barber shop, a hardware store. We need the little corner grocery store.”
Room for good ideas
In addition to serving the neighborhood, the shops enjoy proximity to the Pointes and other East Side suburbs.
John Berry saw opportunity when he and his wife, Eboni, opened up EJ Berry Antiques in May. The couple sometimes puts its wares in front of its little storefront on Mack and Three Mile Drive to help attract customers from the neighborhood and commuters along the avenue.
Berry said being so close to stately estates in the Grosse Pointes and East English Village made it attractive for him and his wife to start an antique business. The tight economy even proved to be more of a help than a hindrance.
“It’s good to get in on the ground level,” Berry said. “If you have a good idea, there’s lots of space to rent because of the economy. There’s always disposable income.”
These types of businesses dominate the area avenues. They grow denser the further east as they get closer to and run into the Grosse Pointes. Even larger businesses, such as car dealerships, line the Detroit side of Mack.
Some have even become locally famous, such as the Cadieux Café. The former speakeasy, well known for its steamed mussels and feather bowling, is located in the middle of a neighborhood at the corner of Cadieux and Waveney Street.
Community residents often make it a point to support their local businesses. Bill Barlage, president of the East English Village Homeowners Association, said residents normally take advantage of the convenience of the short walk or bike ride to nearby shops.
“We use our local businesses as much as we can,” Barlage said. That attitude is a byproduct of one of the neighborhood’s greatest assets: its community spirit. Local residents take pride in not only knowing the people who live and do business in their neighborhood, but watching out for them, too.
That same type of community activism not only supports existing local business but also helps build new opportunities for commerce.
The Warren/Conner Development Coalition is now enjoying some of the fruits of years worth of labor, such as new housing and commercial space, to stabilize and improve the neighborhoods to the west of East English Village.
U-SNAP-BAC's Morningside development is building new housing in the area. Drive along Mack Avenue near Alter, and you can see the new townhomes and single family homes where urban decay once ruled. The houses include rentals, subsidized homes and new homes going at market rate.
“One of the assets is having all new kinds of houses being built all over the place,” DeSantis says.
The Warren/Conner Development Coalition’s activism played a key role in attracting Mike Curis to build a new commercial development at Mack and Alter last year. The Grosse Point Shores developer turned what was once a prime example of blight into a state-of-the-art, suburban-style shopping center anchored by a pharmacy, supermarket and gas station.
Curis combined 80 parcels, demolished structures and did environmental remediation on the site before building 60,000 square feet of commercial space, called Mack/Alter Square. That space is now 95 percent leased to a combination of chain stores and small businesses, including the city's first Chicken Shack franchise, and a Cottage Inn Pizza.
“We thought the area was ripe for redevelopment and needed redevelopment very badly,” Curis says.
For more information about the East Side visit the Model D
- Moving Guide
- Visiting Guide
Directions to East Side
From the East:
Take I-94 West and take Exit 223 toward Cadieux Rd. Stay straight to go onto Edsel Ford FWY East. Turn left onto Cadieux Rd. and arrive in East Side.
From the North:
Take I-75 South toward Detroit and merge onto I-94 East via Exit 53B toward Port Huron. Take Exit 223 toward Cadieux Rd and turn right onto Cadieux Rd. Arrive in East Side.
From the West:
Take I-96 East and merge onto I-94 East via Exit 190A toward Port Huron. Take Exit 223 toward Cadieux Rd and turn right onto Cadieux Rd. Arrive in East Side.
From the South:
Take I-94 East and take Exit 223 toward Cadieux Rd. Turn right onto Cadieux Rd. and arrive in East Side.
Take I-75 North toward Detroit and merge onto I-96 W via Exit 48 on the left toward Lansing. Merge onto I-94 East toward Port Huron and take Exit 223 toward Cadieux Rd. Turn right onto Cadieux Rd. and arrive in East Side.
Wayburn Estates near Mack and Alter
Aldi Grocery Store at the new Mack Alter Shopping Plaza
All Star Comics
E.J. Berry Antiques
The Pointe After
Mr. C's Car Wash
Wayburn Estates near Mack and Alter
All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger