Block profile: Service Street in Eastern Market

At the southwest corner of Detroit's Eastern Market, you'll find an ordinary looking block of commercial buildings, storefronts and parking meters. Although home to recognizable city sights like the old Atlas Furniture building and Discount Candles, this Gratiot block, framed by Riopelle and Russell, shows little life. But take a trip south on Russell, turn at Old St. John's church and discover something unexpected. You'll find a brick-paved street, a grassy lot, a line of open doors and a collection of people who generate a rare energy that makes this one of Detroit's most vibrant neighborhoods.

Service Street is home to artists, doers and ideas. Activist John Sinclair, techno pioneer Derrick May and the ubiquitous Made in Detroit brand all share ties to this corner of the city.

In 1995, Pat Deegan worked for the fledgling clothing brand in the Atlas Building. "I got to know everyone and see what this neighborhood was really like," he says. So, in 2006, when looking to buy a new home, Deegan set his sights on Service Street. "I moved in, cleared out some tumbleweed and introduced myself around the block. I'd sit out behind our place and try to make eye contact with my neighbors."

Deegan's efforts have paid off. He quickly got to know his neighbors and became a part of the block -- a block that he says is in the midst of a modest renaissance. "Things have improved very quickly over the past few years. We really have a strong sense of community here. People know each other. People look out for each other," he says. "If you need to move something big in your place, just go out back and yell. People will come over and help."

Holice P. Wood is a Service Street resident currently restoring a historic art deco facade at 1484 Gratiot for his business, DetroitLife. The project will eventually house a recording studio and resources for musicians. "This is an amazing street of people who get it," he says. "There is great solidarity and pride in ownership of this neighborhood and of this city."  

Don't mess with Service Street

When Wood first moved in, however, pride and solidarity weren't quite as common. "This neighborhood was rough," he says. "I got into fist fights, knife fights and shot at."  Eventually he and neighbors like Deegan started to take action. "It enraged me that my neighbors were being robbed," he says. "After you're here a while, you know who belongs and who doesn't. I tell people that we have a right to the privacy of our own trash. We're not going to allow people to come in here and dig through it. We're not going to allow people to mess with our homes."

Wood used his influence to mobilize his neighbors to get everyone thinking about the safety and quality of life on Service Street. "Artists can sometimes be a passive crowd," he says. "If you want to take your block back, sometimes you have to be willing to be a rude motherfucker," he says. "You can't be naive about this area. Even with everything good that's happening here, we still have to guard it."

"This is an incredible collection of people. They're people who contribute to Detroit. They're leaders," says Wood. "Pride is a contagious thing. It could spread out from this neighborhood into the rest of the city."

The Atlas

Rumored to be the first commercial space converted into residential lofts in Detroit, the Atlas Furniture building is now owned by Eastern Market's Rocky Investments. From the beginning, artists were attracted to the low-cost unconventional spaces, which today are home to local talents like Bethany Shorb her Cyberoptix Tie Lab.
Recently, building owner Steven Walker has noticed the arrival of a new generation of creatives. "A crowd of younger people has started to move in," he says. "They've added new energy to the building while mixing well with the current residents."

Walker attributes the success of the building to a commitment to artists and their budgets. "This property isn't about getting rich. It's about a community," he says. Although Rocky Investments has had to raise rents in the past to maintain a positive cash flow, Atlas Lofts' rent is surprisingly competitive. Studio spaces encompassing an entire floor of the building (3,200 square feet) can be had for about $1,300 a month. Smaller spaces in the Atlas range from $300 to $900 per month.

"It's about preserving the artistic community," says Walker, who also manages several other buildings owned by Rocky that make up the Service Street block. "We want to ensure we retain artists and maintain the spirit of this neighborhood."

Creative spaces

Along Service Street, resourceful residents have turned other decaying commercial structures into innovative living spaces "Before we bought our place it wasn't properly occupied," says Liz Blondy, Service Street resident and owner of Detroit's Canine to Five doggy daycare.

Four years ago, Blondy and fiance Pat Deegan bought a 3,800-square-foot storefront and remodeled it themselves. It had its flaws -- former occupants reportedly burned fires in the basement to heat the building -- but the couple saw an excellent opportunity. "It hadn't been abused by the elements," says Blondy. "The basement was dry and had tin ceilings. Its layout had potential."

Deegan had his eye on the property for a long time. "I saw the place was available, and when we checked it out, I thought this is pretty cool. This could actually work," he says.

"I love it. I don't think I'll ever live in a conventional space again," says Blondy. "Now I'll see a gas station and, thanks to Pat, I can view any structure as a potential living space."

Its flexible living spaces, proximity to Eastern Market, I-75, the stadiums and downtown are some obvious benefits to living on Service Street.  But the neighborhood's real treasure may be its nearly mile-long back yard. Behind Service Street, residents can traverse a network of parks that begin with beautiful Lafayette Park, extend through Detroit's Central Park at Lafayette Street, and continue nearly uninterrupted to Jefferson and the RiverWalk.

"It would be really hard to convince me to leave," says Blondy. "I don't know of anywhere else in the city where you can get this much value and have access to greenspace like we have."

A model for a new Detroit
"People are pleasantly disposed when they first come here. They can feel the warmth," explains political consultant, activist and producer, Ron Scott.

"When I first visited this area, it reminded me of similar areas in New York or San Francisco," he says. "It was inviting, abiding and warm. It was different. It felt like going back in time to the era of Black Bottom. It grabbed every part of my soul."

Scott is a long-time Detroiter, a veteran of nearly 40 years of radio and television, co-founder of the Detroit Chapter of the Black Panther Party and member of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality. He operates Ron Scott Video Productions out of his space on 1410 Gratiot.

His time in the city has given him a unique perspective about Service Street and what it could mean for the rest of Detroit. "Here, people who would otherwise identify by their race, identify as urban. They have their own space and their own synergy," he says. "I like to envision this area as an example of Detroit's' future. This is what an urban community can be. It's a rediscovered neighborhood. I just hope that we'll have more of them."

Michael Gentile lives on the East Side. His last block profile had him drinking wine in West Village's Parker Street. Have a comment or want your block profiled? Send feedback here.

All Photographs © Marvin Shaouni Photography
Contact Marvin here


Patrick Deegan, Gratiot block resident

Nature wall

On Riopelle St.

A short stroll to Eastern Market

The office of Cyberoptix

Liz Blondy and her canines

Felicia Patrick, owner of Flo's Boutique

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