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Shop Your Block

From low riders and hot music to authentic Mexican cuisine and kiddie activities, Shop Your Block isn't your typical sidewalk sale. The annual cultural event and neighborhood festival is also a chance to explore Southwest Detroit.

Even a particularly unaware resident of Metro Detroit knows that summertime around here is all about Events-with-a-capital-E. Like just a few weeks ago, when the Gold Cup Boat Races, Fourth Street Fair and Concert of Colors converged during one particularly busy three-day span. And while many of these said events have reached the consciousness of the area's mainstream, some of the most authentic ones fly beneath the radar of many people not within blocks of the action.

Such is Shop Your Block, an annual West Vernor street fair about to mark its 20th anniversary this August 4-5. Produced by the Southwest Detroit Business Association (SDBA), Shop Your Block was initially designed to bring shoppers back to a struggling commercial corridor. Over the years, and with an influx of Latino culture (and capital), West Vernor has blossomed into a real-live pedestrian-oriented commercial corridor — and Shop Your Block has evolved into a vibrant celebration of its residents and businesses.

Shop Your Block is focused around the two main "nodes" of West Vernor's commercial activity: the intersections of Vernor/Junction and Vernor/Springwells. The event runs from noon-6 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday, and it is decidedly family-friendly.

Here are a few recommendations to guide your visit, but don't hesitate to just park your car or bike and walk down the street. After all, that's what summer, street fairs and Southwest Detroit are all about.

Sounds of Southwest


Shop Your Block features a stage at each node, but the Vernor/Junction stage on Saturday has some really hot acts — all of which are local. La Inspiracion, the 10-piece Latin jazz band led by Detroit veteran Ozzie Rivera, warms it up at 11:30 a.m., followed by Francisco Solano's Band. At 2 p.m. is rapper SOL (www.sol313.com). He just released an album that is expected to blow up and has already opened for Eminem, Common and Bubba Sparxxx.

Other notable acts include Kamil Haddad, Benny Cruz and the Brown Paper Bag Blues Band. Full lineups for both stages can be found at www.southwestdetroit.com.

Dream cruisin', Southwest style

For the first time, the souped-up rides so common in Southwest Detroit have been formally invited to cruise West Vernor during Shop Your Block. Anyone who has gotten the chance to watch these vehicles bump their way down the street during the annual Cinco de Mayo parade knows how entertaining — and awesomely loud —these low riders can be.

Good eats

Of course, most nonresidents make the trek to Southwest Detroit for the Mexican food the district is famed for. But there are others—mainly denizens of the night — who swear by the coneys and scrambled eggs at the narrowest restaurant in town, Duly's Place, located just kitty-corner from Holy Redeemer.

Down at the other end of Shop Your Block is a trio of Mexican restaurants that, while popular within their neighborhood, are not as well known to the broader community. This is your chance to pay them a visit.

Las Brisas is great for dinner, drinks and dancing on Friday and Saturday nights. A full mariachi band and admirable selection of tequilas make Las Brisas a local favorite.

You will know El Nacimiento by its roof, which is adorned with rooster figurines. Only open since 2002, it has established a reputation as an all-around solid restaurant, and its façade is a wonderful example of the type of wholesale changes occurring up and down Vernor. The motto of Nacimiento's owner speaks to the warmth of the joint: "The sun rises, and there are enough rays for everyone."

Chorizo. Got your attention? Taqueria Nuestra Familia — of the colorful hand-painted tables, $3.95 lunch specials and homemade horchata — has arguably the best in town. Opened in a single storefront in 2000, Nuestra Familia has since expanded three times into adjoining spaces.

For the kiddies

Another new addition to this year's Shop Your Block is Vernor Beach, which is, well, a beach under a tent that will offer a wide variety of kid's activities such as face painting, interactive theater, piñatas, sidewalk chalk and crafts. Vernor Beach is located at the Springwells end; the highlights of the Vernor-Junction area will be a petting zoo and inflatable play areas.

It is called 'Shop' Your Block

West Vernor is neighborhood-oriented, so many of the shops are of a "basic goods" nature, i.e., hair and nail salons, pharmacies, mercados and professional services. However, your visit to Shop Your Block gives you the chance to check out some specialty shops most likely found nowhere else in the area.

Many Latin cultures celebrate a girl's 15th birthday with a Quinceanera, a religious ceremony and party that marks and honors her journey from childhood to adulthood. Maggie's Creations specializes in the creation of the elaborate dresses that the guests of honor wear to their special events, as well as decorations that will transform her family's home or local social hall into a dreamland for the day.

Variety or dollar stores are no longer the domains of the hard-pressed inner city; with chains popping up all over even-affluent areas, they have become as American as 7-11's. But you have never been to a variety store quite as varied as Nice Price. It's got your typical hand towels and dish soap and wrapping paper and candles, but it's also got a surreal assortment of tchotchke and patriotic paraphernalia. Plus, there's a good chance that there will be a human-sized Shrek or Winnie the Pooh wandering the isles.

The urban cowboy look never really fades into obscurity; it's less a trend than an enduring "look." Rodriguez Vaquerita Western Wear can gear you up with the most authentic in boots, hats, belts and more.

Finally, while optical stores aren't quite a niche market, El Valle Optical  has certainly carved one out for itself by providing a well-chosen selection of upscale eyewear. One of the strip's newest businesses, it is located in a nicely renovated storefront.



Interested in learning more about businesses and setting up shop in Southwest Detroit? Click here to check out Model D's guide to investing in the fast-growing area.



Photos:

Rodriguez Vaquerita Western Wear

El Valle Optical 

Holy Redeemer Catholic Church

Taqueria Nuestra Familia

Maggie's Creations



All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger

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