Buy Detroit, Build Detroit

Not much makes shopping easier than a little thing called free parking. Especially in a parking-ticket-happy city like, well, Detroit.

Good thing free parking is one of the main features of this year's Shop Detroit initiative. The annual month-long spree aims to get more people to do their holiday shopping in city stores.

Detroit is offering two hours of free parking throughout the city through December. That means a two-hour shield from buzzing meter maids and two hours of free parking at city-owned parking garages. The initiative is also offering a "NEXT Detroit Dollars" coupon. (Print it here.) You'll save $5 when you spend at least $25 at participating businesses, including clothing shops like Simply Casual in the University District or Flo Boutique in Midtown. There's also John King Books in Corktown, Blumz florist downtown, plus restaurants, coffee shops and more. (Click here for a complete list.)

The idea is to help make smaller city businesses competitive with the convenience and price of suburban shopping centers and big-box retailers — Meccas of free parking and discount prices.

"You need some incentives for people to come in and shop in the city," says Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

Battling the big boxes

One thing the city businesses can't entirely compete with (well, not yet) is the big box domination of suburban shopping, which eliminates the need to stalk for on-street parking spots and dodge meter maids.

What Detroit has, however, and what big malls lack, is uniqueness. While national retailers may specialize in blander products made for everyone, smaller boutique stores that thrive in the city offer hard-to-find yet enviable wares. To help drive this point, city leaders held the press conference to kick off the Shop Detroit initiative in the Pinnacle Sportswear shop at 16909 Harper on the East Side.

The contemporary hip-hop-themed clothing retailer occupies a small storefront on an active block of traditional retail shops on the northern edge of East English Village. While it may not look like much from the outside, Pinnacle's styles and merchandising could compete with anything in a mall.

"We believe that we have some of the finest stores like Pinnacle where you can find that one hot item," Kilpatrick says. "A lot of people say we don't have stores in Detroit. What we have is a lack of national retail stores. That's not what you need to build a community."

Buying power

While Detroiters might not be aware of the shopping choices and buying opportunities in their own backyard, they may be equally oblivious of the purchasing power in their own wallets.

A recent study by Washington, D.C.,-based nonprofit Social Compact  shows that Detroiters spend more than $1.7 billion outside of the city limits. And that figure is the just the tip of the information iceberg uncovered by the nonprofit, which has conducted similar studies in Cleveland and Houston.

The study forced the U.S. Census to add 62,000 "missed" residents to city's population, putting its population back above 900,000. It also shows that the average income of a Detroit household is $48,000, up from the 2000 Census estimate of $40,900. There is $800 million of informal economic activity, such as tips or baby sitting in Detroit's economy each year that does not register on traditional market measures. The aggregate income of Detroit households, $15.8 billion, is $2 billion greater than indicated by the 2000 Census.

While that study is meant to make the city more attractive to national retailers, it also sheds light on the importance of city consumers. While retailers may salivate at the spending potential of the desperate housewives of Oakland County, Social Compact shows that Detroiters' pocketbooks are a force to be respected and recruited.

"We want our folks in Detroit to take another look at Detroit," says Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson.

The conventional wisdom is that keeping Detroit's dollars in the city by supporting its businesses helps Detroit as a whole. The mayor takes it one step further, saying a rising economic tide that lifts the central also lifts all of the boats in Metro Detroit.

It also helps promote the urban village lifestyle of being able to do all of life's activities within easy walking distance of home. While Detroit may not be there yet, patronizing local businesses that are trying to make it happen in neighborhoods like downtown, Midtown, New Center, East English Village and Mexicantown will help bring that dream closer to reality.

"Shop Detroit is about more than just spending money," says Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit Branch of the NAACP, a cosponsor of the initiative with International Black Expo, the Booker T. Washington Business Association, the Independent Retailers' Association of Detroit  and the city. "When you shop Detroit, it not only helps improve the city's economic life but it improves the vitality of the city overall. Everyone wants to be able to live, work, play and shop right in their own backyard."

Need more incentive to Shop Detroit? Detroit Synergy's annual shopping extravaganza is 10 a.m.-5p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1. More than 80 downtown and New Center retailers will have special discounts and promotions. Check in at the atrium of Compuware's Campus Martius headquarters, get a free people mover pass, coupons and directory of participating stores, plus free parking at Compuware and shuttle service to the Fisher Building. Click here to find out more.

Jon Zemke is a Detroit-based freelance writer, frequent contributor to Model D and editor of metromode's development news section.


Hot Sam's on Monroe

Blumz on Broadway

Pinnacle on Harper

Jay Bee's Athlete's Foot on Woodward

Bureau of Urban Living on West Canfield

All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger

Read more articles by Jon Zemke.

Jon Zemke is a news editor with Model D and its sister publications, Metromode and Concentrate. He's also a small-scale real-estate developer and landlord in the greater downtown Detroit area.
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