On the Avenue of Fashion, small businesses are driving the revival of a neighborhood retail district

April Anderson starts her day at 2 a.m. when she heads to a commercial kitchen where she bakes for the next four hours. Next she transports the baked goods to the storefront of Good Cakes and Bakes, which opens at 8 a.m., and she is normally there until the shop closes at 9 p.m.
"I'm here 18 hours a day, and it doesn't seem like work. If I had to work 18 hours a day at another job, I think I would be so miserable. I come here, I get to bake what I want, and I get to choose the menu. I love it," says Anderson.
Anderson, is the co-owner of Good Cakes and Bakes, a gourmet organic baked goods business located on the Avenue of Fashion, the historic retail district along Livernois Avenue near Seven Mile Road in northwest Detroit.

Treats from Good Cakes and Bakes
Dedication is a trait all business owners should have, but for the business owners along the Avenue of Fashion, a big part of their commitment is to the community they serve. Good Cakes and Bakes is just one of the young businesses in the area that is receiving great feedback from customers all over Detroit and is aiding revitalization efforts in the district.

The Avenue of Fashion
Avenue yesteryears
Back in 2011, I wrote about the Avenue of Fashion and how organizations like University Commons were working to improve the district and restore it to the glory of its heyday when businesses were thriving and it was the go-to place for high-end retail and entertainment.
The avenue is still in the restoration process, but within a few short years since I wrote about the area, there have been quite a few modifications, which the community and businesses have played a huge part in.  
Revolve Detroit
For one, the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation collaborative program REVOLVE Detroit has been working with local entrepreneurs to develop businesses in the area. Here's how it works: the DEGC works with the local CDC partners in the community to identify the needs and demands for new businesses and find the owners of the best properties that are currently vacant. Once the DEGC gets a partnership agreement in place with the building owners, they launch a competition where businesses submit a business plan. The goal is to fill the space permanently, but sometimes the market is not ready to do that, so this is where pop-up businesses comes in. Revolve helps facilitate the pop up for 90 days and if the popup decides that the business opportunity is there, they sign the lease to go permanent.
Last September, Revolve helped develop four businesses within the Avenue of Fashion district: Detroit Fiber Works, Love. Travels. Imports., Art and Motion, and Good Cakes and Bakes.

Detroit Fiber Works floorspace

Love. Travels. Imports. and Detroit Fiber Works originally opened up as pop-up stores, but signed permanent leases in January. Good Cakes and Bakes was the only business through REVOLVE that signed a permanent lease upon opening. Since then, Good Cakes and Bakes have been serving the community through their tasty treats and friendly service. They have customers that come as far as Ann Arbor for their pastries. The bakery has also filled a culinary gap in the area, considering there are not many restaurants along the strip aside from 1917 American Bistro and Noni's Sherwood Grill.

1917 Bistro
"We have gotten so much support from the neighborhoods, from downtown and Midtown area. It’s been wonderful being over here and to see the stuff that’s coming over here," says Anderson.
Detroit Fiber Works is another business that is working hard to increase its presence along the Avenue of Fashion. Owners Mandisa Smith and Najma Wilson both have a passion for art and they turned their artistic hobby into a one-stop shop for custom, handmade products that range from jewelry and clothes to home accessories and artwork by local artists.
Mandisa Smith of Detroit Fiber WorksThe store also operates as a gallery where artists can display their creations and the owners teach workshops for people interested in learning how to make fiber art. Wilson and Smith were recently chosen as one of the winners of the Knight Arts Challenge for their idea to host a series of interactive workshops for children, teens, and adults that will culminate in an outdoor fiber art exhibit on Livernois. They are now in the process of raising the matching funds from the grant.
Since their opening last year, Smith says the community has welcomed them with open arms.
"People come in and they are so happy; they are so glad we are there and to see something new and different."
Restoring the Avenue one brick at a time
Chad Dickinson is another champion of the Avenue of Fashion. He owns a furniture studio, Dickinson by Design, and a real estate development company, I'm Here, which purchased one of the largest buildings on the Avenue, the former Hunter Supper Club (located between Cambridge Street and West Outer Drive on Livernois). Dickinson has plans to turn part of the building into a restaurant and he is interested in getting the community involved in helping him figure out what kinds of businesses should occupy the space.
Chad Dickinson, founder of Dickinson by Design“We see a community here that is viable and vibrant. What is driving us is not the traditional economic factors that drive development companies. What's driving us is being sensitive to the community around us and developing things that will enhance that community,” says Dickinson.
A lot of the structural work within his historic building is complete and the roof is set to be finished very soon. There isn't a set date as to when the building will open, but Dickinson says they are taking their time to make sure that the building lasts another hundred years.
Coming soon
While new businesses are already building a strong foundation for the future of the Avenue, their impact will intensify as more entrepreneurs populate the area. Kuzzo's Chicken and Waffles, owned by Detroit Lions player Ron Bartell, has been in the makings for a while and is likely to open within the next few weeks. Two more restaurants are also set to open in the next few months, including a Mexican restaurant.
The surface hasn’t even been scratched, but at the rate businesses are opening on the Avenue, the hope is that the area will soon be back on its feet and ready to compete with bigger neighborhood districts within metro Detroit.
Only time will tell.

Veronic Grandison is a freelance writer.

All photos by Marvin Shaouni.
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