Why Grandmont Rosedale’s stretch of Grand River is a favorite destination for city’s entrepreneurs

This Street View series on Detroit's commercial corridors is made possible with support from the Ford Foundation.
Chantele Jones ships her famous vegan pound cake to points as far as California and Washington state, her customers catching word of her baked goods thanks to her social media presence, she says. But it’s here on Grand River Avenue where Jones really wants to make an impact, to put her roots down and open a permanent location in the Grandmont Rosedale community of neighborhoods. The days spent at her pop-up bakery here, Estella's Vegan Dessert Boutique, has only made her want that even more.

“Honestly, I've always wanted to live over here,” she says. “Because my business is kind of more family-oriented, it's a good fit; it's a family-oriented neighborhood. And then the response that I’ve received so far. I have so many people coming in here that were just jogging by. People come in here all the time and they’re like, I just live right down the street! I just want to stay here because it's been such a great response.”
 

Estella’s Vegan Dessert Boutique opened in the Grand River WorkPlace in October 2021, its lease running through June 2022. The WorkPlace is the local coworking space here, where neighborhood entrepreneurs and freelancers hold office hours and work and network. The local nonprofit community development organization, Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation (GRDC), opened the space in 2014.

A second component of WorkPlace, a pop-up storefront and small business incubator, is where you can find Estella’s Vegan Dessert Boutique. Without a commercial kitchen and storefront of her own, Jones uses a network of Detroit shared spaces and small business incubators to run her business. She utilizes the shared kitchen at the nearby Brightmoor Artisans Collective to bake her vegan cakes, cookies, muffins, and more. And it was after enrolling in TechTown’s Retail Boot Camp, a 12-week course that prepares budding entrepreneurs to open their own brick-and-mortar locations, that the folks at TechTown recommended Jones reach out to the GRDC about their pop-up storefront.

“TechTown told me about this pop-up space and I thought it would be an amazing opportunity to be able to come in here and further test out my proof of concept, before making the big leap of actually having a permanent storefront,” she says. “So I reached out, they told me when it would be available, and I jumped on it.”
Chantele Jones owns and operates Estella's Vegan Dessert Boutique, a pop-up (for now) bakery on Grand River Ave.
Projects underway

Jones was right about being on Grand River Avenue; she loves it here. It’s easy to see why. The Grandmont Rosedale stretch of Grand River, stretching several blocks east of the Southfield Freeway and running northwest up to Evergreen Road, is one of the city’s more bustling commercial corridors. Large murals adorn the walls of locally-owned small businesses, a steady round of streetscape improvement projects have made the strip safer to walk and bike, and pocket parks have transformed previously under-utilized spaces into public assets.
 

The five neighborhoods that make up Grandmont Rosedale — Grandmont, Grandmont #1, Minock Park, North Rosedale Park, and Rosedale Park — contain some of the most sought after houses in the city, a housing stock of stately brick homes mainly built in the 1920s and 1930s. The neighborhoods were highly desired when they were first built and remain so now, nearly 100 years later — and perhaps even moreso.

“I do feel bad for young people trying to move in because prices have really shot up,” says Tom Ridgway, construction and facilities manager for the GRDC and longtime Grandmont Rosedale resident. Even a house that needs “a ton of work, you’re spending $100,000 or $150,000.”

Because Grandmont Rosedale is largely made up of single-family homes, and often expensive ones, the GRDC has been making affordable multi-family housing a priority. Two major projects are in the works. An old International House of Pancakes is being torn down for a multi-story mixed-use development, introducing affordable senior housing to the corridor. The organization also purchased two 1930s-era apartment buildings for extensive renovations, to re-emerge as more affordable housing options for the neighborhood.
 

The GRDC, for their part, are as proactive a community development organization as they come and are responsible for shepherding many of the projects happening along the corridor and throughout the neighborhoods. And the City of Detroit’s Streetscape Program, which has been revitalizing the city’s commercial corridors since 2019, has transformed Grand River between the Southfield and Evergreen, the corridor undergoing traffic calming measures to make it more pedestrian-friendly, including the construction of protected bike lanes, pedestrian-crossing islands, bus stops, and more. The Grand Parklet project turned a small, awkward intersection into a community park, complete with landscaping, public art, and summertime programming.

Making connections

Something the GRDC also does well is connect small businesses with potential landlords. In her new role as economic development manager for the GRDC, Chelsea Salame is making it one of her goals to compile a directory of all the commercial building owners in the area so as to better connect potential tenants with storefront opportunities. Chantele Jones of Estella's Vegan Dessert Boutique plans to utilize the GRDC’s expertise as she hopes to find a permanent location in the corridor. She also plans on applying for Motor City Match, a City-led program that connects small businesses with landlords and offers grants and other business development resources.

Danielle North owns Kidz Kingdom, an indoor playground, party center, and childcare center on the corridor. Kidz Kingdom is located in the Grand Land shopping center, a triangular property at the intersections of Grand River, Fenkell, and the Southfield. The site features a series of strip malls and anchor stores, including the Royal Fresh Market grocery store.

The GRDC helped North find the storefront in 2016.

“They actually connected me to the landlord of my space. They knew him because they familiarize themselves with landlords in the community. And so I was able to meet him and he came to know that I was a part of the community,” says North, who lived in North Rosedale Park at the time. “They helped bridge that divide.”
 

North also credits the community of small business owners along the corridor with helping her succeed, people like Amanda Brewington, then-owner of the Always Brewing coffee shop (now Public Square), and Susan Murphy, owner of Pages Bookshop. Grand River boasts an impressive line-up of small businesses up and down the corridor: Cutz Lounge, Detroit Vegan Soul, Pages, Norwest Gallery of Art, Spa-A-Peel, The Garden Bug, and dozens more. And new ones keep popping up, including, most recently, Public Square and HM Style Lounge & Chill Room.

Kidz Kingdom has succeeded to the point that it’s now set for a major expansion. North recently purchased a 10,000 sq. ft. building at the intersection of Plymouth and Evergreen, a building she calls the Dream Studio that she hopes to open this August. There will be dedicated areas for childcare services, an expanded indoor playground, a dream fulfillment center, and offices for her Detroit Women’s Leadership Network organization.
Danielle North owns Kidz Kingdom, an indoor playground, party center, and childcare center in Grandmont Rosedale.
She’s sad to leave the neighborhood, she says, but the expansion necessitates a larger space. And she stresses that she’ll only be six minutes away; North still has great affection for the community. Given all that’s happening around here lately, from the streetscape improvements to the spate of new businesses, upcoming developments, and more, it’s hard to imagine that the storefront will be empty for long. There’s a certain vegan bakery looking to call Grandmont Rosedale home, after all.

“This community here, and particularly the community of business owners coupled with the GRDC, has just been invaluable to me,” says North.

Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is Model D's development news editor. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.