Mapping Detroit: How the city's home improvement stores are 'agents of knowledge'

This is part of a new series from the unofficial cartographer of Detroit, Alex B. Hill, a self-described “data nerd and anthropologist” who combines mapping, data, and analytics with storytelling and human experience. He is the founder of DETROITography and author of “Detroit in 50 Maps."
The average age of construction of Detroit homes is 1947. Not surprisingly, older housing has many quirks and specific needs. It's why residents can find a number of specialty plumbing stores along with standard hardware stores for odd-shaped fittings and more. Store owners and staff carry on community wisdom across generations that help customers select the right circuit breaker plug fuse, figure out how to manage antique plumbing, or deal with interesting plaster issues. 

“Detroit Hardware stores are agents of knowledge,” says Southwest Detroit resident Michelle Martinez. 

There are very few national retailers located in Detroit. Similar to many retail categories, home improvement, and hardware options in the city tend to be very local and many have been around for decades. There is only one national hardware retailer, Home Depot, on W. 7 Mile Road and Meyers. There is a single Ace Hardware on McNichols and no Lowe’s store within the city limits. The most prevalent brand of hardware stores in Detroit is True Value with about a dozen locations across the city. 

Places like Brooks Lumber and Hardware in Corktown have been supporting home improvement since 1896. Riverfront Building Supply and Hardware, in Jefferson Chalmers, expanded offerings and added a showroom. A few notable hardware stores have closed in Detroit, including Detroit Hardware on Woodward and Busy Bee in Eastern Market. The loss of these stores was not only the loss of a community asset, but also the loss of neighborhood wisdom and community relationships. 

There are some new hardware stores too, like Advance Plumbing and Heating Supply on Cass Avenue. Plumbing retailers are somewhat distributed across the city, but paint-specific stores are only in a few areas while general hardware stores exist in every corner of the city. The most common neighborhood store to buy just paint is either Livernois Paint and Supply which has locations on Livernois, Westside, and Eastside, or Sherwin Williams which has been opening four new stores in Detroit in recent years. There is also a lot of cross-over. Many plumbing stores are “plumbing and hardware” while most hardware stores also stock paint.

Whether residents are looking to refresh the look of their homes or have some more serious work — there's a local hardware store waiting to help.   

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