“Elevate Your Voice” Entrepreneur Spotlight: Ruth Williams

This article is part of a 12-part profile series that seeks to capture the thoughts and ideas of entrepreneurs in Inkster, Dearborn/Dearborn Heights, Ecorse, and River Rouge. This series is made possible through the New Economy Initiative’s “Elevate Your Voice” campaign, designed to help inform entrepreneurship support, and amplify authentic voices in the small business ecosystem. This profile features Ruth Williams of family-owned and operated business Harrison Liquor, based in Inkster, Michigan. 
Can you share a little bit about your business?

I'm part owner of Harrison Liquor. In 2019, together with my niece and nephews, we decided to purchase a liquor store. Due to COVID-19, however, we didn’t officially open until 2021. We felt there was a need for it because, prior to us opening, the closest liquor store was over a mile away from the neighborhood. My father was the first Black entrepreneur to establish multiple businesses in the same area, back in 1945, so we also thought it was really a great opportunity to open another family business in the community. We are all co-owners and operators of the business. We also have employed people from the community since opening. In addition to spirits, we offer groceries like dairy items and fruits and vegetables, so, in some ways, it’s like a mini market as well. 

What would you say inspired you to plant business roots in the Inkster community? 

I was born and raised in the Inkster community. I worked for the city for about 32 years, and then I thought of my father, who then owned a restaurant, a motel and a nightclub. Harrison Liquor happens to be in the same area, on the same street my father started out as a businessman. So that was one motivation to purchase the store when presented with the opportunity. Again, we also felt it was a way to provide something that was missing in the neighborhood, and also give back to the community by creating jobs and, ultimately, a new legacy for members of our family, with a history of owning businesses. 

How have you been able to find or access capital needed for your business? 

It’s family owned, so we all put our savings together to come up with the capital needed to buy the store, considering it to be a good opportunity to start the business because it was a very good sale. 

What are your current business goals?

Some of our business goals are to have the store grow into a supermarket. The opportunity for growth is there because the community actually supports us 150%. So many of them come in and tell us they're glad we opened the store back up because now they can walk to the store, and don’t have to travel over a mile away to purchase essential items like milk or eggs. We already purchased a second property with a nice parking lot, so, with some additional capital, we would like to see if we can expand by opening a larger store than what we have now. 

What would you say are some resources you need to achieve those goals?

The biggest resource to achieve our goal is capital to make some upgrades to our current store such as new coolers, new shelving, and remodeling the restroom area. There are a lot of things that we’ve identified that we need, but it all comes down to more capital.

If someone came to you and gave you the best resource guidance for your business goals, what would support from that resource look like for you?

The support from that resource would be to provide us with opportunities to receive some funding. When we opened, the Inkster Chamber of Commerce came out and supported us 100% with a ribbon cutting at our grand opening. Additionally, the community support has been welcoming. I think it is because I've been in the community for many years, and I have established relationships with the city leadership, and the community members as well.

Fill in the blank: ____ has been a really good resource for me. Please share how or why.

Good resources for us that I was familiar with city leadership and administration. I've been part of the chamber for about eight years, so I knew where I had to go to get things like the building permits and the business license, so I didn't really have any problems reaching out to the necessary people to get our business open. But then COVID came in March of 2020, and we had just purchased the building in November of 2019, so we ran into that problem, but we survived it. 

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in starting, growing, or sustaining your business? 

The biggest problem I would say we had was trying to obtain a license to take EBT card transactions. We didn't really have any other major problems, other than dealing with the city to get the business license for operation. 

If you met a new business owner in the community, what is the first resource you would recommend connecting them with to help them succeed within your city? Who would you connect them with outside of your city?

First, I would connect them with the Inkster Chamber of Commerce because they've gotten a lot stronger since we've been on the board. We reach out to new businesses, and we’ve found the biggest problem most people in the community who are starting a new business face is dealing with the planning department and the building department. If you don't know the ordinances that are required by them, you could want to start a business that might not be in the right zoning area. So, to assist them, we would offer them the opportunity to make sure what they're trying to open is zoned for that area, and also introduce them to the chamber as well as the building and planning departments to help them learn the ropes of starting a business in Inkster.

What would you say is a shared issue, concern or challenge among the entrepreneurs and small businesses in your community?

I would say the city. If you don't know the ordinances, and the zoning areas and things like that, the city is really hard on you in trying to get your permit or your business license. So, that's the biggest problem because trying to start a business in Inkster is very, very hard. It’s gotten a lot better from where it was, maybe, five years ago. But that's the biggest challenge for a business owner trying to start a business here. I think that the chamber needs to continue working with the business owners. Also, we need to make sure that we have that connection with the city council, and attend the council meetings because when a business owner has a problem, if the chamber stands behind them, they can help make the city understand the issue they’re facing. I think it's really important for the chamber to stay involved, so we can get those outdated ordinances out of the way and update them, and it can be a business-friendly city, where you come in, and love to do business with the City of Inkster.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Chrishelle Griffin.

Chrishelle Griffin is a consultant to organizations and entrepreneurs. Since 2018, she has worked with Issue Media Group as a contributor for Metromode and Model D, social media manager for special and multi-market projects, event coordinator and project manager. Contact her at [email protected].