Keeping Kercheval: How these groups and residents are focusing on community as the corridor develops

This Street View series on Detroit's commercial corridors is made possible with support from the Ford Foundation.
When Belinda and Craig Gilmore purchased an old church at the corner of Field and Kercheval in 2016, the Gilmores planned to renovate the building and open a brewery. Those plans are still intact, though the timeline remains open; Belinda says that an architect and engineer have put together a package that’s going through the bidding process now. But in the several years since news of their Bent Rim Brew House first began to spread through Detroit media channels, plans for the old church, which Belinda says was built in the 1920s, have evolved. Belinda says that she now wants to use the space to open a brewery and a community center.

That Belinda Gilmore wants to do both should come as no surprise to those that know her. Professionally, she’s been a therapist and a social worker, and her work in the community remains as spirited as ever. Even in her plans to open a brewery, it’s as much about building community as it is brewing beer — though she’s still mighty passionate about her homebrew, too. There’s no doubting that.

“We’re opening a brew house and hopefully soon — we have recipes that have been developed for over nine years now. That’s part of being part of a community, having something to share with people that they’ll enjoy,” Belinda says. “But after being at Church of the Messiah, I think some kind of community center is going to end up occurring here, too, because of my interest in solar power and because of my interest in feeding people.”

Belinda’s stretch of Kercheval is a lively one, rich with small businesses both well-established and new. Community institutions like the Butzel Family Center and Marcus Garvey Academy serve the surrounding neighborhoods of Islandview, West Village, and Indian Village. The corridor is also one of ten communities selected by the Strategic Neighborhood Fund, which seeks to revitalize Detroit neighborhoods by way of strategic, targeted investments in commercial corridor, streetscape, housing, and placemaking projects.
 

There have been some big changes to the corridor these past few years, with millions of dollars being invested thanks to the Strategic Neighborhood Fund (SNF) and their partners. That’s resulted in projects like the Parker Durand, a $22.5 million mixed-use development from the Roxbury Group and nonprofit Invest Detroit, bringing 92 apartments units, half of which are classified as affordable housing, to a once-vacant plot at the intersection of Van Dyke and Kercheval. Streetscape improvements, another SNF project, narrowed the road and installed bike lanes from East Grand Boulevard to Parker, making it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists to get around.
The Parker Durand mixed-use development was built atop a once-vacant plot at the intersection of Van Dyke and Kercheval.
From her home in Islandview and her building at Field Street, Belinda has seen the positive effects of the streetscape project firsthand. She’s seeing more and more people walking, jogging, and pushing their strollers along Kercheval, a sign that people feel safer walking here, she says.

“The semi trucks don't come through as much anymore because the city has redrawn the lanes,” Belinda says of the streetscape project, which instituted traffic calming measures throughout.
Bike lanes added as part of the streetscape project from the Strategic Neighborhood Fund.
On becoming a welcome addition

One of the standout small businesses to open along Kercheval this past decade has been Sister Pie, the bakery Lisa Ludwinski started out of her parent’s kitchen in 2012 before setting up in Midtown’s Hannan House that following year. Having officially opened in West Village in 2015, the bakery routinely receives national recognition, including as a finalist in the James Beard Awards. It’s not uncommon to see a line wrapped around the block as people wait to order.

Ludwinski landed in West Village when Parker Street Market was still in the neighborhood, her friends at the market inviting her to sell her pies and baked goods there a few times a week. Sister Pie quickly built a following. It’s almost as if the neighborhood chose Sister Pie, as much as the other way around.
A line forms outside of Sister Pie in West Village.
“I pretty much fell in love with Parker Street and the surrounding area,” Ludwinski says of her time at the market. “It was a really valuable experience because customers would travel from all over the metro Detroit area and city to Parker Street Market to get baked goods, but most importantly [it was] that people in the neighborhood and within walking distance of the bakery were excited and supportive. I didn't just want to plop the bakery in a neighborhood without having introduced ourselves. [I wanted] to see if we were a welcome addition.”

They were, as it turns out, and still are. But Ludwinski didn’t stop there. She operates Sister Pie on a triple bottom-line model, taking profit into account, sure, but people and the planet, too. It’s an approach that’s ever-important but perhaps especially moreso now that such large scale projects like multi-million dollar developments have sprung up along the corridor.
 

This spring, Ludwinski could be found on select Thursdays with members of the High Road Kitchens, One Fair Wage, and Planted Detroit organizations, handing out free lunch packs outside of Belinda Gilmore’s church building at Field and Kercheval. The final such giveaway is planned for Thursday, June 16, from noon to 1 p.m. and features salads from Planted Detroit and savory pies and scones from Sister Pie.
“We were out there doing one of four lunch giveaways we've been doing this spring, thanks to a grant from High Road Kitchens,” says Lisa Ludwinski, third from right.
High Road Kitchens awarded Sister Pie an $8,000 grant, with half of it going toward supplying the lunch giveaways and the other half to help Sister Pie raise their wages. One Fair Wage was also at a recent giveaway, gathering signatures for a petition to raise the minimum wage.

“Our annual partnership for 2022 is with One Fair Wage,” Ludwinski says. “As of June 2020, we've run a no-tipping model at Sister Pie. Our starting rate here is $15, but our average hourly wage is closer to $18.50 these days. We're passionate about One Fair Wage's mission to eliminate tipping practices since, A, tips are rooted in discrimination and an antiquated perspective on labor, and, B, employees shouldn't have to deal with fluctuating income — they should be guaranteed a liveable wage. Of course, I'd like our wages to be even higher and we're working on that.”

Chantel Watkins is the lead organizer for One Fair Wage and was out on Kercheval this past May for the lunch giveaways, helping out and gathering signatures for a petition to raise Michigan’s minimum wage to $15 per hour for inclusion on the 2024 ballot. As a nearby resident, she’s watched Kercheval develop over the years.
Chantel Watkins out gathering signatures for One Fair Wage.
“Kercheval has transitioned and some of it’s very positive. And then you also have neighborhood people getting pushed out because of gentrification. There's a lot of things that are happening on the street — and that includes a lot of native Detroiters and a lot of the new people coming in,” Watkins says, adding that it’s grassroots, community organizing, and good neighbors like Belinda Gilmore and Lisa Ludwinski, that’s helping to keep Kercheval honest as it develops.

“I would say Kercheval is unique in the way that the people who are moving into the area respect the people who are already there. I think that’s very important when it comes to redeveloping a lot of areas in the city, for people to respect and see that there has been people there the entire time. The things that are new are starting to exist, and all those things should coexist with the people already here. And I definitely think Kercheval is leading with that type of attitude.”
 

Community centered

The Community Fridge at Field and Kercheval.Belinda Gilmore says that she wants to turn the old church at Field and Kercheval into a community center but, really, she already has. It’s easy to see on one of the Thursday lunch giveaways, where members of the community gather to offer free food and garner support for fair wages. And earlier this spring, Belinda partnered with Sister Pie and the aforementioned Planted Detroit on the Community Fridge, a brightly colored refrigerator located outside and plugged into her building there. The fridge is stocked with fresh food and produce, and available for passers-by to take as they need — no questions asked.

“Not everyone can afford some of these more expensive dwellings,” she says. “So to help out with food, it may not help them live in the newer places, but it can help make ends meet so that they can pay rent and utilities where they are. And those people who don't have a stable residence, they, of course, need access to fresh food. And if it's free, that's even better.”

Belinda Gilmore stands in front of the Community Fridge on Kercheval.

Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

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