Mapping Detroit: Coffee Shops and Community Building

This is part of a 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."


Some research has suggested that the existence of coffee shops is a marker of gentrification (Papachristos et al., 2011). A Zillow study found a correlation between Starbucks locations and rising rent and home values. The problem is that Starbucks stores often open in wealthier neighborhoods, so it becomes difficult to say what is the true relational direction.

In 2008, however, Starbucks closed some 600 locations in relatively poorer-income areas. If anything, the jury is still out on coffee shops being a driver or simply an indicator of broader social policies that contribute to gentrification.

In Detroit, coffee shops have become an exception to gentrification. New coffee shops often are driven by community demand for meeting spaces, like Detroit Sip in the Livernois-Six Mile area or Black Coffee in the North End. Motor City Java House opened with the very specific goal of hosting community events and meetings -- and has remained open ever since. Countless coffee shops have opened and closed since DETROITography started tracking in 2015, but the common element is a disconnect to the community, sometimes related to the landlord rather than the business owners. 

In the last few years, Detroit lost some staples of the city’s coffee and gathering spaces, including Avalon Bakery, Astro Coffee, Bikes and Coffee, Great Lakes Coffee, Starbucks' Midtown location, and three Tim Hortons locations. Despite all the closings (n=21), the city is only down by one coffee shop overall from 84 to 83 coffee shops.

Since 2021 there have been 20 new coffee shops or pop-ups launched. The focus for coffee remains Downtown and Midtown, but the neighborhoods remain underserved by third places -- places that are neither home nor office.

Gathering spaces in Detroit are a hot commodity and not easy to come by, so the loss of just one is usually a substantial hit to the community. A handful of new baristas are trying their hand at pop-up coffee offerings and we can’t wait until they have some physical space to add to the growing demand.

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Read more articles by Alex B. Hill.