When Que Roland went to look at the two-family flat for sale in North End, her Realtor was skeptical as she told him all the things she wanted to do at 7436 Oakland. The property was boarded up and had been vacant for some time. It was essentially a shell, and the 1910-built building would need a complete overhaul.
“But I saw the vision,” Roland says. “It was a great property with great bones. But it needed a lot of work, everything had to be done from top to bottom, from roof, to plumbing, everything.”
She purchased the property earlier this year with the goal of making it a second location for Seat Detroit, which opened in Eastern Market in January. And then COVID-19 hit.
She has since shuttered the Eastern Market space because of financial struggles, and after renovating the property, the North End location is open for business. While the latest restrictions from the state aimed at limiting indoor gatherings and other group activities have made things more challenging for the fledgling business that focuses on coworking and connections, Roland is pressing on.
The bright and sunny new space is similar in its modern, minimal, and clean aesthetic like Eastern Market, but with 2,100 square feet there’s much more room to offer more features across the two floors, including more private offices (there are nine), a phone room to take private calls, a podcast studio, coworking desks that can be spaced out 6 feet apart, a communal kitchen, and meeting and conference rooms.
Plans range from free to be a community member (to be a part of the community member directory) to $275 for coworking (the rate drops for six-month and year plans).
With the number of COVID-19 cases hitting record levels in Michigan, Roland says Seat Detroit is taking every safety precaution to ensure everyone can stay safe and healthy, such as putting in buffer times between bookings for the podcast studio and meeting rooms so the spaces can be cleaned and sanitized, not allowing drop-ins so the number of people coming into the space can be controlled, requiring masks, and having a “lifetime stock of wipes” on hand.
While in-person coworking has some potential customers wary, Roland says she has seen a positive trend in the uptick in virtual offices and providing a physical address for small businesses.
Another key component of Seat Detroit is its social and community focus. During the past few months when many people were self-quarantining and staying home to try to flatten the curve, Roland started offering virtual workshops on financial topics.
The coronavirus “made [people] tune into their inner entrepreneur,” Roland says. “So [through the Zoom sessions] I was able to help people with that process by helping them with business plans or strategy. That's pretty much still what I'm trying to do because I'm still very much interested in helping the community grow.”
As part of her community engagement efforts, this past summer she offered the Creating a Seat at the Table grant geared toward minority businesses.
“I knew that a lot of businesses, even my own, were struggling during this time. So we decided to do a small financial grant of $500,” she says. No Fear Café received the monetary grant, but Seat Detroit also awarded two organizations with coworking awards. “That was a good way to get the community engaged, and it was also a way to get the community to tune in to Seat Detroit, and to follow us and figure out what we were doing. And at the end of the day, we just wanted to help people.”
Before buying the property, Roland says she looked at other areas of the city, but was drawn to North End because of the upcoming development.
“I thought the biggest impact would be to go somewhere that wasn't fully saturated just yet and to invest in an area that would be more beneficial to the city than going to already developed areas,” she says.
For Roland, a born and bred Detroiter, to own the property (in a neighborhood where her grandmother and great-grandmother once lived) holds a lot of meaning on several levels, namely being able to pass something along to the next generation, “so that you can have a stake in the space that you reside,” she says.
“For me to be able to have a piece of property outside of my private home, to invest into the city, it is so meaningful,” she says, adding, “This business is set up for my son, my oldest son, this will be something that he will take over and run, this is going to be his. This was a way for me to begin a legacy within the city as well.”
And not just for her but for other fellow Black business owners. Roland prides herself on building her business from scratch with no investors or seed money, mostly based on blood, sweat, and good credit, but knows that’s not the case for a lot of Black entrepreneurs.
“As we see the city changing over, unfortunately, a lot of Black people don't have access to credit or funding or things like that. So if there is a way to kind of curb that, I definitely want to be a part of that.”