Hooray for Walkable City Neighborhoods

Hooray for Walkable City Neighborhoods

PHOTO: J. Singleton

DETROIT—Along a one-block stretch of Agnes St., between Van Dyke and Parker, and mere blocks from the Belle Isle Bridge, economic development is taking a giant step in Detroit as The Village Business District unfolds.

Starting with Tashmoo Biergarten in the fall of 2011, followed by the recent success of two temporary pop-up businesses this month, this small slice of West Village now has something even bigger in store.

Announced Saturday, Oct. 27, at The Villages Fall Festival, four new, permanent retail spaces will be heading to Agnes St. this spring:

  • Craft Work, a restaurant and bar formed by a partnership between Michael Geiger and Hugh Yarro, the restaurateur involved in Ronin Sushi in Royal Oak and Commonwealth Café in Birmingham
  • Detroit Vegan Soul, a healthy soul food restaurant, catering service, and meal-delivery operation – and Hatch 2012 semi-finalist – owned by Kirsten Ussery and Erica Boyd
  • The Red Hook, a coffee and baked goods shop with roots in Ferndale
  • Tarot & Tea, a tea room, bulk tea purveyor, and retail goods shop that is the brain child of Nefertiti Harris, a successful Midtown business owner

Craft Work will be located in the Parkstone Apartments building, with Detroit Vegan Soul, The Red Hook, and Tarot & Tea located in the West Village Manor apartment building. These businesses will be a boon to a neighborhood that has long felt the absence of walkable businesses, although it’s densely populated.

The project has been a team effort involving Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, The Villages Community Development Corporation, and owners of The Parkstone and West Village Manor apartment buildings.

Between now and spring, retail-ready space will be created.

In the case of Parkstone, work will include restoring the façade to its original state, replacing windows and some limestone, restoring floors, and carrying out electrical and mechanical upgrades.

“By late spring, early summer, you’ll see a street filled with new businesses in Detroit,” says Michael Forsyth, business development manager with Detroit Economic Growth Corporation.

DEGC looks for four elements of success when deciding on investing in retail developments: strong community leadership, which was found in Brian Hurttienne, executive director of The Villages Community Development Corporation; cooperative and enthused building owners; consumer demand; and an entrepreneur base.

According to Forsyth, the last two elements surprised DEGC, starting with the take-off, or rather, blast off, of Tashmoo, followed by the growing success of the temporary pop-up retail spaces on Agnes: PRAMU, a apparel, furniture and oddities shop, and Coffee and (____), a patisserie and java joint with a rotating name.

“Our thinking was that pop-up [businesses] would need to be involved, because we didn’t think there would be enough demand to fill the spaces right away,” says Forsyth. “But the strategy shifted from using pop-up as a recruitment tool, to using it for getting people excited about having neighborhood businesses open again.”

Kirsten Ussery, co-owner of Detroit Vegan Soul, is looking forward to bringing a vegan version of southern soul and comfort food to the neighborhood while expanding the meal delivery and catering business (opened in February 2012) to an eatery that’s open all day, Tuesday through Sunday. Ussery is eager to see Agnes Street come alive.

“We decided to open our business in The Villages because we want to be part of this area's commercial revitalization,” says Ussery. “Historically, it's been a destination for good food, and we want to bring that tradition back to the neighborhood. Not only do we believe the neighborhood is diverse and dense enough to support our business, but we also live here so we're invested in improving the quality of life for the neighborhood.”

And, she’s excited for current customers who are eager for a place to pop into whenever the craving for good vegan soul food strikes.

Ussery and Boyd plan to employ up to seven people and aspire to work with young people who live in the area to expose them to vegan cooking.

Many successful cities have walkable neighborhoods, with stores and restaurants that can be reached on foot. It makes for a more livable and appealing scene. And having four new joints in one long-vacant, yet beautiful, block open within months of each other is rare in a city with the real estate scope of Detroit.

From an economic development perspective, the proximity of the storefronts creates good synergy and sets the retailers up for long-term success.

From a near-eastside resident’s viewpoint, “It’s about creating an amenity rich neighborhood: walkable, viable and safe,” says Forsyth.

In short, when there’s more places to go, there’s more reason to stay.

Head on down to the VIllages Fall Festival to take a peek at the storefronts, and join in on festivities.

Contributing Writer
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Walkability Economics Neighborhoods | October 27, 2012 | detroit west village Brian Hurtienne Detroit Vegan Soul Redhook