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The Future of Most Business Districts Outside of Downtown Detroit Is Uncertain

By Lester Graham | Michigan Radio

There are small business districts throughout Detroit that are barely hanging on. They were once thriving. But, population loss, and the loss of wealth in the neighborhoods have caused hard times for neighborhood businesses. The question is: what to do with them now?

In the MorningSide neighborhood on Detroit’s east side, the main business strip is East Warren Avenue. It cuts through the center of the neighborhood.

Business owners who have been in the area for decades remember its best days.

“Eastern Warren used to be a major shopping spot,” said Bill Kamman, owner of Hammer Time True Value hardware store.

“There were businesses in every building on Warren,” explained Marilyn Nash Yazbeck who owns Nottingham Pharmacy.

“No matter what you needed, you could find it on Warren Avenue: the grocery stores, the party stores, the library, the movie theater, the bike store,” Patrick Maher of Eastside Locksmith told us.

Bran Pikielek of Bike Tech continued, “The tailor, an arcade, a woodworking store, five and dime, whatever.”

Brian Pikielek was the last president of the East Warren Avenue business association which folded several years ago.

Back in the day, East Warren Avenue in MorningSide was so busy that finding a place to park was difficult and the sidewalks bustled into the evening.

On a driving tour of the neighborhood, Eric Dueweke described the Warren Avenue strip in MorningSide today. “I’d guess 50 percent are boarded up and then you see all these vacant spaces here. This is where buildings have recently been torn down,” he said.

Dueweke is a Lecturer in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Michigan. He also lives in MorningSide.
“Really this is a problem all over Detroit of what do we do with our former retail strips that there really isn’t a demand for. You know, people just don’t shop in these kinds of small businesses as much anymore,” Dueweke explained.

Demand is also down because there is not as much wealth in this neighborhood. Firefighters, police officers, teachers once owned the homes in MorningSide. They left. Today many of the people here rent.

Bill Kamman of Hammer Time hardware store says that means his business has been cut in half in the last 15 years.
“It’s about not having money to buy stuff around here. They’re spending 60 to 70 percent of their money on rent and they don’t have the extra money to be working on houses and putting into stuff,” Kamman said.

Bill Kamman at Hammer Time hardware is not sure now if MorningSide is ready for economic development.

“I don’t think that this side of Detroit has hit bottom yet. So, maybe throwing good money after bad where other neighborhoods showing signs of a rebirth or something. That money might be better used in those areas than here,” Kamman said.

That’s not a sentiment many of the residents share. They’ve seen a few new stores recently open along East Warren Avenue. They seem to be doing well. The residents are hoping for more and they want the City of Detroit to do what it can to encourage that development.

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