August 10 2012

Boarded Up to Start Up: Retail and Risk in Detroit, Michigan

Architecture alone doesn’t make a vibrant city, you have to activate the store fronts. Despite its assets, during the suburban growth of the 1970′s, 80′s, and 90′s, Detroit found that it could no longer compete with the malls and shopping centers cropping up in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb County.  In many ways, the 1998 demolition of Detroit’s famed JL Hudsons Department Store felt like the last nail on the coffin. Would Woodward Avenue ever recover its former retail glory?

D:pop Soft Launch

Who has the capital for such high-risk ventures in Detroit? If only there was a way to “test-drive” a store. Rake in the hype of a grand opening, then simply pack it all up when demand ebbs. In January 2004, “dubbed this trend pop-up retail, as these initiatives have a tendency to pop up unannounced, quickly draw in the crowds, and then disappear or morph into something else, adding to retail the fresh feel, exclusivity, and surprise.”

Thanks to funding platform, Kickstarter, Detroit welcomed the first store of its kind, 71 POP: Detroit Pop-Up Shop for Emerging Artists in June 2011.  In the true fashion of pop-up, savvy entrepreneur, Margarita Berry, closed shop on 71 POP in Sugar Hill in May 2012, just in time for the June soft-launch of revamped D:pop at D:hive near @ 1253 Woodward. Pop-up retail is all about marketing, flexibility, novelty, and evolution.


Somerset City Loft is another retail pop-up in Detroit. This summer, for three days at the end of each month, the high-end retail of Troy, MI’s Somerset mall filled the racks in newly  renovated 1261 Woodward. Between Living Social deals and social media trending, the events brought some of the largest crowds since the 2009 Final Four tournament.

The subsequent Marketplace Vendors affair provided a stage for local retail start-ups  such as 31D Clothing, Common Thread Clothing, and The Detroit Shoppe; companies with sustainable business initiatives and place-based social media marketing.

In addition to pop-up retail, Detroiters are finding other ways to fill empty store fronts:

● Art Installations - Street Culture Mashs grassroots Woodward Windows project @ 1400-1500 Block Woodward;

● Virtual Retail - RESULTCO makes watch shopping easy with QR codes @ 1528 Woodward;

● Permanent RetailHatch Detroit awarded 50K to HUGH Men’s Retail opening September 2012 @ Cass & Canfield.

How does “temporary” play into our long term vision? Should we incorporate pop-up retail strategies into our urban planning and economic development?

Woodward Windows

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Alexandria Stankovich

Alexandria Stankovich graduated from The University of Michigan with a B.S. in Architecture. In order to gain an authentic understanding of the urban context through the lens of education, she became a Denver, Colorado corps member with Teach for America, teaching elementary Special Education. Returning to metro-Detroit, Michigan, Alexandria writes about the innovative design projects and urban programs taking place in the Motor City. Fueled by her passions for the triple bottom line - environment, economy, and social equity – Alexandria is now working on her Masters in Urban & Regional Planning. She is specializing in Physical Planning and Real Estate Development.

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This entry was posted on Friday, August 10th, 2012 at 9:26 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Social/Demographics, Urban Development/Real Estate. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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