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Corktown buzzes with retail, residential development: ‘It’s busy, busy, busy’

After nearly a year of running a cold-pressed juice shop in Grosse Pointe, Rachael Schroeder and her husband, Kevin, decided to expand their business, Rhythm & Blue Juice Co.

They chose retail space at the Elton Park Corktown Apartments for their second location, which they opened in late January — another business betting on the ongoing revival of Detroit’s oldest neighborhood.

“I always really wanted to be in that area,” said Schroeder, 39. “I thought it was a cool space. Making it accessible to people. It’s just being in the heart of Detroit, in that specific area, was important to me. There’s not a lot of places to go where you get grab-and-go, fresh … we offer vegan meals, too.”

The Schroeders aren’t the only ones drawn to Corktown in recent months. Hudson Styling Company and Momento Gelato Café also opened in Elton Park, which sits along Trumbull and West Elizabeth. Developer Anthony Soave, president and CEO of Soave Enterprises, has said he hopes the new businesses will be the start of a growing retail destination.

“We are transforming this once underdeveloped and underutilized corner of the Corktown community into a vibrant 24-hour district in this iconic corner of Detroit,” he said in a statement.

In addition to retail, Corktown is bustling with other development activity. There’s the Godfrey Hotel Detroit under construction at 1401 Michigan Ave., and down the street, Ford Motor Co. continues to rehabilitate the Michigan Central Depot.

“We have cranes in Corktown, which is a strange sight to see,” said Ryan Cooley, owner of O’Connor Realty on Michigan Avenue. “All of these projects that were announced have all started to come to fruition and they’re under construction. It’s by far the most construction activity that Corktown has seen in probably a century, I’d guess. It’s busy, busy, busy.”

The 227-room Godfrey Hotel Detroit on Michigan Avenue and its food and beverage venues are expected to open in spring 2023, said Matthew Kalt, vice president of Oxford Capital Group LLC. The developer is also working on the nearby 188-unit Perennial Apartments Corktown, which is expected to be complete in fall 2023. The development will include seven townhomes, a garage and multiple retail spaces, according to the developer.

“It’s almost like everywhere you go, you see construction work going on,” Cooley said. “We’ve seen lots of small, little construction projects like people rehabbing houses or doing smaller developments like a townhouse project with one, two or three units. That kind of thing.”

At the Michigan Central Depot, Ford is preparing to open two of its anchor buildings this summer. The first is its 1,250-spot, tech-enabled parking garage and mobility hub at 14th and Bagley. Also opening this summer is the Albert Kahn-designed former Book Depository, which will be a mixed-use space with hands-on labs and co-working areas. Michigan Central itself is expected to open to tenants during the first half of 2023.

Matthew Buskard, owner of Bobcat Bonnie’s restaurant on Michigan Avenue, said during the past two years business growth stalled due to COVID-19. Buskard is also board vice president for the Corktown Business Association.

“We’ve seen a slight uptick in sales, but we’re really excited for everything between the Godfrey Hotel and Ford fully being ready and moving in,” he said. “It’s a very exciting time to be in business in Corktown. If you held on the last two years through some of the struggle, it’s definitely going to start paying off here in the very near future, I would assume. At least I’m hoping.”

Growth won’t come without its challenges. Corktown resident Debra Walker, 68, is looking forward to more retail outlets in the area. She prefers to do all of her shopping within the city.

“I would love to have a pharmacy,” she said. “Everyone wants a pharmacy. That’s the one thing that makes us not a walkable community is because we don’t have a CVS or Rite Aid or something like that.”  As a longtime resident Walker, has also braced herself for change.

“The developments are coming seemingly so fast,” she said. “I’m not saying that like it’s negative. Our little community of little framed Victorian homes just seems to be losing some of our identity, although we’re trying very hard to maintain that. The people developing the hotel and the apartments and the townhomes are good partners. They are building pretty large developments.”

The impacts of growth are also on the mind of business owners. “There’s always concern about affordability of unique and cool businesses being able to come into Corktown,” Buskard said. “We definitely don’t want to see these big multinational companies starting to blow up in our neighborhood. You want to continue (to) see these really great, cool, dynamic businesses. You don’t want to see The Gap.”

Buskard said Ford has been a good neighbor and open about its development plans.

“From what I’ve experienced and seen and heard, they’ve also done a good job of being very approachable and very transparent with the neighbors,” he said. “If you’re going to come in as a big multinational corporation, we want you to participate in our actual neighborhood because it’s important to us.”

After working for several years at Aveda salons in Metro Detroit, Rikki Hudson, 35, decided to open her own, Hudson’s Styling Company. Her inspiration: doing runway styling with the Aveda team at New York Fashion Week.

“I really wanted to bring that same energy to the city and the salon is a platform for me to start branching out and start hopefully stimulating Detroit Fashion Week,” she said. “It was a thing in the past, but I would love to be able to elevate it a little bit and take what I’ve learned in New York and bring it here.”

Hudson picked Corktown because she was familiar with the area. Her sister had worked at the nearby Italian restaurant Ottava Via for several years.

“I’ve always loved this part of the city,” she said. “It’s so quaint and cute. Being in a residential development is crucial for a hair salon. People tend to like to go somewhere close to home or close to work to get their hair done. It just made the most sense. We have a lot of residents that are coming in. It’s a really central location and it’s accessible to everyone.”

Hudson’s salon has eight stylists and one esthetician, she said: “We also do skincare, Aveda facials, waxing, eyebrows, eyelashes, all of that. We are an Aveda lifestyle salon, so everything that we do is the Aveda way. A lot of people are familiar with the Aveda culture, but you’re going to really get the true Aveda experience here.”

Around the corner at 2120 Trumbull Ave., Tom Isaia, 72, opened Momento Gelato Café in January in a space known as Checker Alley, Elton Park’s outdoor gathering area. It features a four-season patio with a large canopy and folding glass windows.

Isaia has operated businesses in Plymouth and in Ann Arbor, where he lives. He was looking for something different.

“I wanted to open a gelateria,” he said. “It’s just something that I wanted to do. I didn’t want to go into the suburbs. Been there. Done that. I wanted to be in Detroit. I was born in Detroit, so there’s a spot in my heart. I wanted to be in a bigger city.”

Momento’s menu includes a variety of handmade gelato flavors, European-style pastries and freshly roasted Italian coffee. The shop opens at 7:30 a.m. for those looking for their morning coffee.

“We’re built to be busier, but what’s so encouraging is seeing a wide variety of people come through,” he said. “Morning, noon and night. There’s maybe not enough of them, but what I see it’s everything I could have hoped for. Every type of person, old, young, with their kids, without kids, people from the neighborhood, people from the Metro area. That’s what I had in mind.”

Isaia expects traffic for gelato to pick up in warmer weather, he said: “In the meantime, it’s been nice to get a feel for things, get established in the neighborhood. Let people know who we are and what we can do.”

Schroeder of Rhythm & Blue Juice Co. said her shop is tucked away on West Elizabeth, but so far business has gone well. People are drawn to try many of the 50-70 flavor combinations they offer for their juices and milks. For example, the “motown” blend is a green-colored beverage with celery, pineapple, parsley, green apple, lemon and ginger.

“A lot of it’s word of mouth,” she said. “We have a ton of repeat customers right off the bat. It’s fun. … You can mix and match a six-pack. You can come back two more times and still not have tried everything. People love that.”

Schroeder is hopeful that as development continues in the area, it will be good for business: “As the train station is completed and the areas around there get built out, it’s all good. I’m envisioning in a couple years, it’s going to be a really cool spot to be.”


Posted By: The Detroit News on April 1, 2022.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

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