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Downtown Detroit's Borders Opens Today

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CAMPUS MARTIUS DEVELOPMENT: Borders joins effort for a retail revival

November 10, 2003



Borders Books & Music becomes downtown Detroit's biggest store since Hudson's closed 20 years ago when it opens in the Compuware building today, quickening the pulse of downtown's budding retail revival.

At 8,000 square feet, the store is less than half the size of a typical Borders and much smaller than a department store like Hudson's. But as a symbol of Detroit's push to regenerate its mostly abandoned downtown, size doesn't matter much.

The commitment of Borders and Hard Rock Cafe, which also opens today in the Compuware building, will help the city draw new retailers to Woodward Avenue, Washington Boulevard and Broadway Avenue, said George Jackson, president of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp.

Convincing Ann Arbor-based Borders and the Hard Rock Cafe chain of Orlando, Fla., to open their first stores downtown wasn't easy. It was a 5-year effort fueled by a cluster of other developments in the Motor City that are expected to reach a crescendo in time for the 2006 Super Bowl at Ford Field.

The recent developments include two sports stadiums, three casinos, thousands more employees working downtown, residential lofts under construction, multimillion-dollar investments by two major Michigan companies -- General Motors Corp. on the riverfront and Compuware Corp. in Campus Martius, and a huge push from the city government, especially the mayor's office.

Borders spokeswoman Emily Swan said: "The city is looking increasingly promising for retail, and we're enthused to be at the forefront of this development."

And Steve Glum, senior director of marketing for Hard Rock Cafe, said the company's temporary retail store in the Penobscot building that was open for four weeks broke single-day and grand-opening sales records.

"You can feel the energy. You can feel something happening here," Glum said. "This whole thing is going to turn around."

Building momentum

Borders and Hard Rock Cafe sit beneath 4,100 Compuware Corp. employees in the building's main entrance. They also have a potential stream of other downtown workers and the promise of 1,000 loft developments nearby that are expected to bring critical foot traffic to the area.

"The very fact that they are coming says a lot. There's kind of a herd instinct. One goes and the rest follow. Now it isn't the department stores, but these personality stores that will attract the others," said Fred Marx, a former Hudson's executive and partner in Marx Layne & Co., a public relations and marketing firm in Farmington Hills.

"It's beyond the cheerleading. We're into brick and mortar," Marx said.

Detroit's downtown retail landscape included 196 retail establishments as of March 2002, the most recent figures available from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments. More have started up over the past three years with the opening of the stadiums and casinos.

They range from wig and tobacco shops to upscale clothing and art galleries.

And they are spread out with concentrations at GM's headquarters in the Renaissance Center and the adjacent Millender Center, some activity on Congress with boutiques, and a few shops near Broadway and now at Compuware's building.

More stores needed

There are still many missing links in Detroit's retail chain.

"To be successful in Detroit, all the stars have to line up," said Robert Schostak, president and chief operating officer of Schostak Brothers & Co. in Southfield. Schostak Brothers is one of the developers of Campus Martius and the leasing agent for the Compuware building's retail space.

Campus Martius is a 9-acre office and retail area located near the site of the demolished J.L. Hudson's store on Woodward. It includes Compuware and Campus Martius park, under construction in front of the building at Woodward and Monroe. The park is to be a year-round entertainment venue.

"We're basically covering new ground when you are talking to retailers about downtown Detroit that are national players that traditionally have not viewed this as a first-choice location," Schostak said.

Luring a department store downtown is still almost unthinkable. A few other national, specialty retailers are possible. But to fill most of the abandoned storefronts, Detroit will have to persuade smaller, independent retailers to take a chance on the city.

To do that, and ensure their success, the city will need more shoppers.

"The problem is there are no people in downtown Detroit," said Adam Brook, owner of Cadillac Luggage in the Penobscot building. From his front window, he has a clear view of the Compuware building. "I'm at the hottest corner in the deadest city."

Brook, who has been in the Penobscot building for 13 years, said he hasn't had a paycheck for two months and can't afford to hire help.

Creating more foot traffic by getting more people to move into the core downtown, roughly bordered by the Detroit River, I-75, the Lodge and I-375, is critical to draw more retail downtown.

Johnnette Eggert, owner of Upscale Fashions at 155 W. Congress, opened her women's clothing and accessory store in April after five years at Northland Mall in Southfield.

On a recent morning, Eggert had no customers. So far, she has found parking a hassle, foot traffic light, and she has to do a lot of advertising to bring customers in. She also can't afford to hire help yet.

"There was nobody down here," Eggert said. "I thought goodness gracious, this is the Motor City. I was really shocked.

"I don't know how we can change it except to be here and stay in business," Eggert said.

Other downtown retailers have managed to do well. Shawn Santo opened her first Pure Detroit store in 1998 to showcase the city's culture. She now has two stores, one at 156 W. Congress and another in the Fisher Building, that sell Detroit-only merchandise from sweatshirts to auto parts art. She recently opened a woman-focused store in the Fisher Building called Vera Jane.

"It's quite a coup for Compuware to attract two major retailers and put them smack dab in downtown," she said.

But, she added, what makes downtown shopping fun is that Detroit has an independent boutique culture unlike anything at the malls or chain stores.

"It's invigorating to stumble on an independent boutique. There are exciting independent shops down here," Santo said.

Jason Booza, a geographic information specialist for Wayne State University's Center for Urban Studies, noted that when you go from Compuware to Greektown, you still have to walk by abandoned buildings.

"What would be nice is if the development takes place so these are all connected. But there is still a lot of blight that separates these developments," Booza said.

Not an easy task

Some downtown workers love shopping downtown, despite the obstacles. Margie Bamonte, a court reporter for Wayne County Circuit Judge Susan Borman, goes shopping several times a week around the RenCen and the Dress Barn on Congress.

The RenCen has the largest concentration of shops downtown. Stores at the Riverfront Shops include Brooks Brothers, Jos. A. Bank, Sibleys Shoes, Waldenbooks and Casual Corner/Petite Sophisticate, which operates the largest store at 6,500 square feet.

While she said she can ride her bike from her home to Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn, she prefers shopping downtown. "I love exploring down here. It's great, these old buildings."

Conversely, Ingrid Lind, a Farmington Hills resident who has worked at the RenCen for 10 years for insurance broker Marsh Inc., said she does not see much retail downtown that is unique.

"I do most of my shopping in Twelve Oaks," she said. "I don't venture out here because there is really no place to go. With the construction, it's hard to get out of the building.

"You don't want to say anything bad about Detroit. But you wouldn't come downtown to do your shopping."

Schostak said everyone is working toward connecting the dots of retail and changing the minds of shoppers and retailers alike. But the city will likely not be able to attract another department store like Hudson's anytime soon.

"It's a big disappointment that Detroit doesn't have its own department store downtown," Schostak said. "I think we are better suited putting our energies in entertainment, destination retail, dining . . . and make that become the anchor of downtown rather than relying on a traditional retailer."

Contact GRETA GUEST at 313-223-4192 or [email protected]

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Detroit's downtown retail landscape included 196 retail establishments as of March 2002, the most recent figures available from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.

This is interesting. A while ago a Detroiter on one of the other forums told me that he was part of some sort of downtown Detroit organization that had recently completed a count of retialers in downtown Detroit, and that there was something like 380. This wasn't a long time ago either, this was in the last year or so.

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There has been a lot happening. I wouldn't doubt it if there were 380. There are still a lot more abandoned storefronts that need store to occupy them though. We've come a long way, but there's still a long way to go.

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