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Upscale store's closure mirrors Detroit's struggle


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The Julian Scott Outlet at Congress and Randolph is one of two outlets Deron Washington will open in Detroit.

Upscale store's closure mirrors Detroit's struggles

Entrepreneur closes Julian Scott but plans to open two smaller venues downtown.

By R.J. King / The Detroit News

DETROIT -- Deron Washington pulled the plug on his ambitious effort to bring a large, upscale store to downtown Detroit, but he hasn't given up on the city.

Citing a lack of pedestrian traffic in Detroit's financial district, Washington and his partner, Rodney Lynn, closed their 15,000-square-foot Julian Scott store at Fort and Congress last week. Julian Scott opened a year ago to much fanfare, drawing media attention for its high fashions, white-gloved doorman and the fact that it was the closest thing to a full-service department store downtown Detroit had seen in two decades.

"It was our flagship store, and while we received a lot of support from suburbanites, we couldn't get enough customers at night," Washington said. "But we're not giving up. We're pulling back and giving it another go."

Next week, Washington plans to open two new smaller stores in downtown Detroit -- Julian Scott Outlet at Congress and Randolph and The Style Council inside the Renaissance Center.

Washington's ups and downs mirror Detroit's fledgling efforts to rebuild a downtown retail district decimated by urban decay and the loss of population.

While more than 50 new shops and restaurants have opened in the past three years, several merchants have closed in recent months. Retail experts say the fits and starts are to be expected.

"Even large shopping malls go through some closings in their first year," said Phillip J. Cody, president of The Cody Co., a commercial brokerage and consulting firm in Farmington Hills.

"To counteract that, you need aggressive management, whether it's the owner of a mall or a city's downtown district."

Since 2000, several large-scale developments have opened in downtown Detroit, including Comerica Park, Ford Field, the reopening of the Gem and Century theaters, $500 million in renovations at the Renaissance Center and Compuware Corp.'s $350-million headquarters.

About 230,000 people work downtown, up 25 percent from five years ago. That includes more than 13,000 workers in the RenCen, which was nearly vacant when General Motors Corp. purchased the office, hotel and retail complex for its world headquarters in 1996.

But getting small business owners downtown -- including restaurant operators, tailors and cleaners -- takes a more concerted effort, Cody added. "The big projects are well-financed, but the little guy is usually taking a gamble, and sometimes they lose," he said.

In recent months, Centre Street Pub, Sibley Shoes and a McDonald's restaurant have closed. The closings were due to a combination of limited pedestrian activity at night, road construction woes in the past year and poor financing.

"The challenge in the past with landing new retail in Detroit was the promise of Ford Field or Compuware moving downtown," said Cindy Ciura, vice president of marketing and retail for Detroit Economic Growth Corp., a development agency that helps finance new businesses, building renovations and street improvements.

"Now we can point to actual progress," she added. "That makes a world of difference when marketing vacant space to potential merchants. People need to see things are improving before they make an investment."

On the residential side, the Greater Downtown Partnership, a nonprofit planning group in Detroit, says there are about 4,200 residents downtown. But 10,000 residential units are under development, which could add more than 15,000 people over the next five years.

Those figures have not been lost on Washington and Lynn as they plan to open the new stores. Julian Scott Outlet will feature savings of up to 70 percent on men's and women's clothing, shoes, accessories and home furnishings. The Style Council will offer much of the same.

"We actually did better when we were at Randolph and Congress a couple of years ago," Washington said.'

Other retail stores are opening downtown. On Wednesday, the Guardian Building at Congress and Griswold opened up The Retail Promenade, a collection of seven merchants inside a former bank space on the first floor. Tenants include Pure Detroit, Pewabic Collection and Motor City Sweets & Treats.

In turn, Compuware has added more than 10 merchants inside its headquarters at Woodward and Monroe and a neighboring parking garage. The additions include Hard Rock Caf

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