Monday, October 10, 2011

Transforming Spaces, Transforming Places

[This is a blog post I wrote for my store Hugh, which I've written about briefly on here before. Hugh is currently a semi-finalist in the Hatch Detroit competition, which will ultimately award a $50,000 prize to the business with the most votes. I don't usually mix the business of Supergay Detroit with the business of Joe Posch, but it's all becoming a blurred line anyway, so I'd really appreciate your support in this contest! You can vote here once every 24 hours per IP address - so once from home, once from work and once from your phone. Enlist some friends if you can - every vote helps!]

When I was interviewed on the Craig Fahle Show on WDET last week, Craig asked me why I am so bullish on retail in Detroit.  I gave my two cents on why I think Detroit is a great place to undertake a retail endeavor, but I didn't talk at all about why I think independent retail in general is a great idea right now.

The first thing that is so great about independent retail is the emphasis on the unique retail experience, and this has always been my favorite thing about retail and why I'll never stop loving bricks-and-mortar.  When you open a store you aren't just creating a space, you are engaging the imagination of your customers. There's an opportunity to inspire.  It's always primarily about the products you sell, but in the two spaces I've had in Detroit I think the thing that gives me the most pride is the way I created something that really exceeded people's expectations. Here are a few before and after shots:

Hugh - Before

Hugh - After

The second Hugh - Hugh for the Holidays

Mezzanine - Before

Mezzanine - After


With the shift over the past twenty years toward big chain retail and internet commerce, we've lost sight of the ways that independent stores define our neighborhoods and our cultures, provide a singular point-of-view, and allow us to connect and build community.

I found a copy of a 1983 book called simply Detroit Guide at an estate sale this week.  It's a highly-opinionated take on everything the metro area had to offer at the time, and I was looking at the record stores reviewed: Sam's Jams, Village Records, The Record Collector and of course Harmony House. They were places music lovers could gather to hang out and talk, explore new music, and sometimes even get a job. And while the internet has made access to music easier than ever and taken the conversation global, that local community all but died with the neighborhood record shop.

Likewise, Netflix and on-demand video have taken away many of the meeting (and working) places for film buffs. And bookstores look like the next endangered species.

What is so great about this moment for independent retail is that a well-executed endeavor can help define and transform a neighborhood, and can still build a community. Sure, it's got to be special if it is going to compete with the chains or the web, but that ensures that a shop's personality is strong and enduring. We have dozens of examples of this working in Detroit right now, changing our neighborhoods. And the best thing about it is we just think we're having fun.

That's why a competition like Hatch Detroit is so much more than simply a pot of loot for the winner. It endorses the idea that independent retail is not only alive but more important than ever, and that even though the powers-that-be may focus on bigger, corporate commercial development, there ain't nothing like the real thing. Baby.

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