Both vibrancy and decay are contagious

Peter Rose
– Southgate Star

When people drone on and on, those that could listen tend to tune out. I concern myself about that truth as I begin each column for these publications.

There are still important points to be made and so many still don’t connect the dots of our community and adjust their behavior. So I still feel compelled to share the perspective of a small, independent and locally owned business owner.  And I still try hard to tell you emphatically that these words, while self-serving on the surface, are addressing societal issues across the nation. The issues I obsess over are so much bigger than whether or not people are shopping at my stores.

I still like to take Jefferson and Fort Street into Detroit when I have the time to do so. I feel like I know what’s going on much more than if I just blow by as fast as I can. As we traveled last week to Historic Fort Wayne to attend a Vintage Market Fair put on by our friends at Wyandotte’s Vintage Market Home, we drove through Ecorse and River Rouge. Further North is Del Ray, the catastrophic worst case example in the realm of commercially viable communities.

What I saw should not have had the impact on me that it did this time; it’s not as if it’s been years since I last did it. But it did.I’m speaking to Wyandotte business owners much more these days, and the talking points always refer to exactly what I saw. And what I saw made me glad I’m talking about it so much.  Things don’t have to stay on the same rail; it doesn’t have to be this way.

Both River Rouge and Ecorse are cities filled with residents that need businesses to serve their needs.  Both cities are trying hard to fight back against the entropy that occurs in the absence of driving forces, both collective and individual.  

When I realized that entire blocks of their business districts are boarded up and not bustling, it hits me as if they were my blocks in Wyandotte. It is not OK. It is the way it is, yes, I know, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Detroit has lots of examples of businesses that never gave up. One in particular that personifies my point is Nemo’s on Michigan Avenue in Corktown. Had Nemo’s shut down with Tiger Stadium, would Slow’s have opened? Now, how many thriving spots can you rattle of in that area of town? One stalwart business made another one think they could do it, too, blocks apart, but in the same neighborhood. 

When you visit Corktown now, you feel the success of each unique and cool place, which together comprise that hustle and bustle area, exploding now because of Ford’s investment. 

Had people abandoned Nemo’s, none of this would have happened. It is that simple, it is that powerful. Many people simply don’t let that statement really sink in and become a part of their operating system. Most are not indifferent, most care, but, most don’t think their little old meal or drink or shirt at a local place matters all that much.  And that, my friends, is why entire cities implode or simply fade away. 

It is a huge subject. I don’t have the time to be as well versed as I could be or should be.  But I know that support equals businesses staying open.  Every diversion away from a local and independent business hurts a little bit. 

It’s such a fundamental truth, but we don’t behave as if we understand it. We don’t want to hear that every national chain, and every on-line company reduces the traffic in areas like Grosse Ile, Trenton, Wyandotte, Ecorse and River Rouge.  Yet “Whalburger”  opens and people can’t wait to go. Insert whatever name you want for Whalberger,, it’s the same thing.

All of these coastal cities are virtually all local and independent. They all live and die by the sheer will and tenacity of single people or families. Every quirky place you see has a quirky person steering the ship, contributing to the vibe of their city. It can’t be duplicated. It is real, it is personal, and it is connected to the community in which it operates. Chances are they know your name when you walk in because you love what they do. Support that, nourish that, extend that.  It’s beautiful and magical, and fragile.

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