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Welcome to the Commons: Laundry, coffee, and community on Detroit’s east side

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Can a laundromat spark neighborhood development?

Photos by Michelle & Chris Gerard

So often, we hear about bars, restaurants, and mixed-use developments going up around the city. But on the east side, a nonprofit development group just opened a unique community space that’s welcoming to everyone and could possibly encourage more investment in the neighborhood.

MACC Development has recently opened The Commons, a combination coffee shop, laundromat, and community space in a formerly vacant building on Mack Avenue. We stopped by to look around and chat with Director Ezekiel Harris about how it all came together.

MACC Development purchased the building for $500 at the tax auction in late 2010. Harris said it used to be a furniture warehouse and once they cleaned it out, they started using some of the space to run a literacy program and for offices.

Harris says that the goal was to always do something along Mack Avenue that would benefit the community. With four distinct neighborhoods in the vicinity—Pingree Park, Islandview, West Village, and Indian Village—they wanted to figure out a way to bring everyone together in a place where people feel valued.

They started renovations with the facade, and knew the original architecture was important to keep for the neighborhood. Harris said the full construction of The Commons started about 18 months ago.

They knew they wanted to open a coffee shop in the building, but as they talked to more community members, they realized that a laundromat was needed. There wasn’t one within two or three miles of the area. By combining the two, they offer a safe, comfortable space for chatting, coffee, working, and of course, laundry. The business has products needed to complete the wash, along with reasonably-priced coffee drinks, goodies from local bakeries, and wifi.

Near the entrance of the coffee shop, past the window seats, is a black and white photo of Mack Avenue in 1963. Many businesses lined the streets before the 1967 riot, and Harris says that some community members have stopped in to reflect on what the street used to be like when they were kids. Now, on Mack Avenue between East Grand Boulevard and Fisher Street, about 50 percent of the lots are vacant, with many empty buildings.

Harris is hoping that more investment comes to the area, and he admits it’s not easy being one of the first. The Commons sits next to a large storage facility, across from a gas station, and down the street from a church. The surrounding residential streets are in rough shape.

The Commons has the coffee shop and laundromat on the first floor, plus a literacy room on the ground floor. The second floor has a large community space with tables and chairs; MACC offices take up the rest of the space on that floor.

Harris says that the lot next door will be used as a park, with outdoor seating. They’re currently raising funds for a performance space for the community. In the design of The Commons, he wanted to provide a high quality example of what could be done in the neighborhood. The Commons is currently open, but will host a Grand Opening celebration and block party May 12.