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Why it’s important to support Avenue of Fashion businesses right now

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Construction on Livernois Avenue has been tough on local businesses—here’s how you can help

A storefront with bronze awning and “Art in Motion” in neon letters Photo by Michelle Gerard

Ever since construction on Livernois Avenue began in May, businesses on the historic Avenue of Fashion commercial strip have struggled to stay afloat. As of today, Livernois has been reduced to two lanes, construction has removed all roadside parking spaces, parts of the sidewalk are impassable, and several side streets are blocked off. It’s made driving, parking, and walking around the district a challenge.

The $17-million streetscaping project that’s removed the corridor’s center median and will add elevated bike lanes and wider sidewalks has devastated sales for the dense business community there. Earlier this month, we wrote that...

Kuzzo’s Chicken and Waffles announced that it would close through November and overhaul its kitchen. The owner of the Narrow Way Café & Shop said that his businesses might have to shut down. Good Cakes and Bakes co-owner April Anderson told Detour Detroit that in-store orders have dropped by more than a third. Crain’s Detroit Business reports that others are delaying opening until construction stops.

Several businesses have been forced to close and more are on the brink.

Dirt dug up on either side of a narrow, two-lane street
Livernois Avenue has been reduced to two lanes with no parking on either side
Aaron Mondry

On August 22, the Detroit Association of Black Organizations and other groups are planning a protest to both criticize the construction and bring awareness of the need to patronize these businesses.

All of this is unfortunate for a number of reasons, not least of which because the Avenue of Fashion contains probably the largest collection of black-owned businesses in the city. In addition to the ones mentioned above, there’s Simply Casual, Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, Detroit Fiber Works, Jo’s Gallery Cafe, Art in Motion, and many more.

Once the construction is complete around spring 2020, Livernois Avenue will hopefully be an attractive, pedestrian- and bike-friendly corridor for people to shop and explore.

Until then, businesses need your support.

Help is on the way

Local organizations and the city have been working on a number of solutions to increase traffic and commerce in the area.

On the first Friday of every Month, businesses and association groups have organized “cash mobs,” which encourage people to descend the Avenue en masse. At the next mob, which takes place September 6, there will be an hourly schedule of which parts of the strip to visit, special deals, new logos unveiled, and more.

On August 22 at 6 p.m., there will be the first of several Livernois Soup grant events held at Table No. 2. Attendees pay a minimum $5 donation to attend and vote on pitches from local businesses. The city says a total of $10,000 will be given away at these events.

A sign that says “Shop, Dine, Explore Livernois! Free Parking Available!”
The city of Detroit has placed many signs like this around Livernois Avenue
Aaron Mondry

The parking situation, while inconvenient, is improving. The city of Detroit has been piloting a free shuttle program, which runs Monday through Friday noon to 6 p.m., where riders can park at one of 11 locations and shuttle between them for free. It’s also encouraged numerous businesses with parking lots to open them up to the public.

“It’s getting easier and easier to get around Livernois as construction continues, and with the shuttle, free parking and now the forgivable loan program, we are feeling good about access to our businesses,” said Hugh Smith, owner of Baker’s Keyboard Lounge. “Now we need more people to come down, check us out and patronize the Avenue of Fashion.”

If you want to support from afar, the city’s website The Neighborhoods has a list of every business in the area.

The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC) has also gotten involved, and is developing a loan program for small businesses on the strip. It still needs to be approved at the DEGC’s August 27 board meeting. According to the DEGC, once it is available…

[E]ligible business owners will be able to borrow $5,000 up to $20,000 and will not have to make any payments for the first two years, after the streetscape construction is complete. After making 24 months of on-time payments, the remaining 36 months of the loan will be forgiven, meaning the business owners can have 60 percent of their loan forgiven.

Crain’s Detroit Business reports that up to 20 businesses have asked to participate so far.