Re-Store: Detroit’s facade improvement program hopes to lure in customers

Re-Store: Detroit’s facade improvement program hopes to lure in customers

Ultimately, Detroit’s neighborhood businesses need more customers. And, in an effort to get the thousands of local residents who drive and walk by the many small mom and pop shops that line iconic city blocks to shop in them, Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. (DEGC), have chosen the front curb as a starting point.

The proposed start time?

Well, it‘s “now,” say Duggan and DEGC‘s Vice President of Small Business Services Mike Rafferty, who solicited business from the podium of their joint announcement to invest $2 million in façade and exterior improvements of Detroit‘s neighborhood businesses over the next year.

The effort, formally coined the Motor City Re-Store program, will provide $500,000 in matching grants each quarter to existing businesses, with the goal to help stabilize and create more walkable, attractive and viable neighborhood business districts.

” We‘ve always looked good on the inside. Now, it’s our turn to look good on the outside, too.” -Darlene Alston, Owner, Just a Bit Ecletic Tea Shop

Although the program aims to help individual owners spruce and fix-up their building facades, exterior landscaping and parking areas, the benefits will be sweetened for area businesses who agree to collaborate.

Starting June 15, business owners and commercial landlords must jointly apply for 50 percent matching grants up to $25,000, and multiple businesses applying as a group can apply for 75 percent matching grants.

Motor City Re-Store supporters hope that storefront improvements will help attract more foot traffic in neighborhood business districts like Old Redford area. Photo Paul Engstrom

“The small neighborhood businesses that have hung in there over the years and have sustained our city are part of Detroit’s revitalization. That’s why we created Motor City Re-Store,” Duggan says. “This is how we are going to bring our city back, by supporting our existing businesses and residents as we welcome new ones to our neighborhoods.”

Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation’s Executive Director and CEO Tom Goodeeris is optimistic about the Re-Store program and is pleased to see emphasis being placed on Detroit’s “been-up” businesses.

The effort is welcome news to many, including Grandmont Rosedale Community Development Corporation’s Executive Director and CEO Tom Goddeeris.

“The Motor City Re-Store program will provide much needed resources to support businesses that have been up and operating in Detroit neighborhoods. With so much attention focused on new businesses opening up, we need to make sure that existing businesses get the assistance they need to remain competitive,” says Goddeeris.

Southwest Solutions CEO John Van Camp believes that concentrated business districts like those in Southwest Detroit may see exponential benefits from the Motor City Re-Store program if they align and partner on “street wide” improvements. Photo courtesy of Southwest Solutions

The effort may be particularly impactful in Southwest Detroit, according to Southwest Solutions CEO John Van Camp, who notes “the concentration and cohesion of business owners in the area bode well for improvement efforts like Motor City Re-Store.”

City officials are asking for support from entrepreneurs.


“People always ask, ‘What about the neighborhoods?'” says Detroit City Councilman James Tate. “We certainly have to invest in our neighborhoods, but we cannot do it alone.

Detroit City Councilman James Tate plans to work closely with area businesses to encourage participation in Motor City Re-Store.

Infrastructure investments must be buoyed by everyday citizens and small shop owners, Tate says.

“If Detroiters don’t participate, we won’t succeed,” says Tate.

Business owner Paul Bologna, who has been in the Old Redford neighborhood for more than 60 years, remembers when hundreds of families shopped his city block, and wants to see the crowds return before his retirement.

“Newer” businesses like Ettafly Thomas’ Sweet Potato Sensations, Alicia George‘s Motor City Java House and Darlene Alston’s Just a Bit Eclectic Tea Shop are luring new customers and increasing the foot traffic of surrounding businesses.

These welcoming eateries and coffee houses often serve as ad hoc retail incubators, community hubs and promoters, sharing marketing materials from surrounding shops service providers (See How Detroit’s coffee shops are shaping neighborhood redevelopment)

Motor City Java House’s warm and inviting interior attracts many loyal patrons. With exterior improvements of her shop and others in the area, owner Alicia George is confident that business traffic will increase exponentially. Photo by Paul Engstrom

And with shiny new storefront improvements, they hope to do more to attract the kind of customer interest and loyalty that Bologna remembers.


Together, they have defied the odds and are survivors, now counted among the “been-ups” on Mayor Duggan’s score card.

“There’s a feeling of hope pouring into our neighborhoods,” says Alston. “And with that hope, comes expectations,  which we hope will be realized.

” We‘ve always looked good on the inside,” she says. “Now, it’s our turn to look good on the outside, too.”

Darlene Alston at her store, Just A Bit Eclectic Tea Shop and Retail on Detroit’s West Side. Photo by Paul Engstrom


















About Motor City Re-Store

Funded in part by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant Program and other sources, the program will offer $2 million in grants annually.

Business owners and commercial landlords must jointly apply for 50 percent matching grants up to $25,000, and multiple businesses applying as a group can apply for 75 percent matching grants for use in façade, landscaping and parking improvements. Funding may also be used to support design and architectural services related to facility upgrades.

The round one application window will close Aug. 1. Subsequent round applications will open on the first days of September, December, March and June. The DEGC will manage the program, which will award up to 20 grants per cycle. The funding and transactions will be managed by the Economic Development Corp. of the City of Detroit.


The Motor City Re-Store campaign launch drew applause of area business owners hungry for investment in Detroit’s “been-ups,” particularly Paul Balogna (far right), who has operated his Detroit-based barbershop for 60 years. Photo by TheHUB
















“We know how important it is for businesses to have attractive façades facing the street because they help to build a business’ brand,” says DEGC’s Rafferty. “Motor City Re-Store is designed to improve that exterior look for qualified businesses. We feel the result should create more inviting and stable commercial districts throughout the city.”

Potential applicants can register for the program and attend a June 22 or June 29 information session to learn more about the grant and application process.

For more details call 844-749-8359 or visit:

Editor’s note: To learn more about Detroit’s neighborhood businesses and their owners, see TheHUB’s Small Shops series.





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