Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Eastern Market's R. Hirt Jr. to close? It's not that simple

Posted By on Tue, Oct 11, 2011 at 2:08 PM

Here's some news that took us by surprise this afternoon: A press release that the venerable, 118-year-old family business in Eastern Market, R. Hirt. Jr., will close its historic store before the end of the year. According to the bulletin, the business' nearby wholesale operations on Chrysler Drive will remain and, in fact, expand, but the retail end of the operation will cease by Dec. 31.

“After 118 years at the same retail location, our lease has expired and we haven’t been able to secure a new lease,” said company president Tom DeVries, Jr., the fourth generation of his family to run the store. “This is a very sad day for all of us and I know the news will be a huge disappointment to our loyal customers who come to the store from across Michigan and beyond.

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The news left us reeling. The R. Hirt Jr. shopping experience represents one of the last vestiges of 19th century Detroit, with clerks hand-writing receipts and checking out each customer individually. And the international stock Hirt's cultivates is second to none, with specialty foods imported from dozens of different countries. Losing it would leave metro Detroiters with a hole in their collective stomach — and heart.

Our grief, however, gave way to confusion over the alleged lease dispute. It would seem that, under any mortgage arrangement, 118 years would be long enough to pay the building off completely. Was something else going on behind the scenes?

We were glad to learn that there is indeed more to this story. A source familiar with the matter assured us that the decision to close R. Hirt Jr. actually resolves an internal dispute over the retail store: About a year ago, the wholesale and retail operations were merged under the same management; the resolution of the lease dispute will now see the original Hirt retailers resuming operations in the century-old building.

What's more, after Dec. 31, the store is to undergo a renovation, taking approximately 30-40 days, and reopen under a different moniker, but with the same fabulous array of products. As for the interior, expect only a few changes, not a total teardown. Our source explained, “The store will be 'modernized' — from an 1891 format closer to a 1912 format."

Needless to say, we were delighted by these revelations. As if all this weren't confusing enough already, we're really looking forward to seeing Detroit's newest century-old business make its debut all over again.

More by Michael Jackman

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