A worker-owned thrift store is coming to Hamtramck

Detroit Public Thrift started as a pop-up and is finally getting a permanent storefront after three years of planning

Oct 11, 2022 at 4:37 pm
click to enlarge Some of the worker-owners of the Detroit Public Thrift co-op. - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
Some of the worker-owners of the Detroit Public Thrift co-op.

Unlike most thrift shops, Detroit Public Thrift isn’t owned by a religious organization or non-profit that relies on low-wage labor.

It’s a worker-owned co-op three years in the making that’s finally opening a brick-and-mortar in Hamtramck. Friday is the soft opening for the shop, located at 10237 Joseph Campau, while a bigger grand opening is planned for Friday, Oct. 28.

Detroit Public Thrift started as a pop-up in 2019 and had a short-term space through the Build Institute’s Pilot program in early 2020. The goal was to open a permanent storefront in 2021, but renovations took longer than expected, so here we are.

“It’s going to be a really accessible thrift store and that’s what we want people to see,” co-owner Margo Dalal tells Metro Times. “We’re 50% or more Black-owned, we’re queer-owned, woman-owned, and first-generation immigrant-owned. It’s not religious or owned by a large, national corporation. It’s owned by local community members who care about the community.”

The thrift store has seven member-owners who Dalal says each partake in the risk and rewards of ownership.

“When we have profits we will distribute them equitably amongst us,” she says. “We use a democratic model and vote on making decisions. When everyone understands they are an owner and has that mindset, it leads to a lot of thoughtfulness in what we’re doing. We have been working on this business for almost three years and have doubled our team even though none of us have been paid yet."

The co-op received a loan from the Detroit Community Wealth Fund (where Dalal is the executive director) to open the brick-and-mortar.

“The loan was created for worker-owned businesses, and we didn’t have to put our own money on the line because it has non-extractive terms,” she says.

In a non-extractive loan, the borrower’s repayment to the lender cannot be greater than their actual profits.

Dalal adds, “We’ll be able to use that loan to pay workers a living wage, pay our rent, and get all our store fixtures. Traditional financing doesn’t allow for shared ownership and makes it hard for people from low-income backgrounds to start a business.”

click to enlarge Detroit Public Thrift will have a soft opening on Friday, Oct. 14 and grand opening on Friday, Oct. 28. - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
Detroit Public Thrift will have a soft opening on Friday, Oct. 14 and grand opening on Friday, Oct. 28.

Like any resell store, Detroit Public Thrift will offer gently used and vintage clothing, shoes, bags, books, household items, furniture, and more.

“There’s not a men’s or a women’s section, but everything is organized,” Dalal says, emphasizing that it’s a gender-inclusive space.

Along with the Detroit Community Wealth Fund loan, the co-op held two crowdfunding campaigns in 2020 and 2021 to get the word out and help start the business.

The store’s new neighborhood is also home to Book Suey and Iyengar Yoga Detroit, which are both also worker-owned.

“That’s another reason we love our location in Hamtramck,” Dalal says. “We have three co-ops within a quarter mile of each other and we’re already making plans to work with each other. Part of the values of a worker-owned co-op is collaborating with other worker-owned co-ops.”

Dalal hopes Detroit Public Thrift can be an example for other groups who want to start equitable cooperative businesses.

“We’ve all worked for companies that don’t understand what it is to have a Black or queer employee, or what it is to treat employees with dignity and respect,” she says. “That’s part of why we wanted to start this because we were tired of feeling exploited or unheard in our workplaces. A co-op changes the mentality of work. We’re all equals. When we have members who are sick or their car is broken down and they can’t show up, we understand that. We’re agile and can rely on each other. That’s the culture that we want to show is possible.”

Eventually, the group hopes to open additional locations and maybe even another business in the food service industry.

For now, the Hamtramck store is accepting clothing donations, though Dalal says they won’t take just anything collecting dust in your closet.

“We are really committed to being a low-waste thrift store,” she says. “A lot of larger thrift stores make money from selling items to other markets, but we’re a small team and we can’t sell pounds and pounds of textiles. What really happens is that we end up being responsible for throwing away stuff that can’t be sold and finding the right waste receptacle for this stuff. So if it has holes or stains and, you know, it’s nothing someone else would buy, you shouldn’t be donating it.”

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