How a former construction worker became Detroit’s biggest small business advocate

Jennyfer Crawford is behind All Things Detroit Day, a local shopping experience

Mar 30, 2023 at 12:57 pm
click to enlarge Jennyfer Crawford. - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
Jennyfer Crawford.

Need advice on how to run a small business and market your products? Ask Jennyfer Crawford. Seriously, ask her. More than likely, the self-proclaimed “Queen of Small Business Advocacy” knows how to help.

Crawford created All Things Detroit Day, the massive Eastern Market shopping experience with exclusively local businesses. When we say massive, we’re talking over 200 vendors and over 14,000 attendees at its largest. There are photo booths, arts and crafts tables, and food trucks, in addition to endless rows of handmade products. Last year, Crawford even had the springtime installment of the semi-annual event registered as a national holiday.

Three or four hours into the All Things Detroit Holiday Shopping Experience this past November, vendors were selling out and getting pummeled with a barrage of excited customers. The business owners walked away with profit and new customers, and patrons gained new faves from brands that were bred right here in Detroit.

Detroit artist Nayetaye Visuals sold her paintings and jewelry made from recycled materials. Karen Guilmette, a mother of five, offered her Natural Red line of body butters and sugar scrubs that she started making at home for her children.

Crawford’s “Ask Jennyfer” business also provides marketing, consulting services, branding, and PR service to small businesses.

“Who is rooting for the little guy?” she asks from her desk at All Things Marketplace, her Corktown brick-and-mortar for locally made products. “Everyone is rooting for people who already have exposure. If you’re already on TV, are a huge company, and have a large platform, that’s when people pay attention to you. But who is rooting for that person who is just as great and wants to get to that status but doesn’t know how?”

Crawford is. Shelves of Faygo-scented candles, shot glasses emblazoned with the Detroit Pistons’ Bad Boys-era logo, and handmade soaps line the walls. Racks of “Detroit” T-shirts, hoodies, and tote bags crowd the small storefront with abstract paintings and ceramic tiles stamped with “Belle Isle Park” and “Detroit River Walk, best of the best” hanging overhead.

The shop sells products from over 80 makers and artists, but it’s more than just a storefront. It also serves as a shipping and fulfillment center for businesses that sell their products through Crawford’s online marketplace. All they have to do is list the products and drop them off at the store, and Crawford ships them out when they sell.

“During COVID, we weren't able to do any large-scale events, so I got a grant from Lowe's and bought a delivery truck and turned my online marketplace into like an Amazon for small businesses,” she says.

click to enlarge All Things Marketplace is a storefront and shipping and fulfillment center Crawford calls "the Amazon for small businesses." - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
All Things Marketplace is a storefront and shipping and fulfillment center Crawford calls "the Amazon for small businesses."

She also curates art shows in the space and holds workshops for first-time home buyers in partnership but All Things Detroit Day is her passion project.

Crawford has been running the event since 2014. Before she became the advocate she is today, Crawford worked in the construction industry doing boring tasks like reviewing sewer videos and filing paperwork for development projects. With her lack of a college degree limiting upward mobility in the industry, she found herself stuck, unfulfilled, and strapped for cash.

So she started selling Pure Romance products out of her one-bedroom apartment and hosting “Pamper Parties” in addition to her job in the Little Caesars construction department and working at Niki’s Lounge in Greektown on weekends. Eventually, she began hosting the parties at Niki’s and got the idea to curate an event featuring Detroit businesses.

Since renting out Eastern Market sheds was too expensive for her at the time, she chose a smaller venue — and it was horrible. The ceiling was leaky, there were no tables set up for the vendors, and it was oppressively hot with no air conditioning.

“I went home and cried,” she remembers about the first All Things Detroit Day in 2014. “But some of the business owners were like, ‘I see the vision and like what you’re trying to do,’ so I went home, and after saying I would never do this again, I took my rent money and put a deposit down on Eastern Market Shed 3. I would just pay a late fee for my rent, it was go big or go home. I had about 60 business owners and one food truck. About 600 people showed up and I thought, ‘Wow, maybe I can really do this.’”

click to enlarge All Things Detroit Day at the Eastern Market had 14,000 people at its peak. - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
All Things Detroit Day at the Eastern Market had 14,000 people at its peak.

She quit her job at Little Caesars with $1,600 to her name and was determined to figure it out, which she did. In 2016, All Things Detroit Day had roughly 14,000 attendees with lines to get into the Eastern Market sheds stretching to the Chase ATM on Russell. Last year, a crowd of around 8,000 showed up. She’s also curated the Downtown Street Eats food truck rally with the Downtown Detroit Partnership for two years in a row.

“It’s funny, I would always say when I was a kid that I do not have a talent,” she laughs. “It’s so ironic today that my job is to promote other people’s talents. What makes me different is that I care about the business owners and I love hearing their stories about why they started their business. Creating this platform of All Things Detroit and being Ask Jennyfer, I’ve met so many incredible people… It’s still not as huge as I want it to be, though. I want people to fly in to come to it.”

As Crawford continues running Ask Jennyfer and All Things Detroit Day, her confidence and self-worth grow alongside the small businesses she supports.

“Now at 43, I’m learning to embrace who I am and where I’m at,” she says. “Being a heavyset woman I always thought that people wouldn’t accept me, but I now see that you can’t put limitations on yourself. I was the underdog in school. People picked on me and all I wanted was for someone to think what I was doing was cool. I focus on local businesses because they’re great, number one, but also because they are just regular, ordinary people who just want someone to pay attention to their business and learn about their products.”

All Things Detroit Day is slated from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 2 at Eastern Market Sheds 3, 4, and 5. Entry is $5. For more info, see events.allthingsticketing.com.

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