Detroit deserves more retail

Why doesn’t Detroit have more retail shopping? Until last week, New Hits would have answered that question with a knee-jerk response: The city is too poor to support such stores. Then we read a new report students at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning produced for the City of Detroit’s Office of Neighborhood Commercial Revitalization.

Turns out our knees were jerkin’ in the wrong direction. The report, titled “Restocking Stores: Detroit’s Retail Market,” concludes that urban communities such as ours can support retail development just as well as the burbs.

Because of the high population densities found in cities, the sheer number of people means that a lot of spendable income is floating around, even if individual city dwellers aren’t as well-heeled as their suburban neighbors.

In fact, the report found that Detroiters spend $2.3 billion a year at suburban retail outlets. Not only is that money not staying in Detroit, weakening its tax base, but it’s also costing city residents in other ways. For one thing, says Eric Dueweke, U-M’s community partnerships manager, “Detroiters have to drive five times as far as [suburbanites] to get to those stores when we can support them closer in.”

So, if the money is here, why aren’t the stores?

Maggie DeSantis, head of East Side Land Inc., a nonprofit that tries to attract commercial developers to east-side properties, explains that attracting developers is about more than available spending dollars.

She says developers have several problems with Detroit. Crime is an issue. So are land acquisition and associated costs.

But Mike Curis, developer of the Riverbend Plaza on East Jefferson and Coplin, understands an often overlooked part of urban economics. “There’s real and hidden income density,” he says. “Someone who’s baby-sitting or being a jitney isn’t showing up on demographic reports. I think there’s more buying power than what’s being reported.”

John Simle, spokesman for Home Depot, says Detroit is part of growing trend. Home Depot will open its first Detroit store in March 2004 on 7 Mile Road and Meyers, where a Kmart once stood.

“We are very bullish about these neighborhoods in Detroit because of the concentration of housing stock, and rate of home ownership,” Simle says. “General demographic trends show rising levels of income and employment. We’ve seen it in Chicago, in East Liberty, Pittsburgh, Reisterstown Road in Baltimore. Detroit is the same story.”

Maybe Detroit is on its way to keeping a buck or two … billion. “Restocking Stores” is available online at

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