Here goes the neighborhood

Dimitrious Oliver is doing business on the cutting edge of the new Detroit, but his establishment isn’t anywhere near Foxtown or any of the other anointed hotspot development districts. Go figure.

Most of the talk about the new Detroit these days is likely to center on Ford Field, Comerica Park or any of the other big-ticket development projects. It’s not surprising that massive structures such as these are drawing all the attention. It’s almost as if they were each a separate planet unto themselves, each with its own gravitational pull.

That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with a little fanfare now and then. But you should know that these aren’t the only areas of the city where significant and important change is taking place.

Drive through the east side sometime when you’re in need of a cruise. Specifically, check the neighborhood surrounding Charlevoix and Chalmers.

If you know much about the east side, then you already know it hasn’t exactly earned a reputation of stability or desirability. One buddy of mine refers to it as “the Wild, Wild West.” There are scattered clusters of dilapidated houses separated by vast expanses of vacant, weed-choked lots. There are more than a few hookers. Naturally, there are the ever-present winos and junkies. What ghetto scenario would be complete without them?

“A lot of folks don’t want to believe what’s going on over there on Charlevoix,” Oliver says. “I didn’t want to believe it. But that kind of stuff happens because I’ve seen it. It’s a whole other world over there.”

But what is also there today that wasn’t there a decade ago are signs pointing toward a future in progress. If you take a good look at that future, you can see clearly that most of the residents currently residing near Charlevoix and Chalmers will not be anywhere near there within 10 years. Who knows where they will go? Who knows if anyone is even factoring their eventual forced relocation into the east side reclamation equation? But one thing is certain; they will be a memory. This will not be because these lucky individuals found greener pastures elsewhere. This will be because the greener pastures found them — and swiftly deemed them unworthy.

Oliver, who bought a building located right near Chalmers and Charlevoix, has mixed feelings about it all. The owner and founder of the Doctor Detroit auto detailing service says he is excited to be at the center of what is sure to be a whirlwind of change. Down the street is a brand-new home that was constructed smack-dab in the middle of ruins. More new houses are said to be on the way. There are plans for this neighborhood, and Oliver wants to be there to see them bloom.

But in the meantime, as change makes its way, Oliver creates his own renaissance every day as he toils hour upon sweat-stained hour to restore what had been a rat-infested wreck of a structure into a new business that is already attracting no small amount of customers.

“I’ve spent so much time in that building that I dream about what I have to do there the next day,” he says.

Doing brisk business is not new to Oliver. What is new is owning his own building, which has been a dream of his since he first transported his business to Detroit from Cleveland more than a decade ago. During the early years, Oliver had no building from which to operate so he drove his red Honda Civic to his customers’ homes and delivered his service directly to their doorsteps.

Once he set up shop, he moved several times. After his last location, at Chene and Atwater, had to close — due largely to the then-incoming casinos — Oliver intensified his efforts to buy his own facility.

In July 2001, Oliver made his dream come true, and he has been improving on it ever since. Doctor Detroit officially opened for business in the new shop last month.

He does understand what is happening in the neighborhood, and he definitely understands what the change will most likely mean for a lot of residents. But Oliver also sees a larger picture of inevitability and necessity. In other words, the change is coming no matter what, and it is a change that is probably for the best.

Oliver hardly speaks as some distant, disconnected suburbanite developer who has no insight or concern about the inner city. Oliver knows the hood all too well, and his well of pity has just about run dry. You need to understand that this is someone who has achieved just about everything he has in life by virtue of sweat, a back-breaking work ethic, determination, an overpowering force of will — and no small amount of white-hot anger at the numerous obstacles that have been thrown in his way. But true to the man’s relentless focus, even his anger has been melted down and converted into fuel.

The only thing harder for Oliver than understanding failure is accepting excuses. Where most folks would see a wall, Oliver envisions not only a door but the pathway beyond leading to the bank.

Some of the things he has seen near his new workplace would cause a less-determined person to dash the hell out of the neighborhood.

I suspect most folks might prefer to wait until the way has been cleared before
setting foot on the newly reclaimed territory. Oliver doesn’t have time to wait for anyone else to make a way for him. He has learned that those waits can take the rest of your life. If you want it, you’d best go get it, understand?

And that is the true spirit of the new Detroit.

Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-area writer and musician. E-mail [email protected]
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