Prior to the 1970s, chances are that, if you were growing up in the city of Detroit, you knew about the “Avenue of Fashion”. Whether you were going with your dad to get a new hat from Louie the Hatter or waiting with your mom while she finished her hair appointment at the salon, the area on Livernois Road in Detroit, MI dedicated to the retail businesses in the city was always booming. The area was a source of solid economic growth within the city, and attracted all celebrities from Gordie Howe to Marvin Gaye because of the products and convenience offered by the various boutiques.
Now, the Avenue of Fashion is home to several retail stores, restaurants, even a few shops that survived the years of financial hardship and rioting in the city, however it has not been comparable to what it once was in a long time. The Livernois Streetscape Enhancement Plan has been designed by the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation with help from the University of Detroit Mercy’s Programs Manager to figure out the best way bring revenue back to the area, in hopes of restoring it to its glory.
Take a virtual tour of Fashion Ave.
One difference contributing to the strips current condition, according to owners, is that in business communities like Royal Oak and Bloomfield Hills, the city plays a part in the operation of the strip in terms of lighting and maintenance; in Detroit, they do not. This is an issue that is not directly addressed in the LSEP files.
“Overall, it isn’t inviting here anymore,” says Ronda Morrison of House of Morrison’s Shoe Repair, one of the more tenured businesses on the strip. “That is why I think it would take a strong hand from municipals to boost the morale among the operating business owners. At that point, we would be able to work individually as business owners, as well as a group.”
“More people need to come and start helping out…really, more people need to stay,” says 23-year-old Detroit native Jason Lang, who has lived in the neighboring University District neighborhood for nineteen years. “The problem is the crime; it’s causing people to leave.”
As for the bringing of businesses back to the strip, there have been efforts in the past decade on behalf of people like Chef Don Studvent, the owner of 1917 American Bistro, and Ty Haygood of Flagship Boutique & District 81 Clothing that suggest the Avenue is headed in the right direction.
“So many people, when they choose to locate their business, they locate to places that already have a high traffic for what they’re doing,” says Haygood. “We’re hoping to create this area, to be what they want to return it to be.”
Wordle of LSEP Q&A and Comments (March 30, 2012)
The plan itself is still in the works, due to the need for funding and communication between DEGC, the City of Detroit and the store owners on Livernois. According to the University Commons’ website, the plan includes the planting of canopy trees along the controversial median that was constructed under former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, installing renovated lighting fixtures, and an increased area designated for parking. The approach to the problem in this plan is vested in the physical appearance of the Ave, in order to attract foot traffic and students from the surrounding universities; although some feel that labors like these could be wiser spent.
“By us having a family business here, our attitude at Morrison’s Shoe Repair is bound to be a bit different than [businesses] that are not owner operated,” says Morrison. “I don’t see what improvements any organization can make if the operators of the businesses are not in consensus with the arrangements.”
Physical changes being made in the area are definitely present with remodeling and other renovations being completed by some of the businesses even in the past year. In the end, the main point of this effort and the focus of all parties involved is to help this great city live up to its legacy of hard work and community support.
“I was born and raised in Detroit, so anything about Detroit coming back and taking over anything, fashion or whatever, I’m all for it,” says Lang. “We’re so far down now that anything that looks up is a plus to me.”