W. Reynolds Farley

Detroit's skyrocketing rents threaten longtime shops

Grace Harper Florist owner John Kewish doesn’t know how much longer his flower shop can survive in Midtown.

With downtown Detroit’s Henry the Hatter, the oldest hat retailer in the U.S. losing its lease last week, the news of the shop shutting down raises the question of whether longtime businesses are being forced out of the city.

Kewish saw his rent climb from $500 a month when he took over ownership of the Woodward business 20 years ago to $3,450, with a $650 increase in the past 12 months alone. Now, his landlord is asking for an additional $100 a month for rent for the next five years. He claims he can get $5,000 for the place, but Kewish says it isn’t in great condition.

“The past few years (rent has) gone up dramatically,” he notes. “Just goes with the territory, you know?”

Detroit is undergoing dramatic reinvestment, with a changing and often unpredictable landscape for small-business owners.

Some, like Bucharest Grill, were displaced by landlords who had other plans for their spaces. The Middle Eastern restaurant was given no choice but to leave its longtime location at the Park Bar in downtown Detroit to open doors elsewhere.

Others have been hit hard by months of construction of the QLINE and other renovation projects. But many have also seen an uptick in customers, the most in years with huge increases in people working, living and visiting the greater downtown area.

“The renewal of the Woodward Corridor will likely stimulate the redevelopment of nearby residential areas,” says University of Michigan professor Dr. Ren Farley, who is an expert in population studies and urban structure. “However, if redevelopment along Woodward continues, the value of properties and rents will soar.”


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