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Downtown Birmingham attracts national retailer West Elm

West Elm, the national furniture retailer based in Brooklyn, New York, is opening its first Michigan store in Birmingham in the fall of 2014.

At the same time, the nearly 12-year-old company that's owned by Williams Sonoma and is a sister to Pottery Barn will open its first European store in London.

West Elm's move to a prominent 10,000-square-foot spot on Maple in Birmingham is another score for the city's Principal Shopping District and its recruiters who are looking for the sweet spot mix of big nationals and small business to fill out downtown.

The new store will replace the space that years ago was Harmony House, then the men's store, Structure, and most recently, upscale women's boutique Lexi Drew.

West Elm, known for modern and natural furnishings and home decor at  mid-line price points, has about 60 stores in the U.S., Canada and Australia.

West Elm's move into Birmingham would bring the downtown's retail occupancy to 98 percent, says John Heiney, executive director of the Principal Shopping District.

Source: Principal Shopping District
Writer: Kim North Shine

The Rendezvous With Tea opens in Grosse Pointe Woods

Jars and jars of tea leaves and all sorts of tea accoutrements make up the aromatic and colorful decor and merchandise at The Rendezvous With Tea in Grosse Pointe Woods.

The store opened several weeks ago on busy Mack Avenue near Vernier (8 Mile  Raod) and is seeing locals and destination shoppers looking for a taste of teas from around the world and closer to home.

The tea-loving owner, Naszreen Gibson, sells nearly 200 varieties of loose teas mostly from Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Indonesia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and the Far East and more then 50 flavors of tea bags in sachets, pyramids and cloth bags. Tea pots and tea ware made of porcelain, cast iron, stainless steal and ceramic are also available.

One thing not for sale is the owner's signed copy of the New Tea Lovers' Treasury. Author and tea authority James Norwood Pratt visited The Rendezvous With Tea recently and says the shop is "a dream come true brought to Grosse Pointe Woods by a tea visionary to challenge and inspire any seeker of excellence. Be wise and stay healthy: Let Naszreen make you love tea too."

Source: Naszreen Gibson, owner, The Rendezvous With Tea
Writer: Kim North Shine

Mixed-use project to add to Auburn Hills downtown development plan

Auburn Hills' emerging downtown area will add a $10 million residential and commercial development to just over one acre at the southwest corner of Auburn and Squirrel roads.

Construction on Rivers Edge of Auburn Hills, a planned unit development, is to begin this summer and be completed by the summer of 2015.

Developer Burton-Katzman LLC won approval for  the project from the city council in early February, adding to a list of developments mostly related to the growing population of college students that has changed Auburn Hills in the last year. The developments include DEN, Downtown Education Nook; the University Center; the Auburn Square apartments and its retailers; and a 233-space parking structure.

Rivers Edge is expected to be a four-story building with 9,300 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor and 31 one- and two-bedroom apartments and lofts on the top three floors. About 50 parking spaces will be for residents, and another 11 will serve the commercial tenants and other downtown Auburn Hills visitors.

"We are pleased that Burton-Katzman is bringing this type of popular mixed-use, urban loft project to downtown Auburn Hills,” says Steve Cohen, director of community development for Auburn Hills. “Continued investment in the city is sparking strong interest from developers, prospective tenants and retailers."

Source: Barbara Fornasiero, EA Focus, Inc.
Writer: Kim North Shine

Plymouth's Mattress 4 U brings organic to the bedroom

In the 1980s, Mattress 4 U was into the waterbed craze and since then it's followed trends in sleeping, the latest being organic mattresses and a desire by consumers to know what's inside their mattress and what chemicals have been used to treat it.

The store started in Greenville in western Michigan and expanded to Plymouth in the summer of 2013, opening a store at 44717 5 Mile Road. It serves mostly Northville and Plymouth and calls itself Michigan's only certified organic mattress retailers.

Shoppers can find mattresses made from 100-percent organic cotton, natural rubber latex, renewable products, cruelty-free Eco Wool and with no chemicals.

It's a growing business, and unlike waterbeds of the 1980s, may be here to stay, says owner Billy Pennington.

Source: Billy Pennington, owner, Mattress 4U
Writer: Kim North Shine

Lark & Co. revives the old general store in new Birmingham spot

The vision for Michael Collins and David Zawicki's new Lark & Co. in downtown Birmingham is modern day general store.

The pair who previously ran Oliver's Trendz, a women's accessories store, in the same storefront at 138 N. Maple.  After shutting down for renovations, they reopened nearly two weeks ago and have stocked the 1,100-square-foot space with products inspired by a 1940s general store.

Variety is the name of the game: handmade candy, furniture, foodstuffs, lighting, purses, speciality soaps, rugs, books.

Collins and Zawicki have lived in Birmingham 17 years and see a general store as a way to round out downtown Birmingham's retail offerings, a way to keep locals from leaving town to shop.

Next door to Lark & Co. is Suhm-thing, a gift store that is also owned and operated by Collins and Zawicki and has a a selection of Michigan goods and unusual items from artists and designers around the world.

Part of the their business plan is also to convey how much good supporting a local merchant can do for the economy and to set them themselves apart by providing a level of service that's harder to find at chains, malls and big box stores, Collins says.

Source: Ed Nakfoor, Birmingham PSD, and Michael Collins, owner, Lark&Co.
Writer: Kim North Shine

Wanderlust Boutique brings affordable Euro fashion to Rochester

The women behind the new Wanderlust Boutique in downtown Rochester are bringing their love for European fashion to locals.

Ally and Denise Martin say they've figured out a way to make Euro style affordable by scouring hundreds of vendors, looking not only for good prices but original styles. Besides casual clothing, the store sells accessories such as jewelry, watches, belts and shoes.

Wanderlust opened Oct. 11 in a redone store painted in aqua blue mixed with exposed brick walls.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Rochester Regional Chamber of Commerce is planned for Nov. 1.

Source: Ally Martin, co-owner, Wanderlust Boutique
Writer: Kim North Shine

Four new developments coming online in Auburn Hills

Auburn Hills -- and its developing downtown area -- is in a mini-construction boom with four new projects partially or mostly complete.

The developments are an outgrowth of increased enrollment and demands for housing and other services for students and staff at Oakland University, Oakland Community College, Baker College and Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

* The University Center will open in January and replace a restaurant and bar with a two-story building dedicated to educating local high school and college students. The first floor will have two classrooms in 4,800 square feet and host classes for colleges and universities located in Auburn Hills. The second floor will be home to the Avondale Academy run by Avondale Schools.

The University Center is a partnership between the city's TIFA, Avondale Schools, Oakland University, Oakland Community College, Baker College and Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

* The DEN, Downtown Education Nook, will be a relaxing hang-out for students to study individually or in groups and like the University Center open in January. The 1,564-square-foot facility is connected to a historic log cabin and will have two fireplaces and five study rooms.

* Auburn Square Apartments: 97 apartments consisting of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. The $9 million project will include 6,100 square feet of retail space on the ground floor, helping to increase foot traffic in the downtown area. Apartments are already leasing and move-in should begin in January.

* A public parking structure will be owned and operated by the city and its Tax Increment Financing Authority. It will have space for 233 vehicles, with spaces connected to common hallways that lead to each floor of apartments. It should be open for business in November.

All four projects are the result of work by the city's Tax Increment Financing Authority, which captures increases in the tax base in a designated zone and dedicates them to public improvement projects in partnership with private and other public investors.

Source: Barbara Fornasiero, spokesperson, city of Auburn Hills
Writer: Kim North Shine

Northvillle's Salvaged store does vintage furniture and home goods

A group of friends with a knack for spotting old furniture that's in need of a little TLC and an update have opened a store with their repurposed goods in downtown Northville.

Salvaged opened just over a month ago on the square at 133 N. Main St. in Suite 200.

Inside is home decor - furniture and accessories - in vintage, mid-century modern, industrial, shabby chic, electric, French provincial and French country styles.

The owners, two pairs of sisters, are pros at hunting far and wide for furniture that needs a little freshening to become a stylish centerpiece or an accent that's a conversation piece.

Source: Northville Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine

Grosse Pointe's El's Boutique and Village Palm swap storefronts

Two Grosse Pointe entrepreneurs, neighbors in the city's Village downtown district, have swapped stores, attempting to right-size their businesses by moving into spaces that better fit their sales.

El's Boutique, a teen and tween store selling girls' gifts, jewelry, accessories, room decor, and items for moms cut its floor space in half when it moved to the spot occupied by Village Palm, a four-year-old Lily Pulitzer Signature store and vendor of preppy brands such as Vineyard Vines and Vera Bradley.

The moves on Kercheval Avenue, the Village's main street, took place nearly three weeks ago and doubled Village Palm's space to about 2,000 square feet at 17110 Kercheval. El's swtiched to about 1,000 square feet next door.

"We've had a great response. I can't even tell you how perfectly it's working out," says Ellen Durand, owner of El's, which was formerly the Village Toy Co.

The new El's also has a party room in the basement for the older set, unlike its previous party room next door, which was ideal for 5- to 10-year-olds. The new party room can host later parties, has karaoke, a duct-tape crafting area and other tween-friendly activities.

Village Toy was a local institution for 25 years. It couldn't compete with big-box toy stores and online merchants, Durand says.  A few years ago it added the girls section for tweens and teens, and it became clear that toys would no longer be the family business, Durand says

"The market was going to tweens. We saw that. Everyone saw that," she says.

Village Palm, on the other hand, was busting out of the seams, finding an eager and loyal market for its pink and greens, plaid, floral and flamingo prints.

The goal of the right-sizing for El's and Village Palm, which doubled its space, is to put the businesses in their sweet spots, Durand says. Even if her business booms, she prefers the smaller space and thinks the swap is a mutually beneficial.

"The smaller store is more manageable, which I like," she says. "I think our stores complement each other. Our customers seem to shop at both, so being right next door works out very well."

Source: Ellen Durand, owner El's Boutique
Writer: Kim North Shine

Branding Birmingham

Downtown Birmingham is taking on the indoor shopping malls and big box retailers by promoting its 70-plus home, home accessory stores and home design businesses in one easy-to-shop district that comes with better atmosphere.

The city's Principal Shopping District is working to capitalize on its home-related stores -- contemporary, rustic Italian, chic, and Northern Michigan styles among them -- with the branding campaign, BLUEPRINT: THE BIRMINGHAM HOME COLLECTION.

The first Blueprint event was in May in connection with spring and summer decor updates. The next is the weekend of Oct. 3-5, the Fashion Your Home for Fall 2013. It will feature stores with trunk shows, sales and promotions, how-to seminars and more during the weekend. Check out enjoybirmingham.com's website or Facebook page for details.

John Heiney, executive director of the Principal Shopping District that markets the downtown and downtown retailers, says the intent is not to say Birmingham is a better destination but an alternative seriously worth considering.

"I wouldn't take it upon myself to say better or worse. What we're really saying is people may not know what a great destination Birmingham is for home furnishings and home accessories and items for the home," he says.

"People may think of Birmingham more for its fashion or shopping and its restaurants," he says. "We have all that but when you think about home furnishings, gifts, dishware, kitchen items, cabinetry, and interior designers, we really do have quite a wide variety of stores and businesses that are all geared toward the home."

Plus, he says, on days when shopping may be time-consuming it's nice to have the downtown with the atmosphere and environment.

Like the May BLUEPRINT event Heiney and retailers expect a good turnout.

"We think this is something that's going to grow every year," he says. "More and more customers are becoming aware of what we're doing and what we have her. We're just getting started."

Source: John Heiney, executive director, Birmingham Principal Shopping District
Writer: Kim North Shine

Ink Detroit's new online store promotes Michigan-made goods


Ink Detroit
 started out as a company focused solely on making shirts and such that express Detroit love, and now the eight-year-old company is spreading its love to the whole of Michigan by turning out a new line of products that  show statewide pride.

The I Love Michigan line can be found at the newly launched I Love Michigan Shop, the newest addition to www.thegreatlakesstate.com, which was started several years ago by Ink Detroit co-founder Paul Marcial as a marketplace for Michigan businesses.

Marcial and Steven Mansour formed Ink Detroit in 2005 with the mission of creating hip and fun graphics for quality t-shirts and other garments and accessories that Motor City natives "can wear proudly like a badge of honor."

"It kind of started as a hobby. We were just doing shirts on the side for years. We weren't really pushing it. Then it started growing little by littler and it got to the point where one of us had to leave our job," Marcial recalls.

Mansour, who has a background in the garment industry, left his job and is full-time with the ventures. Marcial, a graphic designer and landscape architect, spends countless hours on the start-up. The company's offices and product development are handled from Marcial and Mansour's Royal Oak homes. They have a warehouse in Southfield.

After Ink Detroit got rolling, the Michigan pride vibe got stronger, Marcial says. It became clear the buyers were very different.

"We did a few Michigan designs before, and they did OK," Marcial says. "When we started a whole separate division that's where it took off."

He says a large number of sales are coming from Instagram posts, simple pics like one of his son in a I Love Michigan shirt at the apple orchard last weekend.

The next big step for Mansour and Marcial is the launch of a catalog, which is being printed and bound as the pair prepares to approach retailers about stocking their products. Currently about 10 stores sell their goods.

Source: Paul Marcial, co-founder Ink Detroit and I Love Michigan Shop
Writer: Kim North Shine

Hot Mama expands make-mom-look-good-feel-good retail to Birmingham

Hot Mama, a Minnesota-based clothing store started by a mom who experienced the indignities and difficulties of shopping as a mom with kids in a new body, is coming to downtown Birmingham next spring. The styles are meant to keep moms from feeling too mom-ish.

The 2,400 square-foot store will open at 128 South Old Woodward and will add to Birmingham's selection of national retailers sought out by downtown planners.

A spokeswoman for Hot Mama says Birmingham was chosen because of its similarities to Edina, where Hot Mama opened the first store in 2004.

"We were attracted to the walkable area and energy of downtown," she told Ed Nakfoor, a spokesman for the Birmingham Principal Shopping District. "It reminded us of our first store in Edina, Minnesota, at 50th & France. We also loved the co-tenants in downtown Birmingham."

The stores are family-friendly so moms can shop. The also stock snacks for kids and beer for dad. They are spacious, with room for strollers.

When the store opens a full time director and a full time manager will be hired, as will 10 part-time stylists.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Edward Nakfoor, spokesman, Birmingham Principal Shopping District

Ferndale-based Chazzano Coffee filling cups in four states

When Frank Lanzkron-Tamarazo started Chazzano Coffee in 2009, roasting beans from a hole-in-the-wall office in Farmington Hills and then moving as he grew into a larger light industrial park, he expected to land maybe 20 wholesale accounts.

He's far exceeded that number, reaching 170 wholesale outlets for the coffee he roasts himself and distributes only in small batches to keep it fresh, but he's built a business that is 70-percent retail based. He sells in Michigan and three other states.

"It's amazing. I had about three accounts before we opened the cafe coffee roastery in Ferndale. Those accounts led to more and more, and right now the 170 whole accounts…restaurants, cafes, speciality markets like Whole Foods, Randazzo's, Plum Market, Holiday Market," Lanzkron-Tamarazo says.

Dozens of offices order his coffee, as do coffee club members who receive deliveries of special roasts on the 1st and 15th of each month.

During the last year, the former synagogue cantor's coffee began filling the cups in Illinois, Iowa and Kentucky, and unexpectedly the roastery in a not so attractive part of Ferndale drew more customers than it had room for. So within a year Chazzano will be moving into a much larger space, likely in Ferndale, with a bigger cafe and roasting area, more parking and more space for retail.

"We're kind of special because I roast all the coffee fresh to order when I get the order," he says. "We call each of our 170 wholesale accounts each week. We keep the orders small so that the coffee doesn't get a chance to lose its freshness."

Any coffee around more than 2 - 2 1/2 weeks old is ground and donated to a homeless shelter. His wife, Lisa, made a delivery of fresh roasted beans and a brewing part to a Bowling Green, Ohio cafe yesterday.

"My whole goal in the beginning was getting better coffee when you go out. I can't stand going to an awesome restaurant, where the food is fantastic and the service is great and the coffee is lousy. It makes no sense. 

"Once they start serving my coffee, then they become retail customers…then at home, then at a favorite restaurant, then to the office," he says.

As grateful as he is for the growth and business expansion he knows he wants to limit it.

"We're really a boutique roastery. We're different than any other roaster around. We're always going to make sure we're small enough so that there's quality."

Source: Frank Lanzkron-Tamarazo, owner, Chazzano Coffee Roasters
Writer: Kim North-Shine

New bistro and retail coming to Grosse Pointe's Village

In any downtown, the business scene is always changing, some businesses coming, some going, some expanding.

And in Grosse Pointe, where locals joke about things always staying the same, the Village business district is no exception.

It can be, however, a confusing one with business plans that seem certain not being that way at all. Such is the case with two of the largest vacancies in Grosse Pointe's Village downtown business district.

One space, a former Ace Hardware on Kercheval at St. Clair, was supposed to be taken over by another hardware store, but those plans are off, and the building owners are looking for two retailers to move into the large spot, which has been divided into 18,000 and 11,000 square-foot spaces.

"The building can facilitate two big-box users or divide one or both buildings into smaller units. Current demand for retail is 750 to 2,000 square feet, with not much demand for 2,000," says Jennifer Boettcher, director of the Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce. "The landlords want to make sure they make they have the right tenants for the community because the tenants will most likely be there for the next 20 years."

Next door to the former is the vacant Borders bookstore, which closed three years ago. A plan for St. John to open a medical office in the back half and rent the front for retail is postponed after the city rejected the project for not having the amount of retail space called for by zoning laws.

While that city block sits empty, an opposite corner on Kercheval is taking shape as a new French bistro and lounge called Marais will take over two storefronts. Marais is scheduled to open in September, Boettcher says. And across the street, a few blocks down the long-awaited expanded bar area at City Kitchen will also open in September. 

Across Kercheval Avenue, the nearly 30-year-old Village Toy Store, a local and metro Detroit "Best Of" winner numerous times, is leaving the toy business and moving next door to start El's, which will stock room decor, clothing, jewelry, accessories and speciality items for teen and tween girls, a desirable retail demographic.

It will swap spots with ultra preppy clothier - mostly Lilly Pulitzer designs - the Village Palm.

Down the street, two new and very different hair salons, the chain Great Clips and Euro-inspired Chez Lou Lou, are co-existing while the Grosse Pointe Downtown Development Authority has hired two marketing pros to figure out how to lure retailers and also visitors with special events and other projects and changes to the Village.

In preparation for positive changes that might come, the city is re-doing the largest parking lot in the downtown. It will become a gated lot instead of metered parking.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Jennifer Boettcher, Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce

Downtown Birmingham's First Thursdays offer nighttime shopping

Birmingham's business development officials have been studying shoppers and retail trends for many months now, trying to figure out how to improve on downtown Birmingham as a shopping and free-time destination.

One question asked: When do you want to shop? The answer: evenings, after work or school.

That's when many downtown shops are closed. So in the interest of finding out if nighttime shopping will actually generate traffic, about 45 downtown stores will stay open until 9 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month, says John Heiney, director of Birmingham's Principal Shopping District.

The response will show if a mostly daytime downtown -- other than restaurants and movies -- will fly.

First Thursdays will run through September during the summer months, when strolling store to store at night is more likely. There will be a theme each month along with sales and special events and activities in stores and around downtown to promote First Thursdays.

Birmingham's Principal Shopping District, which is made up of downtown businesses and employs a retail consultant to keep downtown thriving, is hosting the event and "wants to get shoppers thinking about shopping in the evening," Heiney says.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: John Heiney, director, Birmingham Principal Shopping District
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