Taylor's Gibraltar Trade Center vendors weigh next move

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News
  • In 1980, Jim Koester opened the trade center in Gibraltar.
  • By 1982, the Koester family bought land off I-75 in Taylor and put in a bigger market.
  • In the '90s, the family opened a second location off I-94 in Mount Clemens.
  • The Taylor market's last day is Nov. 16; then the two places will be consolidated in Mount Clemens.

Taylor – — When the Gibraltar Trade Center closes this month, Chris and Charbel Haddad will have had their Gold and Silver Inc. business there for exactly 20 years and 2 months.

Behind the counter, they have hung dozens of school pictures, given to them by loyal customers over the years. Some of those children are all grown up and coming on their own now to buy jewelry.

"That's the relationships we've been building," Chris Haddad said.

The Gibraltar Trade Center, an iconic site near Interstate 75 and a staple of Downriver life for 34 years, will close its doors Nov. 17, with some, but not all, of the vendors making the move to the newer trade center building off I-94 in Mount Clemens.

Gold and Silver Inc. is moving. It's unclear whether all of its customers will follow, but Chris Haddad is hopeful.

"It's a prime example of what life throws at you," she said. "When you have to change, you do it."

The Gibraltar Trade Center has been owned and operated by the Koester family since its inception in 1980. Jim Koester was in the auction liquidation business and, in 1980, he bought a 60,000-square-foot building in Gibraltar as a place to hold closeout auctions. Soon, the family started a weekend market.

By 1982, they had purchased the 320,000-square-foot facility off I-75 in Taylor and put in a much bigger weekend market. The bazaar-like venue became home to hundreds of vendors selling an array of products and services from practical to kitsch.

"It was my dad's vision: We started the market (in Gibraltar) and it was doing quite well," said company president Bob Koester. "Then when my dad bought this in '82 and we moved out here, it just exploded."

The '90s brought even more success for the family. They opened a second market in Mount Clemens, which Bob Koester now runs, and doubled the size of the Taylor building. In its heyday, the Taylor market had $10 million in gross sales per year, he said.

But when Menards, the Wisconsin-based home improvement chain, came to the family with an offer to buy the 80-plus-acre parcel two years ago, Jim Koester decided the time was right to consolidate the two markets.

"Nobody wants to see it end. It's been a lot of people's lives. Lots of friends, lots of family, lots of history," said Chris Koester, who heads up the Taylor market with his brother, Dennis. "Now, it's just going to continue in Mount Clemens."

Boom in development

The departure of the Gibraltar Trade Center comes at a time when the city of Taylor is experiencing significant redevelopment in the Eureka Road corridor along I-75.

"The opportunity for the city of Taylor in this case is really big," Mayor Rick Sollars said. "The flea market stereotype is one we've really tried to shake."

Sollars said nearby Southland Mall is undergoing a $50 million renovation over the next three years, including the opening of a movie theater and three restaurants. The Ramada Inn could soon be bought and upgraded, he said. And the city is getting its first Panera bakery and restaurant.

Sollars said the home improvement store would bring other retailers and restaurants to the property. Menards would not provide details on the plans; it has until the end of the year to close on the deal.

"We hope to build a new store in Taylor, Michigan, sometime in the future, although no final decisions have been made as we're still working through the approval process at this point in time," said company spokesman Jeff Abbott.

Sollars said it's an exciting time for economic development in Taylor.

"We've sort of been paralyzed over the last six years and part of that was because of the economy," he said. "Now that things are loosening up, Taylor is a hot market for retail opportunities. We want to capitalize on that."

Not everyone is excited for the changes. Vendor Nestor Munis said the loss of the Gibraltar Trade Center is "like a death in the family."

Munis, 72, will not be making the trip to Mount Clemens, choosing instead to retire from his jewelry business of 28 years. "It's been a good run," he said.

Munis says some of the vendors have decided to move to nearby malls or shopping centers rather than Mount Clemens. He's made the difficult decision to close up shop, which is especially hard because the center will be closed before Christmas and he'll lose all his holiday sales.

Other vendors have taken the changes in stride.

Nick Kalothia and his wife, Nicki, have been running their custom T-shirt stand at the market since 1987. Kalothia has even made a T-shirt for himself, telling customers they are moving east to Mount Clemens.

"This place is the best," Kalothia said. "We're going to make that place the same way."

'It's just a distance'

The Koester family has always pegged the Gibraltar Trade Center as a unique retail experience.

"We are a shopping destination and we always have been," Bob Koester said.

In the early days of the market, the building was full to bursting with vendors selling everything from furniture and jewelry to books, dresses and custom airbrushed T-shirts. Many of those vendors are still around, although some have already begun moving their wares to Mount Clemens or packing up to move on to other locations.

On one wall, the family has hung collages of photos from the early days. Mixed in with the photos of developing businesses are photos of Jim Koester's seven children, all of whom worked at the market at some point.

Chris Koester started when he was 12.

"I worked on the loading dock weekends during prime time and on the sales floor," he said. "When I went to college, I came back every weekend except for four."

It's a point of pride for family members that so many of the original vendors have stuck with them. They hope those relationships between vendor and customer will bring in new business to the Mount Clemens location.

"I think they'll like it. It's just a distance," Bob Koester said. "I believe they may not come as often, but when they want to visit their favorite vendor, or need their rugs, or want to check out the closeouts we do for Christmas, yes, they'll come."

Longtime customer Mentoria Brazill loves the trade center, but probably won't drive regularly to Mount Clemens.

"I'll go out there once, but if the certain vendors I used to deal with aren't there, I won't go," said the Romulus resident. "It has nothing to do with the market itself, it's the vendors who make this market."

Clare Greenfield of Trenton says she's been coming to the Gibraltar Trade Center all her life, and she remembers when her parents would give her and her siblings a little pocket money to pick out presents for themselves.

"It's actually going to be depressing," she said. "I'll drive by and be sad."

lrazzaq@detroitnews.com

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