Jack White, Shinola buy Midtown building for expansion

Susan Whitall, and Louis Aguilar

Detroit — The partnership announced Tuesday between musician Jack White and Shinola has particular synchronicity given White's background as a craftsman and musician, and the design company's philosophy of smaller-is-better, high-quality manufacturing.

White, it was announced, has partnered with Shinola founder Tom Kartsotis to buy the 52,500-square foot building that houses the Shinola flagship store at 441 W. Canfield. The companies declined to disclose the financial terms.

The musician's Third Man Records will open a retail store in the space, its second nationally, by Black Friday of this year, the day after Thanksgiving. Third Man promised "surprises" for its Detroit opening, and because Black Friday has become a secondary Record Store Day, with special vinyl releases, it should be a veritable carnival next November.

Shinola will be the perfect partner, as it expands into manufacturing and selling audiophile-quality turntables, speakers and headphones, "potentially" under the "Detrola" brand.

The plans came together in just the last few months, according to Shinola chief marketing officer Bridget Russo.

"There's mutual admiration there," Russo said, of the two companies. "I think Jack was compelled by what we were doing here, and how quickly we were moving from a dozen folks employed here to now over 350. The aesthetics of the company also resonated. There's a lot of mutual respect across both brands, between our founder Tom, and Jack.

The plan evolved as the Shinola team traveled to Nashville, and the Third Man people came to Detroit. "The idea happened organically," said Russo. "We were looking at buying the building anyway and Jack was interested in the space. So Third Man will take over where (retail partner) Willys (Detroit) is today. Willys we will relocate in the building somewhere."

There will be U.S. manufacturing of audio equipment, and "if there's any portion of that that can happen in Detroit, it's a priority," said Russo.

For Third Man, opening the Cass Corridor store is a homecoming, because the label was founded here by White in 2001, just as the White Stripes were gaining international acclaim. White and Third Man Records are headquartered in Nashville; the Cass Corridor store will be Third Man's second location.

The label releases many limited-edition items on high-end vinyl, such as a collector's set devoted to Paramount Records, a blues record company from the '20s, that comes in a box made to look like an old 78-rpm record player.

Shinola plans to expand into making and selling audiophile-quality turntables, speakers and headphones.

Before the White Stripes hit, White had an upholstery business in Detroit called Third Man Upholsterers, with the motto, "Your furniture isn't dead." Third Man Records' motto is, "Your turntable's not dead."

Shinola has seven brick-and-mortar locations (its latest, in Ann Arbor) offering watches, bicycles, journals and leather goods.

In just three years, the company has become an international brand of luxury goods that touts Detroit manufacturing. And they continue to expand in very non-Detroit places — Manhattan's TriBeca, London's Soho, Los Angeles's Silverlake, and in the Paris boutique Colette.

"Everything they sell has a strong Detroit component," said Mike Bernacchi, a professor of marketing at University of Detroit Mercy. "They sell a strong narrative about a comeback of a city; a city with a unique culture that resonates. How they knew it was the right time to sell that image — that's the magic of timing."

White grew up in southwest Detroit, and attended Cass Technical High School, not far from the building on Canfield where Third Man will locate. His first White Stripes show was also nearby, in the now-abandoned Gold Dollar bar on Cass.

Interestingly, both Shinola and Third Man refer to the location not as the fashionable "Midtown," but by its scruffier and more historic name, the Cass Corridor. The Cass Corridor was known for its vibrant art and music scene in the '60s, when the MC5, Creem Magazine and tribes of artists were located there. White commented that it has always been the most inspiring area of Detroit for him, "as an artist and as a Detroiter."

He mentioned artist Gordon Newton and the band the Gories, and how Detroit garage rock sprang out of the area. White added that with Third Man's presence there, the artists of the Corridor will be able to work with the label to help "keep that creative spirit alive for decades to come."

Musician and Detroit native Jack White throws out the first pitch prior to the start of the game between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on July 29, 2014 in Detroit.

White moved to Nashville in 2005, but has quietly contributed to various Detroit causes. He's said to be the anonymous benefactor of Clark Park in southwest Detroit, which received a $170,000 check in 2009 to refurbish the ball field where he played as a boy.

In 2013, he anonymously paid $142,000 in back taxes the Masonic Temple needed to keep from foreclosing. The building now houses a 1,000-seat theater that bears White's name.

Staff writer Adam Graham contributed.