Southwest Detroit businesses get a boost with facade upgrades, murals
Detroit — When Nikki Neuzil opened her vintage clothing shop in 2018, the exterior of the century-old building on Vernor Highway needed lots of repairs.
The storefront for Flamingo Vintage has a deep glass display windows where Neuzil shows off the clothing, accessories and housewares she sells. However, it lacked proper signage, had running tar, and mortar was crumbling from the façade.
“The outside was rough,” Neuzil said.
Neuzil received funding this year from Southwest Detroit Business Association’s Façade Matching Grant and Design Assistance Program to restore the brick, install wrought iron flower boxes and add a bright turquoise awning with the business logo.
Flamingo Vintage is among seven recently completed improvement projects in the West Vernor and Springwells and West Michigan Avenue commercial districts.
“My business was a bit of an eyesore from the outside and now when I drive down Vernor from the highway, it’s just a beautiful thing to see how all of the businesses are growing and us doing that for the neighborhood together has really lifted our community up for the better,” Neuzil said. “It does look so much nicer when you drive down Vernor now.”
Program participants receive up to half of $15,000 for architectural, construction and technical support to improve their storefronts. The program is funded through the support of JPMorgan Chase and the Hudson-Webber Foundation.
The latest improvements include new signage, paint, awnings, masonry and artwork valued at more than $245,000, officials said. In the past 11 years, 43 projects have been completed in Southwest Detroit with a total investment of more than $900,000.
“A key part of our strategy in Detroit has been investing in neighborhoods and equipping diverse and underserved entrepreneurs with the tools and resources they need to have thriving businesses," said September Hargrove, head of Detroit philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase.
Heidi Reijm, program and learning officer for the Hudson-Webber Foundation, said the façade program helps businesses in the area feel included and allows them to benefit from public and private investments nearby in Corktown.
Myrna Segura, SDBA's director of business district development and façade improvement program manager, said the program attracts a lot of private investment in the area.
“When other business and property owners see what their neighbor is doing, they also want to do the same,” she said. “... they want their buildings to look good, so they want to invest.”
In addition to Flamingo Vintage, the latest businesses to receive the improvements on Vernor Highway are Old Sherry’s on Vernor, Buena Salud Pharmacy, and Flowers of Vietnam. The most recent recipients on Michigan Avenue are Prince Valley Market, Detroit Design Center and Latino Press.
When Ameed Nahhas prepared to open Buena Salud Pharmacy in January, he had to contend with storefront windows stained with sticker residue from the previous occupant, a tax business. He said the funding he received helped him replace the windows and purchase permanent signage.
“Especially during a pandemic, you’re opening up a new business, you’re taking a risk,” he said. “It was very slow in the beginning. Cash on hand. Anything would help. The money I saved went into the business. It played a major role.”
One the side of the building that houses the pharmacy is a mural of a woman wearing a pink floral mask, flowers and the words "Buena Salud." The painter is local Detroit artist Oscar Ruiz.
“The Buena Salud mural, it’s beautiful,” he said. “I didn’t even have the mural in my head. I just wanted to change the storefront and put up signage. They helped me change the windows … They pitched the idea of the mural.”
In addition to the awning and iron work, Flamingo Vintage also has a colorful new mural on the side of the building, painted by Detroit’s Sheefy McFly.
The mural displays facial features with varying skin tones and speech bubbles with the phrase “Tu Lucha Es Mi Lucha,” Spanish for “Your fight is my fight."
Neuzil said the façade improvements and the mural have improved her walk-in traffic.
“That program completely changed everything for me for the best way,” she said. “Now I have complete visibility. There’s no way you can drive by and say you haven’t seen it. And that is priceless.”