Makeover program to rejuvenate Detroit small businesses

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Detroit — Business owner Alicia George knows exactly how she would update her coffee shop and the businesses around her if she is selected for a new city initiative that gives façade improvement grants to established businesses in Detroit.

“Awnings, lights, benches, streetscapes, public art, trees, planters. Things that look very appetizing and something that represents the Old Redford district,” said George, owner of Motor City Java and Tea on Lahser near Grand River on the city’s northwest side.

Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. announced the $2 million makeover program on Wednesday that targets established businesses that have stayed afloat during Detroit’s rough economy.

Paul Bologna, 78, owner of Paul’s Barber Shop, and Detroit Public School teacher Lisa White-Berry talk about the Motor City Re-Store program in Sweet Potato Sensation’s parking lot Wednesday.

Motor City Re-Store will provide up to $500,000 every three months in matching grants to existing business owners and their landlords to improve exteriors of commercial buildings, including landscaping and parking lots. Matching grants are also available for design and architectural services related to exterior improvement projects.

The aim of the new initiative is to make neighborhood business districts in Detroit more walkable, attractive and viable, Duggan said, by helping local businesses improve their streetscapes.

“The small neighborhood businesses that have hung in there over the years and have sustained our city are part of Detroit’s revitalization. That’s why we created Motor City Re-Store,” Duggan said. “This is a big part of our vision as to how we are going to rebuild our neighborhoods.”

Duggan said Detroit can compete with the suburbs by providing walkable communities with districts that serve basic needs.

“We have vibrant neighborhoods, and we think we can compete for residents who want to live in a place where they can walk and have a sense of community,” Duggan said.

Businesses who apply together get a better match for improvements under the program.

Motor City Re-Store is a companion program to Motor City Match, which awards $500,000 every quarter to startups and businesses expanding to new locations.

The new program is specifically aimed at existing neighborhood businesses.

Business owner Paul Bologna has been in the Old Redford neighborhood for more than 60 years. His business sits near the theater but has no signage out front above the store.

“I would like to remodel the shop and make it look more appealing. We’ve been here over 60 years. So get a new front and make it look better for so people want to come to the shop,” said Bologna, owner of Paul’s Barber Shop. “A barber pole? Yes.”

Michael Rafferty, DEGC vice president of small business services, said the improvements funded through the program should create more inviting and stable commercial districts throughout the city.

“We know how important it is for businesses to have attractive façades facing the street because they help to build a business’ brand,” Rafferty said. “Motor City Re-Store is designed to improve that exterior look for qualified businesses.”

Glen Long, interim president and CEO of DEGC, said his organization has a long collaboration history with the mayor’s office and other private and nonprofit organizations that have been building a network of support for small business.

“We recognize how successful small businesses are significant job creators and strong contributors to the quality of life in neighborhoods,” Long said.

Motor City Re-Store is supported by a combination of Community Development Block Grant funds and other sources. The Economic Development Corp. has stewardship of the public funds and has approved funding to develop the program. It voted on final program operational plans on Tuesday.

Motor City Re-Store will be managed by the DEGC. It will be open to entrepreneurs who are currently open and operating a commercial storefront Detroit and their landlords.

The application process opens Thursday at and the first awards will be announced this fall.

About the program

Business owners interested in applying for Re-Store grants can attend info sessions:

6 p.m.-8 p.m. June 22 at Good Cakes and Bakes, 19363 Livernois Ave., Detroit

6 p.m.-8 p.m. June 29 at Matrix/Osborn Neighborhood Alliance, 13560 E. McNichols St., Detroit

Detailed information about the program can be found at