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Vendors shocked by Gibraltar center’s sudden closure

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Mount Clemens — Brian Sunamoto, 46, has a psychic booth at the Gibraltar Trade Center in Mount Clemens, but didn’t see the sudden closure of the weekend market coming.

Psychic gifts, he explained, are not to be used for personal gain.

“The trials and tribulations you go through, you’re supposed to live with,” Sunamoto said Sunday, weeks away from the Aug. 27 closure of the trade center.

Ron Hartlieb jokes that for the 35 years he’s been a part of the trade center — first in Taylor, then in Mount Clemens — he could’ve retired and had a pension by now. In reality, Hartlieb, owner of The Upper Half Company, a t-shirt and sign printing business, loves the work too much to ever stop.

“I’ve been fine,” Hartlieb said of the changes in the market that have shifted sales online — which was among the reasons cited by Gibraltar’s owner for deciding to sell the land. “I think you make in business what you make of it. If you don’t change with the times, you don’t survive.”

Ron Hartlieb of Dearborn is figuring out the next move for his business, The Upper Half Co., at Gibraltar Trade Center in Mt. Clemens. Hartlieb is one of the business owners who has been at Gibraltar the longest.

Hartlieb believes his business is immune to the online market because of the customization and small-batch printing it offers, as well as the immediacy.

“I do personalized stuff, custom stuff, and it’s harder to get that online,” Hartlieb said. “If you buy it online, you have to pay freight and you have to wait for it; mine, you get immediately,” after the “minute through 45 minutes” timeframe the printing and airbrushing takes.

“I’ll do this til I die,” though where he’ll relocate after the Mount Clemens site closes and he has to move what’s left of his 350 square feet of inventory, is an open question.

Above a display at Nancy Sadik’s shop, D&A Fashion, a yellow and black sign read “Blow Out Sale/ Everything Must Go.”

Sadik, 42, fought back tears as she pondered the disappearance of the only job she’s had since coming to America from Egypt in 1995: being a vendor at the Gibraltar Trade Center. In three years, she’s put up with two closures, first of the Taylor market, now in Mount Clemens.

In 2014, the closure of the Taylor market forced a move to Mount Clemens, and a much longer commute. But that was fine, because she knew where she was going next and could tell customers where to find her. Sadik had signed a lease agreement for a space at Southland Center, but says Gibraltar convinced her instead to move to Mount Clemens, which she did.

Now it’s customers who are providing the reassurance, or attempting to.

“Everything happens for a reason,” said one shopper.

With the Mount Clemens center closing, and with just two months of notice, Sadik doesn’t know where she’ll go next. If she doesn’t sell off her remaining inventory, she’ll have to get movers to bring it back to Taylor. Six months notice would’ve helped, Sadik said. Two months of notice makes her cry.

“I’m leaving with no job, and debt and interest on top of that,” Sadik, 42, said. She had about $30,000 of inventory left at the shop, and had moved about $25,000 back to Taylor. All of those expenses went on her credit card.

Part of Sadik’s sadness is seeing neighbors at the trade center pack up shop. One such neighbor, Amish Cheese, has called the market home for more than two decades, said shop owner Joe Mifflin, 55.

The letter from Gibraltar management, announcing the closure, came at about 4 p.m. last Sunday. After a brief meeting, “we were all terminated,” Mifflin said.

“I did a pretty substantial business here the whole time I’ve been here.” Mifflin said. “I’ve never missed one weekend here. My whole business has ran at this spot the entire time it’s been here,” a 26-year time span.

Mifflin said he, too, was shocked by both the closing announcement and the short time frame. The Smith’s Creek native chose to create Amish Cheese in lieu of a career in welding when the owner of the trade center, Bob Koester, gave him the opportunity to rent space.

“(Koester) has been a really good business person the entire time we’ve been here,” Mifflin said. “He’s been a really fair guy; the Koesters have always been good to me.”

But keeping Amish Cheese open through August 27 wouldn’t make sense, he said. Mifflin said that if Sunday isn’t his last day, Friday will be.

Joe Mifflin, owner of Amish Cheese, is closing his business at Gibraltar Trade Center. Mifflin said he, too, was shocked by both the closing announcement and the short time frame vendors were given to shut down their businesses.

Mifflin plans to open up shop in Smith’s Creek, but said that won’t happen for at least another six months.

For Sunamoto and his partner, fellow market tenant Michelle Kove, 62, the closure of the market will force both to regroup, but also offers an opportunity they haven’t enjoyed in the “seven or eight months” they’ve been together since meeting at the market: free time on the weekend.

Kove, owner of picture framing business Framing by Michelle, had been in the market from October 2016 until “three weeks ago,” when she decided she wasn’t making enough money.

“In the summer you don’t make any money,” Kove said. But she is renting a smaller space for the final weeks until the market closes.

Kove joined the market in the first place “to make money and get established,” and because “Gibraltar used to be booming,” but didn’t find that to be true in her case.

“Not so much,” Kove said.

Kove plans to shift her energies online, to marketplaces like Etsy and eBay. Sunamoto wasn’t immediately sure what would become of his shop, KellSun Art.

But, said Kove: “at least we’ll be able to enjoy ourselves on the weekend.”