Lower rents, opportunity, diversity draw businesses to 'funky,' walkable Hamtramck

Posted on August 2, 2016

Joan and Raymond Bittner knew they wanted to expand their Polish Art Center in Hamtramck, not move to the suburbs like some other businesses. So they waited for an opportunity.

Many years later, that opportunity came when the pants store next to them on Jos. Campau Street closed, giving them room for more cards, stoneware imported from Poland and folk art classes and demonstrations.

Joan and Raymond Bittner’s Polish Art Center on Jos. Campau in Hamtramck features cards, stoneware imported from Poland and folk art classes and demonstrations.

Other merchants and residents have waited a long time for a revival of fortunes for Hamtramck’s main retail and restaurant thoroughfares. Finally, they say, a comeback is underway with an array of shops and bars opening this year.

On the list are Wheelhouse Detroit, a bicycle shop that is scheduled to open a new location in Hamtramck in August, plus a pet supply shop, a photo gallery, a coffee shop and a garment maker that also will provide consulting to young designers.

“There’s a sense of opportunity here,” said Mayor Karen Majewski, who has lived in Hamtramck since the late 1980s. Three years ago, she bought a storefront on Jos. Campau and, after renovating it, opened Tekla Vintage two years ago.

Near her shop is a new quilt maker called Edwin Moran and the Mom and Pop Toy Shop, which sells vintage toys. Farther down is a new co-working space called COCAD, the Community of Creatives and Doers. And Bank Suey, a former bank and Golden Hill Chop Suey eatery, was established in 2014 on Jos. Campau as an event and community space.

On the other side of town along Conant Street, an array of Bangladeshi businesses and restaurants have opened in recent years, selling saris, spices, groceries, sweets and more.

‘Cool and diverse’

Owner Linda Wolyniec works in her new quilt making shop, called Edwin Moran, on Jos. Campau in Hamtramck.

“It’s doing now what I thought it would do 40 years ago,” Joan Bittner said.

She and others describe Hamtramck as a place where immigrants and artists are coming to live, and start businesses.

Twenty- and 30-somethings are moving to Hamtramck because it’s “funky and cool and diverse” as well as affordable and walkable, Majewski said. A few of them have taken over “old guy” bars and reinvented them with new names and specialty drinks or pop-up food offerings. One of them was renamedTrixie’s after the mother of the two brothers who bought and rehabbed it.

“There’s a lot of young energy coming in with businesses, a lot of people with ideas. Lots of overflow from Corktown and Midtown” Detroit, said John Grossi, who owns commercial and residential properties in Hamtramck as well as Amicci’s Pizza, which he opened in 1985.

Hamtramck’s traditional downtown along Jos. Campau has newcomers as well as old-time pawn shops, dollar stores and a couple of bakeries. It’s a mix of old-time shops selling discounted clothing or insurance and a handful of Polish groceries, bakeries and shops, and new trendy places.

The residents mirror that melting pot-newcomer mixture. Nearly 44 percent of Hamtramck’s residents were born in a country other than the United States, eight times as many as in Detroit. The city was 21.5 percent Asian background, with many Bangladeshi and Yemeni residents, and 19.3 percent African-American, with some 54 percent of its population white as of the 2010 census.

Real estate advantages

A stretch of Conant Street in Hamtramck shows the diversity of businesses in the city.

That diversity is an attraction for some prospective business owners, but so is the fact that Hamtramck benefits from Detroit’s revival and subsequent rising rents, which have caused some to give up on a Midtown Detroit business address and move to the city surrounded by Detroit. Hamtramck rents on retail and restaurant spaces range from approximately $9 to $18 a square foot a year, according to LoopNet, a commercial listings site.

Grossi estimates a wider range — from $3 to $20 a square foot a year, depending on location, parking and amenities in the building. Some properties marketed at $17 or higher a square foot are “a tough sell in Hamtramck,” he said, and his commercial space is priced around $10-$12 a square foot.

By comparison, retail leases in Midtown range from $16 to $30 a square foot, according to Midtown Detroit Inc.

Wheelhouse Detroit owner Kelli Kavanaugh discovered this differential in rental rates. She looked for a second location for her Detroit-based bicycle business in numerous neighborhoods for two years and saw five other bike shops open in or near downtown Detroit. That made her look to Hamtramck for “its liveliness and diversity” and affordable real estate.

She said it would have cost her 1½ times as much in rent to open a bike shop in downtown Detroit, Midtown or Eastern Market, and yet Hamtramck still has walkability and a strong food and entertainment scene.

Her 2,500-square-foot store is scheduled to open in August with custom-made neon signs and a mural planned for its back wall. Kavanaugh will feature apparel, which is not offered at her Detroit store, and more bikes. Kavanaugh is half Polish and lived in Hamtramck in the 1990s, so she’s happy to be part of its revival.

The rising interest in Hamtramck has also increased property values.

When Majewski bought her building at 9600 Jos. Campau three years ago, she paid $55,000 for it. Now she estimates it could sell for close to $100,000. The building required considerable renovation and repairs.

Bon Bon Bon owner Alexandra Clark paid $110,000 for the 3,000-square-foot building at 11360 Jos. Campau and will renovate it as a home for her artisanal chocolate shop and production facility now at 2756 Evaline St. in Hamtramck.

Yet empty storefronts have been a longtime issue in Hamtramck, one that grew worse in the 2007-08 recession. Majewski said some of that comes from landlords who want only national chain tenants or others who hold properties but don’t want to renovate them. Hamtramck has a handful of “slumlords,” she said. Others say that with the momentum in Hamtramck, it could be time for them to sell or spruce up their properties.

One of the biggest businesses, the Polish Market, closed in June after many years in Hamtramck.

And Rock City Eatery, which started as a pop-up in Ferndale’s Rust Belt Market, is leaving Hamtramck for a larger location in Midtown. Rock City Eatery co-owner Jessica Imbronone Sanches said leaving Hamtramck is bittersweet because the city’s residents were very supportive. Rock City looked for a larger space in Hamtramck but then the Midtown Detroit space “fell in their laps.”

“We’re excited to grow; we’re not excited to leave Hamtramck,” she said.

 The new space will open within a few weeks, she said.

Continuing reading the full article here on Crain’s Detroit Business.