Last weekend's was only the beginning of new things to come on the strip of Coolidge Highway businesses in Berkley – that is, according to owner Maureen Popkin and her business neighbors.
With a unified voice under the that started back in December, 18 businesses are being represented in the assessment of problems that Coolidge businesses face and how they can change things.
"The focus behind (Coolidge Collection) was multifold,” said Popkin, who leads the group. “To bring some design continuity and speak to the city about what we can do to improve the area. We are paying into taxes, but just not seeing what can be done.”
Because funding is an issue, and will continue to be, according to city officials, these local businesses are taking matters into their own hands and riding out a vision to become a shopping destination in Berkley.
owner Nikki Maybee is part of the Coolidge Collection and said she wants more residents to see what she has to offer.
"A majority of my clients come from other areas and I'd like local residents to see we are here, serving Berkley, too," explained Maybee, who came from Pleasant Ridge to open her salon nearly three years ago.
While businesses is good, she said, it's still part of her mission to "keep it local" at her salon. She's hoping the changes brought by the Coolidge Collection can help make that happen.
Maybee believes the issue is, in part, the traditional shopping area that more Berkley residents go to, rather than the emerging businesses on Coolidge.
"When people around here think of shopping, they think of 12 Mile, not Coolidge," she said. "We want to get people to know about us, (both) the businesses that have been here for more than 20 years and those that have been here for just one year."
Planning the transformation
Popkin calls the Coolidge Collection “a more grassroots approach to being proactive” and noted that at the foundation is community change and a new marketing plan for businesses on Coolidge. Members of the Coolidge Collection have begun attending and meetings to petition for support.
To start, Popkin laid out a couple of "realistic" suggestions the group is working with. Both aren’t major budget items, she believes, but are simple changes that will go far:
- Spruce up the place: It starts with local businesses owners, Popkin said, even spending five minutes a day to clean up the outside of their storefront. The group is hoping to get city support for things such as mulch, flowers and a repainting of the chipped and cracked exterior of curbs, fire hydrants and other things along Coolidge. The hope is to create a sense of continuity between the businesses on 12 Mile and Coolidge.
- Safety measures for shoppers: Popkin said not only do people not slow down beyond 35 mph to catch a glimpse of what is happening along Coolidge Highway, but crosswalks for pedestrians are also needed. “Our main concern (for Coolidge Collection) is the safety of our customers,” she explained.
“It’s just about doing our part here in the city and doing what we need to do to be a part of the community. We want this to be a positive experience,” she said. “We’re just trying to stay in business like everyone else is. It’s a tough world out there.”
Maybee said other local shop owners are beginning to take a look at the Coolidge Collection already. "People love the idea and the city is starting to notice us more," she explained. "We are trying to get (others) to take part."
For her, Berkley was walkable city where smaller businesses were flourishing, rather than chain stores, and that worked for her business model when she was deciding where to set up shop. "I wanted to stay a smaller businesses and to be approachable. I like the idea of an old-fashioned mom-and-pop store," she said.
She hopes other local business owners feel the same way, to join the cause and bring in more customers as well as better opportunity for Berkley businesses.
"Bringing in money locally really does help."
Working with limited funding
City Manager Jane Bais-DiSessa, also a member of the Downtown Development Authority, said Coolidge businesses are acknowledged as part of the downtown area, though business owners “may feel neglected” because retail in that part of town is still relatively new and developing.
“Until recently, Coolidge had very few retail shops,” she explained, adding that it was mostly privately owned spaces and offices for lawyers, architects and other professionals.
“We’ve always looked at both (12 Mile and Coolidge), it’s just that they are very different to work with.”
Bais-DiSessa said resources are a major issue and noted that some projects, like road improvements along Coolidge, have been funded in the last few years, but that the private land, sidewalks and parking lots make the area’s development dissimilar to that of 12 Mile Road.
“I would love for it to mirror 12 Mile and that is the ultimate goal of the DDA and city of Berkley, but not all of it lends itself like the 12 Mile side … Businesses are sporadic and there’s not a continuum,” she said.
“If that were to change and we were to see more retail businesses on the Coolidge side, then yes, that’s something we would embrace and take a look at. We are hoping the growth will continue.”