Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hatch Off

I don't have an official transcript or good video of all the contestants at the Hatch Off, but a friend did get a somewhat pieced together video of mediocre quality and I did my best to transcribe my answers.  I can't promise complete accuracy and a few parts were cut out, but, well, you can figure it out.

The judges were Paul Saginaw from the Zingerman's family of companies, Dave Blaszkiewicz of Invest Detroit and the Downtown Detroit Partnership, and Torya Blanchard of Good Girls Go To Paris fame.  Each contestant started with a brief description of their project.

Joe:  My store Hugh, some of you have seen it before, it was the Detroit area’s first pop-up store (other than maybe Halloween USA), and it sells furniture, lighting, barware, smoking accessories, personal effects and other great home d├ęcor, all geared toward classic bachelor pad style.

Paul:  Tell me why, if you receive this award [audio cut out, something like: Hugh will contribute to the community it is in].

Joe:  One of the things that Detroit has a real shortage of right now - one of the things that Detroit really needs - is well-thought-out, well-executed, unique independent retail. Hugh is a store with a personality, it helps fill in spaces that make the ground level experience exciting for people live in the neighborhood, for people who work in the neighborhood, who want to come down and spend time in Detroit. What is really critically important is that not everything is a bar or a restaurant.

Dave:  OK I’ll follow up with … Hugh is a specialty retailer, and specialty retailers often are not destination retail establishments in and of themselves. Do you view Hugh as a destination retail establishment and if not, what other type of symbiotic type businesses would you like to be located with?

Joe:  Hugh in and of itself is a destination, it has been in the past, because it is unique. There are no other stores similar to Hugh - actually in the country. I’ve done some checking. And the one or two web stores that do exist that are like Hugh are actually pretty lame. So Hugh is a great store that can exist by itself.

What would be great to have around Hugh are just some of the ancillary businesses of the neighborhood. Hugh doesn’t need to have a store that plays off of the men vibe next to it. For example we will, if we open up, be teaming up with Pot & Box, who was a contestant in the Hatch semi-finals, to offer, on all those floral obligation holidays, to give people a chance to come in and buy flowers. We want to be a place that you can take care of your business if you are a guy, to make sure you are doing it right.

Dave: A quick follow up question, where did you get that sweet coat?

Joe: This was a gift that my grandfather gave to my dad, I received it with its original Jacobson’s tags on it fifteen years ago.

Christian Dior, by the way.

Torya: Shut up.  As we all know, Detroit is a city that’s 85% people of color. What are you going to do to attract, not just obviously the hotties that are out here, but the majority of people that reside in the city of Detroit?

That’s a great question. One of the things about Hugh in the past that was so fantastic is that the style that Hugh had really crossed racial boundaries. It was not a hipster store, although hipsters liked it. It was not a downtown workers store but downtown workers liked it. It was not a suburbanite store but suburbanites liked it.

We had a lot of African-American customers. We were right next to Centaur which as you know has a lot of African-American clients, and actually we hosted a couple parties including Oneita Jackson and her O Street Block Party at Hugh.

So that's it, it was quick.  You can see some of the photos from Oneita's Block Party here, and below is a pic of me in that sweet smoking jacket winding down after the Hatch Off at Cafe D'Mongo's.  It was a great night!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Transforming Spaces, Transforming Places

When I was interviewed on the Craig Fahle Show on WDET last week, Craig asked me why I am so bullish on retail in Detroit.  I gave my two cents on why I think Detroit is a great place to undertake a retail endeavor, but I didn't talk at all about why I think independent retail in general is a great idea right now.

The first thing that is so great about independent retail is the emphasis on the unique retail experience, and this has always been my favorite thing about retail and why I'll never stop loving bricks-and-mortar.  When you open a store you aren't just creating a space, you are engaging the imagination of your customers.  There's an opportunity to inspire.  It's always primarily about the products you sell, but in the two spaces I've had in Detroit I think the thing that gives me the most pride is the way I created something that really exceeded people's expectations. Here are a few before and after shots:

Hugh - Before

Hugh - After

... and then Hugh for the Holidays

Mezzanine - Before

Mezzanine - After
Hopefully, more to come!

With the shift over the past twenty years toward big chain retail and internet commerce, we've lost sight of the ways that independent stores define our neighborhoods and our cultures, provide a singular point-of-view, and allow us to connect and build community.

I found a copy of a 1983 book called simply Detroit Guide at an estate sale this week.  It's a highly-opinionated take on everything the metro area had to offer at the time, and I was looking at the record stores reviewed: Sam's Jams, Village Records, The Record Collector and of course Harmony House. They were places music lovers could gather to hang out and talk, explore new music, and sometimes even get a job. And while the internet has made access to music easier than ever and taken the conversation global, that local community all but died with the neighborhood record shop.

Likewise, Netflix and on-demand video have taken away many of the meeting (and working) places for film buffs. And bookstores look like the next endangered species.

What is so great about this moment for independent retail is that a well-executed endeavor can help define and transform a neighborhood, and can still build a community. Sure, it's got to be special if it is going to compete with the chains or the web, but that ensures that a shop's personality is strong and enduring. We have dozens of examples of this working in Detroit right now, changing our neighborhoods. And the best thing about it is we just think we're having fun.

That's why a competition like Hatch Detroit is so much more than simply a pot of loot for the winner. It endorses the idea that independent retail is not only alive but more important than ever, and that even though the powers-that-be may focus on bigger, corporate commercial development, there ain't nothing like the real thing. Baby.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Little Media for Hugh

Boy, the Hatch Detroit competition really drags you right back into the cut-throat world of Detroit retail!  And by cut-throat I mean super supportive and non-competitive.  I know, it's weird here.

Hugh is doing OK in the competition, we are routinely about 120 out of fourth place, which is where we need to be to move on to the next round.  If you can drum up some new votes for us, we'd be really glad.  200 would be awesome.

In the meantime, Hugh has made the media a bit!  Why?  Maybe because it's the best idea that is PURE RETAIL in the competition!  See something!  Love something!  Buy something!

Our first hit?  Curbed Detroit says "Food Desert? Try Design Desert: Why Detroit Needs Hugh"

Yesterday I hung out with Craig Fahle on WDET. In the past I've been able to say things like "taint" and "doggy style" on the air.  Today I got to say "lovehughlongtime."  It's amazing how much they humor me at WDET.

Mark Maynard is a little annoyed that he didn't follow-through with his Hatch-type idea, but that's what you get when you procrastinate I guess.  We are old friends though, I still like him.  He's crabby and smart.  And he likes Hugh.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sunday Morning Music

Any man worth his salt has the right music for the right time, and there's really no time of the week more special than Sunday morning. Whether you're alone or with company.

Odetta is a perennial favorite for Sunday mornings, and quiet afternoons in the store too.  Goes great with black coffee.  Here's a great clip of her with Johnny Cash, but don't let your exploration stop there.  Chicks dig a guy with great musical taste.

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