Years of effort pay off as small businesses grow in Detroit corridor
Photo by Chris Ehrmann The intersection of Je fferson Avenue and Chalmers Street is part of Detroit’s East Je fferson corridor, which is bene fiting from an ongoing redevelopment e ffort.
A force she can’t quite explain is responsible for Keasha Rigsby locating her upscale bridal salon in an 1889 mansion in Detroit’s East Jefferson Avenue corridor.
“It was meant to be. Every time I drove by this mansion, something was pulling me there,” said the co-owner of Beautiful Bridal with Keasha.
She and co-owner Vallery Hyduk moved to Detroit from New York earlier this year after starring in the TLC reality show “Say Yes to the Dress” and hosting “Keasha’s Perfect Dress” on TV Onelast summer. Earlier this year, the partners were the recipients of a $50,000 Motor City Match grant.
Beautiful Bridal, along with a new Caribbean restaurant, a Christian yoga center, women’s clothing boutiques, a casual branded clothing store, a used record store, and a coffee shop and bakery, are a few of the more recent businesses that have planted roots along the eight miles between downtown Detroit and Grosse Pointe Park.
Josh Elling, executive director of Jefferson East Inc., which promotes neighborhood redevelopment, said more than 20 years of efforts to revitalize the East Jefferson Avenue corridor on the city’s east side have been paying dividends in recent months. “Over the last two years, the amount of interest we’ve seen in Jefferson Avenue has been astounding,” he said.
Since 2009, $1 billion has been invested in the five neighborhoods from Alter Road to downtown along East Jefferson, Elling said, adding that $540 million of that went to improvements to the giant FCA US plant. Within the last year, seven new businesses have opened in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood in the corridor. Since 2007, JEI’s budget has climbed from $140,000 to more than $1 million.
“This is one of those areas that continues to grow, but is growing quietly,” Elling said, adding that the city and mayor’s office have been “very supportive of development deep within the city’s neighborhoods.”
JEI has its offices in an old bank building in Jefferson-Chalmers. Elling said Lester Gouvia will open a high-end Caribbean restaurant called Norma G’s Caribbean Cuisine in the JEI building. The area’s first sit-down restaurant in decades also will serve as a home base for Gouvia’s popular food truck. Named after his mother, Norma G’s will offer entrees that hail from Gouvia’s Trinidad birthplace.
“Mr. Gouvia’s passion for food and his desire to be a community anchor in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood is one of the most exciting things I have witnessed during my entire tenure here at Jefferson East,” Elling said. “With Norma G’s, we are able to provide that desperately needed community spot that allows long-term Detroiters to walk to a great meal from their homes.”
The 14,000-square-foot 14700 Jefferson building, on the first block of Jefferson-Chalmers that borders Grosse Pointe Park, was purchased in May 2015 and is being rehabbed by restaurant owner Jessica Caizza, who owns real estate development company Jeff14700 LLC. She said the building and improvements will total more than $1 million.
The second floor of the building was gutted and will become a shared workspace, and retail on the street level will continue to include institutions such as Marshall’s Barand Moe’s Bait Shop, she said. “I feel the resurgence of (downtown) Detroit, but I see the need to work on improving the bookends. I bought the building because I want to give more walkable retail to the people who live there. My building is (part) of bridging the two communities (Detroit and Grosse Pointe Park).”
JEI, formerly called the Jefferson East Business Association and founded in 1994, plans to move into the back of the former Kresge building at the corner of Lakewood Street and Jefferson. Four thousand square feet in the front of the building will be leased. JEI’s offices will temporarily locate to a space near the intersection of Jefferson and Chalmers Street, while its old headquarters is being converted to Gouvia’s restaurant.
Elling said the resurgence of downtown, combined with business-supporting organizations such as TechTown Detroit and Motor City Match, has had a positive impact on East Jefferson.
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