- Associated Press - Thursday, November 23, 2017

DETROIT (AP) - Before Detroit’s population bottomed-out and scores of small businesses closed or moved away, the Avenue of Fashion along Livernois was one of the city’s busiest commercial corridors.

Its popularity slowly is returning and could get a boost if city residents fanning out for Black Friday retail deals make the mile-long strip of mostly black-owned clothing stores, hair salons and eateries a destination, some owners say.

“We don’t get enough support,” said Kay Willingham, 58, owner of the Art in Motion ceramic studio and gallery. “A lot of people do run to the malls to get those hot deals.”

The competition is immense and includes the surge in online deals and more traditional discounts offered by big box stores and retailers at suburban malls and shopping centers.

But rebuilding the city’s business districts and making them more walkable is something Mayor Mike Duggan is trying to do. Last month, the city council approved Duggan’s $125 million bond program request to revitalize many of Detroit’s outdated commercial business corridors.

By making them more attractive and pedestrian friendly, the city aims to recapture some of the estimated $2.6 billion in spending Detroit residents do annually in surrounding communities, according to the Detroit Economic Growth Corp.

“The small neighborhood businesses that have hung in there over the years and have sustained our city are part of Detroit’s revitalization,” Duggan said earlier this year. “This is a big part of our vision as to how we are going to rebuild our neighborhoods.”

Cash grants of $10,000 to $75,000 also were awarded earlier this year to 13 city businesses as part of Duggan’s signature Motor City Match program. The program has awarded nearly $4 million in grants since its launch in early 2015.

Still, it’s frustrating for Joe Lanier who sees residents flocking outside Detroit on prime shopping days like Black Friday.

Many blacks “think our businesses are inferior,” said Lanier, co-owner of Terry’s Place wig shop and salon on the Avenue of Fashion. “I think we feel that if we buy from someone else it’s better. My prices are the same, if not lower, in certain areas.”

Lanier said there was a time when blacks from Detroit “weren’t welcome” in some mostly white communities that he gingerly calls “the establishment.”

“We supported our own,” he said. But later as racial barriers fell “we were so glad and happy to be accepted by the establishment so we run to the establishment.”

Willingham said shops along Livernois are trying to use social media to attract shoppers and holding community events like “Jazz on the Ave.”

“We have the parties, the workshops, the classes, jewelry to offer,” Willingham said of what Art in Motion does to attract people.

Some Livernois shops will offer longer hours Friday. Some will feature entertainment and wine tastings. Still others will promote half-off sales to get people through their doors, said Dolphin Michael, president of the Avenue of Fashion Business Association.

Michael said many of the businesses are specialty shops and offer one-of-a-kind pieces that can’t be found at shopping malls.

Goodness Gracious Alive, a florist and event planner, is offering a dozen roses for $10 as an incentive for Black Friday shoppers. Bianca Criswell said her Bougie’s women’s apparel shop may open at 8 p.m. Thursday and remain open through 11:59 p.m. Friday.

Blacks should frequent shops along Livernois throughout the year, said Kevin Austin, who was looking to buy footwear on Wednesday at The Shoe Box.

“I’m not saying we shouldn’t patronize other establishments,” Austin said. “We need more black-owned businesses and without support they tend to go under.”

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