Microsoft Store coming to Detroit

A job posting on Microsoft’s Careers page lists a position open for “Store Manager” in Detroit, Michigan. This is interesting because while many new restaurants and bars have opened, there’s been a dearth of new higher-end retail shops in the city for the last several years—especially downtown. According to the Detroit Free Press, Moosejaw is the only “significant” new retailer to open downtown since CVS in 2006.

Microsoft Retail Store Interior

Image from content.microsoftstore.com

The job posting claims the location is Detroit, Michigan. Sometimes, this means metro Detroit, but I think in the case of Microsoft Careers, they actually mean Detroit—they list other Michigan cities specifically (such as Southfield, as shown in this job search). It’s reasonably safe to assume that a retail store opening in Troy (say, at Somerset Collection) would say Troy, MI. Furthermore, a listing of other Microsoft retail stores around the country shows that in other large metropolitan areas, such as Los Angeles, the individual cities are indeed shown on the listings. Continue reading

A shooting in Woodbridge, and why I don’t feel unsafe

2013 shooting in Woodbridge, Detroit

Tonight, at least ten shots were fired from an SUV, and a man was killed on the sidewalk, about a thousand feet from my front door.

Lincoln jumped up from his chair and ran downstairs, asking if we had heard the commotion (we didn’t). He heard the gunshots and saw the SUV speeding south down Avery.

I called Wayne State Police and was told by the dispatcher that they already had several calls about the incident and they were on it, and did I have a description of the vehicle? I did not and they thanked me for the call. By the time I hung up, there were four police cars arriving on the scene; this is less than five minutes after the shooting. Both Detroit and Wayne State Police were on the scene, and EMS was on its way.

I immediately went to a private Facebook group for our neighborhood and asked if anybody knew what happened. Within moments, responses started flooding in. Continue reading

Some parts of the city are a warzone, and the bad guys are winning

Goldengate Street, Detroit.

Detroit is fascinating, wonderful, and terrible. We’ve had our share of ups and downs, and we hear gunshots at night, and there are car thefts and vandalism on our street, but none of us have any regrets about where we’ve moved, and so far at least, the positive far outweighs the negative.

But it’s not like that for everyone. We’re lucky that this neighborhood is among the safest in the city. We’re lucky that we have neighbors that watch out for suspicious activity and that watch out for each other. We’re luck that when we call the police, they show up immediately. Other parts of the city are not so fortunate as us.

A discussion on Reddit today reminds us that while positive growth is happening all over our city, other parts are a terrifying warzone, and the bad guys are winning. We can’t close our eyes to this and pretend everything’s okay—it’s not. Not by a long shot.

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Getting stuff delivered in Detroit with Konbini

Konbini employee delivering groceries in Detroit

Yesterday I was followed by a Twitter account named @Konbini_CC. The words jumped out at me immediately: “Detroit’s Delivery Service”. I dug in a little deeper and discovered that Konbini is a service that promises home delivery of sundry groceries and packaged food items anywhere in our neighborhood as well as Corktown, Lafayette Park, New Center, Downtown, and Midtown.

A few things really stood out and they are things that I believe will make this work:

  • The items themselves are reasonably priced and available in individual quantities.
  • The entire system is all e-commerce and you can use debit or credit cards
  • The delivery fee is reasonable
  • They deliver until 3am

This is a novel idea for a small business, and it’s one that I think will work in this area. It’s like other quirky, modern small businesses (such as Detroit Greencycle curbside recycling pickup in Woodbridge) that have popped up to serve the burgeoning group of connected consumers in these growing areas of the city. Continue reading

Walking

You see a lot of entertaining things when you spend time walking around the city.

Today we took a four mile walk with our dog. We went from the house to the corner of Woodward and Warren, down Woodward to Ye Olde Butcher Shoppe, and then back to Woodbridge via MLK Jr.

Walking in Detroit

Along the way, we saw a lot of entertaining and interesting sights. The first thing I noticed it that there is some kind of new art project/tagging project going on. On random sidewalk blocks and spots on the ground throughout my entire path, I saw black squares spraypainted with yellow crosses. I have no idea what they symbolize or what the message is. Continue reading

Detroit and the food desert myth

Fresh food in DetroitNot that long ago, I got into an argument with a professional acquaintance. It started off as a discussion, but the things he was saying were so blatantly false that I began to get angry. I don’t often get angry, but when people spread misinformation about something important to me, and refuse to admit that they might have their ‘facts’ wrong, it really sets me off.

The issue in question was the age-old “There are no grocery stores in Detroit” conversation. This colleague was from Grand Rapids, and he was telling this to people from all over the country. A room full of people from all over the US were hearing this guy talk smack about Detroit and how there was no food here.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. “That is just plain false…” and we began getting into it. At one point the words, “Why would the media lie about that?” came out of his mouth. Continue reading

On hipsters in Detroit

Hipsters take over Detroit

“Hipsters go home” was the comment on Reddit in /r/Detroit in response to an article on Huffington Post entitled “Detroit: From Ruin Porn to Cool Again“.

This is a common theme in discussions on Reddit and in other online forums. A few times a month, someone comes in to the Detroit subreddit asking about the city (I’m moving to Detroit, what’s good?) and living there (Is Detroit really as bad as they say?). Almost inevitably, there will be someone mentioning the “hipsters” and how they’re bad/good/awesome/terrible for the city.

There seems to be an undercurrent of loathing for these hipsters that are somehow ruining everything that was ever cool about Detroit. I can’t tell if it’s bitterness that suburban kids who used to party in the city couldn’t make a go of it, or if it’s somehow racially motivated (there are black hipsters too!), or if it’s just the general attitude that comes with any revival or change movement. There’s a lot of resentment, regardless. Some of it takes the flavor of “We’re doing just fine without you, stay out” while others seem to be of the mindset that hipsters are only here for the short-term, and once they realize how gritty the city actually is, they’ll bail to fairer shores.

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Fever pitch

It’s a downhill boulder now. Boxes are packed up at our old house, we’ve moved several things already, and contractors are at the house almost every day working on getting things ready. Oven delivery

Today we accepted delivery of a new stove, and a masonry contractor came out to give us a quote on chimney repairs. The Soley guys are just about finished installing the ultra high-tech condensing boiler system that makes our basement look even more like a mad scientist laboratory. They’ve also re-plumbed the hot water line in the house, replacing a bunch of useless old galvanized pipe, and removed the old water tank.

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Zero hour

It’s getting down to the wire. Renovations are ramping up to a fever pitch. As of this moment, we have calls out to Comcast, a plumber, a scaffolding contractor, a masonry repair contractor, and a roofer. The new boiler system is halfway installed, and the majority of the interior has been primed with at least one coat of primer.

Boiler

Boiler!

The problems we had with primer peeling off in massive sheets are gone, as oil-based primer has solved the issue. The last “frighteningly high-up” surfaces have been covered with primer, and the kitchen is nearing completion (paint is done, sink is installed, light fixtures are up, and fan is installed). Continue reading

Setback

For the last week or so, we’ve been sanding, prepping, spackling, and priming the front foyer and front main hallway of the house.

It took four days and nine coats of primer to turn the formerly pink plaster walls white:

Primer on walls in Sullivan house

White walls!

It was exciting. The walls were old plaster, dyed pink from some previous wallpaper (most likely), and a bunch of us put a ton of work into patching, sanding, and priming them. It took nine coats of primer (two of PVA primer and seven of Killz) to get to these smooth white masterpieces, ready for painting.

The hallway complete, we started sanding and priming the round tower room in the front of the house yesterday. Perry and Kyle helped prime and we got one coat on the entire room.

Today Lincoln, Nicole, and I returned to continue priming. I poured the primer and got ready to apply a second coat to the foyer.

That’s when I noticed the blister.

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Turning a house into a home

As the months drone on, with some weekends bringing big improvements and some none at all, we find ourselves in a rut. “Going to the house” becomes something of a chore. It’s just a thing we do, as the passions fade and the work never seems to end.

Some days, we go to the house and do almost nothing at all except walk around looking for something to do. The most miniscule things derail us: Oh, a wire didn’t get run, oh a tool was lost, oh we didn’t buy a tool we needed, oh we’re waiting for this… or that… or this…

Since this project began, one thing has been consistent: The times we really got a ton of work done were the times we were motivated and kickstarted by friends and family; when people show up to help, things really move quickly.

The rut manifested as the house becoming a job, or a “project”, in our minds. Other than ploddingly slow progress on the bathroom and kitchen, it still hasn’t felt like much more than a big job site. The things we do are things that don’t accelerate the move-in date. We repair walls. We move stuff from one room to another in a large-scale game of musical chairs. We do landscaping. We run network cables. We’re not contractors, and our expertise isn’t in things like HVAC systems and electrical.

What we needed was a morale boost.

What we needed was a party. Continue reading

The Detroit Egg debut tasting party

Detroit Eggs, after baking and before coating and frying

Detroit Eggs, after baking and before coating and frying

A couple of weeks ago I got a strange invite on Facebook to an event called “Detroit Egg tasting party at my house”. That’s a weird one, right?

The invite was from Norm “DJ Meph” Witte III, one of our very own contributors. The Detroit Egg was his baby, and he was ready to unleash it upon the city.

Here’s how the story goes:
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Cleaning up Woodbridge with the AmeriCorps

AmeriCorps board up 5259 CommonwealthThe other day a flyer was rubber-banded to our porch. I assumed it was either a grass-cutting pitch or a politcal thing, but it was neither; rather, it was a flyer asking for volunteers to come help with a “board-up” on the next street over.

A board-up is when a group of people get together to board up an abandoned or burned-out house and clean the lots. On the north end of Woodbridge, there were a couple of burned-out houses, and they were not only eyesores but also places where people could get hurt.

But why?

Why board up an abandoned home? Why cut the grass? Why trim the hedges and pick up the trash?

It sends a clear signal: We care about this neighborhood. We care about what it looks like. We care about the way people treat our block. We care about the way homes are treated here, even if they’re not ours. Continue reading

The school decision

Last year, when I first started hinting to friends and family about my intentions to move to Detroit, the reactions ran the gamut from fully supportive (Detroit is coming back!) to absolutely against (you’re completely insane).

Most reactions were somewhere in between those two extremes. Many friends and family members warmed up to the idea after reading this blog and spending more time (after their initial emotional and visceral reactions) really looking at what the City has to offer.

There has been one common theme among almost everyone, however—from diehard supporters to head-shaking detractors—everything will be okay as long as you don’t send your kids to Detroit Public Schools.

I can’t talk about DPS without bringing race into the conversation. The sad truth is, in my experience—and many have criticized me for “over-simplification” on this issue—when people say “Detroit is bad”, what they really mean but will not say is that “Detroit is black”.
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Heavy rain in Detroit

The past week brought days of heavy rain in Detroit. It was gloomy and dark, and the cold came back.

Heavy rain in Detroit

The rain was significant. The backfill dropped six inches

This was a perfect opportunity to test out all the basement foundation repairs we made earlier in the month, though, so it’s not all bad. After two straight days of downpour, I went into the basement with bated breath.

Every area that we patched was dry.
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Marche du Nain Rouge 2012

Marche du Nain Rouge The 2012 Marche du Nain Rouge happened today in Midtown.

The Marche du Nain Rouge is a 300-year-old tradition in Detroit centered around the idea that French settler and founder of Detroit, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, encountered a little red dwarf, or “Nain Rouge”, and struck him with his cane. The Nain cursed Cadillac and his colony. The Marche brings revelers out to chase out the Nain Rouge and undo the Curse.

While the legend is old, the tradition and parade are new. It was “re-started” in 2010, with 400 revelers turning out to chase the Nain Rouge. This year, more than 3000 showed up.
Marche du Nain Rouge 2012 Mustaches against le Nain
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Sponsor shout-out: VitaminWater and SmartWater

Very soon after we closed on the house, my old friend Josh from Coca-Cola reached out to me and said he’d be happy to send the work crew along some VitaminWater and SmartWater to help keep us hydrated.

Little did I know he’d be sending cases of it out.

Thanks to the awesome sponsorship, all of our friends during the huge Icrontic week-long renovation adventure had drinks at the ready. And hey, since this March has been the freakiest hottest Michigan March I’ve ever lived through so far, they needed it.

VitaminWater at the IntoDetroit project

Some of the crew take a break with delicious refreshment

We had bottles of VitaminWater Zero in three different flavors and SmartWater. Luckily, the fridge works so they were cold and available whenever anyone needed one. Our contractors and friends were all appreciative of Josh’s generosity.

Thank you Coca-Cola and Glaceau for the awesome sponsorship. Our house now contains a little piece of love from you guys!

The blessing of the Icrontic community

Icrontic and IntoDetroit

Just some of the crew that showed up to help this week

This past week has been a blur, and it almost defies explanation to people who don’t know us or our friends yet.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you should check out our page “About IntoDetroit“. It explains a lot about where Lincoln and I come from and what the Icrontic community is.

The best way to say it is this:

The Icrontic community is the greatest group of friends that have ever formed up around a website.
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Sponsor shout-out: NewerTech Power2U

One of the nice things about our other gig, Icrontic, is that it puts us in touch with a lot of high-tech companies. I usually go to the Consumer Electronics Show every January to cover it for the community as a member of the press.

This year, I got to take a good look at a very intriguing product called the Power2U by Newer Technology. The Power2U immediately struck my eye as something intensely useful for the modern homeowner: It’s a standard 15amp UL Listed power outlet, but it also has two 5V USB charging ports built in. That means you don’t need to take up outlets with wall-warts to charge your USB-based devices.

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Woodbridge neighborhood crime watch text alert group

Woodbridge Crime Watch groupGroupMe is an app that has been around for almost two years now. Last year, I went to SXSW and used it to keep in touch with the extended group I was travelling with. It was a huge help to have a unified group messaging system that worked with a variety of devices.

Recently, I saw that Jerry Paffendorf of Loveland Technologies wrote a blog post about using GroupMe as a neighborhood crime watch alert system in Corktown, and I decided to start one for Woodbridge.

This fantastic idea is entirely Jerry’s. I’m just hoping to share the love in Woodbridge. As we’ve written about here, we’ve been the victims of petty crime and any information we can share as a community can only help us keep our neighborhood safer.

To reiterate some of the great points Jerry made on his blog post, let’s talk about what the group should and should never be used for:

Good Examples:

  • Someone just stole my car on the corner of X and Y.
  • Someone is breaking into my house at 555 Neighbor St!! Someone come help!
  • I just saw someone smash a window and get into a red van on the corner of Bad Boy and What You Gonna Do. License plate # 123 ABC

Bad Examples:

  • What’s up everybody? Enjoying a crime-free weekend I hope.
  • Help! I can’t find my keys!
  • OMG This weather is crazy right? lol.
  • lasstt caaallL @ Woodbridge Pub woooo!

In order to join the Woodbridge Crime Watch group, please send me a message on IntoDetroit with your mobile number and first and last name. Once you’re in the group, you can use a computer, a smartphone (Android or iPhone), or any phone that can send text messages.

If you witness anything going down, crime-wise, post to the group and call the Wayne State Police at (313) 577-2222 or 911. With a service like this we can start to identify patterns that will help law enforcement and help reduce crime in our community.

Redoing the bathroom

Remember back when we were testing the plumbing in the bathroom and said that the only “good” option was to raise the bathtub four inches?

Scratch that. We found a better option; we’ve re-designed the entire bathroom layout.

Our contractor, Andy, cursed and muttered under his breath, and had a few choice names for us (undoubtedly in cockney slang that we wouldn’t understand anyway), and then with a grin, shrugged and tore into re-plumbing the entire bathroom drainage system.

It took him a couple of hard days, but now we have an ideal bathroom layout.

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The long, slow winter

This has been one of the warmest Michigan winters I can ever recall, but the days are still short, the nights still long, and the pace still slow.

External electrical wiring

The wiring is... less than classy. But it works.

Things are progressing, albeit slowly. We’re finding a new work/life/renovation balance; having this giant new project has understandably thrown us all for a bit of a loop and we’re all discovering a new rhythm.

Our electrician is still working on the upstairs outlets. I’m not extremely thrilled with the compromise that has to be made (essentially, we could either take walls down and make new runs or run external wire harnesses that look more appropriate for a corporate cubicle wall than a Victorian home). The cheap option had to win out; our renovation budget is not unlimited. For now, we’ll have to deal with ugly wiring in our bedrooms until such time as we can revisit the idea of doing electrical properly. Think 5+ years.

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Empathy for intruders

We had our third breakin this week. At this point, the intruder didn’t even take anything. After some walking around and some basic investigation, this is what I surmise:

The intruder hopped the wooden fence in the backyard. Footprints didn’t come from the alley, they came from the east, along Calumet. The entry point is the same point that it has been which tells me that this is probably the same person doing the intrusion.

Only one footprint (a left footprint) led from the fence in back up to the brick porch. This means that the jumper possibly twisted an ankle and hopped up to the brick wall.

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