The second in a new series at Isak. See the philosophy behind Detroit Stories in the debut post.
On the corner of Cass and West Willis, five women practice collective economics. They are business owners, independent of each other, who nonetheless share space, finances and community engagement programs. Together, Source Booksellers, Tulani Rose gift gallery, Textures by Nefertiti (a natural hair shop), and the Del Pryor art gallery form the Spiral Collective. It's nearing its sixth anniversary.
This alternative business model is grounded in Kwanzaa's Ujamaa principle, which is a call to "build, maintain, and support our own stores, establishments, and businesses." It seems to be working.
When I enter the place on Saturdays--usually to pick up more incense and browse the eclectic book collection--I always find one of the owners in a rapt extended conversation with one of her customers. I find the single-room shop overflowing with color; the makeshift corners that subtly distinguish one business for another beg turning. I'm drawn to the textures--to press a finger against a waxy candle, to finger wooden beads, to run my palm along a strip of cloth or the page of a book I've never seen anywhere else. Before I leave, my bag's stuffed with flyers and free community papers piled by the door.
It's a lovely space that engages your whole person.
Why is this place a reason I love Detroit?
The Spiral Collective operates in the middle of a city with an administration that is intent on drawing traditional businesses into its borders. And it's working--Quicken Loans, for example, will move from the suburbs into the city, bringing 4,000 jobs with it. Wonderful news, but I wonder: in Detroit's desperation for redevelopment, is its idea of a "successful city" narrowing? Must we be another Chicago to call ourselves viable? Will the innovations and the creativity that grow naturally in Detroit's neighborhoods be embraced as the city stabilizes--and will Detroit transform society's very idea of what a city looks like?
In tacit but strong response to the push for conventional investment in the city, the Spiral Collective represents a new and workable business model that is community-centered, on a human-scale and uniquely of the city of Detroit. It was founded with love and ingenuity, and it continues through commitment and an admirable work ethic. It is an example of citizen entrepreneurs being better together. It is the best of what the city offers.
Image Credits: The Michigan Citizen, The Detroit News, and Anna Clark.