The coolest, most interesting hotel in #Detroit right now. Honor & Folly, a two room miracle in Corktown.
3 February 2012
I came to Detroit to be and do many things, but primarily to be an entrepreneur. There is a lot of innovation happening in this city, new ways to do business, new ways of thinking and putting things together. Capital has proved elusive so people have gotten creative. Extra creative.
But it’s not just the innovation that gets me going. It’s also the heart.
Yes, people want to earn some cash. But people also want to do some good while they’re at it. New restaurants support local coffee roasters. New boutiques resell pretty little somethings from older boutiques to help spread the distribution. A local school runs one of the most successful urban farms in the city (as a way to teach biology !), which feeds profit back into the kids education. A food bank also runs a catering service, and on and on…
I’m committed to businesses that embed social good in their models. It isn’t enough to just write a check with some extra proceeds to a charity. It isn’t enough to pick charities that are aligned with your brand and cobrand fundraisers. We have to really rethink how we set up businesses, how we evaluate profit, and how we use capital to contribute to making our world better for more people. Isn’t that the American way? Money+Heart? Do good. Get a check. I like it. Tom’s Shoes is nice. Buy a pair and they will donate a pair to a kid who needs. But La Cocina in California is a thousand times cooler. And smarter…
La Cocina provides shared resources and assistance to entrepreneurs in the food industry, primarily low-income women of color. They have a store that sells products they make and a catering service that helps women build client bases and test ideas. It’s more than an incubator. It’s a sustainable system. The women learn new skills in a business that actually finances the learning of the new skills. The profits from these services go back into the program and also provide micro-loans to help the women start their own businesses. It’s sustainable, scalable, and just plain brilliant.
Let’s have more of that.
But it’s not easy. The obvious pain point is that I am new to an exceptionally complex and political city. I have so much to learn about how things work around here. Also, the industry I am looking to innovate within is hospitality, hotels actually, a notoriously risky and difficult to finance business. I picked hotels because visiting new places is important. Even better than facebook, people meeting new people in person is how change happens, how good ideas spread. It’s how global ideas get local. All most people see when they visit new places is stores and hotels. I’d like them to see more and a hotel can be a good jumping off point for better experiences. It can definitely be better than sleep and bad crafts for sale and horribly slick bars with post-hip DJs, which is unfortunately all even the ‘most interesting’ hotels provide. Hotels as they stand today are mostly a lost opportunity for city context, positive community development, and social profit.
It’s big. And scary. And on some days impossibly overwhelming. Yet I know it’s possible. Inch by inch we are moving forward. Somehow the left foot moves, then the right, people appear (as if by magic) and then a problem gets solved. Today was a good day. I was able to focus and make real progress. I feel motivated and ready to go.
But it’s not always like this. In fact the last month has been anxiety producing and emotionally pretty painful. Several times I almost scrapped the idea I’ve been developing for nine months. Fear is powerful and in a bold attempt to resist change it pushes hot emotional buttons triggering self-doubt… My spine but a flimsy house of cards… Shouldn’t I do something with even more social good, more integrity, more hard work… Really? Start all over? More hard than reinventing hotels around community development and social profit? More hard than making something beautiful from nothing? There might be a better idea out there, but for whatever reason this is the one I’ve chosen to work on, so like the Chrysler Ad (I love those ads), let’s just see this through.
Invention is tough. It requires tremendous patience, intuition, flexibility, and self-confidence. It’s a constant game of make it up, test it out, watch it break, adapt and do it again. Nothing is certain. I’m good with ambiguity; I’ve built my whole life around it. So in that sense I’m exceptionally well prepared for this journey. But it’s still scary. There is so much new and so much unknown. And some days I forget that I like learning and think I should know it all already. Some days I just want to curl up and cry.
However, I am really lucky and maybe smart to have picked Detroit to play my odds. People here have been trying new things for a hundred years. That’s right, a century of innovation has been pumping out of this city – think cars, manufacturing, architecture, techno, and now business model innovation – much of it in times of severe economic crises. The people are tough from failure and wise from honest success and no amount of “You will never be able to do that” can dissuade a pocket of people I’m learning to surround myself with — people to watch and learn from. Next time I am feeling crappy I might just remind myself that Ford failed two businesses before he made a car. And besides, I think this idea is actually going to work. It just might take a while and change a lot before we get there.
I love this photo Bey took. Great eye with her new camera.
Space cats lead us through Seafoam Palace on Detroit’s East Side. Whoa!
Last weekend, waltzing down my driveway, feet sifting through the fluffiest, freshest, whitest of snow I hollered out to a neighbor: “At last, I feel like I moved to Michigan!” She laughed and hollered back “Wait five minutes and the weather will change.”
That one little phrase tripped a switch in my brain that hasn’t been flipped for some 20 years. I spent four years (1989-1993) in East Lansing, Michigan — home of the Spartans, home of Michigan State University, Alma mater of Aunt Karen, Uncle Tom and Grandpa Tom Senior. MSU was home to many people that reminded everyone, all the time that the weather would change in five minutes. This was exceptionally annoying.
First, having grown up around Chicago, we knew the weather changed every twenty minutes, not five. But also it was just constant. It was nearly as common as when someone would hold up their hand to represent the physical shape of the State of Michigan in order to point out their hometown. That’s what they do. They hold up their right hand and show you where in the state they grew up. Detroit is in the crease where your thumb touches your palm. And the U.P. (Upper Peninsula) requires a second hand. I’m certain that Michiganders have permanent dents in their palms indicating the cities where they were born.
Half a dozen other places in the country also say that their weather changes every five minutes. It isn’t unique to Detroit or Michigan. But it’s a ritual, a common understanding, the shared language that builds community. And I am grateful for the memories. They connect me in a way that’s important after so many years on the coasts east and west… It reminds me that though I am new to Detroit, my Grandfather worked here for Cadillac, my father was born here in Highland Park Hospital, and three generations of my family have gone to school here. I have traces of the accent and real-deal roots. I am many parts Michigan. Practical, hyper critical, self-deprecating parts flank hard working, resourceful, inventive, and exceedingly kind parts. It’s a decent enough mix.
Then, a few nights ago, I felt even more like I belonged. Some friends and I bought an old historic building on the East Side we are turning into an art space: Seafoam Palace of Arts & Amusements [And Dead Things in Glass Jars]. We had rare access to a flatbed truck and wanted to haul a huge piece of furniture over to the space. It took four of us to get it into the truck accompanied by all the usual tense discussions about the best strategic approach, which side first, who needs to stand where, etc… 1, 2, 3 GO! Getting it into the building was even more fun as we had steps and doorways, and ceilings with loose dangling wires to consider. But we got it (and another smaller piece) inside. We had a good time moving stuff around our decrepit dusty palace, aligning pieces of scavenged furniture and motley found carpet ‘just so’ giggling at our Martha Stewart gone very art punk aesthetic. It was good, hard work, the kind that leaves your muscles with a steady, but not painful ache.
Popping into my car afterwards I felt happy and satisfied and most importantly, really relaxed. I’d driven a few blocks before I realized I was grinning and that I felt 100% completely, positively at home. There was no need to worry about sketchy buildings or people walking in shadows or missing streetlights. I was a part of it all, just another Detroiter trying to invent a way to make things work.
Thank you Mimaroglu and also Emeralds for curating great sound. This is the cover of Fabric “A Sort of Radiance” LP. It will easily stay in my top ten for a long time to come. Especially thank you to Bryan Kasenic for the flashlight.
Five amazing records arrived in the mail today from Mimaroglu. One was recorded on the one-year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death and is Self-Titled 1958-2009. It’s beautiful, warm, and melty ambient with subversive and shimmering textures. There are 349 other copies of this record.
The piece was recorded by Matthew Sullivan of Earn/Ekhein and Alex Twomey of Mirror to Mirror. That sentence means nothing to me. I don’t know these people, their former projects, or anything about the labels and scenes they run with. I have to be ok with that. But I’m not.
It takes tremendous energy to follow music. First, there is a lot of it. Second, it requires, like anything, commitment and dedication. And third, most difficult for me, it begs for choice, specialization. I have loved music since I was a kid – as collector, record store nerd, producer of shows, occasional band member, and DJ. I’ve touched a lot of scenes, met many people, and have spent countless evenings in basements and lofts listening to sounds played live for less than 20 people. But I never fully committed. It was always music and art, music and work, music and travel and for a few years most recently, almost no music at all.
At the beginning of 2012 many of us looked at our lives, where we’ve come from, where we are going. This is an exaggerated task for those of us who have struck ‘mid-life’ and are exploring how to make the next 40 years as good, and hopefully better than those previous. The mid-life patterns are clear: our self-reflective maps are all similarly busy with many, perhaps too many, interests, passions, desires, dreams. It’s hard to know what to do, how to choose. I wish it were so simple as to just choose a genre, a micro-movement to follow of analogue synth dream noise erupting from the basements of Cleveland. But on my map is also water (sailing and rowing), deeper exploration of the Arctic (an unsettling soulmate), a collective arts project in a dilapidated and enormous historical building I just purchased with some friends, and a professional project which moved me to Detroit that is yes, beautiful, but also ambitious, perhaps crazy, and as of yet unfunded. And I like to decorate, craft, go out with friends, build intimate relationships, cook, grow things, fix things, and write.
Two wise friends have told me “You can do everything you want, just not all at the same time.”
I thought I’d made that choice. I thought I’d moved to Detroit to innovate in social business and build something spectacular and beautiful that wrapped all my interests into a pretty and precise package. But now I am listening to Fabric, another record I bought from Mimaroglu, and the first released by Spectrum Spools a sub-label of Mego, curated by Emeralds, and my favorite record label as of last week. That sentence does actually mean something to me. I know that micro-genre a tiny bit more. And this record urges me to re-prioritize music and move “radio station” back near the top of the list. It’s an astonishing set of sounds that restore my faith in the beauty of humanness. I have the same feeling listening to this, right here, right now, that I did sailing Peel Sound last summer, under a midnight sun. It’s a sense of awe and wonder and gratitude. It is rich and full and satisfying. It is pure love.
It took me four months to find this record and it’s arguable that it took me a whole lifetime. It’s not the kind of music one just stumbles across. It comes from friends of friends who have been building deep tiny networks for sound to travel. It comes from knowing where to look and who to ask and a whole lot of independent research on top of that. Likewise for sailing Peel Sound. People don’t just go sail into the arctic, into the Northwest Passage. They read books and history and have spent years, maybe lifetimes maintaining healthy bodies that can endure such adventures. I overhauled my life and trained for a year so I would be strong enough to make the trip and I barely made the cut; I was just almost maybe faintly strong enough. I’d spent five years learning the history, but most my companions had read the whole canon and could recite dates and prior expeditions with the lucidity and precision of scholars. To touch the real stuff we have to put in the real work. And putting in the work demands making choices.
I spent the first half of my life expanding perspectives, blurring scenes, ensuring my canvas was as big and wide and varied as possible. I am fluent in an extraordinary breadth of cultural dialects and have accumulated a worthy set of tools.
Detroit is full of opportunity and all my dreams are possible. But which will I choose? What am I willing to put in? What am I willing to let go? When does thinking about it help? And when does it get in the way…
I do, I do.