The Detroit Guide
Detroit is not unfamiliar with change and reinvention, and yet for all its complexity, the Motor City is often primarily thought of as the land of automobiles. While this is undeniably a piece of Detroit’s fascinating narrative, the city has a great deal more to offer, particularly in the creative arts, which have long played a prominent role in Detroit’s past (from original urban murals to an iconic record label), and in continuing to shape the ever-changing city today. Museums like MOCAD share the work of brilliant Detroit artists with natives and visitors alike, while also making the case that Detroit is a destination for a diverse, international range of art. Throughout the city, there are extraordinary examples of storied architecture. In rare record shops, music from earlier decades lives on, while contemporary indie bands play in a mix of new venues and old (outrageously awesome) dive bars. Neighborhoods like Midtown (museum district, home to DIA and a transformed retail experience), Downtown (encompasses all of the city’s major stages from economic to operatic and athletic), and Corktown (a hipster dream) have seen waves of new chefs and restaurants come onto the scene. Several new boutique hotels are promised to debut in the next year or two. So, while what in part makes Detroit cool is that it doesn’t have all the familiar amenities and trends of frequently touristed cities, it is undeniably a city of reinvention, and we expect this guide to evolve with it.
Third Man Records623 7th Ave S., Pie Town | 615.891.4393
Jack White—of White Stripes fame—initially launched Third Man Records in Detroit. The label moved to Nashville in 2009 and is now a sprawling complex that includes a record store, a distribution center, a music venue with live-to-acetate recording capabilities, a photo studio, as well as the actual offices. Come see a show or book a tour to learn the ins and outs of the modern music industry.
Eldorado General Store1700 Michigan Ave., Corktown | 313.784.9220
When Erin Gavle quit her advertising job in L.A., she purchased a van named Betsy and drove to Detroit. Along her journey, she stopped at garage sales, Indian reservations, craft fairs, and thrift stores to amass a collection of clothing, home goods, and jewelry that soon became stock at this beautifully curated new vintage shop. The store’s offerings range from cowboy boots to suede jackets to a truly impressive crystal collection.
Artifactry2135 Michigan Ave., Corktown | 313.974.7734
Owner Gail Kaye and her husband John work with local artisans and dealers to fill their vintage store with a variety of Detroit-based gifts, décor, and furniture. You’ll find a great selection of jewelry and delightful repurposed items, such as lamps made from old speakers. Wood paneling and paned garage doors warm up the industrial space, which is located in the revitalized Corktown next to Mercury Bar and across the street from Slow’s and Sugar House.
John K. King Used & Rare Books901 W. Lafayette Blvd., Corktown | 313.961.0622
Housed in a former glove factory since the early 1980's—which explains the oversized hand painted sign across the building's exterior—John K. King Used & Rare Books shop is truly next level. Wandering the enormous, overflowing rows of shelves that wind from the first floor to the fourth is a dream-like experience for any book lover. And what's really crazy is that the mind-boggling number of books here (Mr. King, who began trading in 1965, has about a million books in stock, and this is by far his largest home for them) are entirely uncomputerized collections—meaning they are organized wholly by hand making it a wild treasure hunt. Trying to find a Sylvia Plath? The team knows just where to go in the poetry section, and what edition of which book was recently taken off the shelf by a reader who came before. The fiction section on the third floor alone merits days of exploration and many returned visits—the store's collection is ever shifting. The rarest of the titles are kept separately—those are actually searchable online, so you can have any special requests for books to be pulled ready in advance of coming to the store.
Peoples Records1464 Gratiot Ave., Eastern Market | 313.831.0864
Next door to Trinosophes café is People's Records, one of the most notable record stores in the country. Run by longtime bassist and soul DJ, Brad Hales, Peoples specializes in soul (the collection of random, second-hand soul 45s here is extraordinary), but also carries rare jazz, R&B, and rock. Peoples has been around for more than a dozen years, surviving a fire, moving locations multiple times (they have a shop closer to Ferndale, too), meaning that Hales has amassed more than records in his time. The store is home to posters and old photographs, but he also opened a music archive museum attached to the other side of Trinosophes that draws from his deeper collection of artifacts and highlights musicians from Detroit's/Michigan's history. MAHS (Michigan Audio Heritage Society) can be thought of in juxtaposition to the Motown Museum—the exhibitions at MAHS bring to light less well known music contemporary to Motown, whereas at the Motown Museum you'll of course see some of the most commercially successful artists.
Shinola441 W. Canfield St., Midtown | 313.285.2390
The Shinola brand has largely become synonymous with the changing city of Detroit itself. As a company, Shinola has made Detroit its home: Their 30,000-square foot watch factory resides inside of Detroit's College for Creative Studies in the former GM Argonaut building, a symbol of the company's mission to bring jobs to the city, and bigger picture, to America. The flagship store, a large piece of the transformation of West Canfield Street in Midtown, has become a destination in and of itself. The store is a gorgeous, industrial showcase of Shinola's signature leather watches, as well as wallets, bags, and exceptionally handsome notebooks. Bicycles hang from exposed beams and the impeccable bike workshop (where every Shinola bicycle is custom assembled) is visible behind a long glass wall running the length of the store. Conveniently, there's also a café inside as well as a flower stand from Detroit's Made Floral, with irresistibly romantic bouquets. After your visit, keep walking along Canfield (toward 2nd Avenue), which turns into a cobblestone street—Detroit's first local historic district, with houses dating back to the 1870's, reflecting a mix of Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, and Queen Anne styles. (See here for more Detroit architecture touring.)
John Varvatos1500 Woodward Ave., Downtown | 313.437.8095
Native son John Varvatos returns to his roots with this downtown location, his first in the Midwest, inspired by the his flagship menswear store on the Bowery in New York City. Music—a little bit Motown, a little bit of rock ’n’ roll—undoubtedly influences the store’s design, which sells rare vinyl records and vintage audio equipment alongside his minimalist designs and custom Chuck Taylors. And like his store on the Bowery, the space also features a stage for performances. (The store celebrated its opening with a show by Varvatos’s friend and fellow Detroit native, Alice Cooper.)
Nora4240 Cass Ave., Midtown | 313.831.4845
Just looking around this carefully curated shop will put you at ease: beautiful Japanese and Scandinavian-inspired housewares and accessories line the walls of the small, bright space. Perfect for finding gifts, Nora stocks a selection of items—from local to international designers alike—meant for everyday use. Furniture, leather goods, and contemporary wall art accompany an impressive selection of modern tableware, including glasses and utensils from Iittala and Hasami porcelain.
City Bird460 W. Canfield St., Midtown | 313.831.9146
Nestled in the Cass Corridor (neighbor to Shinola and sister store, Nest), this boutique occupies an adorably revamped industrial space and is full of independent and locally made artisanal housewares, jewelry (generally affordable, chic, and perfect for wearing everyday, like moon phase stud earrings), paper goods (screen-printed greeting cards), apparel, accessories, and home decor. Opened in 2009 by siblings and seventh-generation Detroiters, Andy and Emily Linn, this is a great place to pick up gifts or souvenirs anyone would love.
Nest460 W. Canfield St., Midtown | 313.831.9776
Siblings and seventh-generation Detroiters, Andy and Emily Linn, opened this home goods boutique in 2011, in the Cass Corridor (next door to its sister store, City Bird). It’s since become a destination for unique home decor pieces and perfect, locally and artisanally made gifts, from candles and soap to terrariums, air plants, and cool kitchen accessories (mug, flasks, storage jars, wine glasses), all stocked general-store-style on wooden shelves. It’s the perfect place to pick up a gift for any occasion (especially a housewarming), though it's hard to leave without buying something for yourself.
Détroit is the New Black1426 Woodward Ave., Downtown | 313.355.2201
Roslyn Karamoko started gifting T-shirts that said "Détroit is the New Black" to friends and family before turning it into her full-time job—and a retail concept. (The accent over the “e” is a nod to Detroit’s French origins.) She opened the hybrid boutique and art gallery on a rapidly developing stretch of Downtown in July 2016, selling everything from DITNB emblazoned T-shirts, tote bags, and sweatshirts, plus dresses from Tracey Reese, leather goods from Douglas & Co., and cotton T-shirts from Lazlo. There’s artwork too—an installation by local artist Leon Dickey is currently on view, and the space hosts a rotating roster of cultural events like poetry night and group art exhibitions meant for visitors and the local community alike.
Signal Return Press1345 Division St., Eastern Market | 315.567.8970
Signal Return Press specializes in gorgeous letterpress, doing their part to preserve the increasingly obscure art by offering workshops and open studio programs, and hosting visiting artists. If you're not in town during one of their events, it's still fun to stop by their shop, which has great cards, posters, and prints. It's a great place for picking up souvenirs.
Filson441 W. Canfield St., Midtown | 313.285.1880
The Seattle-based outfitter, which has been churning out durable camping gear and wares since 1897, maintains its cabin-in-the-woods aesthetic (think buffalo plaid blankets, leather club chairs, and timeworn wooden tables) with the opening of its first Michigan storefront. (In colder months, they’ll fire up with wood burning Ziegler stove for shoppers, too.) For now, the store predominately carries men’s clothing—wool vests, beanies, and leather goods—but they’re planning on carrying more women’s items down the line. There’s also the complete assortment of iconic bags, like the original twill briefcase, for which the brand is probably best known.
Pot and Box| 313.212.1869
Pot and Box founder Lisa Waud seems to be at the intersection of everything floral and cool and beautiful in Detroit. For starters, she was the mastermind behind the Fall 2015 project, Flower House, which brought together thirty-seven florists and designers from Michigan and across the country to decorate an abandoned house (which Waud purchased) in neighboring Hamtramck with American-grown flowers. Waud is now at work turning this surrounding land into a flower farm, where she hopes to welcome more visitors (the house drew more than three thousands in a few days), and host workshops and events. (Waud's already started a few market series and a flower week elsewhere in Detroit.) Until then—and before her forthcoming brick and mortar opens—you can shop her adorable flower truck a few weekday afternoons: Wednesday by The Red Hook in West Village, Thursday by Astro Coffee in Corktown, and Friday by Citybird in Midtown. Oh, and Pot and Box also does weddings, weekly flower deliveries, and other events.