The months leading up to Halloween are usually the busiest time of year for Showtime, the Midtown clothier that specializes in dressing rock stars (or people who just want to look like rock stars). The store's wares — which include leather biker jackets, corsets, boots, feather boas, hats, and more — aren't cheap, but Showtime attracts shoppers from the world over. The store counts the likes of bona fide rock stars like Slash, Social Distortion, and Suzi Quatro among its satisfied customers.
But in the three hours we spend talking to owner Dan Tatarian (Showtime is as famous for its flashy threads as it is for Tatarian's relentless banter), only three customers come in. Only one actually buys anything — a Theatre Bizarre ticket, since today is the last day Tatarian is selling reduced-price tickets for the popular Halloween party.
Tatarian says the slow business is due to the M-1 Rail construction, the long-talked about plans for a streetcar service from New Center to downtown, which finally saw groundbreaking commence July 28.
Since the summer, construction has reduced Woodward Avenue to just two lanes outside of Tatarian's business, and eliminated all of his street parking. "I should have a steady flow of people walking in right now," he says.
As we speak, crews are at work, tearing apart the street just outside of his shop. But Tatarian wishes they could speed things up.
"The way it's set up, they say if I have access into my store, there's no recourse against the state," Tatarian says. "But they should be paying stores to get them through this time — they should have a fund to help small businesses get through this."
When asked what the development and planning nonprofit, Midtown Detroit, Inc., is doing to help local businesses weather the M-1 Rail construction, president Sue Mosey tells us via email that "construction will go on until end of 2016, but at the end everyone will benefit with new light rail connecting Midtown" to the arena district and downtown.
"We are aware that area businesses are suffering and will continue to suffer until the streetcar is operating," she says, noting that the biggest concern is replacing the parking. She says her organization is leasing four private lots to add to free public parking for visitors and employees, and that they've negotiated three parking spots for Showtime customers at the Star of Woodward liquor store next door.
"I am not sure if the M-1 Rail staff has notified him of that or not yet," Mosey says (Mosey responded to our inquiry several weeks after we initially talked to Tatarian). "We just got permission for this. Once all of our leases are signed we will get sandwich board signs made for all the lots directly customers to all these locations."
Mosey also says that they're planning a series of workshops to help local businesses survive the construction. "(We) just did one on social media and have many more planned to give more technical assistance to help folks cope," she says, and adds that next year they'll focus efforts on business promotions, including radio ads. She also says that events like Dlectricity and the upcoming Noel Night will bring an influx of new customers to the area.
Whether that will be enough to save businesses like Showtime remains uncertain. Tatarian can't help but feel nostalgic for the old days, back when he started 25 years ago and things happened more organically and without the interests of big business. "The music and art scene in Detroit was cooler in the Cass Corridor days than the Midtown days," he says of his rebranded neighborhood. "You know, now they're using funding and grants to make all this shit happen."
Tatarian says he opened the first incarnation of his store with just $500 in the Cass Corridor. "I couldn't do it anywhere else. People were like, 'Why don't you move out to the suburbs and make more money?' Because I had an opportunity to get started, and a lot of these people [here] couldn't leave, right?" he says. "They needed somebody to be an example. And I got to be an example, and make money in my neighborhood. So all the way around it was a benefit for the whole community and myself."
Tatarian has long held the philosophy that people should live in the communities where they work, and shop local. Tatarian says he lives so close to his business that he can bike to work every day. But for now, supporters of Tartarian have started a GoFundMe fundraising campaign to raise money to try to move the store elsewhere.
The shift started, he says, when the Super Bowl came through town back in 2006. "They came in and did all the fronts on those buildings for free, and they gave grants to people to open their businesses downtown," he says of the boost in development. "Some people got 50 grand to open a store. And they all closed. But here I am, and all these other businesses that've been here forever — we never got money. I've never gotten a grant in my life. I don't even want a grant."
Tatarian has long advocated for the betterment of and investment in Detroit — but now he could become a casualty of its revitalization.
Showtime is located at 5708 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-875-9280; showtimedetroit.com.