Arts & Culture » Culture

Retail Detail: One local’s journey to becoming a boutique owner in Detroit

From a jail cell to Corktown

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Alana Rodriguez's path to becoming a boutique owner is unusual. The Southwest Detroit native didn't start her career working in management or merchandising, but rather as an intelligence specialist in the Navy.

"I had an arts scholarship, so it was totally random. On a whim I took the exam and they told me I had to pick a date to enlist. My mom was livid," she says.

She spent the next four years in the military, an experience that brought her a great deal of gratitude for home.

"It really taught me to appreciate my family and my upbringing and for being from Detroit," she says.

After leaving the Navy in 2004, Rodriguez started college, during which time she interned at an art gallery that was housed in an old jailhouse.

"For our gallery space, we each got a cell. I ended up turning mine into a little boutique," she says.

But, once the gallery moved, Rodriguez didn't want to leave her little shop behind, so she decided to take it on the road. She hosted pop-ups anywhere she could — in places like coffee shops or gallery spaces, and eventually landed a space in Eastern Market's Sunday Street Market, which serves as a place for local crafters and vendors to sell their goods in a brick-and-mortar-ish space.

Hoping to propel her endeavor forward, Rodriguez enrolled in a business class, and soon after she was contacted by TechTown and invited to join their retail bootcamp. The rest is, as they say, history.

"They really gave me some business savvy," she says of TechTown. "They've been really instrumental."

Rodriguez says the program taught her about the financial aspects of owning a business, as well as more abstract concepts of being an entrepreneur.

"They really taught me to know my worth. They taught me to turn down something that wouldn't serve me or my business," she says.

And that concept seems to be working. When we chatted with Rodriguez, she was just one day away from the grand opening of her brick-and-mortar boutique, Mama Coo's.

The shop, curated entirely by Rodriguez, will sell retail and vintage goods — anything from clothing to furniture, to ceramics, jewelry, and apothecary pieces. While some pieces are found here and there, others are created by artists Rodriguez knows personally. She also creates some works herself, including Mexican folk art and miniature altars.

She'd also like to use the space, a little less than 350 square feet, to host pop-ups for those artists who already have some pieces for sale there. This way they can showcase more of their goods and realize the profits, rather than selling pieces to the shop on consignment.

For now, Rodriguez plans to open the shop on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from noon to 7 p.m., on Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 8 p.m. and on Sundays from noon to 5 p.m., but says those hours may change based on demand.

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