Let's say it's a Friday night, or any night with a special occasion attached to it. A situation that calls for a trip out to eat, a trip to a nice cinema, a unique nightclub... anything as long as it's out of the ordinary.
How often is a budgeted allowance for a one or two-hour round-trip drive taken into account? Too often? Or virtually every time? How many of the same chain restaurants do we pass on our way to that special place?
Perhaps the distance traveled may be part of the charm. Maybe it adds to the growing enthusiasm of getting there. The "Anticipation," as Carly Simon once sang. Maybe we've grown too instantaneous. Or could it be that all the years of exploding gas prices have dampened our enthusiasms? The conditions of the roads? The safety factors? All of those can be taken into account with sound explanations.
Some have wondered, however, if the extra travel is by design or, unfortunately, demographic. Why do demographics have to dictate so much about the choices we are given Downriver? What if transportation is the only thing keeping us away? (Given the historic problems with the SMART bus system, that's not too farfetched.) So it reasons that a person cannot experience a "Max & Erma's," for instance, because they live in the wrong part of town? There are "hiccups" everywhere you look... why are we mothballed?
The biggest example always crops up when word gets out of a business vacating or a building meeting the wrecking ball. On Facebook, we've read it countless times:
"It's time for Costco!" "Trader Joe's!" "Whole Foods!" "Why won't they locate here?"
Costco has become such a hot-button topic, we almost cringe when we see another mention, knowing full well how animated the conversation gets. Rumors have persisted that the old Southgate K-Mart site has been purchased by the holding company Costco uses. The amount of land may not be a factor. Maybe Sam's Club needs competition. If we knew Costco, maybe we could embrace Costco.
More often than not, the reply is always: "They will not locate here. Downriver doesn't have its preferred demographics. And they only build near freeways." From which comes the argument: "Who says? Show me the source." And then another: "Wait a minute, that's not what so-and-so told me." "Well, show me YOUR sources, then." After all that... one can see why it's cringe-worthy. I wouldn't take my car to Livonia's Costco, for instance... it may not survive the trip without breaking down.
I mention all this simply because the rumors are a fact of life in the modern stage. Yes, we want better; I am partially in agreement. To see a Wendy's, a Walgreen, a CVS, a Dollar Store on every corner, and have the issue of demographics pushed at me with blunt force, plants a somewhat segregated, more negative response than I'd ever care to know, given the choice.
Is this truly our plateau? Have we struck the limit of what we can have, or where we can go? Does Tim Horton coffee quench everyone's thirst Downriver, just because the numbers proclaim it is so? Because it's where we "group up?" Is this all they believe their Downriver public to be?
Newsflash to Corporate: we are -- by historic nature -- blue-collar. Nothing came easy to us. We had to pick and fight for what we wanted and needed. Silver platters were reserved for the northern suburbs. We were saddled many years ago by the term, "Downriver Rat." Must it be rubbed in time and again with a lower-class demographical term, inaccurate as it is?
As a historian, I would rather not buy into any of that, truth be told. We made our name by the corner store; in a day when your downtowns were all Downriver made and grown. Spare me Star Theater, MJR or Emagine... give me back the Wyandotte Theater, the Majestic, the Rialto, the Fort Georges and Jolly Rogers. I'm not one of a "bland" group; I am an individual with unique thoughts, centering on quality of service and variety thereof. We should demand that much, and wish for it to be at our fingertips, not fifty miles away on some Google Map.
Demographics alone should not determine desirability: if we long for it, if we wish it, if they build it, we will be among the first at the door. And our children will witness an enriching experience they can pass on in their reflective thoughts as they hit middle-age.
Yes... give me the personal greetings, the honest "How are you's," the theater seat that may not recline at a thirty degree angle, with leather-lined, double-wide, double-cupholder armrests... but simply one which would make me comfortable.
What did our stores provide that the "big box" cannot? A sense of importance and individualism, a sense of community, a sense of pride. And did that pride reflect on our surroundings? You bet. It did wonders for the neighborhoods, the morale of the people in them, and it did satisfy the tax base: we had adequate protection, roads and services.
Everything we wanted, more or less, was right at our fingertips. We didn't have to drive unless we wanted to. We had the variety Downriver in the businesses that we reflect on and remember today, with lasting, positive memories. You were not a demographic on a computer database survey. You were who you made yourself to be.
Alas, we cannot turn the clock back; evolution brought us here. Perhaps our grandkids will end up reflecting with nostalgia of the modern day in much the same way we do about our past.
That would be their history, after all.
But for them to bask in the warm securities of a memorable past, we must first begin by supplying a unique -- not homogenized -- present.
By MARY CROSS
Administrator, Downriver Things Facebook site
I was born in Detroit, in 1961. Lived the first three years of my life on Cicotte St, in River Rouge, then we moved to Lincoln Park. About six months after graduation, I moved to the west side of the state to further my education at a Trade School. Graduated from there, found love, and moved to Detroit, then to Macomb County. Returned to the Downriver area in about 1986, and haven't left since.
Living in Macomb County, and the west side of the state, never felt like home. My heart longed for the Downriver area the entire six years I was gone. We're surrounded by beautiful parks, beaches, historic buildings, churches, and homes.
To me, it seems as the people here have a something different about them, I've never quite figured it out, but, it's good. Sometimes I think it has something to do with pride.
I think the Downriver area has a huge potential of moving forward. But, it's going to take many people putting their heads together for it to happen. Not just our Community Leaders, but citizens as well. Many people complain and say things, but don't do anything about it. Improving the area starts at ground zero.
And ground zero is not at any particular building, park, or school. It starts where you are. If you see a garbage can rolling around as you're driving up a road, get out and put it on the curb. It doesn't matter if it's on the wrong curb, just move it from danger. As you move it, consider this, the owner may still be at work, picking up the kids from school, or may be sleeping after working a midnight shift.
The downriver area began with farms. People use to have barn raising parties when a member of the community needed help. Whether it was to build or repair a barn or home, the community came together for that family. Sometimes it was an all day event, others, it was the entire weekend. Either way, the job got done. Multiple skilled tradesmen came together. The women cooked, baked, and fed everyone. Everyone had a job to do, even kids.
Later, the auto industry, steel mills, and chemical companies moved in. Then the recession hit in the 1930's. Jobs were lost, multiple generations were living under one roof. It was tough, but the folks of the downriver area pulled through.
I can recall a story my Godmother use to tell me. She grew up in Lincoln Park, on the corner of Fort St and White. (This was before White Castles was there).
Her father was a Tailor. While the business he worked for had to let him go, he was still able to do tailoring for others. Her mom had a nice garden in their backyard. When the vegetables were ripe, my Godmother's mom use to bag them up, then she and her brother would go around the neighborhood with a wagon behind them full of veggies, and distribute them to neighbors in need.
I always loved when she would talk about that time of her life. And she loved to talk about it. There's many other stories like this, all involving the downriver area. People coming together helping one another, without hesitation, without fear of embarrassment, with love.
Since then, many communities are falling apart. But look at Wyandotte, and Woodhaven, they're growing, thriving, things are happening. Every community can do the same. But the blaming, finger pointing, things of the past needs to stop.
Our elderly folks are part of the community. They have fences in need of repair. Gutters in need of cleaning, etc. Instead of complaining about, offer your assistance. You probably won't be paid monetarily, but more than likely will be offered coffee, homemade cookies, and a smile from the heart, that money just can't buy.
By JAN COYNE HENKEL
Originally published in the Wyandotte Echo
You walk up the cement steps, pull open the door and straight ahead you see Mr. Liptow sitting way in the back of the store. He may not have seen you but he knows you are there because on the left side of the door you came in there is a bunch of work gloves hooked to a string which was connected to a cowbell. When you opened the door the gloves raised up in the air and when the door closed they were lowered. Seeing that and hearing the cowbell told Mr. Liptow you were inside.
You have just entered Liptow’s Egg Station. We, in the neighborhood (now the McKinley Neighborhood) just called it Liptow’s. The building was over one hundred and sixty-years old. When it was torn down it was discovered, from things in the attic, that it had been a saloon at one time. It was a big building with the store on one side and the family’s house on the other. In the middle of the aisle in the store there were stacks and stacks of egg cartons. Yes, there they sat, not in a cooler; just on the floor or shelf, I don’t exactly remember which. And by the way, no one ever got sick from eating them either.
Mr. Liptow’s name was August (Gus) and his wife’s name was Nada. They had three children, Chuck, Jan and Jerry. I talked with Chuck Liptow who filled me in on some of the history of the business, which began in 1935. First at 4th Street and Pine, Liptow’s was a wholesaler of butter and eggs, supplying restaurants, stores and bars. Then in 1947 Mr. Liptow moved to another location on 15th Street and Eureka. In the 1960’s he moved back to 4th Street and Pine where he ran a retail store. His eyesight and hearing wasn’t what it used to be and he finally closed the store around 1986 or 1987. Sadly to say part of the problem was with youngsters who would come into the store and take advantage of his difficulty hearing and seeing. One would keep him occupied in one part of the store while another one would steal things somewhere else.
My late husband, George, spent much time talking with Mr. Liptow. He heard stories of the family business and was given some old negatives from which he developed pictures. One of the pictures was of a wagon with “A. Liptow Grocer” printed on the side. In the picture Mr. Liptow, as a young boy, was standing next to the wagon that belonged to his father’s grocery store.
While talking with my neighbor, Jean Miller, she said her brother, Earl Brown, used to work for Mr. Liptow. He used to drive the Liptow van to Irish Hills to pick up eggs from a poultry farm there. He would take his mom, Emma Brown, and his son Ray along for the ride. Jean says he delivered eggs to local stores and restaurants including the one she worked at, The Channel Coffee Shop. The Coffee Shop was located on 2nd Street and Eureka back before the area was changed into a parking lot for Bank One on Eureka and Biddle.
I heard that Liptow’s supplied eggs for Bob Evans at one time. We just liked to be able to send our boys, Pat, Mike and Chris, there for milk, bread, cereal or whatever we needed in a hurry. Chris says when he went in for milk Mr. Liptow would go in the back to get it and you would hear a cow moo. He says he was a funny guy.
You won’t see the store on the northwest corner of 4th Street and Pine anymore. It was torn down and all that remains is the house portion of the building, which has been very nicely remodeled. But when we drive by, in our minds, we still see those cement steps and the pipe railing and think of the “good old days” around town when you could still run to the “corner store.”
Many people have distinct recollections of the Derecho Storm (which I thought was a hurricane) of July 16, 1980. An impression I am getting from most of the stories were that people had never seen the sky turn a deeper, more depressive shade of green than they had ever seen, either before or since.
Were it not for a loud, electronic smoke detector in our house, I would have slept through it.
I did awaken to a banging sound coming from my window, and recognized quickly it was a significant rain event. However, anticipating our annual family vacation a day later, I was too lazy to arise and see the event for myself.
Then, one huge gust of wind, a loud CRUNCH at my window, and a smoke detector emission later, all was quiet, as most stories have told. Our power was out, which I would have guessed given the outdoor commotion. However, one look at the backyard told me something was indeed out of sorts: our freshly-planted green ash tree in the backyard was uprooted and standing to its side. Half of our cyclone fence lay on the ground. And the crunch I had heard was half our TV antenna detaching itself from its rooftop prominence and smashing into my window.
Fearing neighborhood-wide damage, I finally awoke, along with my parents, and we took a look outside at the street. Surprisingly, all the houses looked intact (they were, at the time, only two years old and built to "last"). But no one on the street had power.
Neither did the neighborhood adjacent to ours. Or the one next to it. It seemed the entire city of Southgate was completely in the dark, even though I had awoken to sunny skies. The Derecho (the weather service's official name for what had hit us) had left as quickly as it came upon us. I had seen green skies only three times in my life, and this was not one of them due to my excessive slumber.
Our biggest concern though was the lack of power; not only to the kitchen appliances that needed it, but to our sump pump downstairs. Being one of the first neighborhoods to require pumps, any pump down longer than a day could result in a basement backup. Somehow, Schafer High School (behind us) had power, and we borrowed a 200-foot extension cord from their shop department, ran it over the downed cyclone fence, and operated our pump, which had about ten minutes' worth of water to drain.
We ended up delaying our vacation by two days, but we could not cancel the trip, having invested heavily in lodging and other preparations. It actually took a great deal of convincing ourselves not to cancel, and two days later, we were on our way to Canada.
What I saw on northbound I-75 just froze me, and explained why we had not had power for three days: all the high-voltage power line pylons were knocked down like dominoes north of the Southfield Road exit, piled next to a train that had been blown off the tracks. Taylor and other suburbs Downriver had incurred more severe damage, as the Ecorse Drive Inn was among the casualties.
To make a long story shorter, it was three days into the vacation before we finally had a "While You Were Out" sticker given to us by the hotel front desk. From our neighbors: "Power back on, everything okay. Don't worry."
I was still too young at the time to realize the extent of the damage done to our area by this fast-moving derecho. But the downed pylons off I-75 were cleaned up by the time we returned the following week; the metal pylons replaced by wooden ones. Observe the pylons on the west side of I-75 between Northline & Outer Drive some time -- when you see the metal ones turn into wooden ones, there is the proof that the 1980 derecho hit and made a permanent mark.
Through the years, there have been many home improvement stores, large & small, general and specialty, to have dotted the Downriver landscape.
In the earlier days the names were more mom-and-pop oriented. Pine-Cashway. Sibley Lumber. Church's Lumber. Mans Lumber (which still goes strong today). And in Monroe County, Wickes Lumber. Here we detail what may be the first "big-box" home improvement store Downriver, Forest City.
It is interesting to note, although the company name has vanished from the landscape for nearly 20 years, the company is still in business. More of that below.
Forest City had two Downriver locations, Southgate & Taylor, dating from the 1960s into the early 1990s, but the chain had its beginnings in 1922 as Forest City Material, began by the Ratner family in Cleveland, which was a contractor (and not retail as yet) supplier. A sister company, Buckeye Lumber, was formed by brother Leonard Ratner about the same time, and by 1929 the two companies combined operations as Forest City Enterprises, still concentrating on the contractor market and gaining a specialty in designing and building garages.
In the 1930s, the Ratner family began dabbling in real estate, acquiring some parcels in the general Cleveland area while still growing their lumber business. During World War II, they began building pre-fabricating housing and also helped supply building materials for some of the nation's first strip shopping malls.
The Forest City format we remember best came into being by 1955, as the company converted their lumberyards into customer showplaces; among the first major lumber companies to go do-it-yourself. By the mid-1960s, two Downriver locations had been built and in operation: Telegraph Road south of Ecorse in Taylor, and Eureka Road in Southgate next door to the old South Lanes bowling alley.
Competing with small chains like Cashway and Sibley, Forest City stood out for a generation of home builders and improvers as the first main, big chain of stores. The company, though, continue to diversify their investment moves as, by the 1970s, they owned seventeen shopping centers and 39 apartment buildings throughout the country.
It wasn't until the mid 1980s that local competition began to intensify. Church's Lumber moved into larger quarters in Lincoln Park, replacing the old Spartan Department store at Dix & Champaign. The new kid on the block, though, was Builder's Square, a spinoff of the K-Mart Corporation (slogan: A Square Deal That's Right For You), which immediately gained a fervent following for those seeking alternatives to the aging Forest City stores.
Having continued rapid success in the real estate development business (the University Park project at Massachusetts Institute of Technology now among its biggest projects), the company decided to sell off their home improvement chain to an upstart Illinois company, Handy Andy. The transaction was complete by 1987 and the stores renamed by the following year.
Competition continued to grow in the Downriver area, as by the early 1990s, a third chain, Home Quarters (HQ) Warehouse built a superstore at Northline & I-75 in Southgate. The city now had three major home improvement chains at one time. Struggling to keep up in the fast economic times, Handy Andy filed for bankruptcy protection and, by 1995, was out of business, vacating the two Downriver stores it owned.
The Taylor store remained vacant for several years, eventually housing a Haunted House provided by the Taylor Jaycees, and was demolished by 2005. The Southgate store saw new life after a few years with the incorporation of A.J. Wright, a dollar store, and Salvation Army thrift store.
Forest City Enterprises continues to this day, traded on the New York Stock Exchange, still operating on its 1930s hunch into real estate. As they continue to build, one likely wonders who provides the building supplies for them in this day and age.
Off Telegraph Road between Van Horn and Vreeland Roads, at the point where Brownstown, Flat Rock and Woodhaven all converge, resides one of Downriver's largest mobile home parks, Deerfield Estates. A quiet, secluded area at its construction, and again today, there was plenty of unrest among its residents in the late 1980s, as the contamination dangers at Petroleum Specialties, Inc. became distressingly apparent.
Located on Peters Road south of Van Horn, PSI was a small petroleum processing and storage facility, one of three located Downriver back then (Marathon in Melvindale and Socony in Woodhaven the other major producers). Given the type of damages eventually found on site, the facility was not in production for that long; having opened in the 1930s and closed by sometime in 1964. With a storage capacity of 17 million gallons, the property lay abandoned for nearly twenty-five years, all its contaminating fluids still in place, seeping into the groundwater and making for a hazardous situation.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources began examining the blighted property in the summer of 1989 and came up with the horrifying results: Petroleum open to the air, several toxins, asbestos, cyanide, PCBs, and chemicals leaking from electrical transformers still on the property that the occasional urban explorer had access to. With the Deerfield Estates property now extended east (and an access road built from Peters Road), the dangers to the community became all too well-known.
The PSI lands and property, though not in operation since 1964, was still in control by the company under Marvin Fleischman when the initial case was presented in 1991, ordering the company to provide funds and means to clean up the site (as had been done at the old BASF South Works plant site in Wyandotte in the 1980s). The case progressed, as PSI did not satisfy the Department's demands in a timely manner. MDNR pressed suit by November 1991, while PSI counter-sued. All the while, nearby residents began witnessing the horrid smells eminating from the property on hot summer days.
Finally, by the mid 1990s, judgement was rendered and the property underwent the beginnings of a massive cleanup which took several years, with thousands of truckloads of chemicals and equipment removed from the site. The various outbuildings, leaking electric equipment, lagoons, and other structures have been removed from the site, the soil treated, and the property secured by a more suitable barrier. A motorist driving by the site today does not take note of, and perhaps will not recall, the facility which has been closed nearly 50 years but, most unfortunately, had a sticky story which lasted much longer than it should have.
In my opinion, this was a heart-felt letter to the editor written by News-Herald staff on June 19, 1985, addressing the then-deplorable condition of the railway viaducts running above Eureka Road near Roosevelt High School in Wyandotte. Every year when the Wyandotte Street Fair would roll into town, Eureka, as the major east-west street, would be traveled by thousands of visitors, most of whom were likely appalled by the condition of these viaducts. This one may have been the one to finally get the ball rolling and now, of course, they are well maintained with the help of Roosevelt students.
"Cleanliness is next to Godliness" goes the adage. Certainly, it ranks with Mom and apple pie
... However, one blemish on the face of Downriver is the Eureka Road viaducts in Wyandotte. The weedy growth and graffiti combine with the aging train bridgework to make for an eyesore.
Wyandotte Mayor James Wagner has said that since Eureka is the only major east-west thoroughfare in the city, motorists and pedestrians are confronted with these unsightly conditions. In fact, Eureka is the principal east-west road Downriver, feeding right into the heart of downtown Wyandotte, where an array of ethnic festivals, shops and outdoor events... attract hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.
... This problem is more than just that of the city ... It is that of Wayne County, which is supposed to maintain Eureka, a county road, but only cut weeds by the viaduct for the first time this year earlier in the month (June). It is also the problem of Roosevelt High School, whose students use the viaducts as a hangout, sometimes to throw junk at passing cars or to deface the aging structure with graffiti.
Also at fault are the railroads, whose trains have caused wear and tear on the five viaducts beyond their age.
(Mayor) Wagner has called for a meeting of all the parties involved. Pressure should be brought to bear on the county to maintain the viaduct area regularly... Wyandotte Public School officials ought to consider ways to limit access to the viaducts from the Roosevelt parking lots.
... For far too long now, men and women with responsibility have let the viaducts go to seed. However, the Project Pulchritudes (a Downriver cleanup project of the time) of the area have proven infectious in heightening community awareness.
If our civic and business leaders make good on their concerns by restoring the viaducts to their original condition, we suspect the graffiti-mongers will take their activities elsewhere."