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.