What’s Old is New Again: The Historic Avenue of Fashion is Revitalized
Story By: Biba Adams, Photos By: Nick Hagen
Detroit’s Avenue of Fashion underwent a massive street renovation project in 2019. Since the construction finished, business on “The Ave” is blooming.
Visit Detroit’s Avenue of Fashion for a historical and fashionable tour through Detroit’s West Side.
The University District has always been an illustrious neighborhood. To the east of Livernois, stately homes in the District and Sherwood Forest were once home to notable business owners and artists. Legendary clothier, Stanley Winkelman, of Winkelman’s Department Store, once called the neighborhood home. During the 1960s, as the Jewish population in the area dwindled, prominent African Americans began to settle.
The University District became home to artists like Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin. And the neighborhood remains home to local educators, theologians, and politicians. Plus, there notable churches and educational institutions like Marygrove College and the University of Detroit. But perhaps most significantly, it is home to Livernois, and the historic Avenue of Fashion.
Detroit had wonderful shopping venues downtown like the legendary Hudson’s building, Henry the Hatter and other boutiques. But the Avenue of Fashion emerged in the 60s as a shopping destination as African Americans with substantial incomes moved into the neighborhood. The Avenue was an anti shopping mall, with stores meant to be walked through down the block, no matter the weather.
Independent, African American-owned boutiques and businesses have been the lifeblood of the neighborhood for over 50 years, and the Avenue remains home to local fashion designers, service providers, retailers and restauranteurs who provide unique options that suit the tastes of a discerning crowd.
During the 80s and 90s, the Avenue of Fashion (like the rest of Detroit) suffered from population and financial losses that accompanied the recession and reduction of manufacturing jobs. Business owner Larry Swygert describes the scene, “When I moved here in ‘91, you could practically see tumbleweeds blowing down the street.” The lack of popularity and presence in the neighborhood enabled Swygert to invest in real estate. The hairstylist and salon owner now owns six buildings on the block.
During the past decade, as Detroit has been experiencing an economic and cultural resurgence, the Avenue of Fashion has been slowly but surely growing, still anchored by small, African American-owned businesses.
Recently, the Avenue was plagued by road construction that caused some businesses to temporarily close. But now all the work on Livernois is complete and redesigned with wider sidewalks, easy parking and a smooth avenue, sure to attract visitors to the restaurants, boutiques and businesses in the district. The neighborhood features so many amazing businesses, we are excited to celebrate just a few.
Chef Omar Mitchell didn’t make it past the appetizer round on the popular Food Network show, Chopped. However, he did make his desires well-known, Mitchell wanted to open a restaurant that was a benefit to his community. With Table No. 2, Mitchell has opened one of the first fine dining restaurants on the Avenue of Fashion in years. Featuring a dynamic menu, Mitchell has elevated the level of cuisine on the Avenue of Fashion by a mile. A gigantic seafood tower anchors his appetizer menu; while an absolutely gorgeous 32 oz ribeye grilled to perfection and served with a petite serving of roasted potatoes, mushrooms, and Brussels sprouts makes the perfect date night meal presented table side for two.
Relocated from downtown, Three Thirteen opened on the Avenue in 2019 to public acclaim. The business has been celebrated by the Mayor and city council numerous times with recognitions like a Spirit of Detroit award and a Testimonial Resolution. Three Thirteen is one of the first completely remodeled and refaced businesses on the Avenue. Specializing in sportswear, Three Thirteen fashions itself as Detroit’s “brand name”. Selling unique Detroit memorabilia and clothing, the shop also has a cooperative economics policy that gives startup designers an opportunity to sell their wares in the popular store. Three Thirteen is quickly becoming a destination location garnering visitors from across the country and around the world.
Nationally renowned artist, Felle, is known for his incredible and awe-inspiring airbrushed backdrops. Sought after by businesses, celebrities, and event promoters, Felle has painted the likenesses of artists like Beyoncé, Kanye West and more. Inside his own art studio on the Avenue of Fashion, Felle is selling his art, creating new projects, and teaching music classes. The gallery is available for team building workshops, birthday parties and more. Felle does offer the caveat that there are no guarantees that what you make will look anything like his work.
Ask any makeup artist and they will tell you that eyebrows are the frame of the face. Thick, beautifully groomed eyebrows are on trend right now, and one of the stars of this rising industry is Andrea Hamilton. Known as The Browgod, Hamilton is highly-sought after with a business that operates out of a booth space inside L. Swygert Plaza–one of the Avenue of Fashion’s long-standing business spaces. The rising entrepreneur also recently launched Browsessity—a cosmetic line created to accent her handiwork. Hamilton remains “booked and busy,” and garnering an appointment with the rockstar of eyebrows is best done far in advance, via her Instagram.
This casual dining restaurant is designed to be a relaxing, fun addition to the Avenue. Owned by Derrick and Ladonna Reynolds, the restaurant features nearly 100 seats on two indoor floors and another 50 on a rooftop patio. With a full bar and a tasty brunch and dinner menu, Good Times was designed to be a neighborhood gathering space. The large venue is a great event space that aims to be the location of choice for nearby university students and residents. Good Times on the Ave is cultivating a space that lives up to their name by serving up good drinks, tasty food, and old-school music in a laid-back atmosphere.
Another beauty business new to the Avenue is Skin Bar VII. Billed as Detroit’s Premiere Facial Spa, the business is owned by Sevyn Jones. A licensed esthetician and winner of Motor City Match, Jones launched her business because she wanted citizens of the city to have access to high-end services in their own neighborhood. The inside of the spa is decorated with soothing blues and greens, and offers services like lash lifting, complete body waxing, and facial services. Jones also sells high end facial products from Dermalogica and Skin Script. Skin Bar VII adds to the elevated, high-quality offerings on the Avenue.
Specializing in desserts made primarily with organic and locally sourced ingredients was important to Chef April Anderson. The shop is quickly becoming a neighborhood staple with favorites like their lemon gooey cake. Anderson and her wife, Michelle, want to support a community that supports them. Being black and LGBTQ-owned, Good Cakes and Bakes doubles as a community space where events are held that benefit the neighborhood. Good Cakes and Bakes has thrived by building a die-hard fan base who crave their one-of-a-kind treats as well as through catering services and specialty orders. Stop by and be lured in by the sugary-sweet aroma of the shop that wafts down the block on any given afternoon.
Before smartphones could capture immediate images, or even digital photographs could tell a story in a few days or less, there was Motown Portrait Photography. This legendary space was a must stop location if you were graduating from a Detroit Public School. For decades, Motown Portrait Photography captured the images of graduating Detroit youngsters, with photos that would grace mantelpieces for years to come. Since photography has changed, Motown is still a space where great in-studio photos are taken. An incomparable history of photos have lived in this space, and new memories are being captured every day.
No conversation about the Avenue of Fashion is complete without talking about Rufus Bartell. Since the late 90s, Bartell has been an enormous presence on the Avenue of Fashion. The youngest of 14 children, Bartell is used to making himself stand out. When he opened his high-end boutique, he was doubted by many. However, he gave opportunities to some of Detroit’s most significant fashion designers and stylists who all got their start in his store. Currently the owner of SimplyCasual and The Pop Up Shop next door, Bartell is making several other investments in Livernois and beyond. For him, the new design of the Avenue is exciting and beautiful. “Design is everything,” he says. The large redesigned sidewalks provide beautiful visual access to the strip. President of the Independent Business Association of Detroit with offices on Livernois, and sitting on the advisory board of several city projects, Bartell is proud to call the Avenue of Fashion home.