Kelly Ouellette owns Slice of Style with her mom. And it used to be at Erie and Parent.
Now it’s downtown, in the old Peter K. Ryan antiques store. And they’re not alone. They’re with Pina and Adriano of Windsor Eats!
I shot a quick video while I was there, and thought I’d share it with you, because they’ve done some AMAZING work within the space to make it warm and welcoming. Good people, working hard, deserve other good people to give them a whirl. If you have a gift to give, to a woman specifically, this place might have something right for you. Check ‘em out. They just opened today!
Watching our City Council mulling over where (if at all) to put trees around the newly proposed Performance Stage/Festival Plaza located on the Detroit River, I’m thinking about where festivals should be held.
In our fine city, festivals are funneled to certain festival areas. The main one is in front of Caesar’s Windsor, on the riverfront, with a humongous slab of concrete playing host to all the foot traffic.
As most readers of this blog know, last year’s Phog Phest took place on the street, far away from the Festival Plaza (or other predetermined festival areas). With regard to our event, it made more sense to have the event smack dab in the middle of the street in front of the venue being celebrated.
I’ve been told, time and again, that Bluesfest originated on Victoria Avenue, which is the street perpendicular to University Avenue, where Phog Phest was held. In its heyday, it has moved to the downtown Festival Plaza, and became its own one-stop-shop event.
After our festival, we were asked over and over if we were going to do another one. A bigger one. Something perhaps at the Festival Plaza. Actually, before we even held our event, I spoke with an event organizer who seemed bewildered that I was hosting it on the street, away from the river.
If Phog Phest was at the river, the overflow of customers wouldn’t have flown into Milk Coffee Bar, Empire Lounge, California Sushi (who was nice enough to send us a sushi platter during the event!), Artcite and other neighbours. It felt good to share the event with them.
If I ever choose to host another event in Windsor, I will focus my energies on situating it in the streets. Every time.
When an event is held on the waterfront, or in a park, it feels like an escape. A disconnection. Which is the point I guess. But when there’s an event downtown, most of the contributors to the success of that event park their car, and walk directly to the Festival Plaza (as little distance as humanly possible). They then celebrate, walk back to their car, and disappear.
There’s little surprise that most festival-going Windsorites and Detroiters have no idea what the landscape of the business district looks like.
Of course, naysayers will comment on this post saying that there’s nothing to see/experience downtown in the business district. That’s an argument for a different day. Few Windsorites step outside of their comfort zone to actually experience the plethora of Windsor’s independent businesses ANYWHERE in Windsor…not just downtown. That aside, we’re ignorant to our own surroundings because we don’t stand in the spaces where these places call home 7 days a week.
New entrepreneurs potentially looking for places to put their businesses aren’t lured by the downtown area, if the only time they come downtown is to park, run to the river, dance, and run back to their car. Potential customers for these current downtown businesses are in the same boat. You can’t spend money with a locally owned business if you’ve never walked past it, recognized it, and located it with your own eyes.
In my humble opinion, the excitement of experiencing a familiar space is by changing it up once in a while. Experiencing the streets as a celebratory space is far more enticing to me than retreating to the riverfront, sequestered away from all the businesses, all the areas hungry for activity. I’d much rather see the reciprocal benefits to the surrounding downtown community by locating festivals within exploration distance of the average Windsorite. If someone wants a can of pop, an espresso, chicken wings, or sunglasses, it’d be nice if they could look within the streets of taxpaying business owners to find those things rather than the current option at Festival Plaza events.
That said, I wonder what some of the readers of this blog would say would be exciting non-pre-determined festival spaces. Any ideas?
One of my ideas, shaped by my experience with the last festival, is Indian Road in west Windsor (Sandwich).
Here’s a quick vid produced by Broken City Lab showing this derelict space –
The reason I thought of going there for a festival was the favourable distance between Indian Road and the very vocal minority of residents in downtown who believe that the streets should be a mausoleum. As the DWBIA knows well, residents put up a fuss because of the noise created by 2009’s new series of road closures for the freedom to mosey in the downtown enjoying food, faces, and music without fear of car traffic. They will likely have their hands full defending the reprisal of these events which breathed new life into the downtown in the summer of 2009.
I’ve imagined a life-bringing event, existing on Indian Road, with students, food, music, akin to the Dally In The Alley held in Detroit.
Residents would likely welcome the attention, the activity, the appreciation of their space. It could only serve to bring more attention to their plight for a solution to the blight they’re experiencing.
Best of all, residents would likely take to the street, to the smiling faces and action, to experience their street in a way that they never thought possible since their woes began.
Anyone want to help me plan something over there?
In closing, I’d like to say that I think that the newly proposed riverfront festival space is perfect for some events. It’d be nice if we lured in a 3-day jazz fest or something that would encourage outsiders to come to town for a long weekend and experience Windsor for the first time. Theatrical events outdoors would be cool too. I think that newcomers to Windsor are more apt to explore if they’re lured here by a big-time ticketed festival experience. They’re here because they’re curious. My hope is to encourage our own residents to do more than to avoid downtown for a carnival or festival, only to leave the core with no more awareness of the space than when they left the house.
But my choice, when scheduling festivities, will be in the streets.
There are TONS of videos, and a couple of interviews at the end of this blog post.
Skip the writing to see what we saw on our trip to Detroit on Saturday October 16th, 2009.
Thanks to David Ziriada and Joan who gave their time for FREE to give this tour, to what they hoped would be a large and eager group of Windsorites. Instead they got the small, tenaciously interested and focused group of the following people, to whom I am extremely grateful for making this experience and incredible one: Luke, Rino, Anastasia (sp?), Wilson, Sophia, and Matt.
David Ziriada and the other side of the Renaissance Center
To begin with, there were nine of us.
One of us was less than six weeks old.
But we were all wide-eyed, and in constant awe of the offerings of the City of Detroit.
Heading over to Detroit at 10am seems early to the people who ran late for our departure, and never made the trek.
Anyone with a day job realizes that this is enough time to wake, shower, feed kids, milk a cow, and be early for departure.
The follow-up walks we’ll be doing will begin at the same time, for those who, if ever in your entire lives, become motivated to DO SOMETHING.
Stopping first at the Wayne County Building, we wriggled down nearby streets, near St. Andrew’s Hall, Jacoby’s (possibly Detroit’s oldest surviving business), Chapoton House, Greektown, St. Mary’s Church, The Detroit Cornice and Slate Building, and much more.
We visited the tourist centre, which is fairly new, on Woodward Avenue. There, we found locally produced gift-shop-type stuff like pins, t-shirts, jewelery, books, and more. I bought a Mayor Coleman Young pin, ironically, as he was one of the worst things for the City of Detroit, in my humble opinion. I also picked up some Detroit Trivia cards from the Detroit Historical Society. Awesome.
We looked at the plethora of art installations in most of the abandoned buildings (and some of the inhabited ones) on our walk back to where we parked. Seeing the streetscapes from angles I normally don’t see was incredible. Let me be clear here. There’s almost NOBODY walking around downtown Detroit on Saturday morning/afternoon. Maybe it’s the college football. But I was able to stand in an urban jungle, with relative silence (aside from a passing bus or The People Mover) and look onto the city as if it were a postcard. Nothing moving. Non one cutting into my photos. If you look at the photo set on Flickr, you’ll be amazed at how FEW people appear in my images.
Having this “I Am Legend” feeling at times allowed me to look around and feel like less of a nosy tourist. I was awestruck at the diversity of building sizes, shapes, colours, and heights like I’ve never been before. Detroit, simply put, is beautiful. And I shared this feeling with many of the other explorers. The most people we saw was inside of The Sweetwater Tavern, where we had lunch. It’s 100 feet from the Wayne County Building. The other place we saw people was at the Campus Martius area. The new, trumped-up, art-adorned section of downtown.
When we went to our second location, we simply drove up Woodward Avenue, with the Fox Theater passing by us on our left hand side, until we passed the big condominiums on the right hand side. Alfred Street. Turned right into that neighbourhood, and parked.
Jaw-dropping levels of architecture in the form of homes built by Civil War benefactors. The most wonderful, restored homes were standing next door to burned out husks. This is Brush Park. This dichotomy is a recurring theme in Detroit. Wherever you find something pleasing to the eye, you’re bound to find something crushing to the soul nearby. When reading the plaque for the Chapoton House in downtown, it took me a full two minutes to realize that a homeless person was sleeping in the doorway, clear as day.
I think there’s something attractive to us, humans, in opportunity…in seeing something on its way to betterment. When we see desolation, we cringe. When we see affluence, we also, in many cases, cringe. But beauty under fire, beauty defying the odds is one of the most sating things we can experience. And I think that Detroit holds a grand attraction for that reason, right now. Brush Park used to be full of destroyed buildings. They’re all gone. knocked down, but for a few that are either newly ruined or being held over for improvement. Looking south through this neighbourhood, I see nothing for several hundred yards standing between myself and Ford Field. It looks more like a hockey arena in the Lasalle than a major American sports franchise’s home field. Even the namesake artwork on the roof of this multi-million-dollar space has the dichotomy I speak of. The logo looks like it was made of cake, and left out over the summer to get rained on, lose its colour, and eventually fade into something unrecognizable.
To wrap up, I’ll add that we drove through Pole Town. A seemingly derogatory name for the old Polish neighbourhood of Detroit. It is easily one of the most desolate, bombed out places I’ve ever seen. You know the Evolution of Man image of the ape growing into Hobo Habilis and so on and so on until it’s a human? Imagine that same progression except as a de-evolution of a building. Some have no paint. Then no windows. Then they’re a little charred. Then they’re half falling over. Then there’s no roof. And eventually you’re seeing homes burnt to a crisp, laying down hopeless while a high school (so covered in graffiti we thought it was abandoned) holds a football practice across the street from it. I began wondering how this would effect my psyche if I was exposed to this level of decay less than 100 feet from my high school in the abundance that these neighbourhood kids have to experience.
We ended our tour in the Heidelberg Project.
I’ll leave it at that. Those who know about it can simply nod their heads. Those who have not been there…well, it’s tough to describe. Use the link above to see what I mean. It was like entering another world. From the dying Pole Town to the bizarre, fun, playful but oft disturbing Heidelberg Project.
If you didn’t come, I think you may have missed out, once again, on one of the most enriching experiences I’ve had in Windsor/Detroit in my entire life.
You need to SHOW UP.
Speaking of Show Up, here’s my two newest interviews for my podcast by the same name.
We’ve been a couple of times.
Jhoan and I went on the first Saturday the Downtown Farmer’s Market was coordinated and then again two weeks later.
A pal of mine, Ken, from out of town was introduced two weeks later.
He drummed up conversations with various sellers and vendors. It was a welcome sight.
This market is such a welcomed oasis of local support, it’s difficult to convey its importance…in my humble opinion.
I’ll try to put this in perspective for you.
When I buy food at a grocery store, I fumble for parking, find a loud cage with wheels (for transporting my purchases), and make my way past mean-mugging employees and lottery ticket salespeople. Once inside, I try to find some veggies and fruit, none of which are from Ontario (often) and whom I would need Airmail postage to communicate with. Loads of “food” on the inside aisles is boxed, canned, preserved, and just plain NOT FOOD. There are babies clothes, patio furniture, vases, garden decor, pharmaceuticals, and more standing between me (in the vegetable aisle) and the eggs (opposite aisle). Don’t get me started on the impatience of the check-out experience.
I think this is common for most shoppers.
This is not a fun experience.
This is generally NOT a social experience.
It’s cold, predictable, and wrong. For me.
Going to the market, the first week, we were late. There was nothing left. Everything was bought already. But the sellers looked eager. We bought some honey and a few little things here and there, and we knew we’d have to return early the following week.
When we did, there was a symphony of food available. We not only bought the best loaf of bread we’ve ever bought as a couple, but we met the man who grew the ingredients, milled them, and baked them into bread! He was friendly! He was eager to teach us a bout his product, and how close his premises were where he made this all possible.
We bought loads of fresh vegetable, grown by the humble individuals behind the tables. With the table standing between myself and my “nourish-er”, it was the closest I’d been to a farmer. To a food producer. A LOCAL food producer! They were here, making my goal to be a locavore not just hopeful, but possible.
The other upside is the LOCAL vendors selling a range of things such as art, soaps and lotions, jewelry and more. Nothing made in China is in these tents, just the people who care more about the viability of their Windsor community than the average bear. And these are nice people to be around.
I urge you to rediscover the space where the old downtown bus depot was located. Between Chatham and Pitt Streets, east of Ouellette.
It’s something Jhoan and I look forward to perusing each week, when the rain isn’t torrential, and when we’re actually in town together.
Eat something from Essex County. It’s good for you. In more ways than one.