Story By: Sara E. Teller | Photos By: Bernie Laframboise


The first phase will include residential homes, while the second is still up in the air. The City has indicated, “The remaining acreage of the site, for which a formal proposal has not been developed, is proposed for a mixed-use configuration, generally meaning multiple buildings with an assortment of commercial, residential, and even potentially light industrial uses, mixed with public space and open space.”

This site has been vacant for several years. “The current owners, who purchased the property after demolition on site had occurred, explored possibilities for the site by engaging the Ferndale Public Schools District and current and former city staff, as well as reviewing the city’s Master Plan,” explained Jordan Twardy, City of Ferndale’s Community and Economic Development Director. “While the details of the project are still being finalized in response to community input, the current proposal calls for developing a 20-acre portion of the site which is roughly the portion from the border with Ferndale High School going south almost to Marie Street.”

The community input, which Twardy alluded to, hasn’t been all that positive. One of the primary concerns voiced by residents is the elimination of green space in favor of increasing Ferndale’s population density. According to the Master Plan, “a community-wide survey generated a lot of ideas for strengthening the connection between people and Ferndale’s open spaces, especially diversifying the programs offered through the Recreation Department, focusing on natural landscapes, and increasing the urban tree canopy throughout the city.” In other words, Ferndale residents prefer to preserve the city’s ‘green’ legacy. However, the expansive development would directly counter this goal.

“I got involved in the Pinecrest Holdings Development issue when I was part of a conversation with Councilman Dan Martin who was talking with a citizen during the first meeting of the relaunch of the Ferndale Area Democrats at the Loving Touch in March,” said Dave Cottrill. “In the conversation, I learned about the potential clear-cutting of the forest just south of Ferndale High School for a housing development.”

Cottrill added, “I contacted a friend who lives near the high school. She informed me of some of the issues of soil contamination, tree clear-cutting, moving chemical plume from the Ethyl site, and increased traffic. The amount of traffic speeding through our neighborhoods has been a concern of mine. Also, the Ferndale Rat Patrol is not in favor of new slab construction since rats like to live underneath concrete slabs.” Residents are also concerned about the plan for individual lots to be only 35 feet wide.

Twardy is eager to point out: “As long as the developers continue to pursue a PUD designation for this site, the City will work to ensure that as many trees as possible are preserved. A large determinant of this will be the requirements laid out by MDEQ for site remediation, but we are making accessible green, open space a priority for this project.

He said, “The proposed project calls for 70 single-family homes and 27 multi-family homes, as well as two clusters of publicly-accessible, preserved old-growth trees; and a greenway connector running along Pinecrest from the High School south, all the way to 8 Mile Road. The greenway is located within the privately-owned property but would be provided as a publicly accessible benefit.” Yet, many feel that replacing large trees which have been on the property for hundreds of years with an allotted percentage of smaller ones is not an acceptable solution.

RESIDENTS ARE ALSO CONCERNED THAT A LARGE NUMBER of new homes will mean increased traffic in an already congested area, and that there won’t be enough school space for families with children, especially since three of Ferndale’s schools were eliminated in recent years in favor of similar developments.

What’s more, the complex will eliminate Ferndale’s last site of relatively expansive open space and crowd out the neighboring high school.

The proposed single-family homes, which are set to start around $300,000, would have front porches and garages in the rear, either attached or detached. In addition, 19 townhouse-style homes would feature rear-entry two-car attached garages, and eight affordable, attached ranch-style homes would each feature 1,200 square feet of living space and two-car attached rear garages.

Ferndale resident Al Benchich said he and his neighbors are far less concerned with the specifics of home styles than they are about having homes constructed on this open space. “The present concern of residents is not the style of the homes. It’s that this is the last major piece of vacant property left in Ferndale,” he said.

With regard to the school situation, Twardy said, “The development as currently proposed will enable both new residents to come to the city as well as, potentially, existing residents to have the option of upgrading or downsizing into a newer home, as the project will have different sizes and types of housing available. This could certainly mean additional students for Ferndale Public Schools. [The school system] has told us that they have existing capacity to service the current population of students as well as any new students that come into the schools from this project.”

What is notably missing from the style specifics, however, if they must be discussed, are basements. The homes will sit instead on crawl spaces, and many believe there is a good reason for this. The site, formerly occupied by Hayes Lemmerz, an automotive wheel manufacturer, and chemical supplier Ethyl Corp., is largely contaminated with arsenic, lead, mercury, and other concerning chemicals. It is, therefore, what is commonly referred to as ‘brownfield.’ City policy encourages developers to achieve site plan approval from the Planning Commission before applying for incentives, such as a brownfield tax credit to off-set the rumored one-million-dollar cost of clearing out the contamination. Many wonder if the decision to eliminate basements stems from a fear of digging too deep and uncovering a need for an even pricier clean-up effort.

Residents have expressed the belief that tax incentives associated with drawing new business to the area is a primary driver for the project. Twardy commented: “We believe it will have a positive effect for employers, who view quality-of-life amenities and available housing as critical assets for recruiting and retaining talent to work in their companies. This project will also result in the significant benefit of cleaning up a highly contaminated piece of property, improving the environment for the surrounding neighborhood.”

PINECREST HOLDINGS LLC is pursuing Planned Unit Development approval for the site, and the current Master Plan specifically references the location as one for which approval might be sought. The plan reads, “The Hayes Lemmerz site is envisioned as a comprehensive mixed-use development, and its large size and adjacent uses present the opportunity to offer a range of potential uses, including light industrial, office, commercial, healthcare, recreation, and residential. A rezoning or use of a Planned Unit Development (PUD) may need to occur to accommodate the vision for future development.”

The plan goes on to suggest, “Redevelopment should also be cognizant of the existing site features, including mature tree stands that should be preserved as much as possible. With regard to Ferndale’s sustainability goals, this site should, at minimum, incorporate modern environmental standards for buildings, site design, and infrastructure and demonstrate a balance of densities, urban design features, and mitigation. Of course, sustainable design that goes beyond minimal standards is encouraged.” This has led residents to question what, if anything, is being incorporated into the current plans that would constitute as incorporating sustainability.

“PUD allows for projects that are innovative to go around zoning,” Benchich explained. With this in mind, one might expect green-oriented homes, perhaps with alternative energy resources, or an out-of-the-box development that would focus primarily on improving Ferndale’s community.

“There are these small homes somewhere out west where a whole community was constructed for homeless people, a sort of cottage industry, in which these residents can live and sell things, earn a living. That would be cool,” Benchich said. Why is the developer pursuing PUD approval rather than zoning the development as residential?

The City’s response, according to Twardy: “The entire site currently has two zoning classes; approximately ten acres of the site is residential, with the remainder industrial. The developers are pursuing Planned Unit Development approval for the site, which allows more flexibility in exchange for demonstrated public benefit. In this case, those benefits include the preservation of old growth trees and public greenway. Under traditional zoning, we cannot require those public benefits (though we do require the planting of new trees). As such, alternatives for the property as it is currently zoned might include ten acres of single-family residential, with the remainder of the site being developed as industrial, and without the ability to require public benefits on the property.”

The City also insists the project improves Ferndale’s overall landscape and increases neighboring home values solely for the fact that the area will be remediated. “Because the site is currently vacant and contaminated, the proposed improvements are likely to significantly improve the value of the project site, whose value affects the value of all the properties surrounding it. The 8 Mile corridor in particular has long suffered from negative perception issues that negatively affected home values near it, and we believe this project will significantly counter that issue,” explained Twardy.

THERE IS TALK, OF COURSE, OF INADEQUATE PARKING, especially with the proposed mixed-use development apparently stalled. Again, the City insists it is soliciting the public’s feedback. “The project as proposed provides the required amount of parking on site, which is adequate for residents and visitors. This requirement will be met even with any changes that are made to the project in response to public feedback,” said Twardy.

However, Benchich and his partner live approximately a quarter mile from the development site and they didn’t notice any apparent attempt to notify the public that meetings regarding the project were underway. “Ferndale is supposed to be a progressive town, one that really values public input. We found out about this by accident. Even the paper that the City puts out had no information,” Benchich said.

Twardy countered, “We have conducted direct mailings and email outreach to residents to disseminate information and will continue to do so. Addition-ally, by April 1, all environmental information we have on the site, as well as relevant contact information for questions, [was] made available on the city website and hard copies in the Ferndale Public Library. We will be posting project documents and updates online – in addition to mailings and emails to residents – at the City web site (click on a green button labeled “Current & Upcoming Projects”). To stay informed, please watch for official mailings and emails, and check the City web site. You can also reach out to Environmental Sustainability Planner Erin Quetell at with any questions or concerns.”

As this tale unfolds, residents are also questioning whether the site constitutes as historic, given that the foundation of an earlier building left over from the “Ridge Road” days is still present on the land. This adds yet another level of complexity to the already growing list of public comment. Plans are moving forward, however, while the developer and City staff allegedly continue to consider the community’s input. Twardy said, “The major discussion points to date have focused on a need to understand the environmental conditions of the site and how those will be addressed; density, parking and traffic; the future of the southern portion of the site; and the importance of preserving as many old growth trees as possible. Each of these, and other concerns, are being addressed as the plan is modified and finalized in direct response to public input.”

TINA CO’S CUSTOMERS KNEW HER AND HER RESTAURANT WELL – almost as well as Co knew her customers. “If you came in and ordered the same thing at least twice, Tina knew your order,” said long-time friend Michael Mode. “And, then she would come up with a nickname for you.”

Co’s creation, China Ruby, was a quaint eatery located on W. 9 Mile with larger-than-life reviews from area residents and food critics alike. “I absolutely adored China Ruby, and Tina ran an amazing business,” said area resident Eddie Mulak. “The food and hospitality were fantastic. China Ruby will always hold a special place in my heart and memories.”

Mode worked two doors down when the restaurant’s doors opened for business 30 years ago, and he waltzed over to check it out. “…First met Tina back in 1988 on the day she opened China Ruby with Ken,” he said, referencing China Ruby’s long-time chef. “I worked two doors down at Romig Magic Shop, and we quickly became friends.” Many other Ferndalians followed his lead, heading over to check out what Mode affectionately called “this five-star hole in the wall” the day it opened, and before long a legend was born.

“It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I’ve eaten [there] a thousand times over the last 30 years. It was the best Chinese food, as the countless regulars would attest,” Mode said. “On the counter there would always be stacks of plastic bags. Carry outs. People dined there, and it had a huge carry-out business, too.” He even directed a famous customer of his to China Ruby for lunch. “Isaiah Thomas, the Pistons player, came into our store one day – he was a regular at the magic shop – and asked where he could grab a quick lunch,” Mode said. “I told him to check out China Ruby. Twenty-some years later, a friend of mine came to visit and we were going to go eat there. I told him about Isaiah Thomas and he didn’t believe me. We walked in and there he was, having dinner. He had become a regular just like everyone else.”

ASKED WHAT FERNDALIANS WOULD MISS MOST ABOUT CHINA RUBY now that it’s closed its doors, Mode said, “They’ll miss the restaurant, but I think the bigger loss is Tina. She had a photograph of her and Al Gore on the wall. She had one with Isaiah Thomas. She was just so friendly. Tina was one of those rare gems who treated customers like they were family. Everybody loved Tina.”

When Co first got the news she had cancer, Mode said, “She didn’t tell anyone. She didn’t talk about having cancer. It was truly a testament to the type of person she was. She didn’t want anyone to worry. And, she ran the restaurant until right before she passed, when she simply couldn’t any longer.”

Tina’s life outside of her restaurant was equally as exciting. She was always on the go. “She loved to go to the casino, and her favorite game was black jack,” Mode said. “She also loved to attend rock concerts and loved rocker fashion.”

Ferndale’s loss will be significant. “Tina was a great ambassador for the city and a great friend to people who came there. China Ruby brought in customers from all over the place,” Mode said. “I’ve eaten all over the world, and it had the best Chinese food, hands down. It was a destination restaurant. Some people who had been gone from the area for years would come back to visit whenever they were in town.”

Tina leaves behind her partner of 22 years, the famous sports writer Mike O’Hara. The location of the former China Ruby restaurant was recently sold, and a Middle Eastern restaurant is expected to open in its place in the near future.

By Mary Meldrum

THE LAST PERFORMANCE FOR THE LOCAL ALL-MOM ROCK BAND, the Mydols, was about seven or eight years ago at the Motor City Casino, when they opened for the B52s. The band dissolved, and since then, no moss has grown under the feet of one of the former lead singers, April Jones Boyle. In fact, Boyle was just igniting her rocket fuel and getting started.

A staggeringly prolific entrepreneur and a fireball of creativity, Boyle has disrupted, engaged, impacted, finessed and handcrafted a life and a career that is a textbook demonstration of how to be a force-multiplier on Planet Earth. It is difficult to know where to begin describing her spirit and her ascent.

I’ll try. Currently, April Jones Boyle is the founder and Executive Director of Build Institute (an organization that she conceived and grew out of the D:hive, where she was also a founding member). I almost need bullet points for the rest of the list. She was the co-creator of several ventures, including the Hootenanny Kids concert series; she is a co-owner in Gold Cash Gold restaurant; she is on the board of Kiva Detroit and also the advisory board for Ponyride. And that is not all.

She is the co-creator of Komodo Kitchen, an Indonesian pop-up supper club that in 2011 was one of the first pop-ups on the scene in the Detroit area, and hosted by the Pinwheel Bakery in Ferndale.

“My partner, Gina Onyx, is from Indonesia. We wanted to create a unique experience for diners,” Boyle says.

Concentrating solely on Build Institute now, Boyle fuels a network of grassroots programs to assist people in turning their project or business ideas into a reality. “Build Institute is focused on access and equity.”
And they have hit some amazing milestones. I give up. I’m using bullet points:

● Six years of small business activation and support, with participants from over 100 zip codes, and 70 per cent women and 60 per cent people of color.
● Ten years of “Open City” forums, with thousands of attendees.
● 1,400 program graduates, with over 350 businesses and 500 jobs created or retained.
● Winner of the Bank of America Neighborhood Builder Award.
● $175,450 in funding to 30 entrepreneurs through Kiva Detroit.

“I think entrepreneurship is an art,” Boyle says. “You have to be open to opportunity, and try new things.”

AS A RESULT OF HER LACKLUSTER EXPERIENCE with an accelerator years ago, Boyle ended up becoming a founding member of D:hive in Detroit, and launched an eight-week business planning course for entrepreneurs. It was focused on small businesses that were aspiring to be brick-and-mortar – lifestyle, ma-and-pa, micro and social enterprise, passion businesses – all the stuff that didn’t neatly fit into the common tech and scale business sector.

“If you look at the demographics at the time [of D:hive], the economics of it was focused on technology and scale companies, and the demographics of that sector was mostly white male. And when you looked at the demographics of the city of Detroit, those two things did not match up,” Boyle explains. “I saw an opportunity, and a gap that showed we were leaving a bunch of talent on the table.”

April knew that if Detroit was going to make a full and sustainable recovery, and be a vibrant, inclusive, diverse city, then everyone needed to have an opportunity to build wealth, a business, a life and contribute in some way. Her passion was to make this vision of Detroit a reality.

“We launched private training classes because we saw a gap in needed education, resources and support for entrepreneurs who were women and people of color. The program grew exponentially, and I became the Director of Small Business Initiatives inside of D:hive,” Boyle says.

BUILD INSTITUTE EVENTUALLY SPUN OFF of D:hive, and continued under the Downtown Detroit Partnership. Recently, Build Institute left the DDP and became a 501.c.3 nonprofit organization.

Build Institute is now partnering with the City of Ferndale to provide a series of classes and activities to support aspiring and experienced entrepreneurs and small businesses. With the support from the City, classes are open to Ferndale residents or anyone looking to open a business in Ferndale. Registration is open for “Build Basics and GROW Peer Roundtables” to be held at the Rust Belt Market.

The core business and project planning class is designed for aspiring and established entrepreneurs. Classes cover all the basics of starting a business – from licensing to financial literacy, market research to cash flow and more. Participants leave with a completed business plan and the knowledge and confidence to take your idea to the next level. For more information and to register:

“We have graduated over 1,400 aspiring and experienced entrepreneurs from our various programs. We run the Kiva program locally – an international micro-lending platform – and we just acquired and took on the operations of Detroit Soup, which is a micro-granting dinner platform.”

Build Institute was just featured in the Stanford Social Innovation Review as an example of best practices in working with micro-enterprise. Boyle and the Build Institute continue to find more people considering entrepreneurship as a path-way out of poverty and into economic mobility and vitality.

Boyle says. “We believe that independent small business is the backbone of the community. They create jobs that will not be outsourced, they also hire local, they keep the money in the local economy, they help develop commercial corridors and neighborhoods, and more importantly, they keep the culture unique.”

Boyle believes that as big corporate and conglomerates come in, every community needs to give their local independent businesses the tools to deal with and compete with those entities.

BUILD INSTITUTE WILL BE MOVING THEIR HEADQUARTERS to the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, the old Tiger Stadium site. They are currently in lease negotiations with the property developers.

“We will be creating inclusive innovation, shared work space, pop-up retail and workshops, as well as classroom and event space for our community,” Boyle shares.
Having recently graduated the first Build Institute class in Ferndale, Boyle remains super-motivated for social justice, economic justice and also creativity and autonomy. Stand back – April Jones Boyle looks to empower and help each individual define success for themselves on their terms. And I am rock-solid sure she is going to make that happen.

Story by Jill Lorie Hurst
Photos by David McNair

NEW IN TOWN? TRYING TO GET A FEEL FOR FERNDALE? STEP INTO CANDLE WICK SHOPPE. Friendly and mysterious, with a welcoming staff and a fascinating collection of wares for sale, Candle Wick is a lot like the town it lives in. I recently spoke with manager Patrick Vincent, a lifelong Ferndalian who owns and resides in the house he grew up in, and employee Emma Walter, who refers to Candle Wick as the best job ever and hopes to move to Ferndale soon.

We took some time to look at merchandise, both the classics – like the wonderful collection of candles produced by Coventry Creations – and newer items, including products made by Detroit-based companies like Twisted Willow. They are adding new products and building their online business these days. Vincent points to a few “giftier” additions like mugs and greeting cards, but they are still very much in keeping with the feel of the store, with a sense of spirituality and sly humor, fun and intriguing.

Candle Wick co-owner Jacki Smith started her candle-making in the early ‘90s. She bought her first supplies at a store in Ferndale! She and sister Patty Shaw opened Coventry Creations, a thriving business.

They have candles for everything you can imagine. Vincent says the biggest sellers are the “tension candles” but there is something for everyone. “Everything here has a spiritual niche,” says the manager. Reiki, spiritual counseling and tarot readings are also available in a quiet back area. Their Reiki Healing Center opened in 2014. Patrick mentions Eric Swanson, who counsels and reads cards for anyone, but focuses on the LGBTQ community.

THE SHOP ALSO TAKES PART IN A NUMBER OF community events. Vincent shared the news that Candle Wick is the naming sponsor of 2018 Ferndale Pride. What a great way to celebrate ten years! He also spoke proudly of the shop’s staff, their diversity and shared affection for the store. When asked about customers, he replied that many are regulars who know what they want when they come in the door. Candles, herbs, incense, crystals, books. And they welcome newcomers. “If you’re just looking around, I know you’re going to be back.” A nice, refreshing attitude for those of us who like to browse but are slow-shoppers!

Candle Wick’s Mission: “We have a remedy for what ails your soul. We are here to stimulate your senses and relieve your stresses.” Their core values? Extraordinary experience, joyful interaction, authentic purpose and rewarding effort.

This store can’t be explained in an article, or even a conversation. It requires a visit. Well, probably more than one visit. I was back a few days after my chat with Vincent and Walter to buy a card, two “Emotional Balance” candles, four spell candles and a small silver bell that has Molly (my cat) totally entranced. Speaking of cats, as I paid I saw a bowl full of dollar bills on the counter and a sign that told me the charity of the month is the Catfe Lounge on Livernois. Perfect! Cats seem like the right mascot for this store. “It’s a safe place. Everybody’s welcome,” says Vincent with a smile. Welcoming and mysterious. Once you step inside, you’ll see for yourself.

Candle Wick Shoppe is located at 175 W. Nine Mile Road. You can shop online as well, at And you can find them on Facebook.

The City of Oak Park has evolved tremendously since City Manager, Erik Tungate, took office in 2012. “The City government operation has been fully modernized, and there is a new spirit among our residents and business owners. There is also a greater awareness for the role our community plays in the greater Metropolitan Detroit area,” Tungate explained. Much of this is due to his view that “You can’t cut your way out of a bad situation. You have to grow your way out,” a quote referenced in last year’s State of the City Address. Tungate is a proponent of sustainable growth.

Tungate explained, “For a city that is almost entirely built-out like Oak Park here in the inner ring suburbs of a major city like Detroit, there are only so many ways you can find new sources of revenue and maintain vibrancy. In local government, we have to make sure we are as fiscally responsible with our taxpayer’s hard-earned tax dollars as possible while staying focused on investing in quality of life amenities, attracting new development, and seeking strategic partnerships in our region in addition to finding cost savings. There is no question a proactive approach like this has proven to be more successful than simply cutting city expenditures and expecting the market to come to us.”

The theme of Oak Park’s 2017 State of the City Address was “Bridging the Past, Present and Future.” Tungate offered some insight. “At the address, we unveiled our bridge overpass project on the overpass at I-696 and Coolidge. We wanted to tie in all of the things we’ve been doing with that, since it is an infrastructure that most people in the State of Michigan will know us by once it’s installed.” He said over the course of the next year and looking even further ahead, “I want the City of Oak Park to be able to maintain its fiscally sound financial practices, and I would like to see us moving in the direction of even more walkability.”

Tungate is hopeful that the 2018 State of the City Address will bring even more exciting news. “We may be able to unveil some great new projects during our 2018 State of the City Address. In any event, when these projects are ready for prime time, we will be releasing information to promote the positive impact they will have on our growing community. I can safely say we are actively pursuing multiple mixed-use developments. In fact, this is one of our prime goals for 2018.”

As far as other goals for the city, “We are pursuing new housing developments through our economic development arm as well as investing in our infrastructure to build the kind of quality of life amenities that attract new residents from other areas. While it may seem counter-intuitive given how communities have dealt with attracting new development and residents in the past, we strongly believe that our investments will pay off versus the traditional mindset of giving tax incentives only,” Tungate explained. “This is a fairly new approach for Oak Park and there is no doubt we’ve seen this approach work in communities like Detroit, Ferndale, and Birmingham, who have invested heavily in creating one-of-a-kind places where people want to live and work.”

Tungate said his favorite thing about Oak Park, in general, is its residents and business owners. “I’ve worked in many other communities throughout my career and there is no question we have one of the most supportive groups of residents and business owners anywhere. Whether it’s Public Safety or economic development, they are always there for us and ready to provide a helping hand. It’s amazing to witness each and every instance. When you combine that with the amazing and talented team we have at the City, it is something truly special.”

Tungate said residents should know, “We are ready to lead and are not waiting for things to happen to us. Rather, we are shaping the future for ourselves and making things happen. Our city government is setting new standards and aggressively pursuing excellence in every way.”

Story by Mary Meldrum
Photo by Bernie Laframboise

Marian McLellan, Mayor of the City of Oak Park since 2011, is part of an enthusiastic municipal team that is focused on creating a vibrant and progressive future for Oak Park.

Two big strides that the City made that contributed to the progress, according to Mayor McClellan, have been establishing an Economic Development Department and jump-starting the City’s communications department. New infrastructure projects, business development, affordable housing options, clear and upbeat City messaging and exciting activities have all strengthened the quality of life that Oak Park offers. And all of this is turning heads.

The housing market is robust and gaining momentum, with market trends showing a 23 per cent increase in median home sales over last year. The commercial real estate market is following this trend. With many properties available at a good value, businesses are shopping the selection.

“Our population is going up and we have multi-family housing moving in. Oak Park is still the last good bargain for wonderfully built homes,” says McClellan. “We see more and more young people deciding to make Oak Park their home. I see retail getting renovated. And, as we finish the renovation on the Nine Mile Redesign project, we’ll attract more and that will bring people from other cities in.”

One other piece of big news that will give Oak Park an economic boost: after 60 dry years, licensed Oak Park restaurants can now sell beer, wine and mixed drinks. Under the Michigan Liquor Control Commission guidelines, a liquor license can be issued to one business for every 1,500 residents. This gives Oak Park the ability to issue approximately 20 licenses. Only two licenses have been issued out of the 20, with a third in consideration at the time of this writing. This will catch the attention of restaurant chains that previously would not consider Oak Park as a viable location for their business. Liquor licenses uncap potential in Oak Park and will bring in more jobs, tax dollars, more traffic and revenue from residents inside and outside the City.

Mayor Marian McClellan says, “This allows family restaurants to serve beer, wine and mixed drinks with meals, and shows promise in attracting the type of commerce that can spur economic development within our city while serving the citizens who would love to patronize businesses close to home.”

The economic profile of Oak Park has a great foundation with sidewalks on all the roads, LED street lights, a mature tree canopy, and three public school districts in the city–Ferndale, Berkley and Oak Park schools. Additionally, the housing stock is beautiful, solid mid-century modern brick homes that are in high demand.

“Oak Park has always maintained infrastructure,” Mayor McClellan describes. “We have the best city services in the area. Our Public Works employees take a lot of pride in what they do. There is a lot of good will in the city. Police officers do triple-duty in Oak Park; the same officer is police, fire and medical first-response.”

One noteworthy thing that separates Oak Park from many other communities in the area is their very stable diverse population. There is a lot of attention paid and energy put into supporting and promoting its valuable diversity. This is reflected in their events as well as the private Montessori and Jewish schools located in the city. There is also an accredited Rabbinical college where people all over the world come to study.

Economic development is on a breakneck pace and gaining steam. People are waking up to the City’s blooming potential, its great location and the value of the City’s real estate.

Mayor McClellan is excited when she envisions the city’s future: “I see new energy and excitement. There will be businesses right up to the sidewalk – not behind a parking lot. There will be many storefronts that are mixed-use construction with a place to eat, a place to live, a place to shop and a place to play,” envisions McClellan. “They will have two and three stories, all within walking and biking distance. There will be boulevards, green spaces and parks.”

Story by Sara E. Teller
Photos by Bernie Laframboise

Forgotten Harvest was founded 27 years ago by Dr. Nancy Fishman, who knew firsthand what it felt like to go to bed hungry. “She had suffered the indignity of hunger herself and vowed to dedicate herself to relieving hunger in Metro Detroit,” explained Tim Hudson, the organization’s Chief Development Officer. “Nancy started Forgotten Harvest from the back of her own vehicle and began to rescue food from restaurants in the area.”

Fishman’s venture has since branched out substantially and, today, Forgotten Harvest employs over 70 people and has a fleet of 35 trucks that rescue food from grocery stores, restaurants, caterers, dairies, farmers, wholesale food distributors, and other Health Department-approved sources in and around its headquarters in Oak Park. In it’s 2016-2017 fiscal year alone, the effort’s Rescue Team has received over 45.8 million pounds of food by collecting surplus, prepared, and perishable items.

The food that is collected is redistributed to those in need, fulfilling Forgotten Harvest’s mission of relieving hunger in metro Detroit and preventing nutritious food waste. “We deliver that food free of charge to over 250 agencies in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties,” Hudson said. He added that those who need food can visit directly, contact Forgotten Harvest at (248) 967-1500 or send the organization a message on any of its social media channels.

Forgotten Harvest offers volunteer opportunities at its headquarters in Oak Park, as well as at Forgotten Harvest Farms and is actively seeking participants. “Last year over 16,000 people volunteered at our Oak Park headquarters and at Forgotten Harvest Farms” Hudson said. “Interested parties can register to volunteer online. It’s easy. There are two sessions held six days a week. Morning and afternoon sessions are available.”

Recent notable donations to the cause include 16,200 pounds of frozen poultry contributed by Miller Amish Country Poultry on behalf of The Kroger Co. of Michigan this past December. The Miller Poultry contribution included 300 40-pound cases of frozen bagged drumsticks, representing approximately 36,000 meal portions; 300 12-pound cases of fully cooked chicken sausage, representing approximately 10,800 meal portions; and 100 cases of ground chicken, representing approximately 1,800 meal portions. Little Caesars Pizza also donated $30,000 toward the cause during the holiday season.

Hudson said that operating in Oak Park is ideal because, “It is a central location for our trucks and was chosen due to access to all major freeways.” This allows volunteers to quickly and easily collect and redistribute items. He added, “One in six people face hunger or food insecurity in the Tri-County area,” which makes being positioned in Oak Park important for readily providing hunger-relief services to those in need.

Forgotten Harvest is a member of Feeding America, a nonprofit organization that includes a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks which feed more than 46 million people through food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other community-based agencies. Feeding America works to educate the general public about hunger. The national office produces educational and research papers spotlighting this issue, and its public policy staff works with legislators to advocate for changes in public attitudes and laws geared toward hunger issues to aid in nationwide hunger elimination and prevention.

Forgotten Harvest is creative with the ways in which it raises contributions to support its efforts. Twenty-six years ago, comedian Tim Allen co-founded Forgotten Harvest Comedy Night, and the Detroit-area comedian will return this year to host the event at the Fox Theatre on April 20 at 8:30 P.M. The annual event benefits and gives the organization’s supporters a chance to showcase their achievements in the community. Past presenters have included Jay Leno and Martin Short, among other notable celebrities.

Tickets can be purchased at,, and

Story by Ingrid Sjostrand

One of the most anticipated additions to the City of Oak Park in 2018 will be the revitalization of the WWJ Transmitter building into a restaurant. Why the hype? The American comfort-food-style restaurant tentatively named 8MK will be the ninth venture for restaurant group Union Joints – joining The Clarkston Union, The Union Woodshop and Vinsetta Garage, among other eateries throughout Metro Detroit.

The art deco structure, located east of Coolidge Hwy. on 8 Mile Rd., has occupied the lot since 1936 when the Scripps family built the transmitter building as a full-service radio station for WWJ-AM (950). Designed by famed Detroit architect Albert Kahn, the building contains a lot of art and Detroit history, which Union Joints plans to preserve.

“Maintaining the original design and character of the building was extremely important to the City,” says Kimberly Marrone, Community and Economic Development Director for the City of Oak Park. “With past experience on projects with this developer, we knew we were leaving the building in good hands with Union Joints.”

The company is almost as famous for their repurposing of historic buildings as they are for their Union mac and cheese. Several of their existing restaurants are based out of unique locations, like turning an old automotive shop into Vinsetta Garage in Berkley and revitalizing a volunteer fire station into Fenton Fire Hall.

“Part of our purpose is repurposing. We’re drawn to buildings that have always served one purpose and are destined to serve another,” Union Joints co-owner Curt Catallo said at Oak Park’s State of the City address in February of 2016, when the project was announced. Ann Stevenson, wife of Catallo and co-owner/head designer for Union Joints, will work with Von Staden Architects on the design of 8MK.

“Our approach is to really just simply…let it be. We’re working hard to honor the building by not introducing a drastic change. It’s such a grandly handsome space with such a commanding presence—one which doesn’t require a tremendous amount of adjustment to its footprint,” Stevenson said. “The architect on this project, Tamas Von Staden, has a really wonderful way of working with the building and not against it.”

Construction will begin this summer on the 5,228 square-foot building that has been vacant since WWJ shut their doors in 1995, but planning has been in the works since 2014 when the City of Oak Park decided to attempt to purchase the building.

“We started working on this project in the Fall of 2014 when we tried to envision what could be done to the long vacant building. We began working with the property owner to see if they would sell the building to the City. We came to an agreement that they would,” Marrone says. “In the meantime, we reached out to Ron Campbell, Principal Planner and Preservation Architect for Oakland County’s Economic Development and Community Affairs Department, to see if he had any ideas or leads. As it turns out, he worked with Ann and Curt before on their other restaurant projects and set a meeting for them to meet with us on site.”

Plans for expansion on the five-acre lot include an addition of a 5,103 square-foot space for a kitchen. The restaurant will have approximately 140 seats, two outdoor spaces, and a large parking lot with a 160-car capacity.

“The restaurant is creating a destination restaurant in our community that will draw people far-and-wide to visit Oak Park,” Marrone says. “It gives us the opportunity to showcase what a great community we are and hopefully see some additional economic development activities because of it.”

The Union Joints team is just as excited as the City to highlight the great community of Oak Park, and has benefited from the involvement of the economic development team.

“The City of Oak Park has a dynamic vision for their future and we are so honored that they’ve entrusted us with its gem. Happily for us, they have a keen understanding of how bogged down and unnecessarily complicated a project like this can be, and they’ve duly paved the way to make everything smoother and more efficient,” Stevenson says. “A warmer, more accommodating group than Oak Park does not exist. It’s been a joy.”

Story by Sara E. Teller

FedEx Ground, a subsidiary of FedEx Corp., recently opened a 304 thousand square foot distribution center in Oak Park, as part of a larger, nationwide expansion plan. The facility took about 18 months to build. The primary purpose for expanding was to accommodate a growing need for FedEx Ground services, which has doubled in volume over the past ten years. The new site offered a boost to Oak Park’s commerce and career opportunities for its residents.

FedEx is a leader in cost-effective package ground shipping, offering service to businesses and residential customers throughout the U.S. and Canada. “All shipments move via trucks across the country to and from a network of 590 facilities,” explained David Westrick of the FedEx Ground Media Relations team. Westrick explained the strategic process that went into selecting the perfect location for the center and why the site of the former Detroit Artillery Armory was eventually chosen.

“As we always do for projects of this size, we conducted an exhaustive search for the right location. The site [of the former Detroit Artillery Armory] was chosen because of its ease of access to major highways, proximity to customers’ distribution centers and a strong local community workforce for recruiting employees,” Westrick said. “The new facility is part of a nationwide network expansion to boost daily package volume capacity and further enhance the speed and service capabilities of the FedEx Ground network. Since 2005, the company has opened 15 new hubs featuring advanced material-handling systems, and expanded or relocated more than 500 local facilities.”

Keyon Laws is the senior manager of the Oak Park FedEx Ground distribution center, which covers 54 of the former Artillery site’s 100 acres. Laws loves the warm and welcoming façade of Oak Park. He said, “The Oak Park community has been exceptionally welcoming to us. I have become involved with the Tri-Community Coalition, an organization that provides preventative substance abuse programs for at-risk teens. One of the reasons FedEx is one of the world’s most admired companies is that we are encouraged to give back to the communities where we work and live. I do it and I encourage all of our employees to do the same.”

The Oak Park location opened with 235 employees, and leadership continues to add positions as demand for FedEx service grows. “FedEx is proud to be recognized as one of the world’s most admired companies, and we take seriously our commitment to be a safe and responsible neighbor. Our operations will create jobs for local citizens, many of whom will benefit from our company’s promote-from-within philosophy, and additional benefits in terms of financial investment, volunteerism and other community support,” Westrick explained. “Consistently ranked among the world’s most admired and trusted employers, FedEx inspires its more than 400,000 team members to remain ‘absolutely, positively’ focused on safety, the highest ethical and professional standards and the needs of their customers and communities.”

He added, “We are frequently hiring, but just coming off our busiest time of the year we do not have many positions open at this time.” There are, however, a few open opportunities in various departments for interested candidates.

For more information, interested parties can visit the company’s site at For career opportunities, job seekers should navigate to



Story by Sara E. Teller
Photo by Bernie Laframboise

Marty Babyov, owner of The Suit Depot, became an entrepreneur in his teens after watching his older brother sell items on eBay. “I opened my eBay account when I was 12-years-old. I initially opened it to purchase, and I didn’t get serious about selling on eBay until I was 16,” he explained.

“Before that, I watched my brother list random items that the previous owners of our home had left behind. It amazed me that items which had no value when we were limited to a local market sold immediately once offered to a global market. I started off selling whatever was laying around: electronics, apparel, etc.”

Then, he made the fateful decision to start marketing mens wear. “At one point, my cousin heard I was selling on eBay and gave me some of his out-grown high-end dress shirts to sell. I was shocked when they sold for over$25 a piece. It got me thinking about apparel and mens wear in particular.” Marty was drawn, specifically, to the timelessness of the wear. “It retains its value, and it’s a niche market in which I could become an expert and cement a business reputation around that.”

He started off small, in his parents’ basement, but soon needed more space. “I quickly outgrew it, so in 2009, I moved to our first warehouse in Oak Park,” he explained. “In 2015, we decided to open a pilot retail store to test the local retail market. It was well received, so we expanded our mini-store and added on another 8,000 square feet making up the full 11,000 square-foot store we have now.”

Selecting Oak Park for the brick and mortar was a no-brainer. “I chose Oak Park for a few reasons. I live right across the street in Southfield, so it’s convenient. Real estate prices in Oak Park were amazing compared to some other areas. It might not be the biggest city, but it’s safe and right off the major freeways so people can easily get to us from surrounding cities. I figured if the store isn’t worth driving 15-20 minutes for, then I haven’t created a business. While locals support us, we also have customers coming from as far as Flint, Lansing, Ann Arbor, Battle Creek, and even Ohio and Toronto. It’s a destination store.”

He also appreciates the close-knit community Oak Park has to offer. “It’s amazing how easily you can contact the Mayor or City Manager, whether by calling them or messaging them on social media. The city services are some of the best in the area, and they really do a great job of keeping it small and friendly.”

The Suit Depot, Marty said, is both a discount and luxury retailer. “Our motto is ‘Style. Value. Service.’ When it comes to mens wear, customers are used to having to choose between discount prices or full-service,” he explained. “We pride ourselves on combining the two. We’re a discount store but stock a larger inventory and offer service and expertise usually only found at luxury retailers.”

When he’s not busy running his company, Marty is out and about in Oak Park. “I enjoy roller-blading and biking. As an Orthodox Jew I only eat kosher, so Oak Park is definitely the place to be. There are a few great kosher restaurants and a bakery on Greenfield Road so I can always run out for a quick bite in the middle of the day.” He also helps out local charities, saying, “I enjoy the opportunity The Suit Depot gives me to assist local charities in dressing the needy.”

As far as future store plans, Marty has a new venture in the works. “While we have no immediate plans for expansion of the retail store, we are launching a side business independent of The Suit Depot that will make custom suits,” he said. “The service will also be available in The Suit Depot’s Oak Park location.”