Story by Jill Lorie Hurst
Sneakers. Some of your might remember it as Stan’s or Delta Lady. I know it as Sneakers Pub, a small, cozy-looking place I’ve always wanted to step into, or answer the “help wanted” signs that appear occasionally in the window. Finally, this assignment gave me an excuse to stop in. Debbie Griffin and her longtime manager KT Buckner sat down with me to talk about Sneakers and about some projects that are very dear to their heart.
Sneakers has been a part of Debbie’s life for a long time. Her parents bought the place 27 years ago. Debbie remembers the grassy medians on Woodward used to be parking space back then. “How we could use that parking space now!”
Sneakers was strictly a sports bar, sponsoring many teams. Their early customer base was made up of the loyal factory workers from the Woodward Heights area and guys in local construction. Their customers become family, they mention Charlie, who’s been coming since the ‘60s. “Two names ago!” the friends laugh.
Their family has expanded over the years to include hipsters, businessmen, moms looking for a place to gather. “You get everybody here” agreed Griffin and Buckner. They have a “very diverse clientele” and a close-knit staff. Owner and manager are both mothers of three. Debbie’s co-owner is her older brother Dave Cantrall. Dave, Debbie and KT are all Ferndale residents and have witnessed the explosion of change and growth over the years. I asked how they feel about the changes, and Debbie was quick to reply that the influx of new business is a help, not a hardship. KT admits that she got a little nervous when clubs started springing up around them, but Debbie reassured her that the new businesses would just bring more people to the area and to Sneakers.
Debbie credits her staff with a lot of the bar’s success. She says they’re busy “because of my girls” and firmly states that she couldn’t do it without them. The staff not only keeps Sneakers going, they participate in the bar’s fundraising benefits, cooking for a pot luck dinner that was held last Summer, a “Christmas in July” to gather supplies for the folks down at Cass Park.
How did they get involved with Cass Park? Debbie’s face lit up as she talked about her neighbor and friend Noel Briggs. She and Noel sit outside drinking tea and talking and the talk often turned to Cass Park. Debbie told me that Noel “makes about a hundred sandwiches” and heads down to Cass Park every other week to help out the area residents in need. Noel’s brother is involved too. He fixes up bicycles and donates them to neighborhood residents. A bike can be a lifesaver if it helps you get to work.
Debbie and the Sneakers family were anxious to get involved. There was the Christmas in July. And they are holding a coat drive, collecting men’s women’s and children’s coats during September and October. They do other giving as well. Last Fall, they learned about a struggling family in the area, and quietly decided to adopt them for Christmas. The mom didn’t want anything for herself, but gave them a list of needs and wants for her children. Debbie, KT and company provided gifts, a tree and decorations. This holiday season they’ve partnered with Children’s Hospital of Michigan. The Snowpile program allows parents of sick kids to choose gifts for their child without having to leave their bedside. Stop by Sneakers and pick an ornament with a gift idea, then bring the new, unwrapped gift to Sneakers before December 14th and they will deliver the donated gifts. They do their work quietly, but always welcome help.
Debbie insists “We’re a tiny puzzle piece in the grand scheme of things”. To me, they are representative of all that’s great about Ferndale. When you’re in the neighborhood, stop in at Sneakers Pub. Donate a coat if you can, or find out about the Christmas adopt a family project. Have a burger or some chili. Watch football on Sunday and enjoy some free half time food at Ferndale’s neighborhood bar.
Sneakers Pub is located at 22628 Woodward, just south of 9 Mile. You can find them on Facebook and you can also find more information about events at Cass Park on Facebook at “MCHR Sundays in the Park.”