Business

By Colton Dale

IN EARLY 2019, TWO POWERHOUSE NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS MERGED TO COMBINE THEIR EFFORTS and work as one group toward their common goals of reducing homelessness and expanding Oakland County’s affordable housing stock.

WHAT USED TO BE SOUTH OAKLAND SHELTER AND LIGHTHOUSE OF OAKLAND COUNTY is now simply known as Lighthouse, and their merging of personnel, operations, and missions has only made them stronger.

Shortly after the merger, Lighthouse announced that it cleared a major hurdle in bringing an affordable housing development to Oak Park on Coolidge Hwy between Eight Mile Rd and Nine Mile Rd. A year and a half later, what is now known as the Coolidge Place development is almost complete.

Coolidge Place is an affordable housing project on a 4.5-acre site that is bringing 64 townhouse and ranch-style apartments to Oak Park, as well as green spaces and a community center for residents of the complex to enjoy.

“It is extremely difficult for low-income families to climb out of poverty when housing costs consume most of their income,” said Ryan Hertz, president and CEO of Lighthouse. “We hope Coolidge Place paves the way for more developments that help level the playing field in terms of equitable access to lower-cost, high-quality housing because everyone deserves a place to call home.”

A $15 million project in total, Coolidge Place was made possible in part by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) via a $1.3 million Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. This tax credit is expected to provide roughly $12.5 million in equity toward the total cost of the project, a major financial boost during a time when finding financing can be difficult.

THE NEED FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING DEVELOPMENTS IN OAKLAND COUNTY has been clear for a long time. Communities like Royal Oak, Ferndale, Birmingham, and others that provide great neighborhoods and bustling commercial districts are often far too costly for many people to afford. This leaves lower and middle-income people out of the discussion when talks arise of growing the County’s population and making it a welcoming place for all. As evidenced in a 2018 report from the Urban Institute, fewer than 50 affordable units are available in Oakland County for every 100 low-income households. This is precisely the gap that Lighthouse seeks to help close, as their mission is to make sure that everyone, regardless of income level, is able to find a quality, affordable home in Oakland County.

“Unfortunately, for all of our wealth, our county is among the worst in the state when it comes to providing available and affordable rental units. We must do far better for our community,” said Hertz. “Coolidge Place will help us begin to chip away at this barrier to economic stability for working families by building dozens of beautiful and affordable apartments for our neighbors.”

With support from City staff and officials, Lighthouse is developing Coolidge Place through its wholly-owned subsidiary, Spero Housing Group, in partnership with Southwest Housing Solutions in Detroit. Fusco, Shaffer & Pappas Inc. is the architect on the project and O’Brien Construction Co. is serving as general contractor with Ethos Development Partners as the development consultant.

“This is an important point in time for our city,” said Oak Park City Manager Erik Tungate. “This project will help spark new development in the immediate area and will transition an otherwise obsolete stretch of property into a vibrant corridor.”

Rents are expected to range from $389/month to $824/month for one, two and three-bedroom units. More information on the Coolidge Place development can be found here: www.southoaklandshelter.org/coolidge-place

By Colton Dale

ONCE A DULL AND DRAB LIGHT INDUSTRIAL CORRIDOR, ELEVEN MILE RD between Greenfield Rd and Coolidge Hwy. is going through a total transformation. Much like the Nine Mile Redesign, City officials saw potential in Eleven Mile that hadn’t yet been unlocked. So, they took it upon themselves to make a difference and bring out the best in one of Oak Park’s unique business districts.

IN 2018, ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR KIM MARRONE AND CITY PLANNER KEVIN RULKOWSKI worked with the Oak Park Planning Commission to rezone three blocks of Eleven Mile between Greenfield and Coolidge; the blocks between Tulare St. and Gardens St. to be exact. They were rezoned from LI (Light Industrial) to a brand new zone called MX-1 (Mixed-Use).

Previously, those three blocks were zoned for things like small manufacturing, warehouses, storage facilities and other light industrial operations. Now, the allowed uses are much more exciting and consist of business types aimed at drawing in people from all over the region: restaurants, breweries, coffee shops, bakeries and more. The three rezoned blocks are specifically prime for this new classification because of the large public parking lots in the rear. Since the rezoning took place, investment and development in the area has taken off.

Unexpected Craft Brewing Company

THE FIRST BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT TO BE ANNOUNCED AFTER THE REZONING was Unexpected Craft Brewing Company (UCBC), at 14401 Eleven Mile Rd the former location of a small parts manufacturer. Originally

announced in 2018, this project has faced considerable obstacles but is moving forward with perseverance. UCBC will be the second location for proprietor and head brewer Edward Stencel of River Rouge Brewing Company in Royal Oak.

The new brewery will house brewing operations as well as a tasting room (and possibly space designated for food trucks), and it was all made possible by a $100,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (MDARD). The MDARD grant helped Stencel cover the costs of the expansion and purchasing new brewing equipment.

“Ultimately, this grant allows us to expand into Oak Park. Without it, it would be very difficult to make this jump because of the overall costs and expenses of the project,” said Stencel at the time. “It’s going to help with the infrastructure, the plumbing and adding additional cold rooms, as well as allowing us to use more Michigan agricultural products and increase our overall production.”

Look for Unexpected Craft Brewing Company to open on Eleven Mile in the coming months.

Oak Park Social

ANOTHER EXCITING DEVELOPMENT OPENING SOON ON THE ELEVEN MILE CORRIDOR IS OAK PARK SOCIAL, a gastropub to be located at 14691 Eleven Mile Rd.

First announced in May 2019, Oak Park Social sits right under Oak Park’s iconic and newly renovated water tower. It will feature an outdoor patio and offer a menu consisting of artisan-inspired New American cuisine that features unique shareables, chef-driven entrées and vegetarian options.

“We knew Oak Park was a great choice because of their recent investments in infrastructure and their strong focus on economic development,” said Oak Park Social proprietor Alexander Bishai. “We sincerely believe in Oak Park and the City’s vision for Eleven Mile Road. We will continue to invest in the City of Oak Park and assist in forging the path for Oak Park to be labeled as a destination for food, spirits and hospitality in Metro Detroit.”

Scheduled to open this Summer, work was stalled for a while and the project pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Work has resumed, though, and residents can look forward to this unique neighborhood eatery opening very soon.

Dog and Pony Show Brewing

IN ADDITION TO UNEXPECTED CRAFT BREWING COMPANY, Oak Park is getting a second brewery on Eleven Mile! Dog and Pony Show Brewing is anticipated to open up some time later this year or early next year in the old Randolph Tool Building located at 14661 Eleven Mile Rd. Unlike some other industries, two breweries in close proximity to each other can actually benefit one another. With their own unique traits and offerings, both brewing operations should draw plenty of interest.

Dog and Pony will be complete with an outdoor front patio, offerings of both beer and cider, and an event space for when larger social gatherings are safe to hold again.

Proprietors Aaron and Josh Gierada come from an entrepreneurial background and are determined to make their brewing operation a success. “Anything you do, you have to do with passion and we will make it a success,” Kyle Gierada said.

Oak Parker

ANOTHER RESTAURANT IS IN THE WORKS on Eleven Mile – this one outside of the new mixed-use zone, though. Near the corner of Eleven Mile and Coolidge, Oak Parker will be a hip new bistro located at 13621 Eleven Mile Rd.

From renowned restaurant operator Joe Bongiovanni, Oak Parker will feature outdoor seating, a basement lounge, and various spirits. Of Salvatore Scallopini and OWL fame, Bongiovanni knows what it takes to bring a great eatery to a previously uncharted area and turn it into a massive success. Architecture firm Ron & Roman are designing the interior and exterior of the building to be modern, chic, and welcoming to all. Planned to open later this year, you’ll definitely want to add this spot to your “must-try” list.

Kroger

IN ADDITION TO ALL THE EXCITING DEVELOPMENTS HAPPENING on the Eleven Mile corridor, the new Kroger grocery store will be located right around the corner on Greenfield. Currently wrapping up construction, the Kroger will feature a grocery pickup service, pharmacy, and a fuel center. The biggest development in Oak Park since FedEx, this project is sure to be another catalyst for growth on the Eleven Mile corridor as well as the shopping center directly adjacent to it.

With all that is going on in Oak Park, and specifically on Eleven Mile Rd, it’s hard to keep up! Stay tuned for updates and announcements about even more developments coming soon. To learn more about the City of Oak Park’s economic development efforts, visit their webpage.

www.oakparkmi.gov/departments/
community_and_economic_development/
index.php

By Colton Dale

IF YOU EMERGED FROM YOUR HOME EARLY THIS SUMMER AFTER THE COVID-19 LOCKDOWN AND WONDERED what those new red bikes are that you see all over town, you’re not alone.

IN THE BEGINNING OF JUNE, A PLAN FROM CITY ADMINISTRATION, COMMUNITY LEADERS, AND TRANSPORTATION ADVOCATES finally came to fruition when MoGo Bike Share launched its expansion from Detroit northward into five communities in southeast Oakland County. Starting at 44 stations across 10 Detroit neighborhoods, mostly in the Greater Downtown area, to then adding 30 new stations spread out through Oak Park, Ferndale, Berkley, Huntington Woods, and Royal Oak, MoGo has expanded their footprint in a massive way. Now, thousands more Metro Detroiters have quick and easy access to an affordable, well-managed bike share system that can help them run errands, get to work, or simply get more exercise.“We are proud to be a partner with MoGo as they expand their reach into Oakland County,” said Oak Park City Manager Erik Tungate. “The expansion of the service area in our community has given our residents another public transportation resource to utilize for commuting and running errands. This is undoubtedly another huge step towards improving the quality of life throughout our community.”

Of the 30 new stations in Southeast Oakland County, there are a total of five in Oak Park:

OAK PARK BLVD. & PARKLAWN ST. (In front of the Community Center.)

NINE MILE RD. & MANISTEE ST. (Near the Seneca Pocket Park.)

COOLIDGE HWY. & LINCOLN ST. (On the border of Huntington Woods.)

• GREENFIELD RD. & LINCOLN ST. (Near the new Kroger location.)

ELEVEN MILE RD. & TYLER ST. (On the border of Berkley, near exciting new developments.)IF YOU’VE NEVER USED THE MOGO BIKE SHARE SYSTEM BEFORE, IT’S VERY SIMPLE. Riders can purchase one of the various passes online, on a smartphone with the Transit app, or at any one of the new stations. After you make your payment, you are provided a unique code to unlock a bike. Select a bike, type in your code to unlock it, and you’re on your way. When you’re done, simply find the nearest MoGo station to return your bike and lock it up. To lock it properly, slide the bike back into an empty dock and wait for the green light to appear. When the green light is displayed you know you’ve locked it up properly. If the bike isn’t properly docked back up, you may continue to be charged.

The expansion efforts came after two-plus years of meticulous planning, organizing, and decision-making. Of course, it helped tremendously that MoGo and the expansion communities received a $495,380 grant as part of the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG). This funding helped move the project from idea to reality. It helped pay for the stations, bikes, and construction involved in putting the expansion into action.

The new MoGo bikes come at a great time for Oak Park, too. As the Nine Mile Redesign finished up in the Fall, the MoGo station on Nine Mile Rd kitty corner from the new Seneca Pocket Park followed shortly after. With a new road diet, bike lanes, and bike parking, getting from A to B on two wheeled, man-powered transportation has never been easier.

So the next time you see a red MoGo bike riding around your neighborhood, think about hopping on one yourself. Not only are they affordable and environmentally-friendly, but they also can help you get to your job, visit a friend, run errands, get more exercise and much more!

To learn more about MoGo, visit www.mogodetroit.org.

By Rose Carver

HER NAME IS YEMISI BAMISAYE, AND SHE IS THE OWNER AND DESIGNER at African Fashions by Classic Expressions. Bamisaye was born in Nigeria and has been a student of fabric and design since the age of seven, when she taught her tiny fingers how to sew.

BAMISAYE, WHO ALSO HAS A DEGREE IN MICROBIOLOGY, specializes in African fabrics. What started as a hobby grew into a profession when she migrated to the United States 29 years ago. With her, she brought a passion for fabrics and the story behind the design.

Vibrant colors, natural shapes, and luxurious textures are common among the artistry of the fabrics at Bamisaye’s store, but this wasn’t always the case. Bamisaye’s first store was located at Tel-Twelve Mall in Southfield. She sold everything from pant suits to dresses of the more common variety, with some African fabrics available. Her shop has since moved to Oak Park on 9 Mile, and it is now exclusively African fashions and accessories.

“Our customers rely on us for authentic African fashions and fabrics,” Bamisaye said.

AFRICAN FABRIC PATTERNS ARE USUALLY BRIGHTLY COLORED, AND REPRESENT STORIES OF POLITICAL OR RELIGIOUS RELEVANCE. Each color has a meaning, from red representing death, to blue signifying love and peace. Entering Bamisaye’s shop, you will learn the significance behind these patterns.

“Customers enjoy the fact that I can tell them the history behind some of the designs,” Bamisaye said.

Anyone can view the inventory of this Oak Park gem online at GlobalAfricanCreates.com. Dresses, head wraps, and skirts are available for purchase, as well as masks with African prints, for those looking to spice up their pandemic wardrobe.

African Fashions by Classic Expressions is
open to the public 11:00 A.M. – 6:00 P.M.,
Monday through Saturday 10820 West
9 Mile Road, in Oak Park.

 

By Jennifer Goeddeke

DETROIT AUTO ELECTRIC (DAE) IS A FLEET SERVICE & MANAGEMENT COMPANY, WITH AN EXTENSIVE HISTORY. I recently visited their facility at 21040 Coolidge in Oak Park and spoke with both Sue Cetnar (office manager) and Shawn Castle (president/operations manager). Despite being under the pressure of a pressing deadline, they both gave me a warm welcome and and considerable time in sharing some details about DAE.

THE COMPANY WAS ORIGINALLY FORMED IN 1937 BY RUSS TILLIT, AND WAS SITUATED ON WARREN AVENUE. A few years later, in 1941, DAE moved to 8040 Livernois. Subsequently, Charles Davidge purchased the company in 1971, and they moved to 8113 W. 8 Mile in 1983. All three of these former locales were in Detroit.

The company focus gradually shifted over the years, from auto maintenance to the maintenance of trucks, trailers and vans. A number of their service features keep customers returning because they go beyond what a typical fleet management company would do. Even though DAE does not own the trucks, Cetnar emphasized that they treat each one as though it directly belonged to them. She described DAE’s basis for its success as centered on excellent customer service, with consistent communication via email or phone.

Every aspect of truck maintenance is conducted in-house, including the electrical and transmission work, with a top-to-bottom check of vehicles during every appointment. Detailed tracking records via specialized software enable the staff to keep customers informed on everything that needs to be checked. Roadside service for their customers is also offered.

DAE HAS MADE SUSTAINABILITY A PRIORITY, IN OFFERING a comprehensive Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) system. This greatly lowers the level of emissions and helps substantially with air quality by recirculating and burning off nitrogen oxide fumes. The system also adds to the longevity of the trucks, by efficiently keeping the EGR circuit, oil and fuel systems completely clean. Cetnar added, “we believe in it, and other places charge triple what we do.”

A week before the outbreak of Covid19 in the US, DAE lost its biggest account: Art Van. This cornerstone of Detroit furniture store filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and began liquidation sales at its 190 stores. The Art Van account involved the maintenance of over 600 trucks, many of which were just left on DAE’s lot. The whole situation was a big challenge.

Fortunately, the Taylor & Martin auction company offered to help. So they got to work getting the trucks up to full running standards, including the replacement of batteries and other differing degrees of mechanical work.

Quite a few of the trucks’ buyers were located out-of-state. Thus, the entire process needed careful coordination. Just as I was conducting the interview, the deadline for the trucks’ pickup had arrived. Cetnar mentioned their staff had been working around the clock to meet this deadline, “because a sitting truck is a big deal…we needed them to be okay, so we stayed busy!”

DAE kept the costs reasonable, and it turned into a win-win situation all-around. Additionally, a few other companies contacted them for work, including Forgotten Harvest. “They are running trucks massively”, Cetnar added. “It was a great way for DAE to bounce back” she added with a smile.

2021 marks the 50th year anniversary of ownership under Davidge. Cetnar and Castle will be planning a party for customers and guests. Further updates will be posted on their website/social media accounts. We wish them continued success in re-building new accounts, and keeping their fleets in top running condition!

Detroit Auto Electric Fleet Services is located at: 21040 Coolidge
in Oak Park. They can be reached at 248.543.8805. Visit their
interactive website: www.daefleet.com for further information.

By Sarah Teller
Photos by Bill Gemmell

JOYFUL TOTS CHILDCARE & LEARNING CENTER originally began as an in-home service for school-aged children in 1999.

Four years later, in 2003, when Director Tamara Jefferson decided to expand services to families with babies and toddlers, the business grew quickly and before long it was time to find a new space.

“I was living in Oak Park and knew I had to find a place that was close to home,” Jefferson explained. “We opened our first building in 2007 and a second in 2008. Now we have Joyful Babies, Joyful Tots and Joyful Scholars for children ages 3-5, all in separate buildings.”

Over the past 21 years the company has continued to grow, and most recently Jefferson opened Ology on W. 9 Mile in Oak Park, offering tutoring services and activities for home-schooled, unschooled, private and public school-aged children. Joyful Tots is also set to expand to Roseville in the near future.

WHAT TRULY MAKES THE COMPANY STAND OUT is the staff’s commitment to promoting health and wellness.

“I am a naturopathic doctor,” Jefferson said. “And what I’ve found is that eating a healthy diet really cuts down on illness. In the beginning, we were taking in children with a lot of health issues – everything from thyroid problems to pre-diabetes, some on dialysis. I wanted to do something to help.”

She fondly remembers one child who had significant thyroid problems. The staff gave him avocados and iodine, which he loved, and gradually the dosage of medication he was on was reduced until eventually eliminated altogether. “That was just amazing,” Jefferson recalled, and she credits her dedicated staff for standing behind her efforts.

“We adore our children,” she said. “When parents call and say, ‘We are so grateful to you for what you have taught our children,’ there’s no way to describe that feeling. Brain development, and social and emotional connection is so important. We work to help them become great compassionate leaders. They will one day be in charge of our food supply, our water, our agriculture. We really want to help develop bright young children who are compassionate givers, and we cater to the mind, body and spirit of every child. We even have a karate program here that teaches responsibility and discipline.”

JOYFUL TOTS IS A MEMBER OF THE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE and supports many local activities and events through the year.

“We buy and donate gifts to families at the holidays, and the children love it,” Jefferson said. “We do a lot with the City of Oak Park. We help sponsor the Winterfest and Summerfest, daddy/ daughter dances and the BooFest. We were the 2018 Grand Marshal for the business district at the 4th of July parade, and we just sponsored a reading program with the Farmer’s Market.

She added, “We had our annual graduation ceremony this year at Shepherd Park where families are able to decorate and fly kites. It was a really great turn out.”

THE OUTDOOR CEREMONY ALLOWED FOR SOCIAL DISTANCING, which Joyful Tots has voluntarily instituted within the center as well in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Temperatures are now taken at the door and a virus vaporizer service cleanses the interior once a week. Jefferson said the facility is focusing on everyone’s safety while ensuring not to instill fear in the children.

Above all, she said the staff is dedicated to the carrying out the center’s mission statement, which is, in part, to “develop life-long learners by offering innovative, full day, year-round, educational early learning and primary programs that address the whole child…as providers of a creative learning environment, we help to instill confidence, self-worth, a healthy lifestyle and good morals.”

For more information on all of Joyful Tots’ programs, please visit joyfultots.com or ologyforkids.com, email joyful@joyfultots.com or call 248.399.4569.

By Jennifer Goeddeke

EDWARD STENCEL IS THE LIVELY, EXTROVERTED FOUNDER OF THE POPULAR RIVER ROUGE BREWING COMPANY, situated in Royal Oak and opened in May 2015. In 2019, Stencel was awarded a prestigious $100,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (MDARD) to open a new brewery. Overall, the MDARD has awarded $1.8 million in grants to 20 projects, with the goal of encouraging private investment in Michigan. And now, before the new year, Stencel is set to open the highly-anticipated Unexpected Craft Brewing Company at 14401 W. 11 Mile Road, in Oak Park.

NATURALLY, STENCEL HAS BEEN HARD AT WORK ensuring the new brewery/tasting room will be ready for its launch!

Stencel has an interesting educational/career background. He attended the U of M in Dearborn, attaining a BA in economics. His initial career was within the automotive industry. Subsequently, Stencel studied to earn a masters in TV and film production and became involved with show/movie production in Hollywood for several years, “from Taco Bell to Star Trek…even Tim Burton movies!” Stencel’s work involved extensive worldwide travel; Europe, Hong Kong, Japan, to name a few.

From early on in his adult life, Stencel describes having a keen interest in beer and brewing. As a young man, he recalls forming a sizeable beer can collection. Throughout his time in the movie industry, Stencel describes, “frequenting quite a few different breweries,” with a particular fondness for darker beers. Back in his home-brewing days, he formulated a Guinness-inspired recipe named: Stencel Stout which became a huge favorite with his friends.

One of Stencel’s favorite breweries was the Intergalactic Brewery in San Diego, owned by a young gentleman called Alex Van Horn. Stencel and Van Horn quickly became good friends to the point where they would often brew together over the weekends, and Van Horn effectively became his hands-on instructor in the art of brewing. Another favorite brew locale was the AleSmith, also in San Diego and owned by Peter Zien. Both Zien and Van Horn became important mentors.

Brewing came naturally to Stencel. From selling some of his own brews through Intergalactic and trying out his own different recipes, he came to realize, “Maybe this is something I can do full-time!”

In the timespan of 2007 to 2010, the movie company Stencel represented struggled financially, so he made the big decision to move back to Michigan. Our governor at that time had created lucrative incentives for the movie industry. But, as Stencel recalls, that all changed fairly quickly.

IT WAS TIME TO MAKE A FULL COMMITMENT to his passion for brewing. So Stencel found a space in Royal Oak and, with the help of some friends and family, it became the River Rouge Brewing Company. But, due to the limited space, Stencel was soon searching for another local space to expand. Finally, in July 2018, Stencel found the current great locale in Oak Park.

With the grand opening any time now, I asked how a night out at Unexpected Craft BC might look. Stencel explained there will be various drinks to choose from, in addition to signature beers, including: wine, cider, hard seltzer and at least 30 different taps. Light snacks will be sold, and he also plans to keep the location “food-truck friendly” for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Additionally, Stencel mentioned he would like to partner-up with local restaurants, in order to provide a greater choice in food items. A further goal is to host some musical entertainment outside, on certain nights. He is a firm believer in the way a brew pub can bring people from all over the world together, as he has already witnessed at his River Rouge BC.

We are looking forward to the opening of this great addition to the city of Oak Park!

The River Rouge Brewing Company is located at 406 E 4th St, Royal Oak.
www.riverrougebrew.com,
248.802.0555

The Unexpected Craft Brewing Company is located at
14401 W. 11 Mile Road, Oak Park and is
set to open before year-end

Edward@riverrougebrew.com

By Colton Dale

MANY DRIVEN, DEDICATED ENTREPRENEURS WERE PLANNING TO OPEN STORES, RESTAURANTS AND other businesses just before COVID-19.

When the pandemic hit, we were all forced to stay home, effectively halting most commerce, big and small. This, in turn, stopped many prospective business owners from ever opening, putting their hopes and dreams on hold as well as slowing job creation. Other, somewhat luckier entrepreneurs were able to open their ventures just before the novel coronavirus reached American shores, not knowing what was to come.

ONE OF THOSE ENTREPRENEURS IS RANDY HERKOWITZ. In mid-Fall of 2019, before the term COVID-19 was on anyone’s radar, Randy opened up a cool and unique retail store called NerdOut Toys on Nine Mile Rd, near the City’s eastern border with Ferndale. By Christmastime, business was booming.

Randy’s toy shop originated as a hobby. Buying, selling, and collecting vintage and antique toys is a passion that began in his basement but eventually outgrew hobby status. That’s when he knew he needed to look for a brick-and-mortar location nearby that could service other collectors and hobbyists whom he’d built relationships with over the years. He settled on Oak Park because of the location and amenities, as well as his appreciation for the fact that the City has been investing in its commercial corridors. Herkowitz and other nearby business owners are primary beneficiaries of the recently completed Nine Mile Redesign project.

“I think it’s great. It’s centrally-located. It’s near Ferndale, Berkley, Southfield, Detroit. And it’s a very diverse area that’s growing,” Herkowitz said. “The whole transition to Oak Park was great. Everyone was great help. They let me know if there was anything I needed and helped me achieve the goals I wanted to achieve.”

MANY OF THE THINGS YOU FIND AT NERDOUT TOYS WILL BRING YOU FEELINGS of happiness, amusement, and especially nostalgia. From action figures to PEZ dispensers and even a few vinyl records, NerdOut has gained traction as being both a place to regain interest in old toys and hobbies, as well as a place to take a metaphorical walk down memory lane. According to NerdOut’s website, they nerd out on just about everything, including “witches, droids, star fighters, creatures, wizards, supervillains, robots, barbarians, aliens, cyborgs, warriors, monsters, superheroes, spaceships and all other things fantastical!”

On PEZ dispensers in particular, Herkowitz explains “Most of the ones I have are from the ‘90s to the early 2000s. The no-feet stuff from the ‘60s gets really expensive, really hard to get. If it comes in, it just flies off the shelf.” Like so many other items on his shelves, they range in age from several decades old to brand new. Kids and “kids” of any age will undoubtedly find something you like when you walk in.

If you have any familiarity with toy collecting, you probably have heard of Herkowitz. He has a reputation for being one of the most knowledgeable collectors around. He’s hosted several local toy shows and conventions in years past, including one at Go Comedy! Improv Theater in Ferndale.

As with so many others, the pandemic hit Randy and his store hard. Still, he has remained flexible and adaptable in order to weather this storm the best he can. Nevertheless, he and all of Oak Park’s small business owners rely on community members to patronize them in order to stay afloat and continue serving our city and region.

“You gotta shop local, there’s a lot of good stores here and the growth is incredible,” said Herkowitz in closing.

Shop local, support Oak Park’s small businesses, and help grow your local economy! Visit NerdOut Toys at 8106 W Nine Mile Rd, Oak Park, MI 48237. Learn more at www.nerdouttoys.com.

By Mary Meldrum

ZEANA ATTISHA IS MARRIED TO SAAD ATTISHA, AND THEY OWN THE OAK PARK STAPLE, SAHARA RESTAURANT.

Her husband started the operation in 1980 in Ferndale at 9 Mile and Woodward. He was there for about three or four years before moving to 9 Mile and Coolidge in Oak Park, then moving again in 2010 to 10 Mile. Sahara has been in Oak Park for 36 years and their current location for the last ten years. That is the 40-year history of a local family-owned restaurant.

SAHARA IS VERY WELL-KNOWN IN THE COMMUNITY, especially among our Chaldean neighbors. Sahara’s menu features very traditional Mediterranean dishes. Some of the dishes are proprietary, like the stews and some soups.

Saad, his brother and his mom have all worked in the restaurant, and Zeana works there as well.

With a business finance degree, she handles bookkeeping and paperwork and also supervises the staff. After a fire in 2010, she took more of a hands-on role at the restaurant.

She also helped with a campaign to bring liquor licenses to Oak Park, working to get the matter on the ballot. Thanks to her efforts, Sahara now serves beer, wine and liquor, and now anyone can now apply for a liquor license.

This has opened up opportunities for Oak Park; now the city can attract hotels and other restaurants and venues.

ZEANA SAYS THAT THE BIGGEST PROBLEM RIGHT NOW FOR SAHARA IS THE LACK OF EMPLOYEES.

Their carryout business is still strong. Sahara has restaurants in Oak Park, and one in Sterling Heights for 16 years, and now they are building one in Detroit at the Little Caesars world headquarters building. They used to have a facility in Farmington on 13 and Orchard Lake until 2015.

“Sahara is run off of our special recipes. We have a Sahara Market in Warren, and we go down to Eastern Market for some of our fresh foods.”

THE PANDEMIC HAS PUT A NEW STRAIN ON SAHARA. They have been forced to quickly transform their business. There is no more food-sharing.

Right now, the restaurant can only seat a maximum of ten people at a table.

“A lot of our food was served on trays, but not during COVID-19. Our restaurant took an 80 percent hit at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak. A lot of servers have not come back. We have no more than 50 percent capacity right now.”

“I don’t think things will get back to normal until maybe next year.”

Zeana expressed some problems with acquiring coins from her bank, purchasing certain liquors, and hiring new staff. “We have made multiple attempts at ordering certain liquors, and there is a very limited amount of some, like expensive tequila. I am not sure why, but it is a problem.”

Now, they generously donate meals to hospitals, doctors offices, and other healthcare workers!

If you are interested in working at a Sahara restaurant, reach out to them for an interview.

24770 Coolidge Hwy, Oak Park | 248-399-7744

OAK PARK IS ALWAYS EAGER TO CELEBRATE ARTISTIC EXCELLENCE, and you’ll find some of that excellence on display at the City Hall now through October.

It is the work of Markham, a Detroit-based artist who loves and excels in everything from pop art to graffiti, but, that’s not even the tip of the iceberg. Markham’s work is an embodiment of the independent artistic spirit spanning from music to his extensive exhibition history. However, the latter is merely one aspect of what Markham reveals to us. Whether doing freelance work or making art in his free time to express his relentless creative energy, Markham puts his own unique stamp on everything he does.

His works currently featured in the City Hall exhibit include surreal and fantasy landscapes, as well as a pop-art Beatles montage (the last available in a sold-out series.) The selection of Markham’s work is a step away from what he most commonly shows his viewers. “I paint the visions in my head that intuitively express dark overtones of monsters and uncertainty through a mostly surrealist view,” Markham states. Mostly, his intention is to make us step back and look at how we’ve been dismissive of humanities undesirable qualities. Sometimes he holds the mirror up in a repulsive way, but that is what a lot of Markham’s work does, by reflecting some of the things many of us shy away from.

HOWEVER, HIS INTENTION IN PORTRAYING DISQUIETING THEMES IS NOT TO UPSET THE VIEWER. Part of his vision as an artist is to present topics that are often ignored or shunned by the popular media. By exploring and artistically depicting his feelings on abuse and the media’s exploitation of certain groups of people, for example, he hopes to give voice to the victims whose suffering is often overlooked. This represents the true spirit of using art as a healing force, for the creator, and hopefully for the viewer as well.

It is this fluidity in creative expression that makes Markham’s work what it is. He does not think, “This is a graphic design job so I must follow these rules,” or, “This is a painting so I must do things this certain way.” This disregard for convention is what makes his work unique, as following norms is a surefire way to stay in a safe zone and ensure that artistic output will never approach what it could be if the creative spirit were truly allowed to be free.

His exhibits in Detroit, New York, Venice, and L.A., along with his published works in multiple national publications including The Finger Mag, Propulsion Magazine, Studio Visit Magazine, and Ink and Voices have met with good acceptance.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO CONTACT MARKHAM FOR YOUR artistic business needs, murals, and more, he can be reached at 586-246-4028 or at markhamartist@outlook.com. You can also find him on Facebook and Instagram at MarkhamArtist, YouTube at Markham|Artist, and markhamartist.com, where his work is also available for purchase.