By Kim Marrone
Director of Economic Development & Planning, City of Oak Park

IN OAK PARK, WE CONTINUE TO HELP OUR BUSINESSES SOAR, NOW WITH THE HELP OF A REGIONAL CHAMBER OF COMMERCE. The new South Oakland Area Regional (SOAR) Chamber of Commerce primarily serves members in Oak Park, Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge and Hazel Park. SOAR replaces the Ferndale Area Chamber of Commerce and will now better focus on supporting businesses in Oak Park and other surrounding communities by providing networking opportunities, business support and advocacy, community partnerships and professional resources.

The idea to expand the reach of the former Ferndale Chamber of Commerce to Oak Park and beyond began with a meeting between SOAR President/CEO Joy R. Wells and Oak Park Mayor Marian McClellan in November of 2019 to discuss logistics. Although the impending pandemic brought some hiccups, it also allowed enough downtime for the creation of SOAR to be worked out.

Since then, the Chamber has held networking events and worked to engage the hundreds of businesses that encompass South Oakland County.

The SOAR Chamber of Commerce is focused on B2B (business-to-business) networking opportunities. Most of the events are designed to encourage members to get to know each other, exchange ideas, and share information about resources, such as virtual Coffee Connections or in-person After Hours networking events. The Chamber offers a monthly e-newsletter, which highlights member businesses and community events. Of course, a business doesn’t have to be located in any one of the primary communities to be a member. I encourage everyone to sign up on their web site to receive their e-newsletters and event notifications. A kickoff networking event will be scheduled in the near future somewhere in Oak Park.

To say I am excited to have the SOAR Chamber of Commerce as a resource to us in Oak Park would be an understatement. When I first began working in the City of Oak Park it was something our business community asked for but never had. We worked off and on with the Ferndale Chamber to include our business community but our businesses never really felt connected. When they made the decision to include other communities and expand into Oak Park, I was elated.

NOT ONLY DOES THIS ORGANIZATION PROMOTE the economic growth and stability necessary to allow our community to continue to thrive, but it also mirrors many of the same values we have in Oak Park. One of the SOAR Chamber of Commerce’s main tenets is diversity and inclusion, something we work to include in all of our decisions and practice in Oak Park. The SOAR Chamber also puts a high value on partnership, collaboration, connection and service.

The Chamber’s values are not only exhibited in the outreach events and services, but also in those that comprise the Board. Currently, the SOAR Chamber Board of Directors consists of 50 percent business leaders and 50 percent local government officials, all of whom are committed to listening to, identifying and addressing the needs of their communities. In Oak Park, Mayor Marian McClellan and myself sit on the Board and we are looking for local Oak Park business owners who would love to join the board as well. If you are an interested business owner looking to get involved please reach out to me.

With such representation and involvement from Oak Park leaders, and the same commitment from our South Oakland County neighbors, I am certain the SOAR Chamber of Commerce will become the regional heart of economic and community development. The more diverse voices we have at the table, the better prepared we are to secure resources and opportunities for the benefit of all our members.

I cannot wait to see what is in store for this next chapter of economic growth and stability.

To learn more about the SOAR Chamber of Commerce visit or call (248) 542-2160

Photo ©2021 by Bennie White

THE OAK PARK CITY COUNCIL IS THE LEGISLATIVE AND GOVERNING BODY FOR THE CITY OF OAK PARK. City Council is comprised of a Mayor, a Mayor Pro Tem, and three City Council Members who are elected at-large. The voters elect the Mayor and the City Council Members, while the Mayor Pro Tem position is determined by the greatest number of votes by the voters in the previous election.

Currently, Marian McClellan serves as the Mayor of Oak Park, Julie Edgar serves as the Mayor Pro Tem and Soloman Radner, Carolyn Burns and Shaun Whitehead all serve as Council members. Whitehead is the newest addition to the Council; he was sworn-in in January of 2021 after former Council Member Regina Weiss resigned because she was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives. From January to November of 2021, Whitehead served as an appointed member to Council because of the timing of the vacancy from Weiss’ resignation. Following the November 2021 election though Whitehead joined his peers as an elected member of Council.

In the last year the Oak Park City Council has witnessed a great deal of change, both in relation to the pandemic and how the City has been transforming. In 2020, Oak Park joined communities across the nation taking precautions to best protect the health and safety of employees and residents due to the COVID-19 pandemic. City facilities have since opened to the public, but safety measures remain in place. And, despite the challenges COVID has presented a great deal has been accomplished in Oak Park.

“Despite the obstacles presented by Covid, especially the inability to meet in person, we surprisingly accomplished a lot in 2021,” said Mayor Pro Tem Edgar. “We got new trash receptacles to keep our city cleaner, we held steady on water rates, passed a fair housing ordinance, and began planning for a new dog park that could open in the spring.”

Mayor Pro Tem Edgar also serves as a member of the Dog Park subcommittee and City Council liaison to the Parks & Recreation Commission.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT HAS ALSO BEEN BOOMING in Oak Park, a great deal of which is driven by policy.

“Small businesses, especially little restaurants, are the engine of our local economy,” said Mayor McClellan. “And so much of what has been opening in Oak Park has been changing us from a once subpar community to one that is spectacular.”

The new businesses in the Water Tower Social District have brought new food, beer, coffee and additional beverage selections to the City. And, the revitalization of the Nine Mile Corridor is another example of vision, dedication and innovation coming together to further build on Oak Park’s thriving community.

The development of the FedEx Ground Distribution Center at the former Detroit Armory site helped shift Oak Park from a surviving community to one that is thriving. Building on the original 2015 armory site announcement, as of today, the City of Oak Park can officially say that the former Detroit Armory site will now be fully developed in the coming months. Between FedEx, the new Forgotten Harvest headquarters and a newly approved development by OPUS Development Company, Oak Park is again welcoming new businesses.

The site approved for the OPUS spec build out is 17.3 acres, where a 275,484-square-foot warehousing and storage spec building will be constructed.

A diverse community, a dedicated community, a patient community and a community represented by committed, forward thinking and experienced officials have all led to a thriving community. And…more is yet to come!

“The change in this City is astounding,” said Mayor McClellan. “Our trajectory has completely changed, for the better.”

By Mary Meldrum

FORGOTTEN HARVEST IS CELEBRATING THEIR NEW HEADQUARTERS AT 15000 8 MILE ROAD (at Hubble, a quarter-mile east of Greenfield). The new campus is a 78,000-square-foot purpose-specific building large enough to bring all their employees under the one roof. The warehouse will have ample space to house, sort and refrigerate more fresh nutritious food for Metro Detroiters. Chris Ivey has been with Forgotten Harvest since 2018, helping to make sure no one in Metro Detroit needlessly goes hungry. Chris’ daily responsibilities include marketing and communications both internally and externally for Forgotten Harvest. He also recruits volunteers and works with the Development Department as they do fundraising for the organization.

“This new warehouse will have volunteer opportunities for approximately 60-70 people a day. We have two ways Forgotten Harvest accepts food.” One method is receiving large bulk loads from distributors and manufacturers. They also have their grocery trucks, the smaller box trucks that travel to Kroger, Trader Joes, Meijer’s and Costco where they rescue nutritious food from those organizations. This includes the “seconds” or the ugly or bruised fruits, which are all still edible, just not the prettiest.

Chris goes on to explain the new warehouse: “Right now, the grocery rescue is picked up in morning and delivered in the afternoon. With the new model, all the food will be brought into the new warehouse, sorted by food type and mixed more equitably at every distribution site with the larger bulk loads, so they can be delivered daily in a more equitable mix of food types to every location. This will result in a more balanced plate for everyone receiving our services,” explains Chris.

“Right now their distribution network looks very balanced, but if you look down the line, not every distribution place gets the same type of food. Forgotten Harvest is a large organization and reconfiguring the distribution process is a big job. The goal is to make sure each delivery site gets a balanced nutritional plate. We don’t order our food. We get what we get. Right now, we will have a lot of potatoes, onions and things like that. With the new model we will have a better variety and deliver the right food at the right pace at the right time.

“WE SHOULD HAVE THE WHOLE STAFF UNDER ONE ROOF by next Summer. The pandemic proved that the access and distribution network is very fragile because it’s led by volunteers. The access points to the services we provide are the biggest challenge. To have a distribution point in every neighborhood is the need and our goal.”

As Chris explains, “We can’t make it sustainable, and then all of a sudden we’re not there. We have to set it up to keep it up, once a community starts to count on us.”

The other challenge is volunteers. Fortunately, last year Forgotten Harvest had over 13,000 volunteers who gave 55,000 volunteer hours. They always need more and look to corporate, church groups, youth groups, etc. to help out.

When asked about his vision for Forgotten Harvest, Chris shared that “A peek into the future of the organization has me super excited. Our strategic plan will be Board-certified soon. Next June we will be into the new building. It’s a sense of excitement for where we are going.”

Chris is a long-time Metro Detroit resident and the father of two daughters, one in college in Michigan and one a junior in high school. Chris takes advantage of as much of Michigan’s offerings as he can.

Forgotten Harvest
21800 Greenfield Road, Oak Park, MI 48237
Phone: (248) 967-1500 | Fax: (248) 967-1510


By Sara E. Teller
Photos by Bill Gemmell

NU-TECH CLEANING SYSTEMS IS A MICHIGAN-BASED, SECOND-GENERATION, FAMILY-OWNED-AND-OPERATED BUSINESS. Brian Holter started the company in March 1993 to provide truck-mounted carpet cleaning, upholstery cleaning, pressure washing, and disaster restoration, including flood and fire support. Today, Nu-Tech has expanded from its home base in Oakland County to serve over 200 vendors worldwide.

“In a very short period of time, my Dad earned prominent accounts doing projects for several large universities and two of the largest hospital groups in Michigan,” said son Neco Holter of Nu-Tech’s earliest days. He added, “In the late ‘90s, he incorporated an in-house training center and a small supply store, which, over the years, played a pivotal role in shaping Nu-Tech’s future.”

Brian Holter performed consulting on many projects during Hurricane Katrina designed to help restore the communities affected, and the company has continued to do on many national disasters since that time. Nu-Tech currently sells to, and consults for, government contractors and agencies, hospitals, and universities across North America.

“Nu-Tech also played a major role right here in Metro Detroit during the 2014 flooding,” said Holter. “We helped thousands of small businesses and homeowners. The areas affected included those in Berkley, Huntington Woods, Southfield, Royal Oak and Clawson. After the event, we received many emails, cards, and letters thanking us for helping them through a difficult situation. Reading all of their cards and messages was rewarding beyond words.”

Unlike traditional janitorial supply houses that mainly sell toilet paper and plungers, Nu-Tech has specialty cleaning products designed to solve the toughest challenges, including drying equipment, flood extraction and floor care, as well as many professional grade must-haves. Holter said, “NuTech is nationally recognized as a leader in truck-mounted extractor installations. We are also one of the largest botanical disinfectant distributors and educators around.”

BECAUSE OF ITS POSITION AS A LEADER IN DISASTER RESTORATION, THROUGHOUT THE YEAR, Nu-Tech offers its customers and local businesses social networking opportunities based on this topic. Holter explained, “Each July, Nu-Tech hosts its annual Customer Appreciation Day event at which hundreds of customers come to enjoy a fantastic catered lunch while meeting and networking with local businesses and manufacturers.”

During these current, unprecedented times, as an educator in biohazard certification training, Nu-Tech stepped up a big way. Holter said, “When hand sanitizer was unavailable in the early onset of the coronavirus, the team at Nu-Tech went directly to the FDA and acquired licensing to produce high-quality gel sanitizer. At the time, the Big Three automakers were also struggling with union negotiations, figuring out how they help keep employees as safe as possible. Nu-Tech was able to provide many plants with enough hand sanitizer to keep operating.”

Nu-Tech also helped Berkley Chamber members during the pandemic. With grant money from Oakland County, the Chamber purchased hand sanitizer, gloves and disinfectant from Nu-Tech and distributed the PPE for members most in need, especially those in food service and restaurants.

The company has also supplied disinfectant, nitrile gloves, Tyvek suits, and other [personal protective equipment] to businesses nationwide. Holter said, “Over the last 29 years we have built our culture around helping people during difficult situations, and the pandemic has been no different.”

When asked what the community can do to help during the pandemic, Holter opened the discussion up to include everyone in the same boat, replying, “Just be kind! Whether it be a waitress, nurse, police officers or your neighbor, everyone is short-handed and doing the best they can under very difficult circumstances.” He added that being in the tight-knit Berkley community helps, saying, “I love Berkley for the people. We have been operating our business in Berkley since 2006, and every year has been better than the last.”

For more information on Nu-Tech Cleaning Systems, contact Neco Holter at 248-548-5211 or visit

By Lisa Howard

ANYONE WHO’S EVER WATCHED MAD MEN WOULD PROBABLY SAY that the advertising field isn’t exactly a breeze. But what takes even more dedication is leaving advertising to open a boutique corner market/wine shop/gift store.

“I’ve never worked so hard before in my life,” says Donna Dirkse, owner of The Neighbor’s Shoppe. “And I’ve never been so humbled by the kindness and support that the people in this town have given me. That’s what gets me up in the morning.” She purchased what used to be Tweeny’s in the summer of 2015 with a vision of what her new store would be like and zero experience in owning a business. She points out that there was some beauty to not knowing exactly what she was getting into — as the saying goes, ignorance is bliss.

The next three years “schooled her,” as she puts it, with Murphy’s Law kicking into action. Fortunately, the daughter of the previous owner stayed on to ease the transition, and a helpful next-door neighbor happened to know the owner of a successful wine business in Detroit who connected Donna with trusted distributors. Those distributors sat down with Donna and explained the ins-and-outs of stocking intriguing, hand-picked wines.

With the help of her husband Troy — who’s a master electrician and all-around handyman — Donna was able to quickly get renovations underway, painting the interior and exterior, pulling up the floor and putting in new tile, and building new fixtures, including new shelving that Troy custom-built using wine boxes and donated French doors. Throughout all of the renovations, Donna kept the doors open so that the community could see and experience the transition. “It’s so much fun to think back on that creation period,” she reminisces. “We wanted customers to feel comfortable when they walk into the store and feel like it isn’t an average party store.”

Those initial three years taught Donna the tricks of the trade, from what kinds of items customers wanted her to stock to how to find the latest interesting products. But then 2020 rolled around…and everything changed. Demand for frozen foods shot up, people were clamoring for fresh produce and, for several months, 90 percent of her business was curbside. Once people re-acclimated themselves to shopping in big-box stores again, though, sales of the new “staples” plummeted and items started to pile up. Deliveries became uncertain at best ordering 28 cases of Gatorade once resulted in getting four cases of Pepsi – and it was difficult to keep popular items like chicken and Popsicles on the shelves. Then, as restaurants reopened, deliveries and products shifted yet again.

BUT, DESPITE THE MYRIAD CHALLENGES, Donna loves running The Neighbor’s Shoppe. “I love my customers,” she says. “I love trying to figure out how we can grow the shop and make it better. I love being part of this community.” She’s constantly amazed by how friendly her regular shoppers are.

Two even stopped by her store on their way home from the hospital to introduce her to their brand-new baby, something she still can’t believe. “How did that even cross their minds?” she says. “When people move out of town, they come in to tell me goodbye. Who does that? Berkley is a ‘big small town’ where neighbors look out for each other. I could not run this store in any other community.”

Donna is always on the lookout for fun new items to bring in, whether that’s dog-chew toys shaped like wine bottles or craft beers. She also sells spice blends and rubs from the Recipe Kit warehouse and offers pizza and sandwiches freshly made in the store. During the holiday season, she’ll be creating gift baskets and passing out hot chocolate at the holiday parade. All of that ties into her core mission: To have fun. “I want customers to find surprises when they come in and to have fun shopping!”

And they most certainly do.

2833 Twelve Mile Rd., Berkley MI 48072 | 248.546.8960

By Sara E. Teller

ODD FELLOWS’ ANTIQUES OPENED IN 2000, RECALLED CATHY GAGNON, aunt of owners Don and Virginia Vensel. But the building’s history itself dates back much further. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) began in 18th Century England when it was highly unusual to find people helping others in need without recognition. Thus, anyone who decided to go this route was considered “odd.”

Since 1923, the Berkley building served as the Odd Fellows’ meeting hall and, thus, the name carried over when it became a retail shop. The IOOF motto is “Friendship, Love & Truth,” symbolized by triple links, which are visible on the 1923 cornerstone of the building.

With third-party antique and collectible dealers now setting up 50 booths and selling an eclectic array of everything from timeless furniture to vintage records, linens and books, Depression era and Mid-Century modern knick-knacks, toys, and many more one-of-a-kind finds, there’s lots to explore. And that is precisely why Odd Fellows’ Antiques is a prime go-to for Berkley residents to hang out, even if it’s just in between appointments.

“It’s a nice, friendly family setting,” Gagnon said. “We have a lot of people who just stop in to sit down. Some come in between their doctor appointments, or while they’re waiting for test results at Beaumont down the street and need to fill the time.”

WHEN ODD FELLOWS’ ANTIQUES FIRST BEGAN, IT ENCOMPASSED ONLY THE FIRST FLOOR of the building. Soon after, it branched into the bottom level as interest grew and inventory blossomed. Now, there are two stories of antiques to browse, and the space is at max capacity. As a bonus, the building sits directly adjacent to Clark’s Ice Cream shop and the well-known outdoor area in between with an arrangement of vintage seating to enjoy a cone or simply rest on those warm summer days.

The pandemic has somewhat changed how Odd Fellows’ does business. As a shop that invites in many elderly patrons, the owners are extra cautious. They require that everyone, vaccinated or not, wear masks and they, themselves, follow strict cleaning protocols and distancing guidelines. As far as interest in what the shop has to offer, that has never waned.

“We would just hate to see someone bring it home to their grandchildren who can’t get vaccinated, you know?” Gagnon said. She added that Odd Fellows’ has “excellent customer care” in general and “takes extra time and care to wrap all items.” She and the Vensels enjoy being in Berkley because of the “open, close knit, and friendly community.” They have acquired a regular following and always welcome newcomers who wander in from time to time.

Odd Fellows’ is a member of the Berkley Area Chamber of Commerce and is typically involved in many community events throughout the year. Unfortunately, as Gagnon explained, involvement over the last couple of years has diminished amid the pandemic. She is hoping to see more of this happening again soon.

The antique mall generally holds a couple special merchandise sales in January and later in the year. Patrons can subscribe to the store’s mailing list to receive an email with exact dates. For more information about Odd Fellows’ Antiques, 3248 12 Mile Rd., please visit, or call 248.399.6098.

By Sara E. Teller

TIM AND KRIS BARNES HAVE ALWAYS ENJOYED PLAYING GAMES – so much so, in fact, that they met doing just that, and then decided to share their love of games with the community. Six years ago, the couple opened Gate Keepers Games, an amply-stocked retail shop in downtown Berkley.

“We rented a space downtown,” recalled Tim, adding it was meant to be a bit of a test run to see if their bet on Berkley’s love for gaming would pay off. And it certainly did.

Barnes explained, “We chose Berkley because of the many young families that live here, and we were able to successfully run our shop those first few years.” The customers came flooding in, excited for a new hobby store in town, and they kept coming back, impressed by Gate Keepers’ wide selection of social, role-playing, board, and card games, among other collectibles.

After realizing the store was a big hit, Barnes wanted to take the couple’s vision one step further and begin offering a gathering space for anyone interested in trying the inventory in real-time. This space would expand upon the retail portion and allow customers to compete against each other, just for fun or for prizes. The Barnes bought the more than 7,000 square feet of vacant space that was once the Doll Hospital & Toy Soldier Shop and moved their items down the street, excited to extend an opportunity for game lovers to mix and mingle.

UNFORTUNATELY, HOWEVER, THE PANDEMIC HIT SOON AFTER THE NEW BUILDING WAS READY. “Our whole business model is built on people spending time together,” Barnes said. “We don’t charge for the space. We just hope you buy a game if you enjoy it.” So, things have been much more slow-going than expected and the focus has remained largely on the retail portion.

In the meantime, Gate Keepers Games has secured a liquor license so patrons of age can enjoy their favorite drinks while playing, and there are monthly trivia nights alongside other, more intimate gatherings.

“Right now, we’re able to host events and we’re asking that you’re vaccinated to come in,” Barnes said. “We have everyone spaced out and are just having smaller events.”

In addition to trivia nights, Gate Keepers Games offers painting classes, birthday and Christmas parties, and social games such as Pokémon, Magic the Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, Cards Against Humanity, chess, euchre, and others. There are also opportunities to learn how to play certain games. While most of the time, the space is totally free and designed for open play, Gate Keepers also hosts tournaments in which there is a small cover and prizes available. All ages are welcome and there are plenty of family-friendly fun activities.

GATE KEEPERS ALSO HAS MANY PAINT SUPPLIES AND MINIATURES IN STOCK, and patrons can pick up their favorite games to have on hand at home or even have them delivered. More details about how to request delivery are available online.

Gate Keepers regularly gives back to the Berkley community, offering support to the Library and local schools, and Barnes hopes to do even more outreach when possible. He would like to partner with public centers to host more events and envisions being able to have field trips and after school extracurriculars on-site.

“Right from the beginning, the Berkley community has been very friendly and supportive,’ Barnes said. “I have many positive things to say about the city itself.”

He hopes that anyone who hasn’t had a chance to yet will come check out what Gate Keepers Games is all about. A full calendar of upcoming events is available at

For more information, email or call 248.439.0787 3961
Twelve Mile Rd, Berkley, MI 48072

By Ingrid Sjostrand
Photos © 2021 Bill Gemmell

THERE ARE MORE THAN 78,000 PIZZA RESTAURANTS IN THE U.S., and in 2019 Michigan had the eighth most in the country with 2,718 pizzerias. With those numbers, it should come as no surprise that on any night of the week an average of one-in-eight Americans is eating pizza.*

Roy Sera, and his wife Christine, wanted to help feed that pizza craving in the Berkley community, so they opened their Jet’s franchise location in 1994 at 2823 Coolidge Hwy. The Jet’s Pizza brand alone has over 400 locations throughout the U.S., but Sera likes to think his employees, their dedication, and the residents of Berkley they serve make his restaurant stand out from the rest.

“I chose the location in Berkley because my brother-in-law had a location in Madison Heights and Berkley happened to be just outside of his territory,” Sera said. “I am so glad I went west of his store and settled in Berkley. It has been a wonderful experience because of the people, the residents.”

It probably comes as no surprise that the most popular item on the menu is the classic large, square, cheese-and-pepperoni. But even as a franchise, Sera says there are menu items that are lesser known.

“We have two kinds of pepperoni: the normal pepperoni and an old-fashioned pepperoni that cups up,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know we have them, but once they do they normally order them again.”

Sera credits much of the past 27 years of successful business to his employees. Two of his delivery drivers, Kyle Kleckner and Lester Jones, have been working at his Jet’s basically since the beginning, employees for over 25 years.

“They both are staples of our fast delivery service,” he said. “My general manager, Matt MacDonald, has been with me for over 19 years and has been incredible, especially during the pandemic. All of his brothers and his sister have each worked here at one time or another, too.”

SERA’S OWN FAMILY HAVE ALSO BEEN AN ASSET TO THE BERKLEY JET’S SUCCESS; having helped keep the store staffed when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its height.

“On many occasions, I had Christine, my son Ryan and my daughter Alexandria all working on the same shifts to get through the dinner rushes,” he said. “Having my family all working together during the pandemic was a great feeling.”

Despite the positive family-bonding opportunities, much like other businesses, the past two years haven’t always been easy for Sera and Jet’s Pizza.

“The pandemic has really been hard on our work staff. Working with masks and gloves next to a 500-degree oven was challenging,” Sera said. “We have been fortunate with sales but have struggled to have a workforce to support the sales.”

Sera also owns the Southfield Jet’s location at 30120 Southfield Rd., just north of 12 Mile Rd. For anyone who loves pizza and wants to work in a supportive, family-oriented environment, Sera encourages them to join his team.

“We are hiring! Full time, part-time, inside or delivery,” he said. “Apply within!”

Roy Sera;
2823 Coolidge Hwy, Berkley, MI 48072
(248) 547-9880
*Pizza statistics from &

By Lisa Howard

MAYBE YOU’VE BEEN MEANING TO JOIN A FARM SHARE OR CSA to get your hands on the freshest foods possible. Or maybe it’s lunchtime and you just wish you could find a grab-and-go healthy lunch somewhere.

You can do both at Fresh Collective Kitchen & Market! The cozy space offers wraps, salads and omnivore and vegan entrées right alongside fresh produce, farm eggs and locally made healthy snacks. Co-owners Erin Brick and Alison Purdy and CEO Amy Kaltz like to say that Fresh Collective “is a fancy 7-Eleven/mini-Westborn.” (They also serve lattes and espressos made with locally-roasted beans.)

Behind the counter, Fresh Collective also serves as a commissary kitchen. Several of the chefs who rent the kitchen use it to make dishes for their personal catering clients, while others need the space to prep for their food trucks. Some make the array of grab-and-go items the Collective has available every day, like quiches, wraps, green salads, pasta salads, soups, and croissant sandwiches. In response to customer requests, there are plenty of dairy-free and gluten-free options as well.

The story behind the collaborative nature of Fresh Collective began when Erin started a co-op over five years ago. Back then, she was bouncing from one place to another in a quest to stock her home kitchen with the healthiest ingredients possible. “I was tired of going to several different places to feed my family the way I wanted to feed them,” she says. “That’s how the co-op was born.” She partnered with MSU’s Tollgate Farms, and it didn’t take long before she needed someone to help sort orders and serve as a secondary pick-up point. That’s when Alison joined forces with Erin.

BUSINESS WAS PROCEEDING AT A MANAGEABLE PACE …and then the pandemic hit. “Our sales quadrupled because all of a sudden no one wanted to go to grocery stores,” Erin explains. “Although we had originally focused on cheese, meat and eggs, we thought, ‘Well, we need produce now.’ Then it was, ‘Well, we need pantry items now.’”

In short order, they also needed a bigger location. It was pure serendipity that when Erin was shopping at Vitrine, she started talking to Vitrine’s owner, Susan Rogal, about the co-op. The vacant adjoining space formerly housed a bakery, and when Rogal asked Erin if she’d like to trial-rent the space for her co-op, Erin jumped at the opportunity. It’s been onward and upward ever since.

“Because we have such a big following on Facebook from our co-op customers, they talk about us a lot,” Erin says. “Within two months of being open, we had over a thousand Likes – in the middle of a pandemic! Plus, we’re in such a cute section of Coolidge. There’s so much within this little walkable pocket. We love being here.” It’s also a convenient location for Co-op customers to come by and pick up their weekly items. The animal products are from pastured animals, and all produce and animal items are certified organic/produced in accordance with organic standards.

Erin and Alison have added permanent indoor and outdoor seating at Fresh Collective so that customers can grab something to eat and then stay to enjoy it. It’s all part of their goal to offer healthier, more delicious choices to everyone.

Fresh Collective Kitchen & Market
2752 Coolidge Hwy, Berkley MI
Open Daily

By Sara E. Teller
Photos by Bill Gemmell


“I am more business-minded and work mainly in the back-office doing our accounting and those types of things,” Rengaswamy explained. “Hady and Eman Beydoun are our staff pharmacists.”

The combination of their expertise proved to be especially essential when the business, located conveniently next door to the BMC, first opened in August 2020, right in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. The pair had to be very strategic about what they planned to do to ensure their business survived.

There are many things that have set the pharmacy apart and have helped their customer base grow quickly. As far as the two are concerned, it has not only survived, but thrived. In fact, the owners have been told this is the first business of its kind to be able to do so in the strip located right on the corner of 12 Mile Rd. and Woodward Ave.

Rengaswamy said, “You can imagine that it was very tough to establish a business during this time. But we’ve been lucky. We made sure to really connect with our neighbors early on and can offer a few things that big-box pharmacies cannot, including free shipping on all orders.” He added, “It helps being able to be in the same location as the medical center, too, so our customers can complete their care all in one spot. This has been a huge draw for them, and the doctors who work at the center have referred their patients to us.”

THE BMC PHARMACY DELIVERS PRESCRIPTIONS FOR FREE NOT ONLY TO BERKLEY RESIDENTS, but all over Southeast Michigan. “I’ve sent orders to downtown Detroit, and all the way to Romulus,” explained Rengaswamy. “That’s not something typically offered by larger pharmacies. Normally customers have to pay a fee.”

The pharmacy also offers much more than medications, including candy bars and other food items that one would normally expect. Adjacent to Kindercare, Rengaswamy and Beydoun are in the midst of planning to supply snack bags to the children who attend.

“We’ll offer a variety of healthy snacks,” said Rengaswamy and adding, jokingly, “Of course, we can’t just give the kids apples or they wouldn’t be very happy with us! We plan to include fruit snacks and an assortment of other healthy options as well.”

And, even if the beginning was a bit tough, in the coming months, the two plan to expand their footprint in the community.

“In the post-pandemic era, we’d like to do much more than this,” said Rengaswamy. “I’m proud to have become a board member of the Chamber of Commerce and be much more involved.”

FOR NOW, THE PHARMACY TEAM HAS JUST BEGUN TO THINK BEYOND STABILIZATION, And the owners are brainstorming next steps. “Be on the lookout,” Rengaswamy was able to share. “We’re planning to post more pharmacist positions soon. We not only offer a certain level of convenience for our customers, we’re also hoping to help the community by offering good-paying jobs.”

They enjoy being situated in the close-knit Berkley community, and surrounded by many neighboring ones, saying, “We’re able to really get to know our customers, their kids, and their families. They’re not just a number.” The word-of-mouth marketing has definitely helped the pharmacy gain a footing in Berkley and the owners are looking forward a bright future with plenty of reasons to give back in a big way.

Berkley Medical Center Pharmacy
1695 12 Mile Rd., Suite 210 second floor, Berkley