Ferndale/Pleasant Ridge City Guide 2021

Melanie Williams and Nicole Duffey, lifelong best friends, are celebrating 14 years in business as co-owners of Regeneration, a resale clothing store at 23700 Woodward Ave. in Pleasant Ridge, just blocks away from Ferndale and I-696.

DESPITE A TOUGH YEAR DURING THE PANDEMIC, they are expanding the size of their store with the addition of a new space called The Annex, and looking forward to the future.

Williams and Duffey expressed deep gratitude that their store managed to survive the difficult circumstances brought about by COVID-19.

“We are appreciative that most of our customers feel safe to shop and sell clothing with us during such an uneasy time,” Duffey said.

The duo’s history as business owners goes back to 2007, when a desire for new careers led them to shift gears and open Regeneration.

“We were both in a stagnant place, job-wise and life-wise; craved a change and wanted a challenge,” Williams said. “We both adored vintage clothing and had been avid thrift store shoppers, so it made sense to try our hand at a business we loved.”

Regeneration had expanded to two stores when a second store opened in Clawson in 2011. But the Clawson store did not survive the pandemic, allowing Williams and Duffey to focus on growing their main location in Pleasant Ridge.

“Deciding to close our Clawson store wasn’t difficult, as we knew that managing both stores, especially amid a pandemic, would be too much to handle financially and emotionally,” Duffey said. “Last Summer, we rented the space next door to our main location to help manage the overflow of inventory.

“Eventually we will break down the main wall and refigure our dressing rooms. But in the meantime, The Annex houses the bulk of our accessories for men and women,” said Williams. “While the front room has a cozy boutique feel, the Annex is an intimate space that is a revolving/evolving room dedicated to local artists and sustainable products.”

LIKE MOST SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS, Williams and Duffey got creative during the pandemic and went outside of their normal methods of engaging customers, and much of their efforts to stay connected to customers focused on social media platforms including Facebook and Instagram.

“We’ve used Instagram the past few years to highlight exceptional items we buy for the store, but now we’re using Instagram to make connections. Just before we reopened in May 2020, we invited our staff to share Instagram videos of what they’d been up to during quarantine. We’ve since transitioned into hosting a weekly live sale on Instagram at 2:00 P.M. on Saturdays. It’s important to share highlights of our inventory with folks that aren’t one hundred percent comfortable shopping during the pandemic. We cultivated a big family of customers prior to the pandemic shutdown, and our activity on Facebook and Instagram helped us stay in touch with people and connect to other businesses.”

One trend the two women have noticed is that career-oriented items aren’t selling as much as they once did. Working from home has changed career-wear culture. They said the great thing about resale is that you don’t have to spend a lot to wear fashionable clothing, and shopping secondhand is beneficial for one’s budget, as well as the environment.

“When we do shift back to school full-time, being social, or heading back to the workplace, our store will be a fantastic option for families who don’t want to spend full price on apparel,” Williams said. “Also, having a significant amount of down time has inspired folks to clean out their closets and purge unneeded things. This is beneficial to the world of resale, because we are seeing an influx of amazing items that people are casting off in exchange for cash or store credit.”

By Kevin Alan Lamb

SUMMERS WERE SPENT PLAYING BASEBALL in the front yard by day, and running through neighborhood streets, playing Capture-The-Flag by night. In those brief moments we took respite inside my childhood home for PBJ’s and hydration, we could always depend on my mom busy at work painting in the kitchen (her studio), listening to Julio Iglesias. Our home was decorated with her water-color and mixed media creations, while her positive energy and creativity still tell a story today.

All those years ago, she was a member of the Lawrence Street Gallery, which first made its home in Pontiac, before finding its way to Ferndale. Little did I know then, but some 25 years later I would call Ferndale home, and be given the opportunity to write about Lawrence Street Gallery, connecting with Laura Host, its Director and my mom’s old friend.

“Your mom, Kris, was always a very enthusiastic member. She was a great artist and was willing to attempt anything!” Host says.

“Our first location was on Lawrence Street in the old Salvation Army building in Pontiac. The space had been an art gallery but a new owner bought the building and wanted to have it continue as a gallery. So she decided to turn it into an artist cooperative gallery. The original members set it up legally as a cooperative and Lawrence St. Gallery started in 1987.”

Despite being closed from mid-March until July, Host was quick to identify a silver lining in the pandemic; citing increased foot traffic downtown as a result of people having less to do, and receiving the Oakland Together Small Business Recovery Grant.

“We received the grant in October 2020,” thanks to Treasurer Dennis Montville, who is also a wood turner and wood sculptor. “We’ve been able to purchase air-purifying machines and hand-sanitizer machines to help our members and visitors feel safer,” Host says.

Closing also prompted a needed shift in emphasis toward the Gallery’s online presence. “Cindy Parsons (painter) spearheaded the project of making the Gallery capable of having virtual exhibits online.”

WHILE SHE WASN’T LOOKING FORWARD TO COMING BACK, HOST QUICKLY REALIZED how much she missed it. “What could be better than sipping coffee while looking at art?”

Open the first Friday of every month, ten people are allowed in the gallery at a time. Even after being in Ferndale for 18 years, they are exploring ways to better let neighbors know they are there.

“We joined the Chamber of Commerce and have tried to create events that get people into the gallery, like Meet-the-Artist Sundays. We stress that we have a brand-new exhibit at the gallery every month.”

Grateful for this serendipitous entanglement of past and present, I asked Host to paint us a picture of the gallery’s early days.

“The space had high ceilings, beautiful tall windows and wood floors. Downtown Pontiac was waking up after a time of empty buildings and the City offered buildings for very little, hoping to have the new owners refurbish the buildings and downtown. We were the first gallery in the 1987 version of downtown Pontiac, and the last one to leave in 2003.

Finding a spot on Woodward Ave. in Ferndale seemed like a great idea. We kept the name Lawrence Street Gallery as we had been known as a place for artists to display their work, and we wanted to keep a connection to all the history of the gallery.”

Artists are their best customers, and Host is grateful that people are learning more about the community, that they might not have had time for in the past.

“We have affordable, original, all-media art by area artists. Those who love buying art can always find something at the gallery, and those who are just starting out buying artwork for their homes can find amazing art, at affordable prices. We even donated a percentage of sales for a couple of months when we reopened last July to the Renaissance Vineyard Food Pantry in Ferndale.”

By Kevin Alan Lamb

WHILE MUCH OF THE WORLD IS BETTER FAMILIAR with the comforts of working from home after 2020, I would similarly wager there is a greater appreciation for quiet, distraction-free, office space.

Founded in 2018 to be just that, Ben Long says PatchWork Collective was opened as a result of a lack of small office space in Ferndale, particularly for solo entrepreneurs and start-ups.

“The goal was to have something unique, and different from the large coworking sites like WeWork,” Long says.

Located at 22007 Woodward Ave., PatchWork Collective invites you to work the way you want, offering safe and adaptable office space with private offices, conference rooms, and special event/presentation space when permitted.

“Networking groups, weddings/wedding showers, birthdays, ballroom/ tango dance events, social events, book signings, animal adoption events, retirement parties, painting classes, and art auctions” are all examples of the events held in the space thus far.

PatchWork Collective is open to its members 24/7, and otherwise by appointment only.

“Ferndale has always been very inclusive and welcoming, and has a nice community and neighborly feel. PatchWork has a diverse member population. PatchWork has been well-received by the community with several members and occasional users being Ferndale residents and/or Ferndale business workers. Additionally, PatchWork won the Ferndale New Project of the Year in 2019 at the Mayor’s Business Council Award Ceremony,” Long says.

The Mayor’s Business Council gave out five awards to local businesses and business people who truly represented the heart of Ferndale. Mayor Coulter introduced former PatchWork CEO, Lisa Schmidt, and told everyone how the PatchWork Collective was an idea born right here in Ferndale. He talked about how Lisa and her co-founder Long had worked with the Build Institute in Ferndale to create their business plan and develop the company from concept to concrete. He shared how PatchWork is a great space for small business owners, remote workers, and entrepreneurs to work together.

A RECENT ROLLOUT AT THE COLLECTIVE IS THEIR TABLETOP MARKETPLACE, which is a way for vendors who might usually be at festivals like Pride, or those merchants with side gigs making products like candles, to sell their products.

“We currently feature homemade candles from Ferndale’s own Solas Candles, a local artist’s production, Waxing Cara (homemade goods using natural ingredients from bees), and products from Bedazzled Ballroom Dress Rental. The marketplace is open Saturday and Sunday from 2:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M., or by appointment. We’re always looking for additional vendors, so contact us if anyone is interested in learning more.”

Long hopes that once vaccines are fully rolled out and we are in the clear, they can get back to being a co-working, incubator space.

To inquire about renting space or about services offered, visit PatchWorkCollective.net or email info@patchworkcollective.net.

By Jenn Goeddeke

FOR NEARLY SEVEN DECADES, METRO DETROIT’S PRIMARY DESTINATION for great contemporary and mid-century modern home decor has been Living Modes. Located at 23535 Woodward in Ferndale, and owned by Richard Sherman, Living Modes has gathered an extensive clientele over the years.

Along with his high energy manager of 34 years, Rick Lakomy, Sherman prides himself on dedication to his loyal customers. Sherman and Lakomy enjoy getting to know everyone. Even though the Covid19 pandemic has hit Ferndale hard, Sherman continues to work diligently to keep up with the demand for his products and services.

We sat on a gorgeous, white leather reclining couch, next to a large and brightly-colored coffee table. I was already sold! Sherman put me at ease, with his laid-back conversational style. After chatting, Sherman took me on a tour of the entire two-level store, quite an eye-opening experience for art lovers such as myself.

Sherman’s background in horticulture and interior design clearly served him well in forming these stunning showrooms and the whole ensemble is spot-on. All items are displayed in a highly color-coordinated and integral way; it’s a lively, Cirque du Soleil arrangement of furniture, art, lighting, mirrors, florals and accessories where all items are vying for attention! Sherman takes great pride in his selection of merchandise, and buys items from all over the world.

SHERMAN STARTED OUT SMALLER, WITH JUST 3000 SQUARE FEET. The store has evolved greatly over the decades. In 1953, his father, Bernard “Barney” Sherman opened the first incarnation of Living Modes, on the old James Couzens highway. Gradually over the years, Richard Sherman started to handle the nuts and bolts of the business. Then in 1995, the store moved to its current location at 23535 Woodward Ave in Ferndale

Due to the Covid19 pandemic, Sherman had to close the store for a couple of months, like most others in Michigan. However, he considers himself fortunate, as sales have remained strong. Teaming up with his son, Ian, Sherman retains a prominent online presence, through both FaceBook and their web site. Naturally, Sherman has been saddened by the effect of the pandemic on many of his neighbors’ lives and businesses, and he is “waiting for the ‘new normal’ – I want to see Ferndale return to its former bustling vibrancy.”

Mon. 11:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M.
Tues 11:00 A.M. – 6:00 P.M.
Weds-Thurs Closed
Fri 11:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M.
Sat 11:00 A.M. – 6:00 P.M.
Sun Closed

By Jessica J. Shaw

AS SPRING MAKES ITS APPEARANCE, warmer weather calls us to explore the green spaces of Metro Detroit. Thanks to local conservation efforts, the surrounding area is replete with several parks for those seeking good ol’ Vitamin N.

ONE INCREASINGLY POPULAR JAPANESE MODALITY in outdoor enjoyment is Shinrin-yoku, also known as “forest bathing.” As defined by the Association of Forest and Nature Therapy, forest bathing entails leaving digital devices behind and walking slowly through the forest, observing nature in its constant state-of-change.

Come join Ferndale Friends on paths near and far to enjoy the calming benefits of spending time in nature.

Stage Nature Area
6685 Coolidge Highway, Troy MI 48098

Start your walk by grabbing a map at the Nature Center. You’ll set out to experience 1.5 miles of trails in a park known for its ample wildlife such as deer and turkey. The wooded trails and boardwalks wind through upland forest, meadows, wetlands, and a cattail marsh playing a backdrop to the Rouge River. Go for the peace and quiet. Stay for the activities such as maple-tapping scheduled through the Nature Center.

Heritage Park
24916 Farmington Road, Farmington Hills MI 48836

Step onto the winding trails at Heritage Park and experience why “Let nature be your teacher” is the motto of the park. With four and a half miles of looping trails for hiking and nature study, curious hikers will find the park’s gems, including the Scout Trail where a small rumble of water cascades over rocks and the River Trail. Sweeping vistas can be enjoyed from benches throughout the park overlooking meadows and birdwatching spots.

Douglas Evans Nature Preserve
31845 Evergreen Rd, Beverly Hills MI 48025

Take a walk on the wild side at Douglas Evans. Ungroomed, rustic trails greet hikers who navigate the winding paths and invite the adventurous at heart to follow openings in the bushes to locate the riverside trail system. Sit-spots, like large fallen logs along the riverbank, make for places to pause to absorb the surroundings. Park on Evergreen Road and cross the bridge to enter this petite and untamed natural space. Be forewarned, there are no restrooms.

Red Oaks Nature Center
30300 Hales Street, Madison Heights MI 48071

You’ll find a pleasant surprise tucked across the street from Meijer on 13 Mile Road where you can steal away from the hustle and bustle at this 37-acre park. Here, trails are alive with birdsong while towering trees sway in the breeze overhead. Stop by the vernal pond in the spring and summer months to observe the dynamic changes it undergoes as the seasons progress.

Tenhave Woods Nature Trail
Lexington Blvd & Marais Avenue, Royal Oak MI 48073

Forest-bathers will appreciate this vibrant natural environment as a treat for the senses nestled away from the cityscape. This fenced-in nature area affords walkways winding through 22 acres in the Quickstad Park next to Royal Oak High School’s Raven Stadium. The park touts oak, beech, hickory and maple trees which are said to have stood since the early 1800s. Come Spring, several types of wildflowers, including trilliums dot the forest floor. Dragonfly Pond is a nice place to pause and is also a gathering spot for wildlife, like turtles and frogs.

Maybury State Park
20145 Beck Road, Northville MI 48167

Prepare for the grandest of adventures at this crown jewel of natural beauty. Start by locating the park map on signposts which distinguish walking trails from those meant for bikers and horseback riders. Meander under the canopy of trees through dense forest and rolling hills that give away to open meadows and the small lake. Paved walking trails are also available at this nearly thousand-acre park.

By Kevin Lamb

“HUMBLED AND LUCKY TO BE GIVEN the opportunity to give others an opportunity,” Chris Best says.

When it comes down to it, isn’t that what we should all be striving for? A series of fortuitous happenings, propelled by hard work, and community support which create the space, time and mechanism to help others experience the same.

“In 2011 we set out to create an environment where everyone wins,” and they’ve done just that at The Rust Belt Market.

“The patrons get an authentic human experience which is the antithesis of online shopping. The vendors get to practice and hone their skills turning their passion and dreams into a business they can rely on to bring in steady income. We as the owners get to increase our own business acumen including starting our own events business with a full bar and a plant shop. Practice makes more perfect and we all learn from each other while lifting each other,” Best says.

It is a tremendous gift, and business model to help lift others; not so different from a community garden where space is shared, nurtured, and cultivated for a common good.

“I cherish our time at Rustbelt: the friendships we have made, and the unique shopping experience it gave our customers. It was a great way for us to expand our brands. Tiffany and Chris Best do a great job managing the market and listening to vendors. All the vendors look out for each other and the sense of community is very strong there as well. The Rust Belt Market is the best business incubator in all of the Metro Detroit area,” Paul Marcial of Ink Detroit and The Great Lakes State says.

Best has a deep sense of gratitude towards the brave group of business owners who have been with them since the beginning.

“That list is: C Cooper Designs, Ida Belle Soaps, Tooth And Nail Oddities, Painted Lady Trashions, Attack Hunger and Detroit GT. They did two things that we’ll never forget. They took a chance on a strange business model ten years ago when we needed a vote of confidence most. And they stuck with us through good times and bad. That kind of loyalty is rare and never forgotten. There are other shops like 248 Studio, Outer Spaceways and Speedcult that have been with us almost nine years and we have gratitude towards them as well. We have a lot of gratitude towards our shops in general.”

THAT SEEMING SENSE OF ETERNAL GRATITUDE IS VIBRANTLY RECIPROCATED, coming full circle, back around from the small business owners within The Rustbelt.

“It can’t be overstated how important our partnership with Rustbelt has been since our inception,” says Jeremy Olstyn, Board Member and Production Director of Ferndale Radio.

“Back when we were ramping up to apply for our construction permit with the FCC, we weren’t even sure where we could house our little station. Part of my day job is running WPHS-FM (a small high school radio station in Warren) and Chris Best invited my students and I to broadcast live from the Rustbelt one weekend. So, when we were looking for a home for Ferndale Radio, Chris and Tiffany were really enthusiastic about having us onboard. From what I recall, having an in-market radio station was part of their original business plan. It’s not hyperbole to say that without Chris and Tiffany, we would not be on air in Ferndale.”

Making possible what might have previously been otherwise; like planting seeds in rich soil, creating an opportunity for life itself. Best credits the City government of Ferndale for their customer service orientation, taking a public/private partnership stance when approaching their small requests/needs.

“We’ve heard horror stories from business owners in other cities, and we feel like the city government is our ally. The community of good humans who appreciate the goods made and carried by our shops are way up on that list of gratitude as well! They have been the ones who have made the dream a reality for all of us Rust Belters. Their votes via dollars are the reason we are making it through this awful pandemic.”

IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO TRANSFORM DREAMS INTO REALITIES, and each of us possess unique abilities to help another’s garden grow.

“I think the idea of small shops coming together in a unique, collective space fits perfectly with our community and DIY aesthetic. The Rustbelt is one of those purely Ferndale destinations that has become synonymous with the type of business people want to support and see thrive and grow in the city. For many of the Rustbelt vendors, you’re seeing people investing in their dreams through sweat and hard work every weekend; our volunteer DJs are doing the same thing in supporting Ferndale Radio,” Olstyn says.

Plants need water; dreams insist sweat equity. The closer a dream aligns with another, the more magnanimous and possible it grows. Like plants, dreams must adapt to ever-changing conditions if they are to blossom.

“Our events business has been shut down for one year. This has been devastating because events brought in 70 percent of our revenue and helped keep rent affordable for our retail tenants. We’ve had to adapt by scheduling a rent increase for our tenants to help offset this loss. Also, my business partner has been able to spend more time focused on The Plant House which is located inside The Rust Belt. She has also added an online sales cart during the shutdown. We eliminated Friday hours also as a way to cut costs and lower risk.”

Nestled within the heart and foundation of Ferndale, The Rustbelt continues to evolve its offerings, preparing for recently approved City ordinances, and their 10th birthday!

“Our wonderful DDA and City Council just approved social districts! That means open adult beverages will be allowed in most of the Downtown’s pedestrian walkways and parklets. We plan to take advantage of this by setting up an inviting, outdoor hangout area behind our building with an attractive tent, good lighting and plants. Follow us on social media to stay updated.”

By Sherry A. Wells

“WE TAKE A LOT FOR GRANTED HERE IN FERNDALE.” Rev. Schoenhals observed. “There’s a cocoon of acceptance.”

Rev. Schoenhals has been ahead of his denomination in his public statements for LGBTQ persons, but the Church “is coming along and it will get there,” he believes. His stands made for a short stay at one church.

As a Methodist, he is not part of “a nice, comfortable religion.” There is anger, violence, material greed and selfishness to be overcome. The next generation is important to him.

In Ferndale, he was the first pastor of First United Methodist Church to have a large banner on church property declaring Black Lives Matter, made several years ago. Church members and members of the general public signed it. Last year it was placed on the fence. And stolen. A supportive person from the public (not a church member), paid to replace it.

He credits his wife, Jill Allison Warren, with the idea for the next banner: Love is Bigger, which came after the deadly racist confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. Church members and hundreds of the public signed that one, too. Lesson learned: It was installed very high up.

Every sentence about activism begins with “we.”

The day after Charlottesville, the church hosted a rally of support. “We had about 400 people in the church that day and another 100 out on the sidewalk.”

“We invite Green Energy, such as during the Green Cruise and bike rides. We have a solar array.”

Activism includes being a sanctuary church for immigration.

“One family was about to move in,” the Reverend said, “but got their papers the day before!”

THE CHURCH RENTS SPACE FOR SEVERAL ORGANIZATIONS’ MEETINGS, including the Indivisible Fighting 9. That group asked permission to place 1000 stuffed and other toys on stakes on the lawn, an art installation to represent the thousands of children separated from their parents. “We gave them our blessing.”

A recent sermon was titled “We Need Heroes.” Rev. Schoenhals described the relationship between the prophet Elijah and Elisha, as hero-to-trainee. The Reverend so pictured the scene that I felt as though I were walking behind the two, listening to every word. Elisha looked up to Elijah’s strong stands against the earthly powers, the political ones.

The Reverend has been accused of being too political but, he insists, and this lesson shows, he is simply being biblical.

It was thrice-weekly exposures to the Bible in his youth that led him into further studies and to the ministry. He enjoyed the in-depth Bible appreciation courses in the Liberal Arts program at an evangelical college in Indiana. A Biblical Literature major taught critical thinking and analysis. Greek and Church History and biblical languages and interpretation inspired him.

ASSIGNMENTS BY THE DENOMINATION have included seven years as a campus minister at the University of Michigan; an urban mission in Indianapolis with a small, diverse congregation housed in a gigantic, historic building; a brief stint on the West Coast; and eight years as pastor of a rural church in Armada, Michigan in the early years. Here at Ferndale First the congregation is also remarkably diverse, with about 40 percent Black members: African-American, several from Jamaica, with Ghana represented as well. He will be retiring in 2022, so Ferndale will be his last, although he will help celebrate this church’s 100th anniversary.

One advantage of the pandemic is that one may secretly attend a service via Zoom. With the link on the church FaceBook page, you’ll see Rev. Schoenhals sitting on the steps up to the chancel for Children’s Time. He looks like a grandpa. When he spoke about his grandson, his face lit up with great delight. I asked his wife if, when there are children with him on those steps, he is much more animated than on Zoom. My suspicions were confirmed with a “You got it right!”



By Rose Carver

RIFINO VALENTINE WAS INSPIRED TO START HIS VALENTINE DISTILLING COMPANY in direct rebellion of the manufacturing standards by big alcohol companies. Coming from a background on Wall Street, he saw big players making big moves in what he considered to be the wrong direction.

IT ALL STARTED WITH THE DIRTY MARTINI. Valentine would frequent different swanky bars to enjoy this beloved drink after a long day at work. He would try vodkas with labels that said “handcrafted” but, upon further inspection, proved to be just another mass-produced liquor.

“Put simply, profits became the chief goal instead of the quality of the product,” Valentine explained. This prompted him to create a business model that focused on quality.

Valentine Distilling is located in 965 Wanda Street in Ferndale, just down the street from their cocktail bar, on 161 Vester Avenue. Valentine claims the small cocktail bar serves the “best stuff in the world.” You can find this “stuff” all over the Midwest, as it is distributed in 12 states, spanning the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

These spirits are award-winning, and have won best-vodka-in-the-world two years in a row. Their gin has also been named the best-American gin, and their cask gin has won a world’s-best award as well. That doesn’t begin to cover all of the awards won over the years.

Which one is Rifino’s favorite? He says choosing a favorite liquor is like choosing a favorite kid.

“IN THE FALL MONTHS I ENJOY OUR BARREL-AGED GIN OR OUR BOURBON. In the spring and summer time, I go for our White Blossom vodka,” he says, boasting the quality of their flavored vodkas. “Nothing is better than sitting on a sunny patio with a White Blossom cocktail.”

Like many businesses in the area, Valentine has been hit really hard by the pandemic. Forty-five percent of their distribution is to bars and restaurants, and the shutdown has been devastating. “It’s been horrible, a really tough year,” Valentine said. “We are still trying to build back our business, but we are going to be okay.” Early on in the pandemic, the distillery also made a Valentine brand hand-sanitizing liquid. A sincere thanks goes to the customers who bought those and their “to-go” cocktails last year, as he says it helped them out a lot.

The City of Ferndale also gets a special Valentine thank you, as they allowed the cocktail lounge to expand their patio seating to a couple street parking spots when indoor seating was restricted. The lounge is now back to 50 percent occupancy, and outdoor seating is also available.

ANOTHER WAY THAT VALENTINE DISTILLING goes above and beyond for their customers and community is their commitment to what they call their “Clean Green Initiative.” The business is in their third year of a ten-year sustainability initiative, which includes making their 20,000 square feet manufacturing facility completely sustainable. They installed a system that will allow them to reuse up to 98 percent of their water. Being from a Great Lakes state, Valentine says they take their water usage seriously. Their green initiative has also allowed for the installation of LED lighting in the facility, and an ambient temperature chilling system that uses much less energy.

“Large liquor companies are making billions of dollars off of Michigan consumers,” Valentine said. “We want to influence customers to demand more from those companies to be responsible when it comes to energy efficiency.” Valentine claims that because these larger liquor companies have no tie to the region in which they sell their product, they don’t make decisions that are responsible for the community.

Get the good stuff from Valentine Distilling, and support regional manufacturing companies who have your best interests in mind. It’s good to know what goes on behind the scenes, and their product speaks for itself.

By Ingrid Sjostrand
Photos ©2021 Bill Gemmell

FERNDALE HAS ALWAYS had a reputation as a welcoming and inclusive community. The global pandemic seems to have only reinforced those ideals as neighbors, city government and businesses united to help each other and bring joy in the city’s own unique way.

MAYOR MELANIE PIANA REFLECTS ON THIS PAST YEAR IN THE CITY and how residents kept their spirits up, like through the T-Rex Walking Club which involved residents, and Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks members, parading the streets – socially distanced – in inflatable costumes.

“For me the real bright spot was the community coming together, supporting their neighbors and businesses to help people meet their needs, as well as bring joy,” Piana said. “I was really inspired by the Elks Club T-Rex parade, people decorating their front lawns, others checking to make sure people had enough food to eat. It was really inspiring to see.”

Outside of residents uplifting their neighbors, the pandemic provided the opportunity for Ferndale government to find new, and renewed, ways to meet the needs of its citizens.

“We wanted to make sure our older adult residents were being taken care of. We coordinated with local organizations and volunteers for meal deliveries, sent out flyers that included state and county COVID resource hotlines so we could reach those who might not have access to the Internet,” Ferndale City Council Member Kat Bruner James said. “We are also in the process of re-invigorating our printed city newsletter. I’m not sure when we stopped producing it, but we found that residents really appreciated the updates on initiatives and things going on in the city data from a community survey in early 2020 showed us that residents want this, but the pandemic highlighted the critical need for this particular form of communication.”

Collaboration and connection grew in many ways during the pandemic. Bruner James noted more residents attending City Council meetings with the new virtual format and Piana saw a connection among city departments to support small businesses.

Mayor Melanie Piana

“There is a new spirit of partnership between the city, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and the South Oakland Area Regional Chamber of Commerce,” Piana said. “They’ve really leveraged each other’s strengths and expertise to respond to our small-business communities needs and became a source of information and guidance for how to apply for small business grants and navigate any employment issues.

The DDA contracted with an HR firm at the beginning of the pandemic because a lot of the small businesses had human resources needs. We’ve been deploying and distributing PPE (personal protective equipment) provided through safety kits by the County,” she added. “So, we’ve tried a lot of different approaches to support our businesses. It’s been a chance to have partnerships that brought a lot of value and benefit to our small businesses across the city.”

ON TOP OF ENSURING THE SAFETY OF THE COMMUNITY, the city continued with several scheduled projects for 2020. In August, City Council approved its Affordability & Inclusive Housing Action Plan to create a blueprint to increase housing options at all price points throughout the city. They’ve also expanded open outdoor public spaces, like the “Grassy Knoll” at 9 Mile and Bermuda and patio zones for restaurant use. They are currently working on a proposal to require standards for short-term rentals, like Airbnbs, in the city.

“We are finalizing the short-term rental ordinances now,” Bruner James said. “Next, we will be looking into the

Council Member Kat Bruner James

vacant and abandoned housing and how to better manage and rebuild those. This will be an important project as having a high rate of vacant homes can lead to a lot of issues for residents including property value and pests.”

“We have data that Ferndale has an eight percent rate of vacant single-family homes, so we’re going to dive deeper into why and understand what is contributing to that number and identify solutions for this issue,” Piana adds.

As we move into 2021, the city is preparing for some exciting changes along Woodward Ave. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) will be repaving the road between 8 Mile and 10 Mile starting in 2022. In partnership with Pleasant Ridge, Ferndale has applied for the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant to improve safety and modes of transportation options as part of their Woodward Avenue Improvement Project which, if approved, will coincide with the repaving.

“I’m really excited to take advantage of this repaving opportunity and our two cities have come together in a strong partnership supporting making improvements on Woodward,” Piana said. “The grant has been submitted and we’re hoping to hear back by July.”

Mayor Pro Tem Rayon Leaks-May

Residents will have another opportunity to come together as a community to provide input on the final design and engineering of the Complete Streets project. Piana suggests keeping an eye out for meeting details in the next few months and emphasizes the necessity of these improvements.

“WHAT THE PANDEMIC SHOWED US IS THE REAL VALUE of open and public space and how much having access to public space is important to the public’s health,” Piana said. “You need great sidewalks that connect you somewhere and access for people who may need to use mobility devices. These are all things that the pandemic really doubled down on. We knew it but, until we had to rely on it completely for social well-being and to interact with people in our communities, it wasn’t as apparent.”

As vaccinations roll out and businesses begin reopening, it can feel like things might be back to normal by summer but Piana wants residents to remain cautiously optimistic.

“Looking ahead for 2021, we’re still in a pandemic. I like to use a music analogy – we’re crescendo-ing up the

Council Member Laura Mikulski
Not Pictured But Also Serving: Greg Pawlica

vaccinations and decrescendo-ing the COVID cases,” she said. “The City will be keeping the focus on safety and supporting small business recovery. We’re at more than a year of hunkering down at home, everybody is sort of sick and tired of the pandemic, but we really still need to do our part and stay safe.”

By Ingrid Sjostrand
Photos ©2021 Bill Gemmell

AFTER A YEAR OF SO MUCH CHANGE, LOSS AND LONELINESS, it feels almost necessary to search for the bright spots. To look back and find some good and look forward to the fresh opportunities of a new year. In living up to its name, Pleasant Ridge seems to be doing just that.

Commissioner Ann Perry & Mayor Kurt Metzger

MAYOR KURT METZGER has found that the strong sense of community and familiarity among residents has helped many get through the worst days of the past year.

“With the arrival of Spring and vaccines, to see more and more neighbors out, walking dogs, pushing strollers or biking indicates a change toward normalcy,” he said. “Just the idea that we’ve been in our homes and isolated – you see this look on people’s faces when we see each other on the streets. Almost a release.”

Others like Ann Perry, one of Pleasant Ridge’s four City Commissioners, found that the forced transition to virtual meetings and events has allowed for increased community involvement.

“That’s one of the most important things I, and all of us, do as commissioners. We’re here to listen to what residents are saying and make sure those things are reflected in policy and practice,” she said. “With remote meetings, it’s given people more access to that. They might not have come to meetings before but now it’s so easy for more people to interact and that has been an excellent experience.”

And this opportunity for resident involvement extends past just virtual commission meetings. Every City department, board, foundation and block club benefits from the involvement of residents and volunteers.

“This pandemic has been such a psychological strain on everyone’s emotional health and having those connections makes a huge difference,” Perry said. “Anyone seeking ways to connect can always reach out to any of the city commission members through the city website. We can always help connect them to different groups and communities.”

IN ALL, THE COLLABORATION OF CITY DEPARTMENTS AND RESIDENTS has ensured the sense of community wasn’t lost in the isolated year and may have lessened the negative impacts of the pandemic.

“Despite 105 reported cases of COVID and one COVID related death over the year, I think we survived pretty well. Budget-wise we were not impacted, as we were able to increase our general fund balance. Obviously, services were delayed and offices were closed but, unlike other communities, we are mainly residential and most of the impact was on social life and activity,” Metzger said. “Outside of that, as a City, we were able to continue most of the projects we had planned.”

Those projects include the addition of two new pavilions in the city: One on the East Side at Gainsboro Park and the other at the community pool on the West Side.

“I think those will be really great spaces for people to gather and have their parties and little events. They are a really nice addition to the park and pool area and are beautifully designed,” Perry said.

As we look forward to 2021, there are plans for even more projects and city improvements, including collaboration with the City of Ferndale on a Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant to add bicycle tracks to Woodward Avenue and streetscape updates. The largest project beginning this year will be updating the water lines throughout Pleasant Ridge.

“THE BIGGEST THING WE’RE NOW FACING IS THIS STATE MANDATE to get rid of all the lead lines,” Metzger said. “We’re trying to find ways to minimize the financial impact on residents, but it’s not going to be easy. We’re going to have a town hall in April to explain why it’s necessary, what the ramifications are and why we just can’t absorb the cost ourselves.”

“It’s an almost unintentional benefit of having such sandy soil, our water mains never broke,” Perry added. “Unfortunately, that has put us in a tough situation because they are now over 100-years-old and we have to do these lead line updates.”

While this new year might bring new challenges, Metzger wants to assure residents that they are exploring all the potential ways to ease the pain of these necessary updates and have them concentrate on things to look forward to this year, including the re-opening of the community pool.

“The pool is the number-one attraction, followed by summer camp, the swim team and those kinds of activities,” he said. “That’s what people miss the most so we’re just hoping that we can reopen and operate as close to normal as possible.”

“Our Recreation Department is so smart and love what they do. It’s fun to watch them figure out how to navigate this,” Perry added. “I think this will be an exciting summer!”

Maybe one last bright spot of the past year is the opportunity to find excitement and joy in the little things in 2021.

“While many individual lives have been altered, I believe that the overall effect of the pandemic is to further tighten our community bonds,” Metzger adds. “We’re all in this together and the idea of getting back to some level of normalcy will be plenty exciting.”