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Sea and lake creatures coming to Great Lakes Crossing Outlets

A London-based entertainment company is bringing its expertise in aquariums to the Great Lakes Crossing Outlets in Auburn Hills, building an aquatic attraction inside the shopping and entertainment complex.

Sea Life, which has more than 40 aquarium attractions around the world and six in the U.S., will be built in what used to be a GameWorks. Demolition on the space started about two weeks ago. The complicated project will take more than a year with an opening date expected by April or May 2015, says Scott Berlow, general manager of Great Lakes Crossing Outlets.

Sea Life Michigan will give visitors up-close looks at more than 30 displays that are centered around a tropical ocean tank with a walkthrough underwater tunnel.

United Kingdom-headquartered Merlin Entertainments, owners of Sea Life, also build Legolands and numerous other themed attractions in 12 countries and three continents.

Berlow says the company chose Auburn Hills and Great Lakes because of its draw for tourists, including Canadians and because of its connection to international and national auto suppliers who bring families to Michigan to live permanently or on extended stays. He says 21 percent of visitors to Great Lakes Crossing are tourists that have traveled from more than 50 miles away.

"We know Sea Life draws from more than 100 miles," Berlow says. "This is going to be a great attraction. Certainly for a number of miles, there really is nothing that exists like this….They really ID'd the area for a variety of reasons. It's always location, location, location. The access to I-75 was important too."

Berlow says Sea Life builds on the "entertainment" in the Great Lakes motto: Shopping, Dining and Entertainment. Sea Life will be located across from Rainforest Cafe.

"You'd think they'd have a problem with that, but actually they're thrilled." Sea Life complements Rainforest Cafe as well as the Bass Pro Shop, which is also a draw for metro Detroiters and tourists alike. Field trips will be a regular part of Sea Life Michigan, which has a classroom and field-trip educators on staff and places an emphasis on conservation.

The aquarium at Great Lakes Crossing Outlets will, like the others, will be an immersive and educational experience that puts visitors up close to ocean life. But aquarium visitors will also learn about lake species. Sea Life is also  involved in rescue operations.

The plans for Sea Life Michigan call for more than 30 displays of shrimp, sharks, sea rays, sea horses and starfish. The unique Great Lakes element will feature creatures most associated with the Great Lakes region.

"The naysayers would say we've got a foreign company coming into the area…This creates jobs. This is good for business…It's all positive."

Source: Scott Berlow, general manager, Great Lakes Crossing Outlets
Writer: Kim North Shine

Teenage fashionista opens Faded Raven Boutique in downtown Clawson

A 16-year-old's new clothing boutique is one of several new businesses that have opened in recent weeks in downtown Clawson.

The Faded Raven Boutique, which sells from the store and online, is owned by Ines Soulliere, a 16-year-old enterprising lover of fashion.

"We're very excited for her," says Joan Horton, executive director of the Clawson Downtown Development Authority. "We're really working hard to support our entrepreneurs."

The Faded Raven, which is located at 38 E. 14 Mile Road and sells trendy, unique and affordable clothes and accessories, is one of several businesses that will be celebrated with a group grand opening in the next few weeks, she says.

Others include Spark, which sells decorative glass and gifts; Clawson Antiques; and R.J.'s Diner.

Source: Joan Horton, executive director, Clawson DDA
Writer: Kim North Shine

Buy Michigan Now readies for annual market in Northville

A festival that comes to Northville each August may look like any summertime fair, but behind the temporary town of tents, banners, bands and children's play areas is a successful effort to build up fledgling Michigan-made businesses.

For five years the Buy Michigan Now festival has shut down Main & Center streets and opened 2 1/2 blocks of downtown to small- and medium-sized Michigan businesses looking for exposure for their goods and services. Dozens and dozens of times over the years, says Buy Michigan Now founder Lisa Diggs, the vendor-customer connection made at the fair propels entrepreneurial ideas into commercial reality.

"We've had businesses that grew out of the event in a great way, where they've gone on to get on store shelves. Others have opened their own shops or offices. We're sort of a little breeding ground for that kind of success," says Diggs.

This year, as in past years, about 100 vendors will bring all sorts of products, such as foods, patio furniture, smartphone repair services, to the festival. Small businesses in downtown Northville are also part of the event, which draws large crowds with its carefully-screened vendors, a beer and wine garden where Michigan crafters sell their liquid handiwork, live entertainment and a kids' play area spread across the festival area.

The 2014 festival is Aug. 1, 2 and 3, and applications for vendors are now being taken online here.

"It's a campaign and a festival with a cause," says Diggs, an entrepreneur herself. Through Buy Michigan Now and her consulting work as owner of The Catalyst Co., she promotes businesses in a number of ways throughout the year, including providing publicity and media exposure that is normally too costly for a start-up.

The first year of the Buy Michigan Now campaign was in 2007 and came with heavy involvement from the state of Michigan and Gov. Jennifer Granholm. It was a weeklong event with numerous celebrations and promotion. It formed at a time when Michigan's economy was tanking and when the mindset of buying local was taking shape.

"We're literally about getting more people to sit up and take notice of where their product or service comes from. The idea when we started was to have a day for people to think about how to buy only Michigan products, make a meal only from Michigan. Then we realized we needed much more than a day."

Source: Lisa Diggs, founder Buy Michigan Now
Writer: Kim North Shine

Plymouth's Mattress 4 U brings organic to the bedroom

In the 1980s, Mattress 4 U was into the waterbed craze and since then it's followed trends in sleeping, the latest being organic mattresses and a desire by consumers to know what's inside their mattress and what chemicals have been used to treat it.

The store started in Greenville in western Michigan and expanded to Plymouth in the summer of 2013, opening a store at 44717 5 Mile Road. It serves mostly Northville and Plymouth and calls itself Michigan's only certified organic mattress retailers.

Shoppers can find mattresses made from 100-percent organic cotton, natural rubber latex, renewable products, cruelty-free Eco Wool and with no chemicals.

It's a growing business, and unlike waterbeds of the 1980s, may be here to stay, says owner Billy Pennington.

Source: Billy Pennington, owner, Mattress 4U
Writer: Kim North Shine

Lark & Co. revives the old general store in new Birmingham spot

The vision for Michael Collins and David Zawicki's new Lark & Co. in downtown Birmingham is modern day general store.

The pair who previously ran Oliver's Trendz, a women's accessories store, in the same storefront at 138 N. Maple.  After shutting down for renovations, they reopened nearly two weeks ago and have stocked the 1,100-square-foot space with products inspired by a 1940s general store.

Variety is the name of the game: handmade candy, furniture, foodstuffs, lighting, purses, speciality soaps, rugs, books.

Collins and Zawicki have lived in Birmingham 17 years and see a general store as a way to round out downtown Birmingham's retail offerings, a way to keep locals from leaving town to shop.

Next door to Lark & Co. is Suhm-thing, a gift store that is also owned and operated by Collins and Zawicki and has a a selection of Michigan goods and unusual items from artists and designers around the world.

Part of the their business plan is also to convey how much good supporting a local merchant can do for the economy and to set them themselves apart by providing a level of service that's harder to find at chains, malls and big box stores, Collins says.

Source: Ed Nakfoor, Birmingham PSD, and Michael Collins, owner, Lark&Co.
Writer: Kim North Shine

Dearborn gift shop adds second location in Detroit

After five years in the making as a favorite gift shop and little girls' party spot in west Dearborn, Sophia's Giftique has opened a second location, this one in Detroit.

The New Center store inside the office building on West Grand Boulevard and Woodward will offer a similar mix of personal and home accessories, gifts and holiday items as well as its speciality products, Simply Victoria, a handmade greeting card line designed by the mother of one owner, and B3 (Bath, Body, Beauty) which was created by the sister of that store owner.

The store offers free gift wrapping and host private princess parties, tea parties and is frequently the site of charity events.

Sophia's owners see the shop becoming a stop in a series of retail and eating establishments that line the walkways through the New Center that's connected to The Fisher, Cadillac Place and St. Regis Hotel.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Sophia's Giftique and West Dearborn Downtown Development Authority

Pet & Paw caters to pet owners with organic, locally made products

What started as a home-based pet walking and pet sitting business in 2010 has matured into its own office and boutique in downtown Ferndale.

Pet Care AuPair and its newest venture, the Pet & Paw boutique in Ferndale, really go hand and hand, something owner Kristen Schmitt and her team figured out as they got to know their clients -- the four-footed, two-footed and no-footed.

"More and more clients started asking about pet nutrition. Their pets were getting sick and the more we talked the common denominator was China, foods made and processed there.

She answered by researching and finding more pure, Made In USA foods and treats, many targeted to address very specific problems for all kinds of animals. Her pet care service counts dogs, cats, birds, lizards, snakes, rodents, fish, horses in Oxford and two pot-bellied pigs among the clients.

"There are seriously so many great products out there," she says. "I've aligned myself with these manufacturers because i really believe in their products."

It's those products that Schmitt stocks at Pet & Paw, the boutique in front of the store she opened at 23233 Woodward Avenue about four blocks from 9 Mile. Behind the shop, she runs the pet care service that's grown enough in just two years to require a team of five independent contractors, and one full-time and one part-time employee. Among them is a veterinary technician and an animal behaviorist.

"We always say we're your pet care advocate. If we don't know answers we'll get them. And we never stand in as a substitute for a veterinarian."

It's just that they get to know their animals well -- so much so that employees mourn if pets pass on -- and they have learned through experience how to help with simple problems, namely nutrition-related, and what specific breeds do and don't respond to.

"This has just sort of metamorphosed into a great thing, and we have a really good team in place..I felt confident that we were ready for an office and retail," she says. "And it's been really good so far."

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Kristen Schmitt, founder Pet Care AuPair and Pet & Paw

FUN STUFF in Birmingham goes from retail lark to local business

You could say that Denise Kulak and her new Birmingham business were raised in a barn.

And it wouldn't be an insult.

FUN STUFF, a small, eclectic boutique that sells affordable jewelry, art, locally-made treats and more, was started, funnily enough, on a lark Up North one recent summer as her husband, sculptor Gary Kulak, set up his business for the summer.

"He was doing his sign for Gary Kulak Sculpture, I said, 'What about me?'  He said, 'What do you want to be?' I said, 'I want to be …and other fun stuff.' Thats how it all started…

The business, if it could be called that at the time, was set up "in my pole barn up north, just to do if for the summer,"

"I literally just threw out a sandwich board sign that said FUN STUFF. I still use it here at the store in Birmingham."

She used her connections from a 25-plus year career in retail to buy the goods she would sell.

"It just worked," she says.

She decided to try it closer to their year-round home in Birmingham. FUN STUFF, which keeps prices low but sells "quality things that I would be proud to give as a gift," opened Oct. 11 in the Adams Square Shopping Center. It's a short walk from the Kulak's home, the sort of commute Kulak has dreamed of for years.

"It's going really well. I've got a lot of traffic. I've seen a lot of people from the neighborhood. I wanted to be community-based and be near my home. I wanted to re-create the whole experience from Up North and do it in my neighborhood" says Kulak, who also sells her husband's signature chair sculptures. His work can be seen throughout Michigan and in other states.

Oddly enough the 200-square-foot store in the Adams Square Shopping Center is even smaller than the 500-square foot pole barn where FUN STUFF was born.

Kulak, who's been laid off from high-level retail jobs three times in 10 years and is a fourth generation retailer, is excited about getting back to what she loves - selling goods - but she's more driven to make the shop a place for socializing and getting to know locals.

Kulak is a master's degree candidate from Walsh College and is also a beneficiary of a business start-up program offered by the Walsh College Wayne State University Blackstone Launchpad, which is funded by the Blackstone Charitable Trust Foundation and is a partnership with the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan, Automation Alley and the University of Miami.

Launchpad gave Kulak - and other entrepreneurs enrolled at Walsh and Wayne State - advice and assistance in starting the business, including feasibility studies, business plans and more.

Kulak is grateful, but again, this is a business she wants based on relationships, friendships with some salesemanship thrown in.

"I want this to be a place where every product has a story and every customer shares one…It's not just about selling stuff….It's about the woman who comes in here 2,3 times a week, tells a joke, a story or shares something important to her."

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Denise Kulak, owner, FUN STUFF

lululemon opening store in downtown Birmingham

A prominent downtown Birmingham location will be filled by international retailer lululemon before the winter holidays, the second metro Detroit store and fourth Michigan store of the popular yoga and running outfitter.

John Heiney, executive director of the Principal Shopping District in Birmingham, says the Canadian athletic retailer will take the majority of space at 101 South Old Woodward, a space vacated by Ann Taylor Loft in January.

He says a second national retailer is finalizing plans to move into the remaining square footage in the prominent storefront, and the name can be disclosed within days.

A store such as lululemon, he says, fits Birmingham, and is the latest example of the city's decision to hire a national retail recruiter.

"This lifestyle brand aligns well with Birmingham customer and they will draw from a large segment of the market," he says.

Source: John Heiney, executive director, Birmingham Principal Shopping District
Writer: Kim North Shine

Cash mob plans hit on downtown Mount Clemens

Lovers of the Clem, downtown Mount Clemens, are mobilizing -- via the Internet and social media sites, a cash mob to hit local businesses this Saturday.

The cash mob concept, believed to be started about a year ago in Buffalo and Cleveland, says Mount Clemens Downtown Development Authority director Arthur Mullen, functions like a flash mob, which uses social media to bring together dancers to perform in a surprise location.

However, cash mobs bring their money and their support to local business in an effort to give a boost to businesses' bottom lines and publicity to the buy local movement.

The object of the Clem's cash mobsters is Tis Country, 55 Macomb Place, a gift shop and boutique of countrified home and personal items. Mobsters will spend at least $10 there and are invited to a post-mob party and $2.50 burgers at Detroit Pub, 76 Macomb Place, where there will also be food and drink specials.

The mob runs from 1-4 p.m. Saturday and anyone is invited.

A second cash mob has been set for March 24, National Cash Mob Action Day, at Gemini Moon, a purveyor of metaphysical and spiritual products and services. The after mob happens at Madison’s Pub.

"Cash mob organizers wanted to create a new way to support and draw attention to independent business owners, Mullen says. "Their goal is to have cash mobs make an actual difference for small business owners during this tough economy."

Source: Arthur Mullen, director Mount Clemens Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine

Downtown Mount Clemens retailers take to trend of shared space

Retailers in downtown Mount Clemens are jumping on the national retailing trend of sharing space.

For at least the last decade corporate chains, especially restaurants, have shared space -- and costs and customers. Local independent retailers are seeing the wisdom in the trend of joint stores, AKA dual brands, nationally, says Arthur Mullen, the director of the Mount Clemens Downtown Development Authority.

He sees the Clem and its historic downtown as a "hotbed for joint stores," a business approach that not only saves start-up costs but also brings together businesses that complement one another.

Several businesses have gone into joint operations in the last year, and Mullen expects more to follow suit soon. There's the Bodhi Seed Yoga Studio and the MINDs Eye Bookstore and Wellness Center, which were the first joint stores to open in the summer of 2010. Mio Dio Boutique and TGM Skateboards followed in the fall of 2010.

This past summer the Used on New Bookstore opened with two joint stores -- Weirdsville and Redesigning Women -- all owned by family members.

Kathy & Co., an  established hair salon, brought in Big City Glam to sell accessories in the front of the salon.

"With two or three entrepreneurs pooling their resources, joint stores are inherently less risky to a pair or group of entrepreneurs versus a single owner," Mullen says. "Joint stores may also compliment each other, building and guaranteeing foot traffic for both retailers."

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Arthur Mullen, director, Mount Clemens Downtown Development Authority

Downtown Birmingham adds 15 new spots to shop, eat, hang

A mix of local and national retailers, restaurants and other businesses are making downtown Birmingham their address.

A recruiter hired by the city's Principal Shopping District has attracted some of the newcomers. The Principal Shopping District functions somewhat like a downtown development authority but does not capture taxes as traditional DDAs do or buy or purchase land. The PSD uses funds from a special assessment on commercial properties to operate. That includes marketing downtown Birmingham and hiring a recruiter to find national retailers.

One is Paper Source, a Chicago-based stationery and paper supply store that has 44 locations, with seven opening nationally this year. Paper Source is filling the space occupied by Sherman's Shoes at 115 West Maple.

About 15 businesses, from restaurants and candy stores to salons and clothing stores, have opened recently or are expected to open soon.

Look for Detroit Guitar, which is under construction at 243 W. Maple and will bring music lessons and music gear in funky surroundings to downtown in September.

What Crepe?, a Euro dining eatery, is moving into 167 Old North Woodward. Sanders, the ice cream and candy store, is relocating just down the street to 172 North Old Woodward. Shish Kabob and Subway are adding to eating options, as are three bistros: Townhouse, Bella Piatti and Churchills. Revive, a men's clothing store, is coming to 163 W. Maple, where Adventures in Toys once was. Salons, H202 and Nude, opened in May on Hamilton Row.

"We definitely have had an uptick in businesses coming in," says John Heiney, director of Birmingham's Principal Shopping District.
Last year there was a net increase of 15 businesses, including spas, a florist, a jeweler, home decorating stores and food establishments.

"We seem to be on a similar pace this year," he adds.

The recruiting effort is focusing on national retailers looking for boutique-size operations of 2,500 square feet or less, he says. Apparel stores are the main focus. City Manager Bob Bruner has been on the job since February and comes from Ferndale, which is known for a vibrant downtown.

"We hope the national retailers will join our excellent local retailers," Heiney says.

Source: John Heiney, director, Birmingham Principal Shopping District; Birmingham City Manager Bob Bruner
Writer: Kim North Shine

Downtown Ferndale gets 15 new businesses since spring

The businesses and the variety keep coming to Ferndale.

Of late, the downtown with the vacancy rate and activity that's the envy of the region has welcomed a European style coffee shop and cafe and a boutique. An animal clinic is opening today, while a microbrew store may be selling its suds within a few months. The Green Thumb Garden Center on Woodward has doubled its space, and a handful of other shops are updating. Also, a new jewelry store is scheduled to open at the prominent corner of Woodward and E. 9 Mile.

The Euro-style cafe, Torino Espresso Bar, serves much more than a strong cup of coffee. It sells signature cocktails and fresh food, much of it from local farms and a mod interior meant to invite lounging and conversation. Torino Espresso Bar is located below the Lofts on 9, a project from the same developers, at 201 E. 9 Mile.

Not far away is On the Nine, a clothing boutique. And on Woodward, the West Woodward Animal Clinic, will take care of the city's furry residents. The microbrew store, Eight Degrees Plato Beery Company, will be located at 611 W. 9 Mile.

About 15 new businesses have opened just this spring.

"We have new businesses opening all the time," says Chris Hughes, communications and marketing manager at the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority. "It's amazing."

Source: Chris Hughes, communications and marketing manager, Ferndale Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine

Spring welcomes 15 new lifestyle businesses to Ferndale

A mix of new, expanded and renovated businesses are ready to welcome the spring shoppers, sidewalk strollers and nightlifers to downtown Ferndale, and with an under five-percent vacancy rate, the city is bucking the national trend that has "For sale" and "For lease" signs hanging in so many downtown business windows.

Some 15 businesses have recently opened or will open in coming weeks, changing the scene in the heart of downtown along Woodward Avenue and 9 Mile Road.

There's the massive Rust Belt Artists Market inside the closed Gap store at Woodward and 9 Mile, a luxe bar called The Oakland, the Orchid nightclub, the Cupcake Station, Nyla Motley designer women's clothing, Cacao Tree Cafe, and more.

West Woodward Animal Clinic will open as planned and No Pins Required will move this spring and become Modern Natural Baby at a larger location at 224 W. Nine Mile. Mother Fletchers will move into a new but smaller, more upscale funk-focused space at 210 W. 9 Mile Road in May.

Add to the mix Sugar Dessert Lounge, Street Legal Customs' larger digs, Grasshopper Underground, which has renovated and added outdoor dining, a vintage clothing store called Sweet Repeat, Essential Massage, and Rainy Day Hobbies, and Ferndale trucks on with its trend of offering the eclectic.

While the weak economy has hit Ferndale, forcing even some favorites to close, it is one city that has seen a growth in business.

"This is a really great thing to see," says Cristina Sheppard-Decius, executive director of the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority. "We're continuing to chip away at our vacancy rate, which is awesome, and really with some of the changes occurring, such as the Rust Belt Market in a building that that's been vacant a long time, we're bringing more life and vitality to Ferndale."

Spring and fall often are big times for businesses to make moves, she says.

"There's always waves of businesses coming in. A lot of times it's tied to leases coming available, as well as a rebirth at the beginning of the calendar year and then springtime when businesses tend to want to open and be ready for the summer crowds...Fall is also a big time for businesses that want to be ready for Christmas."

What's remarkable, Sheppard-Decius says, is the number of expansions.

"Some of the moves that have been occurring are businesses moving into larger spaces," she says. "This is exciting to see businesses are reinvesting and expanding. It's really a good sign of the economy bouncing back."

Source: Cristina Sheppard-Decius, executive director of the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine

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