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Grosse Pointe's El's Boutique and Village Palm swap storefronts

Two Grosse Pointe entrepreneurs, neighbors in the city's Village downtown district, have swapped stores, attempting to right-size their businesses by moving into spaces that better fit their sales.

El's Boutique, a teen and tween store selling girls' gifts, jewelry, accessories, room decor, and items for moms cut its floor space in half when it moved to the spot occupied by Village Palm, a four-year-old Lily Pulitzer Signature store and vendor of preppy brands such as Vineyard Vines and Vera Bradley.

The moves on Kercheval Avenue, the Village's main street, took place nearly three weeks ago and doubled Village Palm's space to about 2,000 square feet at 17110 Kercheval. El's swtiched to about 1,000 square feet next door.

"We've had a great response. I can't even tell you how perfectly it's working out," says Ellen Durand, owner of El's, which was formerly the Village Toy Co.

The new El's also has a party room in the basement for the older set, unlike its previous party room next door, which was ideal for 5- to 10-year-olds. The new party room can host later parties, has karaoke, a duct-tape crafting area and other tween-friendly activities.

Village Toy was a local institution for 25 years. It couldn't compete with big-box toy stores and online merchants, Durand says.  A few years ago it added the girls section for tweens and teens, and it became clear that toys would no longer be the family business, Durand says

"The market was going to tweens. We saw that. Everyone saw that," she says.

Village Palm, on the other hand, was busting out of the seams, finding an eager and loyal market for its pink and greens, plaid, floral and flamingo prints.

The goal of the right-sizing for El's and Village Palm, which doubled its space, is to put the businesses in their sweet spots, Durand says. Even if her business booms, she prefers the smaller space and thinks the swap is a mutually beneficial.

"The smaller store is more manageable, which I like," she says. "I think our stores complement each other. Our customers seem to shop at both, so being right next door works out very well."

Source: Ellen Durand, owner El's Boutique
Writer: Kim North Shine

Lawrence Tech's bio-robotics lab gets $50,000 boost

A new bio-robotics lab that will teach Lawrence Technological University students studying biomedical engineering and robotics engineering is the recipient of a $50,000 grant from the DENSO North American Foundation.

The new human-robotic interaction facility is expected to be ready for learning by the end of 2013, says Lawrence Tech spokesperson Eric Pope, and prepares students to work with robots capable of high levels of artificial intelligence.

The lab is expected to build a relationship between the Southfield-based university and the manufacturing and medical care industries.

The new lab, as well as an existing lab, which is being updated, will be outfitted with wireless sensors, 3D technology, navigation control and software capable of guiding medical and manufacturing feats by guiding robots and their artificial intelligence.

The mission of the DENSO foundation is to advance innovation in engineering technology.

Eric Meyer, an LTU assistant professor who teaches biomedical engineering and developed the grant proposal, says in a statement that the goal is to build robots that can interact with humans effectively and safely. It's crucial because of the expanding use of robotic technology.

Faculty from several departments in LTU’s College of Engineering are working together to build an innovative, multidisciplinary engineering program that can help develop next-generation robotic systems.  

Assistant professor Kun Hua works in LTU’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and says in the same statement announcing the grant:  “The use of sensors has taken robots to the next level of innovation. Sensors have increased the performance of robots through adaptive multimedia signal processing techniques, which allow the robots to perform several human functions."

Pope says the strength of LTU’s robotics engineering program was recently cited in U.S. News & World Report's “Best Colleges 2014” guidebook.

Source: Eric Pope, spokesman, Lawrence Technological University
Writer: Kim North Shine

Holy Cannoli's expands to OU campus

The reach of Holy Cannoli's family recipe for sweet-filled Italian pastry is expanding once again.

The downtown Rochester bakery that opened in 2010 first expanded to a second store in Berkley in April, then started selling its goods last week on the campus of Oakland University.

Traditional cannoli and cannoli chips will be sold at the coffee shop inside OU's Human Health Building on Squirrel and Walton roads.

Holy Cannoli's, which come in several flavors, are also on the menu at D'Amato's in downtown Royal Oak, and can be found at Eastern Market on Saturdays and the Bank of Antiques store in Washington Township.

Source: Nicole Franey, co-owner, Holy Cannoli's
Writer: Kim North Shine

Branding Birmingham

Downtown Birmingham is taking on the indoor shopping malls and big box retailers by promoting its 70-plus home, home accessory stores and home design businesses in one easy-to-shop district that comes with better atmosphere.

The city's Principal Shopping District is working to capitalize on its home-related stores -- contemporary, rustic Italian, chic, and Northern Michigan styles among them -- with the branding campaign, BLUEPRINT: THE BIRMINGHAM HOME COLLECTION.

The first Blueprint event was in May in connection with spring and summer decor updates. The next is the weekend of Oct. 3-5, the Fashion Your Home for Fall 2013. It will feature stores with trunk shows, sales and promotions, how-to seminars and more during the weekend. Check out enjoybirmingham.com's website or Facebook page for details.

John Heiney, executive director of the Principal Shopping District that markets the downtown and downtown retailers, says the intent is not to say Birmingham is a better destination but an alternative seriously worth considering.

"I wouldn't take it upon myself to say better or worse. What we're really saying is people may not know what a great destination Birmingham is for home furnishings and home accessories and items for the home," he says.

"People may think of Birmingham more for its fashion or shopping and its restaurants," he says. "We have all that but when you think about home furnishings, gifts, dishware, kitchen items, cabinetry, and interior designers, we really do have quite a wide variety of stores and businesses that are all geared toward the home."

Plus, he says, on days when shopping may be time-consuming it's nice to have the downtown with the atmosphere and environment.

Like the May BLUEPRINT event Heiney and retailers expect a good turnout.

"We think this is something that's going to grow every year," he says. "More and more customers are becoming aware of what we're doing and what we have her. We're just getting started."

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

Food Truck grants heat up business plans

Two metro Detroit food trucks are sharing in state economic development grants meant to support a burgeoning industry in Michigan.

The $77,775 in grants awarded by the Michigan Economic Development Corp., which predicts food truck businesses will be a $2.7-billion industry by 2017, went to Southfield-based Detroit Pommes Frites and Plain and Fancy Food from Pontiac.

With matching grants from each winner, a total of $144,246 is being invested in the 10 food trucks.

The grants are part of the 2013 Mobile Cuisine Startup Program, which is designed to help new or growing businesses that "offer easily accessible and unique food options to patrons in public spaces and contribute to the local economy by working with other local businesses and farms. The intent of this program is to assist with community and economic development by increasing pedestrian traffic in downtowns and traditional commercial cores," according to the MEDC announcement of the winners.

MEDC president and CEO Michael Finney says "today's grants will help food entrepreneurs from around the state launch their business ideas, grow, and create jobs in Michigan."

Other winners included MI Fresh Start in Traverse City, The Organic Gypsy in Kalamazoo, Roaming Harvest in Interlochen, Dia De Los Tacos in Marquette, Taco Now in Flint and Pure F2T in East Lansing.

Source: Kathy Fagan, Michigan Economic Development Corp.
Writer: Kim North Shine

Top metro Detroit chef brings Marais to Grosse Pointe

The soon-to-open Marais is transforming a corner in Grosse Pointe's Village business district into a little slice of France.

The restaurant is in the final prep stage before opening day, including painting, decorating and awaiting a health department inspection. Last week walls blocking the renovation work were taken down, revealing intricate woodwork painted in a chocolate brown, ornate copper lanterns and plenty of windows looking out on a dining room with rich dark woods and a neighboring bar with banquettes, tables and bar stools. The feel is French and the food will be influenced by the land of fine wine and cheese.

What's making Marais the next "it" restaurant is not necessarily the decor but the husband-wife team behind it: David and Monica Gilbert. He is the former chef at award-wining Forest Grill and she was the accomplished general manager of that Birmingham establishment.

The couple live in Grosse Pointe and are part of a restaurant renaissance for locals who have long bemoaned the limited options for a meal out.

City inspections on Marais are done, and once a health department inspection is complete Marais should open next week, Grosse Pointe City Manager Peter Dame says.

The opening is coupled with a new gated parking lot that has room for more cars and does away with meters. It opened this week.

Dame says the the credit or cash parking system will allow "visitors to the Village and to the new restaurant to stay as long as they like without any need to run out and add money to the meters or risk getting a ticket," Dame says.

The city has also made improvements to the district, which is weathering the closures of some of its largest storefronts, including Border's, Ace Hardware and the Gap.

The changes, decorative lighting, landscaping in alleys, brick-columned fencing and a brick trash enclosure to hide trash bins, are meant to make downtown attractive not only to customers but potential businesses.

Source: Peter Dame, Grosse Pointe City Manager
Writer: Kim North Shine

BoConcept brings Danish decor to downtown Birmingham

A husband-and-wife team opening a Danish furniture store in downtown Birmingham say they are speaking to locals' long-held love of simple, contemporary design.

Steve and Jane Szydek are opening BoConcept at 670 South Woodward this month in a 6,800-square-foot space filled with customizable, modular furniture and accessories that can be combined and assembled in numerous ways. A grand opening with sales and special events is set for Oct. 5.

The Szydeks describe their Danish franchise as a store that offers an affordable shopping experience in a unique environment that's unlike typical furniture showrooms.

“We decided to bring BoConcept to Michigan because for many years Danish furniture thrived in this area and it embraces the need for space, individuality, and great prices,” says Steve Szydek. “The designs feature clean, pure lines and are minimalist and modern. Most everything in the store can be customized in terms of color, style, material and size.”

The BoConcept Birmingham store opening brings the Denmark-based BoConcepts number of stores in North America to 30. It is the first in Michigan. The company has 230 franchise stores and 90 studios in more than 50 countries.

Source: Steve and Jane Szydek, owners, BoConcept Birmingham
Writer: Kim North Shine

Ink Detroit's new online store promotes Michigan-made goods


Ink Detroit
 started out as a company focused solely on making shirts and such that express Detroit love, and now the eight-year-old company is spreading its love to the whole of Michigan by turning out a new line of products that  show statewide pride.

The I Love Michigan line can be found at the newly launched I Love Michigan Shop, the newest addition to www.thegreatlakesstate.com, which was started several years ago by Ink Detroit co-founder Paul Marcial as a marketplace for Michigan businesses.

Marcial and Steven Mansour formed Ink Detroit in 2005 with the mission of creating hip and fun graphics for quality t-shirts and other garments and accessories that Motor City natives "can wear proudly like a badge of honor."

"It kind of started as a hobby. We were just doing shirts on the side for years. We weren't really pushing it. Then it started growing little by littler and it got to the point where one of us had to leave our job," Marcial recalls.

Mansour, who has a background in the garment industry, left his job and is full-time with the ventures. Marcial, a graphic designer and landscape architect, spends countless hours on the start-up. The company's offices and product development are handled from Marcial and Mansour's Royal Oak homes. They have a warehouse in Southfield.

After Ink Detroit got rolling, the Michigan pride vibe got stronger, Marcial says. It became clear the buyers were very different.

"We did a few Michigan designs before, and they did OK," Marcial says. "When we started a whole separate division that's where it took off."

He says a large number of sales are coming from Instagram posts, simple pics like one of his son in a I Love Michigan shirt at the apple orchard last weekend.

The next big step for Mansour and Marcial is the launch of a catalog, which is being printed and bound as the pair prepares to approach retailers about stocking their products. Currently about 10 stores sell their goods.

Source: Paul Marcial, co-founder Ink Detroit and I Love Michigan Shop
Writer: Kim North Shine

From Poland to Metro Detroit: ZIM'S Vodka takes on elite brands

Retirement at age 40 turned out to be pretty boring for Terry Olson. "There's only so much you can golf…and when your friends are still working…"

Not a sob story for sure, but with time on his hands -- the good part was spending days with his children, driving to school, jamming Tom Jones and Frank Sinatra 'til they loved it -- Olson started a post-retirement career as the creator and founder of ZIM'S Vodka and its parent company, The Rebel Spirits Group.

Now with the kids grown, the Grosse Pointe Park resident and former minor-league hockey player is pouring his time into the vodka brand he began researching nearly four years ago and started selling in January.

In just eight months, ZIM'S, which Olson casts as a competitor in the ultra premium class of vodkas, has 300 accounts -- all upscale restaurants and country clubs. ZIM'S, which bartenders have told Olson could be as catchy as asking for a Stoli, is a shortened version of the Polish word for potato.

At the Spirits International Prestige Awards in Las Vegas in mid-August, ZIM'S, a potato-based vodka, took platinum in the taste category for its ZIM'S 59 and bronze for ZIM'S 81. In the bottle design category, ZIM'S 59 took bronze.

ZIM'S, which is made in Poland, is getting noticed for many reasons, says Olson, who used to run a marketing company.
It's made in Poland from potatoes -- not from wheat or other grains  -- is gluten-free and comes in a low-calorie version and a higher-proof version. There's ZIM'S 81 and ZIM'S 59. Most vodkas are slightly lower proofs and slightly higher in calories.

He went with potato as the base ingredient and Poland as the manufacturing point to honor the history of the spirit. He runs the company with his best friend, Bruce Carroll. They drive around metro Detroit in cars plastered with ZIM'S logos.

"If you want the best wines you think of France and Italy. For beer it's Germany, Belgium, and I have to say Canada because that's where I'm from," says Olson, who goes by T.O. "When you get to vodka there's no question it's Russia or Poland."

"At one point in time I was thinking about making it here…I looked into it and I told my buddy we're going to get on a plane and go to Poland and see how it's done," he says. "The homework and research I did found out like 95 percent or more of vodkas in the world are non-potato. I wanted to go back to potato. It's more costly, but it's superior."

Working with Poles and Poland's international trade reps, they formed the product that became one of the latest metro Detroit craft liquor start-ups.

"It was a really cool process. We spent a number of days with their chemist going through my recipe, tasting it in all the different ways you'd serve it: room temperature, chilled, with cranberry soda, with Diet Coke," he says. "We tweaked it and once we got it all down I said OK this is it. They did the first batch."

Then there was the hiccup of the long delivery overseas and getting the cases through customs.

"I thought the shipment would be here for Thanksgiving. We missed that. Then Christmas and we missed that. Then New Year's. It finally arrived Jan. 7."

"Then we found out that January, February, March and April are the worst months for the liquor business. There is the holiday hangover: Bills to pay, people want to wind down and start fresh," he says. "So what we decided to do while all the liquor salespeople were waiting for the slow months to pass was go out and kick butt on the street."

Their first restaurant was Tre Monti Ristorante, Hour Detroit's restaurant of the year. Country clubs and Joe Muer's signed on. "Their customers will seek us out.

"We're very grassroots…We're out there spreading the word about ZIM'S."

ZIM'S also has "a group of ambassadors" around the state, signing on new vendors. Plans are rolling out to expand outside of Michigan this fall.

"We've already shipped all over the United States," he says. "Now we want to get into the next markets: Ohio, Illinois, Florida, Calfornia, New York, Texas…"

Source: Terry Olson, founder, The Rebel Spirits Group and ZIM'S vodka
Writer: Kim North Shine

Federal grant funds speedier trains between Dearborn and Kalamazoo

A 135-mile stretch of railway that runs from Dearborn to Kalamazoo will undergo $9 million in improvements to prepare it for a 110-mph regional commuter rail service between Detroit and Chicago.

The federal TIGER grant announced this week is one of several meant to create jobs and improve mass transit infrastructure in the Midwest and across the country. The Michigan Department of Transportation will oversee the project.

The Midwest High Speed Rail Service will run on an AMTRAK line that will eventually provide higher-rate service on a Pontiac and Ann Arbor line through Michigan, to Chicago and other parts of Illinois and Indiana.

“These transformational TIGER projects are the best argument for investment in our transportation infrastructure,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement announcing a total of $474 million in grants. “Together, they support President Obama’s call to ensure a stronger transportation system for future generations by repairing existing infrastructure, connecting people to new jobs and opportunities, and contributing to our nation’s economic growth.”

In Dearborn, where an intermodal passenger rail station is to open in mid-2014 on Michigan Avenue near Brady, mass transit improvements are seen as a way to "draw more visitors, businesses and residents" and "support the city's largest institutions and their employees: Ford, U-M Dearborn and The Henry Ford: America's Greatest History Attraction," says Dearborn Mayor John B. O'Reilly.

Source: Nick Schirripa, spokesperson, Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Kim North Shine

Ferndale-based Valentine Vodka steps into more out-of-state markets

Valentine Distilling Co. in Ferndale is now distributing to stores in New York and preparing to go into Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Connecticut while a Detroit Red Wing has come on board as brand manager.

Rifino Valentine, owner and operator of the business, says Eddie Mio, former Red Wing, assistant GM for the Phoenix Coyotes and a part of hockey great Wayne Gretzky's Gretzky Estates Winery, will use his experience to guide Valentine through growth that's been on a steep incline since opening in 2009.

With the three new states and the District of Columbia as new markets, Valentine's product line, which includes Liberator Gin and Woodward Whiskey, will be sold now in seven states. Connecticut will come online in September and Maryland and D.C. will follow in October, he says.

The distillery, which also has a tasting room on Vester Street in Ferndale, brought in a new still earlier this week to keep up with production, Valentine says.

Valentine Vodka has won national and international awards since the first bottle was filled four years ago. The tasting room opened in 2011 and nearly 2,000 stores in several states stores now sell the vodka made in small batches in downtown Ferndale.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Rifino Valentine, founder, Valentine Vodka

Happy's Pizza chain rolls out new pub concept

Happy's Pizza has opened a new pub-style restaurant in West Bloomfield as it explores moving from a mostly take-out, small dine-in establishment to a full-service sports bar and family restaurant.

The nearly month-old Happy's Pizza and Pub opened at 7170 Orchard Lake Road and is more than 4,000 square feet filled with over 40 TVs, two of which are projection, screens, and seats for 246.

"If someone wants to watch a Lions game, a Tigers game, a Red Wings game, this is the place to do it," General Manager Bobby Dalou says. And, he says, Happy's promotes a family restaurant by offering a menu that can feed four for $20. The menu includes ribs, chicken and seafood.

The new pub and restaurant was originally a Happy's Pizza. It expanded into an adjoining business next door and was renovated to include a large restaurant inside and an outdoor patio with room-size windows opening between the two, says Dalou. "It's a good vibe, a good feel."

The first Happy's Pizza and Pub opened in Mt. Pleasant in March and has been a success. The company was founded in 1996 by Happy Asker, with the first pizza store in northeast Detroit. It has grown to more than 100 locations.

"We were mostly a come-in, come-out [eatery]. We wanted to try something different," Dalou says. "So far it's working out great."

Birmingham eatery Luxe Bar & Grill adds Grosse Pointe Farms location

Luxe Bar & Grill in Birmingham has opened a new restaurant in Grosse Pointe Farms, bringing its neighborhood bar meets upscale feel to the east side.

Luxe, known for its burgers and favorites like onion rings and Luxe garlic wings, moved into the space that was formerly Lucy's, once a local go-to until it was sold and quality declined.

The newest Luxe moves into the toniest of the Grosse Pointes, down the street from the former Detroit Free Press Restaurant of the Year, The Hill Seafood & Chop House, and the prior Hour Detroit Restaurant of the Year, Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe.

According to Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce President Jennifer Boettcher, Luxe describes itself like this:

"Luxe Bar & Grill is the neighborhood spot that serves quality food, drink and atmosphere - without pretense. At every crossroad, quality and taste are the priority. We believe the character of a bar is its patrons and we welcome all seeking good company and friendly conversation to enjoy our charmed local bar."

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Jennifer Palms Boettcher, president/executive director, Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce

Hot Mama expands make-mom-look-good-feel-good retail to Birmingham

Hot Mama, a Minnesota-based clothing store started by a mom who experienced the indignities and difficulties of shopping as a mom with kids in a new body, is coming to downtown Birmingham next spring. The styles are meant to keep moms from feeling too mom-ish.

The 2,400 square-foot store will open at 128 South Old Woodward and will add to Birmingham's selection of national retailers sought out by downtown planners.

A spokeswoman for Hot Mama says Birmingham was chosen because of its similarities to Edina, where Hot Mama opened the first store in 2004.

"We were attracted to the walkable area and energy of downtown," she told Ed Nakfoor, a spokesman for the Birmingham Principal Shopping District. "It reminded us of our first store in Edina, Minnesota, at 50th & France. We also loved the co-tenants in downtown Birmingham."

The stores are family-friendly so moms can shop. The also stock snacks for kids and beer for dad. They are spacious, with room for strollers.

When the store opens a full time director and a full time manager will be hired, as will 10 part-time stylists.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Edward Nakfoor, spokesman, Birmingham Principal Shopping District

Citizen Yoga in downtown Royal Oak blends yoga with good citizenship

The opening of Citizen Yoga in downtown Royal Oak is so much more than an entrepreneurial endeavor for owner Kacee Must.

From a 3,000-square-foot space at 500 S. Washington, an unusually large and prominent spot for a yoga studio, Must wants to tie together a near-lifetime of experience in yoga and the knowledge gained studying philosophy in India for three years with her love for entrepreneurial artists, fashion and, most profoundly, the memory of a sister lost to suicide five years ago.

Citizen Yoga will open Sunday and for the first two weeks all yoga is free -- part of Must's push to attract beginners and also to be a good citizen.

Citizen Yoga will be body alignment-based so that instructors can gently guide students through poses.

"We view taking care of yourself as being easy on yourself…learning how to move into discomfort to ease in to the breath and use your own mental coping skills," says Must, 29, and a Cranbrook Academy and Northwestern University graduate who was introduced to yoga by her mom at age 12, "before yoga was hip or cool, before most people knew what yoga was."

Her yoga experience through the years, locally and around the world has shaped the approach her studio will take.

"I saw this untapped not just yoga market, but also cohesive community here in Royal Oak that I believe would want to hear the message and learn the proper way to use yoga to take care of yourself physically and spiritually, " she says. "You can't even compare us to somebody else. We're offering something that our community has moved so far away from," she says. "I really promote authenticity and ethics and being very encouraging to my teachers and students."

If visitors during the first two weeks care to make a donation it will go to the charity Born and Raised in Detroit, which is run by Must's friends and offers fun, happy events and programs to enrich the lives of Detroiters.

Charity and a personal philosophy of good citizenship is also behind Citizen Yoga.

Philosophically, Must, who spent three years in India studying philosophy, wants to explore her yearning for community togetherness by "promoting how we can all be better citizens in every aspect of our lives," she says.

The studio will also honor Must's sister, Miya. She committed suicide in 2007 and since then her family has strived to help others by working in suicide prevention and support of women living with bipolar disorder.

"I want to do a lot of suicide prevention, awareness type stuff," Must says. "Without her and that memory of her and that drive of hers, I don't know if I could have done this. I was really afraid to do this on my own. Being an entrepreneur in its essence is all about self-belief, and I feel like she's been here with me pushing me to believe in myself."

Also in her sister's honor, Citizen Yoga will offer Yoga Medics, a medically designed yoga program. Her sister and a friend ran a Yoga Medics in their Colorado yoga studio. Must has received a $50,000 grant to use Yoga Medics to give yoga rehabilitation therapy to veterans.

There will also be two massage rooms at Citizen Yoga. Spa Mariana from Birmingham will run the massage therapy.

It's her wanting to build a community that has her inviting in other metro Detroit entrepreneurs like the spa to share the space, which is next door to the Fifth Avenue apartments. It underwent an 18-month renovation of re-used materials -- the old jewelry store floor is the ceiling -- rustic woods, and brick mixed with touches of industrial.

Jewelry by Leah Rose Damour, organic nail polish by AKAYStyle and a Jesse Fenton's I Use Yoga clothing line will go into the retail space at Citizen Yoga.

"From an owner perspective," she says, "my theory is the more you collaborate and the more you work together, the more you're going to actually succeed."

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Kacee Must, owner, Citizen Yoga
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