Blog: Joe Zainea

A peek at the playbills of the Majestic Theater and the Magic Stick live music venues shows that every day is a different act. How does Joe Zainea, longtime owner of The Majestic entertainment empire, keep things fresh from week to week? Follow on for his tales of revival and survival.

Post 1: My Smokestack Mentality

Back in the '80s I was having great difficulty in my business, mainly because of the Reagan "trickle down" economic system. My friends and I were going to Amherstburg, Ontario, driving along Highway 18A along the Detroit River, going south. And I looked across the river and I saw the shuttered steel mills on Zug Island and Downriver, and I said to my friends, "Look – there should be smoke coming out of those chimneys. That's the backbone of the American economy. We have to manufacture things."

And my friend told me I was in the wrong era, that I thought in a 19th century way, or a 20th century way, rather than the new 21st century thinking. And he said that I had to get into the frame of mind where money is working for money, where you're making more by taking money and switching it from one asset to another asset, and in the process you make money.

Now, he was in the leasing business and very successful. He bought a beautiful home just off Lakeshore Drive in Grosse Pointe Shores. He told me I was doing the wrong thing. And I told him that this was just the opposite of the way it should be. You need to work at the foundation of things. And I used the metaphor of horse manure to a farmer: it doesn't do any good sitting in a great big pile. You have to spread it around on the ground, and you fertilize, and it grows upward, and it grows upward to a point where even people at the top rung prosper – rather than the other system which says that from the top it trickles down. It never trickles down.

It always goes from the bottom upward.

And another fella that was in the car with me, he and his wife, he's a lawyer. And he agreed with my friend. And the discussion went on, that I was in the wrong frame of mind, and that leasing and these kinds of business were the way to go. And this lawyer friend said, "You're stuck down there in the ghetto; you should move on with the trend, so you can continue to grow."

But I struggled through the 80s. And the irony is that today it's reversed. Today the prosperity is more in the Midtown area than it is in the "Reagan territory," which is what I call north of 696. All Reagan did during his administration was to create ways to embellish areas north of 696, and he couldn't have cared less about Detroit.

Of course it might have been that our mayor at the time, Coleman Young, called Reagan "Pruneface." It wasn't a wise thing to do.