Rust Belt Market artists' venue planned for downtown Ferndale

Chris and Tiffany Best have been among the crowds drawn to Ferndale's four main art shows over the years so they've seen the pull -- and the market -- that Ferndale has on talented artists and consumers looking to buy local artists' creations.

"The shows all have the same great vibe, and we kept seeing the same artists over and over, the handmade merchandise and vintage pieces. We thought it's a shame that they only have four times a year to come out and no place to sell other than wholesale to retailers where they have no face-to-face time with their buyers," says Tiffany Best, a 25-year-old Oxford resident who spends a lot time in Ferndale, including at her job at Flip Salon and with friends on the weekend.

And so with the idea of giving artists and their buyers a permanent place to meet, the Bests are launching the Rust Belt Market, a year-round art market and artists' incubator, to be located in the former Old Navy clothing store on Woodward and 9 Mile.

The 15,000-square-foot building will be divided and leased, says Cristina Sheppard-Decius, director of the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority.

And Rust Belt Market is the kind of development that can add to the eclectic, round-the-clock feel of the city.  Law practices and offices have considered the site, but ideally, Sheppard-Decius says, the building will be used for ventures that "contribute to the energy of Ferndale."

At Rust Belt Market, artists would lease space on weekends or for longer blocks of time and the lease would include storage space. "The response to this has been overwhelming," Tiffany Best says.

She says lease negotiations for the 5,000 square feet  -- possibly with the option of expanding into more square footage should artists want a workspace as well -- should wrap up over the next month. After that the building owner will take a month to divide the space structurally, and a month afterwards the Bests would be done with their own renovations. The goal is to open around May, Tiffany Best says.

Tiffany Best, the owner of Earthy Girl gardening, and Chris Best, a 32-year-old licensed builder, don't want to compete with Ferndale's outdoor art shows such as the DIY Street Fair in September. They want to complement them by holding special events, perhaps fashion shows or exhibitions, during fair times.

Tiffany says she and Chris see staying in Michigan and cultivating an art spot here as a way to pay back their state and to join in with other Michigan residents who are ready for an economic rebound.

"We see an obligation to the state, kind of like a marriage. You don't leave when the going gets rough and when you stick it out you get to see what's wonderful on the other side. We feel the state and its citizens are ready for a new beginning. The creative class is here to stay. We want to create a development that will bring people together, get them out of the big box stores and in contact with quality, handmade goods that have a story, products that let you invest in a person by wearing or displaying what that person has made with their own hands."

Sources: Tiffany Best, partner in Rust Belt Market LLC and Cristina Sheppard-Decius, director Ferndale DDA

Writer: Kim North Shine

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