Paul Gunnels is a Berkley resident, and proud of it.
For Berkley resident Paul Gunnel, there isn’t anywhere he would rather live. The GM employee moved to the city from Commerce Township after he and his wife started looking for a place to raise a family.
“We were looking for a good community that was affordable,” Gunnels said.
Berkley ticked all the boxes for them. The couple were so taken with their new city that Gunnels now volunteers with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) on the business development sub-committee.
“We’re looking at developing a process that helps small business and entrepreneurs who want to open in Berkley,” Gunnels says.
He is not the only one who sees potential in the area. The Oakland County city has seen a host of new businesses pop up, or choose to expand, in the downtown area over the last few years. From restaurants to salons and gaming stores, these new businesses are shaping the city’s identity, and the scene is starting to garner wider attention.
“I am excited about where we can go with it,” says Gunnels.
Metromode takes a closer look at five businesses choosing to invest, and what owners see in the city.
Katie Kutscher is one of the owners behind the trendy new Berkley Common.
3087 Twelve Mile Rd
Katie Kutscher could have chosen anywhere for her next dining endeavor. The restaurateur has opened successful bars in New York, but when she decided to relocate to Michigan she says she landed on Berkley because of its authentic charm and “strong sense of community”.
“We fell in love with the retro look and feel of the walk-able business districts that are filled with an eclectic mix of retailers,” says Kutscher.
Kutscher and her parents purchased a space that formerly housed the Berkley Front Bar on Twelve Mile Rd in 2016 and spent a year renovating the premises. One element they focused on was installing large garage windows to brighten the location.
“Our goal was to capture as much light and fresh air as possible and really open up the space to the community,” Kutscher says. “We wanted to achieve a somewhat industrial yet warm feeling restaurant area on the first floor, and a hip and open loft style private event space on the second floor.”
Now exploring opportunities to create outdoor seating, Kutscher and her team show no signs of slowing down, something she says is also reflected in the city.
“Berkley is definitely going through a transition,” she says. “We notice many new young families and couples moving to the area due to its affordable housing and outstanding school system.”
Kutscher does, however, believe Berkley is sometimes overlooked as a destination city, and that getting the word out can be a challenge.
“People don't realize how many distinctive and unique retailers and restaurants and services exist here,” she says. “Berkley has everything from farm-to-table restaurant offerings to the coolest mom-and-pop accessory stores and clothing stores, not to mention a really fun bowling alley, great salons, fitness centers, and music stores.”
Morgan Kruizenga saw potential in a former transmission shop on Twelve Mile Rd.
2785 Twelve Mile Rd
For Morgan Kruizenga, the attraction to her salon’s location in Berkley was, well, chemistry. Kruizenga describes the spot as a "dream location", with its proximity to Birmingham, Huntington Woods, Southfield, Beverley Hills and Royal Oak. The hair stylist, and her husband, transformed a transmission shop into the salon and says the city around them is changing a lot—in a very positive way.
“I think it's a gem of a city,” she says. “Having both a true urban neighborhood feel, and a small town appeal.”
Kruizenga says both residents and other businesses have been supportive and that positive leaders in the community is a big part of meeting any challenges.
Her tip for new businesses moving into the city? “Make sure you talk to the DDA and the city offices, often, to stay on track,” she says. “Get a good architect and just do it.”
Dan Stakiv has recently opened Folio Offices on Coolidge Highway.
2838 Coolidge Hwy
Just off Woodward, and between Birmingham and Royal Oak, the city of Berkley was an obvious choice for business owners Daniel Stakhiv and Ari Zartarian. They opened their co-working space, Folio, last month to cater to professionals and entrepreneurs in need.
Stakhiv says part of the appeal was the location - access to the Woodwad corridor and distance fro Detroit. "Not everyone wants to commit to the headache and cost of commuting down to Detroit everyday to use their flexible office space," he says.
Most of Folio's current clients hail from the surrounding neighborhoods, including Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills, but what Stakhiv and Zartarian have really noticed is the changes going on outside their window onto Coolidge Hwy. New bike lanes and a more pedestrian-friendly approach seems to be paying off for the city.
"We see Berkley as becoming a livelier downtown at all segments of the day with more immediate residents living off of Coolidge and Twelve Mile Rd," says Stakhiv. "We hope our location promotes walking and biking to Folio for people who live close enough to make that change."
2959 Twelve Mile Rd
Marty Miller says when he and his wife were looking for a place to open their diner-style eatery, he didn’t chose Berkley.
“Berkley picked me,” he says. “We went all over the place, Ann Arbor, Royal Oak, even Plymouth, everything was so expensive and nothing felt right. Then we can to Berkley, I walked into the building and something just felt right.”
That was six years ago, and it turns out Miller’s gut instinct was correct. The restaurant's success has enabled them to purchase the building next door and they will be expanding from 35 seats to 80, with outdoor spaces as well. Miller believes he isn't the only business owner who should be paying attention.
“I think it’s an up-and-coming city,” Miller says. “I just think it’s not crazy priced here yet—a lot of businesses need to come in and jump on that.”
Tim Barnes knows the value of a community, and has just expanded his games store in Berkley.
3961 Twelve Mile Rd
Tim Barnes has also chosen to expand his business in Berkley. Barnes owns a games store, with retail and space for playing games on-site. It was the sense of community that drew him to the area when he was looking to invest.
“We sell the gaming space, so we need people who want to be together, social people, families,” says Barnes.
“We looked at a number of different communities and Berkley was very welcoming and helpful, and had everything in terms of that demographic.”
Barnes and his wife started out renting and have chosen to buy their new premises, because of the warm welcome they found.
“We are literally a mom-and-pop store, and the city has been very helpful—from the Chamber of Commerce, the DDA, even the city inspectors. That’s very important when you’re sticking your neck out.”