Hazel Park

Hazel Park's recent surge of small business openings could be a sign of what's to come

Opening his own coffee shop and antique store was always part of Tim McKee’s retirement plans, but when his decades-long career in the nightclub business got cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, McKee’s vision of retirement would soon become his new livelihood.

“When I lost my job, all of a sudden this raced to the front of the list,” he says. “I mean, you’ve gotta work.”

A resident of Hazel Park since 2016, McKee lives just a few blocks from his still relatively new Hazel Perk Cafe, a coffee shop, antique store, community and events space, and much, much more. The locally-owned small business celebrated its grand opening in December 2022.

As a resident and now business owner – and the owner of a coffee shop, at that – McKee has a good sense of what’s happening in Hazel Park these days. (“I’m on this side of 75 everyday of my life,” he says). What he saw, sees, and foresees is a city that is becoming more and more attractive to entrepreneurs locally and throughout the region. And while COVID-19 may have forced his coffee shop plans to arrive a little early, he seems more than happy that they did.

“You’re going to see this area start coming up,” McKee says about the stretch of John R between 8 Mile Road and I-75, hinting at forthcoming developments without giving too much away – and in the way that only a local coffee shop owner can, really. “It’s one of the reasons I hunkered down in this area. I want to be grandfathered in before it gets really popular.”

Easing in

The prevailing narrative around these parts is that the opening of destination restaurant Mabel Gray signaled to area entrepreneurs that Hazel Park was soon to become the next local hotspot for small businesses to open up shop. It’s hard to argue. Since their opening in 2015, Hazel Park has welcomed Joebar in 2017 (now rebranded and refocused as FRAMEbar); barber and menswear shop Youngbloods in 2018; the new-look Doug’s Delight in 2018; fresh food and juice destination We Juice in 2020; and a bevy of marijuana dispensaries starting in 2020 thanks to the city’s generous cannabis business laws.

Detroit- and Michigan-themed apparel company Ink Detroit relocated from their Ferndale storefront to Hazel Park’s stretch of 9 Mile Road in late 2019. It’s been a boon for business, says co-owner Paul Marcial, who also credits their Hazel Park location with helping he and co-owner Steven Mansour keep the business going throughout the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic – with free parking, a prominent storefront on 9 Mile, and proximity to I-75 being key factors then and now. It’s also helped them thrive since.

Hazel Park’s business-friendly approach sure didn’t hurt either, Marcial says.

“The city of Hazel Park has been very easy to deal with. (Former city council member and current State Representative for the 8th House District) Mike McFall was super supportive. Their social media posts gave us a lot of exposure,” Marcial says. “The City has been great and easy to deal with, too. There can be a lot of red tape and other nonsense places put you through to open a business in their city.”

Community building(s)

With the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated business shutdowns and restrictions slowing the pace of new business openings here and elsewhere, there was a slowdown in grand opening and ribbon-cutting celebrations around town. But things are picking up yet again. The past year or so has seen a surge of new businesses opening in Hazel Park and, if coffee shop owner Tim McKee is as right as it seems he is, it might be just be a sign of things to come.

In the same month Hazel Perk Cafe opened, longtime downtown Ferndale coffee shop Java Hutt Cafe opened a second location, also on John R but further north and closer to 10 Mile. Key West-themed bar Eastern Palace Club and Smoked Lotus BBQ celebrated a grand opening from their shared building in the early days of 2023. B.D.T. Smoke Shop underwent a significant expansion, which included the 2023 opening of cannabis boutique dispensary The Hive. And earlier this summer, the Shredderz Food Truck opened a permanent location in the old Dairy Park ice cream stand.

That’s a lot for a city that’s approximately 2.8 sq. miles in geographic size with a population just short of 15,000. But it’s also more affordable here than neighboring Ferndale, and located at the nexus of several key corridors to the region, including 8 Mile Road, I-75, and I-696. Maybe it is a good thing that Hazel Perk Cafe establishes itself now rather than later.

And it’ll be good for the community if they do. Like many of the small businesses here, McKee is bullish on Hazel Park’s future (“Ask any real estate agent. It’s not a myth,” he says) yet strives to create a place where residents both new and established feel welcome. It’s why Hazel Perk is more than a coffee shop but a community gathering place, hosting open coffee talk sessions with city officials, prioritizing local artists, and creating an atmosphere that feels as much a cozy living room as it does a business.

“A lot of people want to take this as if it's just a coffee house or something like that. It's not,” says McKee. “We have a real food menu. We do art premieres all the time. We host new artists, we have shopping. We do events, lots of events. We have drag queen bingo, art gallery, arts and crafts for local families, things like that. Every Tuesday night has figure drawing with live models. Wednesday night is game night and open mic night. Thursday night is our free movie night. Friday night has live bands. Saturdays and Sundays have different events; like this Saturday we’ll have a mid-century antiques market.”

“It’s a real hodgepodge,” he says.
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Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.