Shopping small and local in downtown Dearborn has never been easier

Each holiday shopping season, the familiar refrain of “shop small and shop local” rings out across the land. The messaging serves as an important reminder that for all the sales happening at the nation’s big box stores, and for all the ease of shopping at the online megastores, it’s critical that we support our locally-owned small businesses — and perhaps now more than ever. And while the unofficial holiday of Small Business Saturday puts a fine point on it, encouraging shoppers to visit their hometown shops and restaurants is a season-long and, really, year-long undertaking all to its own.

The Dearborn Shop is located at 21906 Garrison St. in Dearborn.Shopping small and local is the whole reason the Dearborn Shop exists. When Lizzie and Jacob DiMaria first opened the Dearborn Shop in 2021, the married couple wanted to take the hometown pride that countless Detroit brands have shared and see that replicated here in their own hometown. The DiMarias started selling their own Dearborn-branded t-shirts, hats, and otherwise at pop-up retail locations and their online store, and all the while keeping their eyes open for a suitable storefront in where else but downtown Dearborn. Not only that, but they used the Dearborn Shop brand to serve as a marketplace for other local makers, extending the reach of their neighbors’ businesses, too.

[Related: Read “Young couple starts The Dearborn Shop to promote hometown pride” on Metromode.]

It was earlier this summer when the Dearborn Shop finally found a brick-and-mortar location to call its own, a century-old home-turned-business space on Garrison in west downtown Dearborn. Shoppers can find the DiMarias’ own brand of Dearborn apparel there, but also the products of dozens of their neighbors, whether it’s candles from local makers to books from local authors, like poet Cal Freeman’s “Poolside at the Dearborn Inn.” They utilize the large parking lot to host events, where their vendors can talk to customers and food trucks pull up alongside the shop.

The Preservation Dearborn organization provided a nice history of the building on their Instagram page upon the Dearborn Shop’s opening, which they permitted Metromode to share below. 

There’s even a new shop dog, a young Australian shepherd-poodle mix named Millie. Talk about that small town feeling.

“It was fortunate that we found an old house because we really liked that feel for the shop,” Jacob says. “The building is in a house that’s been a part of the community forever.”

“It feels very small-town here,” says Lizzie. “It gives a small town-feeling when you walk in, and it feels like everybody's friends with everybody and everybody knows everybody.”

Shop Small Passport

That small town feeling must have rung true on Saturday, Dec. 1, when Santa Claus came to visit the Dearborn Shop. Santa’s visit was arranged by Dearborn’s east and west downtown development authorities, a tour of the city that kicked off at the Dearborn Shop and wrapped on Thursday, Dec. 15, at Green Brain Comics. The tour’s purpose was twofold, spreading holiday cheer and all the while shining a spotlight on the small businesses of Dearborn’s east and west downtowns.

The Santa tour is but one of the Dearborn DDAs’ many tools pulled from their own satchel as they work to promote their downtowns’ small businesses. Their reach goes far beyond Small Business Saturday — and is active year-round, of course, but things are heightened come holiday shopping season. From holiday markets to Santa pop-ups, the DDAs’ work carries on.

Green Brain Comics is located at 13936 Michigan Ave. in Dearborn.This year, the DDAs introduced an innovative new tool for getting people to shop local: the Shop Small Mobile Passport. The passport itself isn’t a small book that you carry around but rather an app that you install on your smartphone. The app is free to download and use, and offers exclusive coupons and discounts at participating businesses. What’s more is that when users check in to one of the businesses that they’re patronizing, they earn points. Those points then add up and can be redeemed for free prizes, like Downtown Dearborn mugs, hats, hoodies, and more.

“I’m real happy with downtown Dearborn and the downtown development authorities in their ability to innovate and move the needle,” says Dan Merritt, who owns Green Brain Comics with his wife Katie. Green Brain, located in east downtown Dearborn, is one of the participating businesses in the passport program.

“They’re drawing attention to where the people are, where the eyeballs are. They’re using more social media, more apps, and they're really helping to bring great attention to this area.”

There are currently 17 businesses participating in the program, scattered across the east and west downtown areas. This is not just a holiday shopping season program, however, and Downtown Dearborn expects to add more businesses to the program throughout the year.

At Green Brain Comics, customers can use the app to buy one graphic novel and get a second one for 50 percent off the cover price. At Alanos Pizza & Subs, customers can get a free order of breadsticks with their purchase. In west downtown, Dearborn Music is offering 15 percent off all CDs, DVDs, and vinyl. A complete list of participating businesses is available online.

More than a comic shop

Shopping small and shopping local isn’t just a holiday promotion around these parts. The Dearborn DDAs are always looking to help their businesses in a variety of ways, Merritt attests. Just the other day, Green Brain got word that they won a $25,000 grant through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Match on Main grant program. The East Dearborn DDA worked with the Merritts through the application process and submitted it on their behalf. Earlier this year, the West Dearborn DDA helped District 12 win their own Match on Main grant.

Green Brain Comics will use the grant money to build out their lower level, which suffered significant water damage from the floods wrought by the rainstorms of 2021. Green Brain regularly hosts cultural events, like the monthly Brain Candy series that features art, music, poetry, and prose. Supporting the arts is a big part of what they do here.

“We like to think of ourselves as a bookstore that happens to carry comics,” Dan says.

[Related: Read “Origin story: Dearborn's Green Brain Comics” on Metromode.]

With the renovations, Green Brain will be able to build a space that is dedicated to events and performances. It will be ADA-accessible and feature critical infrastructure repairs and improvements. They hope to have the work done come summer.

You can still shop small then, too.

“We’re longstanding participants in Dearborn’s Shop Small promotion,” Dan says, “and the DDA continues to come up with new ideas and new tactics to get people coming downtown.”

Visit Downtown Dearborn online to learn more about the Shop Small Mobile Passport.
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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.