Reporting on Michigan's Economic Recovery Effort

Michigan Now logo

Motor City Blight Busters Coffee Shop

Posted to MichiganNow.org on Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A non-profit with more than two-decades of experience cleaning up blighted neighborhoods on Detroit’s northwest side is starting a new business enterprise. WDET’s Rob St. Mary contributed this report.

When it comes to business… brand recognition and brand loyalty are key. Over the last 20 plus years Motor City Blight Busters has established a brand name by removing and revitalizing vacant and dilapidated structures in Detroit. This past weekend, the non-profit organization opened a new venture which might give Starbucks a run for its money… at least in the Old Redford neighborhood.

The idea of a community coffee house has been brewing in the Blight Busters universe for about a decade. Alicia Marion says around 2000 she approached the organization about taking an empty storefront on Lasher and turning it into the Motor City Java House.

“No matter where I went… whether it was locally… Royal Oak or Ferndale or New York or New Orleans or New Jersey… there’s always a neighborhood diner or coffee shop and I wanted to bring that back here to Lahser and Grand River. “

And over the last few years, slowly… an old beauty salon was converted into a café. Marion says the coffee house blends the best of new and used materials… like granite countertops with repurposed flooring from houses torn down by the Blight Busters.

“All the hardwood floors came out four abandoned houses that were demolished by Blight Busters and volunteers. We were able to recycle them, bring them in, strip ‘em, strain ‘em… put some poly on them and they look gorgous. I think that would be my most proudest thing because we are being conscience of our environment and recycling and going green.”

The Motor City Java House will offer the same products that brand name coffee shops do… such as espresso, cappuccino, sandwiches, salads and baked goods. But, where it differs is the local focus. With help from nearby community gardens… local produce will be used… and from there… the used coffee grounds will help fertilize the gardens. Local vendors will also supply the coffee shop.

Motor City Blight Busters President John George says the philosophy behind the java house is to bring people together and make things happen.

“We believe at Blight Busters and the Artist Village – Detroit that people of goodwill can always find that common ground. The coffee shop is really designed to a place where the world meets… and what I mean by that… where our city dwellers and our suburban friends can come and not only have a great cup of coffee and a wonderful piece of pie but also build friendships, create solutions, build bridges and work on projects and programs that benefit everyone.”

On Saturday evening…Angels’ Night… the doors of the Motor City Java House opened and the first cups of coffee were served.

“Thank you everybody…”

The grand opening ended up being the first stop for many in attendance who were heading out to do anti-arson patrols. Pete Catrell was one of those warming up with a cup of coffee before a long night on the street as part of the mobilization.

“This is excellent coffee. It’s very good. It’s favored, it’s nice… I’m just waiting for the kick.”

Catrell says he’s a supporter of Blight Busters and looks forward to coming back to the coffee shop in the future.

Also in attendance for the grand opening was Detroit City Council member James Tate. He says the Motor City Java House is just another part of an area that’s starting to come back… and thrive around the Redford Theatre.

“We have a sweet potato factory over that that people talk about far and wide… we have a whole host of locations. We have right next door, the Artist Village. So, this is a community and it has a totally different feel than what you would probably expect when you drive into this general area. We have some great people working very, very hard… and this is something that was done outside of city government. So, that’s what in my opinion is the most important thing… when people say… when they walk up to elected officials and say “What are you going to do?”… I think the question is that people need to start asking is “What can I do?” and this is a clear example of what regular citizens can do to help take back their neighborhoods and turn the clock back.”

Proprietor Alicia Marion says the java house will help fund the missions of the Motor City Blight Busters and the Artist Village – Detroit.

“So we can have something for someone to purchase… a coffee, a t-shirt, a mug or a membership to everything that we are doing here. I think that we build ourselves from within so the money is staying within the community to help the kids of the city.”

Ultimately, Marion says her aim is to give people more than just a good cup of coffee. She says the Motor City Java House will be a place where people meet, engage with each other and improve the community.

Leave a Reply