New Barnes & Noble Gives a Boost to Detroit’s South End

By Laura Potts

The south end of Royal Oak’s Main Street has been a longtime loser in the city’s popularity contest.

Outwalked, outspent and out-hipped by its northern neighbors, Main Street’s south entrance to the city has had little to offer — until recently.

With last week’s opening of Barnes & Noble Booksellers — and more restaurants, shops and condominiums to come — a shift south may be in store.

“Maybe we can get more people coming down here,” said Brian Russell, whose Fourth Street Book Shop is a few blocks northeast of Barnes & Noble. Russell said his shop is so far away from the attention-getting restaurants, bars and shops that some days he never sees a customer.

“I’m glad Barnes & Noble are here,” Russell said. “Personally, I’d like to see more bookstores in Royal Oak.”

He hopes to see a range of more shops — and fewer restaurants and bars — so visitors to Royal Oak will do more than just dine or drink and dash. Other business owners agree, though some say they worry about Royal Oak losing its independent flavor.

“It’s a great thing that Barnes & Noble are there, but we have to be cautious that Royal Oak does not become all national retailers and that the small retailer that brings unique speciality items to the town doesn’t disappear,” said Jim Domanski, co-owner of the downtown restaurant Pronto.

“The people that buy a home in Royal Oak and start a business there are making a total commitment to the town and that’s different than how a national retailer will look at the area.”

The Barnes & Noble site is drawing at least one other national retailer — American Home Fitness — as well as a bakery and a restaurant chain, said developer David Strosberg, president of the Chicago-based Morningside Group.

Barnes & Noble agreed to make the move “as long as other national retailers were willing to go with it,” he said.

“It’s going to become a real destination building and attract a lot of these national retailers,” Strosberg said.

“One of our goals is to change a lot of peoples’ perceptions of Royal Oak from being just a place to get food and drink. The Barnes & Noble is a big step toward accomplishing that.”

Strosberg, who grew up in Oak Park, said he has kept a watch on Royal Oak as it became one of the metro area’s hottest entertainment hubs. This is his first development in Michigan, along with his Skylofts project, an 8-story development next to Barnes & Noble that will include shops, restaurants and 70 condominiums when it is completed in fall 2003.

City manager Lawrence Doyle said Royal Oak is “not making a concentrated effort to attract national retailers,” but he sees only benefits to those kinds of businesses choosing to locate downtown.

Once people are drawn to destination stores like Barnes & Noble, he said, they will check out the city’s independent businesses.

Rebecca Aughton, who calls herself a “typical Royal Oaker,” agrees that some national presence is good for the city. As a resident and co-owner of Bravo Intimates on Washington Avenue, she said “the national stores are really what we need.”

“We don’t need more restaurants and we certainly don’t need more bars,” she said. “I think we need to have more unique stores come in, but I would still love to have a J.Crew or Urban Outfitters. I think it should be an eclectic mix for an eclectic community.”

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