Jul 20, 2022 - Business

Downtown Detroit vs. the pandemic

Gucci storefront in downtown Detroit
Gucci storefront downtown. Photo: Joe Guillen/Axios

The retail scene along Woodward Avenue is in the midst of a post-pandemic transition.

Why it matters: Remote work and online shopping are here to stay and downtown businesses are still adjusting. Some are struggling to find enough workers.

Driving the news: Multiple stores on the prominent Shinola Hotel block have closed this year — most recently perfume shop Le Labo, but also Madewell and Détroit is the New Black.

  • Others are choosing to plant their flag in the central business district: Gucci and Rihanna's Savage X Fenty are incoming, while local retailer Girl Boss Fashions opened recently, per media reports.

The latest: GM's Mary Barra said Monday the automaker's HQ will remain in the Renaissance Center, a positive sign for downtown retailers and restaurants whose pre-pandemic clientele of office workers dried up.

The big picture: "Retail (leasing) is coming back a lot stronger than office is," Vincent Mazzola, a senior associate with O'Connor Real Estate, tells Axios.

Yes, but: Retail and restaurant leasing downtown is still slow. There's been five new leases in the central business district since the start of the year, Mazzola says, citing CoStar data.

  • That's compared with 14 in the same period in 2019, per CoStar.
  • These figures aren't comprehensive — they don't often include Bedrock, downtown's biggest landlord — but remain a useful indicator.

The intrigue: Bedrock is optimistic about downtown, executive VP and chief operating officer Ivy Greaner tells Axios.

  • "There's actually been less loss than you think," she says. "There's a ton in the pipeline."
  • Gucci is targeting a grand opening in August, she says, and signage at the former Le Labo store indicates a new arrival is on the way.

What they're saying: Downtown restaurants and bars are doing pretty strong business again, Kees Janeway, partner with Iconic Real Estate, tells Axios. New ones are still looking for space downtown, but being extra "picky" about what they want and are willing to pay.

  • Hours have also "shifted dramatically" with demand from lunch to evening, he says.

Reality check: Detroit's economic rebound from both bankruptcy and the pandemic isn't just about downtown, but also the neighborhoods, where investment interest has historically been slow.

Former Le Labo storefront on Woodward.
Former Le Labo storefront on Woodward. Photo: Joe Guillen/Axios
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