Downtown Ferndale has a reputation for being funky, unpretentious, and hip. Walking around town it is easy to glean a sense of the city’s character from its eclectic blend of people, art spaces, restaurants and cafes, spas and salons, entertainment venues, and shops. For individuals seeking down-to-earth cultural experiences, Ferndale is the place to be. Its character is attractive to businesses looking for a place to relocate, events planners looking for an audience, and residents looking for a walkable, friendly community that gives them access to a diverse array of cultural offerings.
Talking with local business owners and residents, the most enjoyable aspect of Ferndale seems to be its people. AJ O’Neil, owner of AJ’s Music Cafe, explained that you will find a diverse mixture of personalities in his establishment, which is often referred to as “Ferndale’s living room,” he said. “The ‘vibe’ of Ferndale’s people is what is best. People from all walks of life—well off, poor, every color, race, gender, sexual identity—meld together; not merely tolerating differences but embracing them as well,” he explained.
Ferndale is “artistic without being superficial. It’s a good mixture of ethnic backgrounds and different ages, and it’s unpretentious.”
—Wyll Lewis, owner, American Pop!
Assemblage artist Wyll Lewis owns American Pop!, an eclectic shop packed to the rafters with vintage collectables, nostalgic memorabilia, and artwork by local artists. Lewis enjoys Ferndale because “it has a do-it-yourself atmosphere. It’s funky and thinks green. People recycle. It’s artistic without being superficial. It’s a good mixture of ethnic backgrounds and different ages, and it’s unpretentious,” he said.
Alternative Art Scene
Visitors and residents alike find a variety of art galleries and alternative art spaces sprinkled throughout downtown. These range from up-scale galleries to coffee shops, restaurants, and stores that lend their wall space to local artists. Even Ferndale’s Paramount Bank has devoted 1,400 square feet of gallery quality wall space to art. Community Arts @ Paramount Gallery curator Narine Kchikian explained, “I am pleased to see local businesses like Paramount Bank recognize the many benefits of bringing art to the local community. I hope what I do will encourage other businesses to join Paramount Bank in such endeavors to make contributions locally that have a major impact on the entire Detroit Metro area community,” according to its website,
A thriving music and entertainment scene supports local performers and brings popular touring acts to town. Ferndale’s blend of venues fill niches that give locals and out-of-towners plenty of choices for fun and entertainment. For example, The Magic Bag is a unique mixed-use space, which regularly screens movies and showcases bands, and it is available to rent out for parties, meetings, art exhibitions, and most every type of event under the sun. Down the road, The Ringwald Theater is a popular spot to catch a play by local resident theater troupe Who Wants Cake? Ferndale is also home to multiple citywide events, from the Motor City Pride festival, which reflects the impact of Ferndale’s Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender (LGBT) community, to the Ferndale Blues Festival, which is supported by the city’s large collection of venues. Ferndale is also the original location of the Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise, which began in 1995 as a grassroots fundraiser to raise money for a local Ferndale soccer field and has blossomed into one of metro Detroit’s most popular annual events. Whether large events are homegrown or brought in from the outside, events planners find Ferndale to be a perfect location to grow successful events.
“The ‘vibe’ of Ferndale’s people is what is best. People from all walks of life—well off, poor, every color, race, gender, sexual identity—meld together; not merely tolerating differences but embracing them as well.”
—AJ O’Neil, owner, AJ’s Music Café
Mark Loeb, founder of Integrity Shows, plans the annual Funky Ferndale Art Fair. He commented, “It’s really a marriage of event and location. The event is designed for that location because Ferndale is more of an energetic, younger, unusual community. Although we do have people who do things that look like every other art fair, the majority of our artists are doing things with a little bit of an edge, a little bit unusual, and they know Ferndale has an audience that is going to go with that.”
Citywide festivals bring in an influx of visitors to the area, and many times local businesses and restaurants have their most profitable days during these events. However, events that close down streets and bring in non-local vendors are not popular with everyone. Events planners admit that it is a challenge to convince many downtown businesses to stay open during events that are not focused on them. One common complaint is that, although events draw vast numbers of people to town, they are not the people who will keep coming back to Ferndale to support local business and culture.
Chris Johnston, who owns several businesses in downtown Ferndale, including Woodward Avenue Brewers, saw a need for a more locally oriented fair that would reflect the do-it-yourself (DIY) spirit of the local population in Ferndale and better support downtown businesses. Last year, he organized the first annual Ferndale DIY Street Fair, held in conjunction with the Funky Ferndale Art Fair. On the DIY Fair’s myspace page, Johnston is quoted claiming, “there was something missing [in Ferndale], like an event that was really about the people.” Ferndale Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise Weekend planner Mark Lary recognizes the reluctance of many businesses to stay open and participate in outside events. However, he sees them as an opportunity for local businesses to market themselves and leave an impression on visitors who are likely to return to Ferndale at a later date. According to Lary, local establishments must ask themselves, “how are you going to try to reach out to them in order to bring them back some other day?” He explained, “What happens a lot of the time is that people come in to browse, but it doesn’t mean that they are going to buy, but they’ll remember and they’ll come back later.”
Natural Character? Funky
Those in charge of developing downtown Ferndale recognize how its funky character contributes to promoting the area to new businesses. Executive director of the Downtown Development Authority Cristina Sheppard-Decius explained, “Each of the businesses that are down here make up the character of downtown Ferndale. In terms of what we are doing to drive economic development, we are looking at the natural character here and making sure that we are taking that message and communicating that message outwards to more people.” Sheppard-Decius is concerned with filling Ferndale’s empty commercial spaces with the types of businesses that downtown is currently lacking, including more office space and downtown residential living. “Unfortunately, we all got hit with a bad economy,” she said. However, she claims that Ferndale’s
character attracts a lot of interest from businesses seeking commercial space. “We are on the cusp. When the economy turns back over, we are going to ramp right back up, and we’re not going to be behind on it by any means,” she concluded. Ferndale struck? If so, visit these websites:
Jennifer Eberbach is a freelance journalist and professional copywriter. You may contact her at 734-929-2964 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her online at www.jenthewriter.info.