Shelli and Mickey Weisberg, of Birmingham, look over flowers at the opening day of the Birmingham Farmers Market May 6. The market opened this season to about 3,000 visitors.

Shelli and Mickey Weisberg, of Birmingham, look over flowers at the opening day of the Birmingham Farmers Market May 6. The market opened this season to about 3,000 visitors.

Photo by Donna Dalziel

Downtown thrives despite construction closure

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published May 14, 2018

BIRMINGHAM — During the summer months, downtown Birmingham is the center of the action for a long list of community activities, from the annual Celebrate Birmingham Hometown Parade to the Birmingham Farmers Market end-of-the-season event, and all of the art fairs and sidewalk sales in between.

But with a quarter-mile of construction throwing a wrench — or rather, a shovel — in the works at Old Woodward Avenue and Maple Road, how will the city keep the fun downtown?

According to Ingrid Tighe, executive director of the Birmingham Shopping District, there’s nothing to worry about. In fact, since construction began last month, some retailers have actually reported higher sales than at this time in previous years.

“A lot of businesses are saying they’re doing better; Found Objects said they’re doing really well,” Tighe said. “I think the strong numbers are from things like the free valet that we have and free parking in the structures on weekends. And the Birmingham Bonus Bucks program incentive was really a huge success.”

Since mid-April, the BSD has sponsored free valet parking at the ends of the construction zone to make accessing shops and dining easier for visitors. The Birmingham Business Bucks, through which shoppers are awarded $10 for every $100 spent at BSD shops and boutiques and every $200 spent at restaurants, has been so popular that the organization had to allocate more funds than originally planned to sustain the incentive program through the rest of the construction period, which is expected to wrap up in July.

Another draw to the area has been in the making for the past couple of weeks, as amateur and professional artists have been creating colorful artwork along the barricade panels lining the construction zone. Visitors can go online to vote for their favorite panel, and when the roadwork project is complete, the winner will be announced.

Tighe said the contest is intended to not only bring guests downtown to see their friend or family’s artwork, but to add some interest to the walls that line the torn-up streets.

Graphic designer Nathaniel Moritz, of St. Clair Shores, was one of the artists to paint a 24-by-4-foot section of the barricades for the contest. He said it was an opportunity for him to network with other local artists.

“It reads ‘Pave the Way and Dream Big,’” Moritz said. “I sketched up a bunch of ideas and then added some other aesthetics to my mural, based on Mad Hatter Bistro, which is ‘Alice in Wonderland’ themed. I loved painting at this exact spot. I wish they allowed me to paint the whole block. I loved the noise from the trucks, business of the city during the weekend and lunchtime, and the city-like sounds of cars, people talking and open businesses. Painting a downtown mural like this was definitely new to me. Painting live while people stopped and watched was an awesome adrenaline rush.”

Voting for the art contest began last weekend during the annual Art Birmingham fair in Shain Park. The weekend before that, the Birmingham Farmers Market opened for the season with record crowds, according to Tighe. So it seems that, so far, downtown is as hot as ever.

“We had over 3,000 visitors on opening day, which exceeded our expectations. I think being really north on Old Woodward and well out of the way of construction, (the roadwork) didn’t deter people from coming in. We had a great turnout of vendors too. There was about 45 vendors, and we had a nice balance of farmers and produce and flowers and the prepared foods,” she said.

The farmers market could even serve as yet another way to tempt guests downtown while the road is closed, since the nearest parking structure to the market is on Old Woodward and is equally close to Maple.

“Even though we aren’t putting on Art Birmingham, we’ve teamed up with them to promote the market and the parade and encourage people to go to both. And at the market, we’re encouraging people to walk through town. We’re really interested in those partnerships,” Tighe said.

For more information on shopping incentives downtown, as well as a schedule of year-round events sponsored by the Birmingham Shopping District, visit