Rust Belt Market celebrates 10 years

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published April 28, 2021

 Jaicee Simpkins, of Detroit, shops inside the Rust Belt Market April 24. The market is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

Jaicee Simpkins, of Detroit, shops inside the Rust Belt Market April 24. The market is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 Surrounded by greenery, Ferndale resident Marlon Davis, of Plant House, works inside the Rust Belt Market April 24.

Surrounded by greenery, Ferndale resident Marlon Davis, of Plant House, works inside the Rust Belt Market April 24.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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FERNDALE — One of the most recognized spots in the city of Ferndale will be celebrating 10 years in May.

The Rust Belt Market will be holding a 10-year anniversary celebration over the course of the May 8-9 weekend at its 22801 Woodward Ave. location. It will run from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, May 8, and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, May 9.

Owner Chris Best said they’re organizing the event with a focus on outdoor components. The business will have food trucks outside both days along with musical entertainment provided by local venue operators such as the Loving Touch.

Inside the Rust Belt will be its Vintage Fashion Market, which it hasn’t been able to hold since before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“Hopefully, the weather is gonna cooperate and we can open up the front and back doors. We’re gonna have seating outdoors and shopping indoors. It’s just gonna be a much needed gathering after a very long period of time not being able to have much of an event at all,” he said.

Once the Rust Belt was given the go-ahead to reopen during the pandemic, it was given a reduced capacity of 25% and later 50%, which is the current percentage. That means the market can have up to 350 people inside at a time when it’s open on the weekends.

The reduced capacity, Best said, has had a strong effect on their ability to hold events, which is a staple of the market.

“We just haven’t been able to do any events,” he said. “Like 70% of our revenue is based on weddings and other types of events, but we haven’t been able to do that.”

The Rust Belt Market first opened on May 7, 2011. It originally didn’t have an event space and only was a spot where small businesses and vendors could come to sell their wares.

Looking back, Best felt it was a little naive to think they could support the Woodward and Nine Mile location with only vendors, but he called those vendors the “bread and butter” of Rust Belt.

“They’ve just really been our dance partner throughout all these years, and even with COVID, when we weren’t allowed to do events, even though they’re not the biggest part of our income as far as the rent that they pay us, they’re the ones that were keeping us afloat with their rent,” he said. “Even when it was just 25% capacity, we were able to stay open, whereas a lot of bars and restaurants were not. So we had that advantage, and it gave people something to do that just wanted to get out of the house. It was just nice to be able to fall back on … the thing that kind of made us what we are as a retail destination, as opposed to the events venue that we kind of morphed into.”

Christopher Gorski, the owner of the design and apparel brand DetroitGT, was one of the original vendors who started at Rust Belt’s opening. He’s since been there every single weekend, except for one.

Gorski started selling T-shirts at the market before getting into other apparel, illustrations and items, all of which are Detroit-focused. Along with his merchandise, Gorski also was asked to bring along a 1979 Chevrolet Stepvan that he sold his T-shirts out of when he visited art fairs and other events.

“They invited me and I didn’t quite understand they wanted me to bring a vehicle,” he said. “I didn’t know that they wanted a vehicle in the space, but they did.”

Gorski, a Ferndale resident, called the Rust Belt his “flagship store” and the base of his business. As someone who’s been there since the beginning, Gorski recognized it first as a collection of artists who didn’t have much business sense, but who later grew together to become better business owners.

“There were times at the Rust Belt that maybe we didn’t think this business model would work,” he said. “You know, sometimes artists would leave and new ones would come. At the beginning of Rust Belt, it didn’t have an event space in the center, there was no bar, it was just a big empty box store, and we filled it up with artists and we made it work. I had no idea that we would stay open for 10 years.”

In these 10 years, Best said, they’ve satisfied the vision for what they wanted the market to become: a place for creative-based businesses to grow and open their own stores and restaurants.

“We’ve got so many success stories and people that have gone on to do bigger things and use the Rust Belt as what we always intended it to be, which was a steppingstone and to test out your business idea and whether it was going to work or not,” he said. “We couldn’t have dreamed it would have been any better as far as the functionality of it.”

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