Saleswoman Kathy Hawkins, left, helps Deanna Wagner, right, choose a tie for her 8-month-old son at Connie’s Children’s Shop Nov. 13.

Saleswoman Kathy Hawkins, left, helps Deanna Wagner, right, choose a tie for her 8-month-old son at Connie’s Children’s Shop Nov. 13.

Photo by Sean Work


Small businesses give St. Clair Shores its hometown feel

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published November 15, 2018

 Foot Solutions owner Joe Dyament helps Fadia Sawaf, of Rochester, choose a comfortable pair of shoes for her work as a hairdresser Nov. 13.

Foot Solutions owner Joe Dyament helps Fadia Sawaf, of Rochester, choose a comfortable pair of shoes for her work as a hairdresser Nov. 13.

Photo by Sean Work

 Small businesses in St. Clair Shores include Foot Solutions on Harper Avenue.

Small businesses in St. Clair Shores include Foot Solutions on Harper Avenue.

Photo by Sean Work

 Connie’s Children’s Shop has been in business in St. Clair Shores for nearly 65 years.

Connie’s Children’s Shop has been in business in St. Clair Shores for nearly 65 years.

Photo by Sean Work

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — They are what make St. Clair Shores unique, according to Mayor Kip Walby.

“I think there’s value in that you can find many different items here. It’s hard-to-find items, and you can find everything in these small little stores,” he said. “People enjoy dealing with the owners. The service level is better.”

At this point in the season, many email inboxes are cluttered with Black Friday preview ads and sales from big national chain stores.

But is one-stop shopping at a big box store really the way to go? Many say no.

The Macomb County Chamber of Commerce has members across all municipalities in Macomb County. Chamber CEO Grace Shore said that about 90 percent of its membership is made up of small businesses. Across the nation, there are about 27 million small businesses, which generate about 50 percent of the gross domestic product, according to the Small Business Administration.

“St. Clair Shores, it’s really a great place to own and operate a small business. It’s a real tight-knit community,” said Joe Dyament, the owner of Foot Solutions, 21213 Harper Ave. “I, myself, shop at small businesses because I think it’s great to have our money stay within the community.”

Dyament said that contributions from small businesses in the community help pay for first responders, schools and charitable work in the area, which he said is a great reason to support small businesses.

“We try to give back as much as we can,” he said.

Walby said that the relationships that small businesses in the city have with their customers mean that those businesses are often the first to come support local parades, activities and fundraisers.

“The small places, they come out. Travis (Coffee Shop) will take care of the food or someone else will take care of the banquet hall,” he said. “They’re always participating in that way.”

Small businesses are very adaptable, Shore said.

“They’re very flexible. They can respond to market needs and customer needs because they’re small and owner-operated,” she said. “The owner has contact with his customers and can then respond to their needs.”

Walking into a small local business is different than walking into a big box store, Shore added.

“They know their customers. They greet their customers. They try to help their customers,” she said.

Dyament agreed.

“What I really enjoy about it is, in St. Clair Shores and I’m sure other smaller communities ... just having a personal connection with the business. I could go into Macomb Bike (and Fitness) over in Warren — I walk in there, they know me by name. It’s personalized service; I trust them,” he said.

The same happens to him at Gilbert’s Hardware, 21912 Harper Ave. Dyament said he can walk into the store with a problem, and the owner “pulls me aside and says, ‘We can solve this in five minutes.’

“You can’t get that online or in a big box store.”

Denise Kort, the owner of Connie’s Children’s Shop, 23240 Greater Mack Ave., said that small businesses like her own have a history in the community.

“We’ve been around for almost 65 years, which is very unique,” she said. “There’s not a day that goes by that someone doesn’t thank me for still being here.”

About 10 years ago, Kort said, she wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to keep the doors open, but her loyal customer base kept her going.

“I think people like to shop at my store because I’ve got such unique, different options than if they were to walk into a (major retailer),” she said. “If you’re only shopping on the internet, your little person is going to go away and that’s an inconvenience. Even if you’re paying a few dollars extra here or there, what’s the difference? You’re not paying the shipping.”

Shopping small also gives the customer the feeling that they are supporting a local family, Walby said.

“That’s a good feeling ... (better) than supporting corporate America,” he said. “They know you. You go to these places and even the local cashiers, they know you.”

Connie’s Children’s Shop is a 5,400-square-foot store filled with children’s clothing, shoes and accessories with something for everyone, from dresses with smocking for grandmothers to buy to the latest fashions for mothers to pick up. The shop also stocks uniforms for local schools, First Communion dresses and suits, and dress clothes for boys, which Kort said are getting harder to find elsewhere.

At Foot Solutions, Dyament helps those who have foot discomfort or trouble getting shoes to fit properly, as well as those with foot, knee or lower back pain. The store is a “throwback to how the old shoe stores used to be,” and customers will get measured and fit with the proper shoes and custom orthotics.

“We try to make the in-store experience as pleasurable as possible,” he said.

Both big and small businesses are needed in a community, Shore said, but small businesses have that personal appeal because they are very tied to the community. Where there is a dense residential community, there will be small businesses that pop up to support that neighborhood.

“They’re people in your community; they live in your community. Their kids go to school (with your kids) so you have a personal relationship with your customers, with your government officials, and your local community is your source of networking,” Shore said.

Kort said she has customers who are grandmothers now that she was helping when they were young mothers and she was new to the family business at 23 years old.

“It’s wonderful. It’s so fun,” Kort said. “Those moms, now grandmas, were telling me how they got their First Communion dress at my store.”

Dyament said it doesn’t get any more “mom and pop” than his store, run by himself and his wife, Diane. They work to give back to the community as well, collecting gently used athletic and walking shoes that are turned in for donations to a local charity — right now, the Lac Ste. Claire Kiwanis Club.

Even with 60,000 residents, it’s the local businesses that give St. Clair Shores its character, Walby said.

“We have a community,” he said. “I think we act small and feel small, and it gives the character of St. Clair Shores.”

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