Sam Hakim, the owner of Emily’s in  St. Clair Shores, said shoppers love local “mom and pop stores” like his.

Sam Hakim, the owner of Emily’s in St. Clair Shores, said shoppers love local “mom and pop stores” like his.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske


Small businesses make a big impact in Macomb County

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published November 25, 2019

 Sandy Wowk, the owner of Ati’s Jewelers in Clinton Township, said that shopping at stores like hers is a  different experience — more personal for the customer.

Sandy Wowk, the owner of Ati’s Jewelers in Clinton Township, said that shopping at stores like hers is a different experience — more personal for the customer.

Photo by Jon Malavolti

MACOMB COUNTY — Sometime late on the night of Thanksgiving, or in the wee hours of Black Friday, shoppers will be camped in a parking lot, braving the frigid weather to try and score a deal on a big-screen TV.

As the customers are herded into the big box store like cattle, the store owner is unlikely to be there, personally greeting them and thanking them for supporting the business, or guiding them to the exact shelf and aisle where they can find what they are looking for.

And that, it seems, is a big difference between big-box shopping and the experience of customers who patronize the local restaurants, shops and other businesses in their communities.

“I shop a lot of small businesses,” said Anne Maurer, of Grosse Pointe Woods. “They’re friendly and they have specialty things you can’t get at the big stores.”

Small businesses make a $2 billion impact on Macomb County each year, said Kelley Lovati, executive director of the Macomb County Chamber of Commerce.

“Our local businesses are about 1,600 out of the 2,400 retailers in Macomb County. It is a big footprint for Macomb County,” she said.

Small businesses have the agility to adapt and meet the needs of niche markets better than big-box stores, she said.

Sandy Wowk, the owner of Ati’s Jewelers, 42337 Garfield Road in Clinton Township, said that shopping at stores like hers is a different experience.

“It’s a one-on-one with the customer. They can come in and be educated. They can look at the items, they can touch, they can feel. I offer everything possible,” said Wowk, who is celebrating 20 years in business, even through a fire, a robbery and personal challenges.

“Small business is the foundation of this country,” said Sam Hakim, who opened Emily’s delicatessen, specializing in Lebanese cuisine, at 22205 Greater Mack Ave., in St. Clair Shores on May 1, 1971, with his mother. “People love mom and pop stores.”

His son, Sam Jr., has been working with him for 14 years and learned recipes from Hakim’s mother before she died.

The appeal harkens back to a time when shoppers went to Hudson’s and the local butcher, he said. For the past 48 years, Hakim said, he’s even kept the same vendors that he used in 1971, unless they have gone out of business.

He said his customer base has always been supportive. When residents move out of the area, the minute they return to St. Clair Shores, they often visit Emily’s.

“Our business will always be good,” he said. “My mother was tremendous. She taught my son everything he knows.”

Hakim said that a store’s food is only as good as the people selling it, so if shoppers know the store owner, they know they can trust the product.

“You (have) got to trust the people you’re dealing with,” he said. “What you see is what you get.”

Marianna Schowiak, of St. Clair Shores, has been shopping at Emily’s for years. She said she enjoys supporting small businesses.

“This is good, quality food, and you can’t get that at (big grocery stores), you can’t get that at (big-box stores). Family stays with family,” she said.

Small businesses give back to the community as well. Hakim said that if there’s an event or a fundraiser in St. Clair Shores, he’s probably given to it.

“I donate to probably most of the things that are in the city. St. Clair Shores has been very good to us,” he said.

The support of the community has enabled him to raise a family of five sons who all attended St. Joan of Arc Catholic School, De La Salle Collegiate High School, and college.

That’s why, no matter the time or day, shoppers will likely see Hakim or his son in the store.

“You need people like that. The big chains don’t give a darn,” said Denise Orn, of Roseville. “People like him (Hakim) care.”

Wowk said that the internet is making it harder for local stores to stay in business, but she tries hard to show customers the value in coming to her shop, whether it’s through home deliveries for those who can’t travel or parties she throws in appreciation for her customers.

“I want to make people happy,” she said. “When they thought they couldn’t afford something, I’ll make it happen. I will work with them; there’s no stipulation to how long they have it in layaway, as long as they make monthly payments.”

Macomb County is hosting a Shop Local campaign for the holiday season, where customers have the chance to win one of five $500 gift cards, donated by First State Bank, for uploading a photo of themselves shopping at a local business. The photos can be uploaded to living.macombgov.org/living-thingstodo-shoplocal between Nov. 29 and Dec. 8. Full rules and a list of participating businesses are also available on the site.

“A lot of times, you’ll see small businesses, they do live in their community or surrounding area. They’re really in touch or engaged with the community that they have their business in,” Lovati said. “They can give their time, their resources — it doesn’t always have to be money. There’s a lot of other ways for them to get involved.”