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 Cook Abderaouf Bouslah and cashier Hannah Geiger are ready for business at Chicken Shack in Sterling Heights.

Cook Abderaouf Bouslah and cashier Hannah Geiger are ready for business at Chicken Shack in Sterling Heights.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Sterling Heights small businesses stay invested in neighborhoods

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published November 14, 2018


STERLING HEIGHTS — For Chicken Shack co-owner Jim Behen, the best way for his small business to succeed while feeding people is through word of mouth.

And with those interactions come not only repeat customers, but also new chances to reach out and support their local activities.

“You get to know the community, the citizens,” Behen said.

Shoppers, retailers and business analysts are paying more attention to the impact of small businesses as Small Business Saturday approaches Nov. 24. The campaign encourages consumers to buy local from a brick-and-mortar small business.

Behen said he has run his business in Sterling Heights with his two brothers for around 16 years. In that time, he said, Chicken Shack has given back to the community by helping local groups. For instance, he said, it has given tax-exempt churches and nonprofits a discount.

“We sponsor baseball teams. We do a lot of high school calendars. We do senior all-night parties. All sorts of good stuff,” he said.

“We get asked to donate so frequently. It’s daily, for sure, that someone calls us and asks if we can donate something to their cause, whatever they may be.”

Melanie Davis, president and CEO of the Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce, said her organization has around 1,200 members, with a good portion of those being small businesses and retail businesses.

Davis talked about some of the good that small businesses do for the local community throughout the year, adding that many support local community events, teams and initiatives.

“We have many retailers that we reach out to throughout the year that donate back gift cards and certificates that we use to raffle off at different events,” Davis said.

“When you’re a small business owner, oftentimes you work in the community and you live in the community where your small business is located. So I think it’s important for them to give back to create a good community to live, work and play in, so you’ll see that a lot.”

Davis gave other reasons why many cities prize small businesses as an asset.

“I think a big part of it is the paying taxes and the job creation,” she said. “For years, most job growth has come from small businesses.”

Sterling Heights senior economic development adviser Luke Bonner said retail trends are changing, and the basic cause is consumer behavior, which is driving online sales.

“I think it’s mainly affected a lot of bigger national retailers,” he said. “A lot of data (suggests) that smaller retailers, mom-and-pop neighborhood retailers, they are doing much better because it offers both product and experience you really can’t get anywhere else.”

Bonner said the city works with the Macomb-Oakland University Incubator to assist small businesses. He said the city often devotes attention to high-tech, engineering and defense businesses because when high-paying jobs come to the area, they have a bonus spillover effect on retail.

“When we focus on economic development, it’s sort of that bigger picture of, ‘Let’s do our best to create larger amounts of jobs that are higher wage that are manufacturing-related,’” he said. “The more you can help perpetuate job creation in your community on a large scale, the better your retail is going to be.”

When Sterling Heights officials do focus on retail growth as a strategy, they examine opportunities at established commercial areas, such as the closed Kmart near 18 Mile and Dequindre roads, or at Lakeside Mall, Bonner said.

“When we’re working on those kinds of projects ... we take bigger, larger projects that have an impact on the community,” he said.

Nearby, in Warren, original Detroit-style square pizza has exploded in popularity in recent years at Buddy’s Pizza on 13 Mile Road, at Van Dyke Avenue. What people might not know is that Buddy’s supports a long list of local charities, many of which are as iconically Detroit as the restaurant’s pizza pies.

That list includes The Parade Co., the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Zoo, the Motown Museum, the Karmanos Cancer Institute, the College for Creative Studies, the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, Detroit Public Television and the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

Wesley Pikula, chief operating officer of Buddy’s Pizza, said the company has been honored to receive an award from the Michigan Restaurant Association in each of the last five years for work it has done to support community outreach, an endeavor it has continually accomplished through the support of its own customers. Like many of the charities, Buddy’s has been around for decades. The company’s first pizzeria opened in Detroit in 1946, and it has been in Warren since the 1970s.

Much of Buddy’s support for charities these days comes from the sale of “cause pizzas,” with a portion of the price going to benefit a designated group.

“I find myself, if I’m out eating somewhere and someone is telling me this money is going to support this cause or that cause, I feel better about it,” Pikula said. “I’m happy that the business has the wherewithal and sort of the vision that it’s not just about the dollars that you’re putting in your pocket, it’s also the difference you’re making in your community.

“I think any business that’s successful or wants to be successful has to understand that the customer base is your community, and what works well for them is going to work well for the business. There’s definitely a partnership there, whether it’s known or unknown,” Pikula said. “We all sort of branch together more than people realize.”

Find out more about Chicken Shack, 37010 Van Dyke Ave. in Sterling Heights, by calling (586) 276-0788. For the Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce, visit or call (586) 731-5400. Visit Sterling Heights’ website at or call (586) 446-2489.

Learn more about Small Business Saturday by visiting