8 Mile & Woodward – Transformation in US Race Relations

Some political theories expound on the trickle down. What about the grassroots up?

In discussing anything geographic or demographic in Detroit one should get point of reference right out of the way. It’s always the issue. I’m white, live a few blocks off 8 mile in Ferndale, have lived in the city of Detroit by Wayne State, some time in New York City, Ann Arbor, and Cleveland. In high school I lived in Birmingham, Michigan. Immediately that Birmingham reference draws conclusions and assumptions. That’s fine. We all do it. For all the out-of-towners, and there’s many out of towners visiting and writing about Detroit, this makes me appear to be a college educated white male from a wealthy suburb. Those that know me, read my writings, have read my poetry, know this may be one facet. Like all humans, there are many dimensions.

I lead with all this because I’m going to make a bold statement.

The Meijer grocery store on 8 mile and Woodward is one of the most critical points/events in Detroit race relations. Maybe someday looked back on as important for the United States.

Meijer 8 Mile Woodward

I’ve lived close to 8 mile for over 10 years now and I was always curious what entrepreneur was going to make the first real bold move. There was a flower store years back, Blumz . It closed and headed a few blocks north. I wondered if a restaurant or night club was going to take the plunge. I was taken aback when I first heard Meijer, a Michigan based large independent superstore, was building a store there. I didn’t think it was unwise but wondered if you could support something that big in that area.

I don’t claim to know any politics or jockeying for the area where Meier now sits by the old State Fairgrounds. I’m sure there were intricate and complicated negotiations to get the store built and like so many things in our society – winners and losers. I know of nobody being disenfranchised but would not be surprised if that were the case. (An interesting topic for comments?)

A few weeks back at its grand opening I went with my wife and daughter. Curious. We were pleasantly surprised. The store was spotless, airy, and the produce looked very fresh and well presented. I was intrigued at the positive vibe in the air. Many of us, like our family, were glad to have a Meijer-like store in our area. Currently we have to travel a suburb or two north to go to a Meijer or Target and having one nearly a mile away will be helpful. I think many of the other people in the store felt the same way. There were smiles and head nods. The employees also seemed to be happy to be there and excited. All of this didn’t have racial lines. There were black and white patrons as well as black and white employees and managers. It was almost as if the feeling was like “we got this, we deserve this, and we’re going to keep this. This is normal and no big deal”.

I have to say I was surprised and humbled by reaction. Just as you likely made assumptions about me in the first paragraph of this essay I had a made assumptions about what a Meijer in Detroit would be, what the people would be like, what the feeling in the air would be. It was not as what I had suspected. It was all hard-working people, friendly, and you could tell the people were upstanding and rationale people in society. There was a bright hope. To clarify this is NOT to imply I believe parts of Detroit are the opposite ie, lazy, mean, low-class, and irrational. Far from the truth. Having lived in the city before and working there everyday I do feel a tension and apathy in pockets. In some places it feels like there is no hope, there is resignment to the circumstances that are.

Meijers I didn’t feel that. Deep down maybe I felt ashamed I assumed there wasn’t this volume of hard-working and people who want the same things out of life like me and my family and are just trying to make it in the system we live.

I’m sure Meijer is happy with their first weeks of sales, when I drive by it at 7am there are many cars in the parking lot. The key will be if they can keep up the cleanliness and apparent high employee morale. Security will be another big test. Should bad things go down in the parking lot, they will have trouble having people come there. Then again bad things happen in Birmingham, we just don’t hear a lot about it.

It’s the ordinary day-to-day which forms the subtle and unconscious backbone of a culture and society, not necessarily the obvious things like clothes, food, nightclubs, or even transformative events like riots. Looking at the places of commerce where these goods are purchased, the markets, one can really see the pulse of that civilization. Maybe if we understand what happens there we can see where the future will lead. I give credit to Meijer for taking the bold move to move to an area that may have had a culturally perceived risk. As a citizen in the area I am happy to have those goods conveniently located and as a man living in metro-Detroit… hopeful that things like race have taken a turn for the better at 8 mile and Woodward.

Everything written here are the views of Tim Aten and Tim Aten only. They have no relation, nor are they the views of any of my employers past or present.


  1. Tim, this is great. I was deeply fascinated this past winter when i was visiting Detroit to learn that Meijer’s was opening its doors there. I’ve been so curious to hear something about it. I had a really good feeling about what it might do there, and it is so good to hear your impressions. Very inspiring piece.

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