Thursday, February 28, 2013

Big Plans and New Ideas for The Rust Belt Market

If you ever drive down Woodward or make a stop in Ferndale you have seen Rust Belt Market, LLC. It's right at the corner of 9 Mile and Woodward in a beautiful building with its towering sign. Their space is full of shoppers every weekend, perusing goods made by local artists. Quite a change since my teenage years when Old Navy was housed in the building! 

Rust Belt Market is a 15,000 square foot space in the heart of Downtown Ferndale. It is a home for many local artists of many different mediums. It also opens itself up to musicians and performing artists that entertain shoppers amidst the numerous vendors. It's a beautiful space, like no other. When you enter the doors, you can tell that the owners, Chris & Tiffany Best take pride in their business, as do the artists that make it their home.

Currently Rust Belt Market is only open on the weekends. Their hours are Saturdays from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. As you can imagine, it must be hard to pay rent for and keep up a building of its size in the heart of Ferndale, especially when you are only open on the weekends. So, the owners are looking to change things up a bit. Because the foot traffic isn't the same through the week as it is on the weekends, and since many of the vendors have day jobs, making Rust Belt a 7 day a week shop isn't ideal. Instead they are looking to renovate their space to offer a new event space that will be available through the week.

In order to complete this renovation project, Rust Belt is trying to come up with $20,000. It is a lot of money, but it is not as much as some would expect for such a big project. Rust Belt is hoping to reach this monetary goal through a Kickstarter Campaign, rather than going through a bank. And really, it's a great idea. The slogan of the campaign is "The Rust Belt Shall Live Not By Weekends Alone". Contributors won't walk away empty handed either! Depending on the amount you donate, you can get anything from a public "Thank You" to stickers, shirts, posters, artwork or even a chance to hold your event in the new space. It's a pretty cool idea with great benefits for the supporters and the community as a whole. This amazing company has become an anchor in Downtown Ferndale and they have allowed so many artists a chance to make a business out of doing what they love.

To find out more about Rust Belt and this Kickstarter Campaign, we caught up with Chris Best and asked him some questions that we wanted to know the answers to.

Hip In Detroit- When did Rust Belt open? 
Chris- "May of 2011" 

Hip In Detroit- Where did you and Tiffany get the idea from? What motivated you to open Rust Belt?
Chris- "Art fairs and craft shows in Detroit are not like your grandma and grandpa’s art fair of yesteryear. We attended more than a few of these events. We went to The People's Art Fest 2011 that takes place at the Russell Industrial Center and we asked most vendors where they sell their super cool work other than there, they mostly replied “etsy”. We thought this was not good enough. They needed a regular place to sell. It was at this exact visit the idea seed was planted in our brain and we couldn’t shake it. It was just the details that needed to be worked out. It was on our 3 hour trip back from Art Prize in Grand Rapids a month or so after People's we talked a lot and the business model was born (unknown to us it had already been done in NYC)." 

Hip In Detroit- What are some of the biggest obstacles you had to overcome when starting Rust Belt?
Chris- "There is very little precedent to our model. It is a strange business. We are essentially sub leasers. Very, very hands on sub leasers. When people ask us what we do during the week (because we run a weekend only market) we want to lose our shit. There is no way we could illustrate to them how much work it is without sounding like jerks. Also, creative people are the most important part of the human population as far as we are concerned, but WOW they hard to manage at times. It is very similar to herding cats to a watering hole. It is better now (after two years) because we have loyal vendors that get the vision and they help explain to the newbies how it works. And they help us so very much. We love our main stay vendors almost like family."

Hip In Detroit- What are some of the obstacles you are currently faced with? 
Chris- "Ughh. Isn’t it always money? It really is cash flow. The space is X amount of $ per month. The rent from vendors per month is Y. If Y is just slightly more than X there is not just not enough $ for continued growth. The opportunity for growth is there but the space is too big . We are faced with the daunting task of filling it each weekend with QUALITY vendors to impress our visitors. We turn away a lot of potential vendors waiving cash at us that have merch that just doesn’t make the cut for what we are trying to be. If we were a flea market we could fill the place plus another 10,000 sq ft. We have to maintain our integrity to the point of our detriment. Also, we have no employees. Until 2 months ago we were cleaning the bathrooms and mopping all 15,000 sq ft. We have admin duties and are bouncers for drunks and then all the PR work and everything else that is involved with running this beast. We try to find time for each other and our kids, but it’s not as much as we would like. Boo hoo right? Every one else has the same problems that try to carve out a life in this world."

Hip In Detroit- Tell us about this re-construction project you are working on. 
Chris- "The Kickstarter campaign is for us to buy materials to build walls to create a beautiful event space. This event space creation is so critical to our continued success. We cannot possibly turn away another event space request due to the vendors merchandise being present. We have to generate revenue from our expensive space Monday through Friday. This is a no-brainer move. The vendors are behind it because they know how critical it is to our growth. They also know it will further supplement the weekend market through more awareness from people that may have never been to the space. We will only be losing about five vendor spaces because we will be using the space so much more efficiently."

Hip In Detroit- How will the new "walls" you are building affect the layout of the space? Will your shoppers notice a difference? 
Chris- "Yes they will. When they enter in through the rear entrance they will be confronted with a beautiful space that may or may not be used during market hours for events. Our ceiling is 17’, the walls will be 10’ tall. They will be in awe and may be overcome with the urge to lease the space once they realize it is available. There will be three large gateways to enter and exit the space. These will most likely be creative metal welded gates you can see through even when the gates are closed. We will try to hold very cool events that play well with the rest of the market during weekend hours such as furniture shows, fashion shows, puppet shows, music, etc… We are building a stage into the space as we want to become even more of a live music venue."

Hip In Detroit- What about the vendors & artists that set up shop at Rust Belt Market? Will this have a big impact on them? Will there will be more or less shops or about the same?  
Chris- "I think it will bring even more awareness to what we are on the weekends which will only bring more shoppers in. We will lose only 5 vendor spaces because of a much more efficient use of space."

Hip In Detroit- Judging by how amazing your establishment already is, I'm sure your plans for this new layout and event space are equally as awesome. When can people plan on seeing events being held at The Rust Belt?  
Chris- "Almost immediately. We will be a venue for the Metro Times Blowout the first weekend in May. It has been held in Hamtramck exclusively in year’s past, but this year they’ve added a second weekend in Ferndale. Also, on that Saturday we will be hosting the first food truck event of 2013 in the back alley from 5 till 11 p.m. It also happens to be our 2 year anniversary so there is a strong possibility I will be drunk while cleaning up after the food trucks leave."

Hip In Detroit- Since Rust Belt is open to shoppers on the weekend, will the event space only be available through the week or will it also be available on weekends?  
Chris- "It will be open for events during the week. That is not to say some of the events may request we be open to the public to shop if it is a fund raiser or something. Some events can set up during market hours and take place after-hours as well. But the ultimate goal is to get more people to Ferndale, so the possibility of opening the market more becomes a reality. That is what people really want."

Hip In Detroit- Here's your chance... tell our readers everything you want or some points we may have missed. 
Chris- "Wow. There is a lot. Of course I can’t think of much now… I guess the biggest point I would like to make is that this is a boot strap business. Tiffany and I are not trust fund babies. We willed this business into fruition through an extreme amount of hard work. I built and mounted both gigantic signs in the front and back of the exterior face. She wrote the amazing biz plan that convinced so many nay-sayers that it would actually work. I designed the cool lights above the stage that everyone seems to love. I built the stage. She does all the boring admin stuff that keeps the business running. Tiffany is such a talented artist that can’t find the time to do the rad installations that would blow people's minds. PLEASE consider donating to the Kickstarter campaign!! If for no other reason so we can hire some great people to lighten her work load to allow her to show the world just how talented she is."

Just in case you aren't already convinced that you should help out, hopefully this video from their  Kickstarter page will sway you.  


We wish Rust Belt the best of luck on making this new idea a reality. The Kickstarter campaign for the improvements to the space runs through March 22nd. Every dollar helps! Let's help this amazing business be even bigger and better than it already is!


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