Downtown Detroit Holiday marketplace welcomes 18 local entrepreneurs

Detroit — Eighteen boutique stores featuring everything from custom charcuterie boards and clothing to jewelry and pet products opened pop-up locations Thursday in downtown Detroit’s seasonal market in Cadillac Square and they’ll stay there until Jan. 1.

The pop-ups, which lure thousands downtown every holiday season, will be open Wednesday through Sunday. This year’s vendors were selected from hundreds of applicants and are all local businesses offering a diverse range of products, said JJ Vélez, director of public space for the Gilbert Family Foundation, which funds the annual marketplace. And the majority of the featured owners this year are women or people of color.

“We want to make sure that we are… inclusive in our selection process of vendors that represent the city and the individuals that live in our city,” Vélez said. “People want diversity, right, and you can see that here today.”

For business partners Stella Safari and Dextina Booker, the marketplace pop-up shop is the first brick-and-mortar location for their made-to-order clothing line called Zapenda. Zapenda designs are inspired by the African diaspora and produced at an atelier in Bukavu, Safari’s hometown in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“We hire tailors there and provide opportunities for them to earn a living, but also tap into their skill of tailoring — it’s a really huge practice in Congo,” Safari said.

Zapenda clothing is authentic and regal, Safari said. There are samples in the downtown pop-up shop and customers can get their measurements taken to be fitted for a custom garment. They also offer giftable items such as candles that customers can take home with them.

Safari immigrated to the United States when she was eight years old and said she would love to introduce customers to the Congo this winter.

“My country has been at war… I came here as a refugee and so that’s been a lot of the story about Congo,” Safari said. “Having an opportunity to also showcase the beauty that comes out of Congo and the talent that’s there is really special for me.”

AJ Williams, left, managing editor of The Michigan Chronicle and Jasmine DeForrest, both of Detroit, director of Arts and Culture for the Gilbert Family Foundation, hug at Cadillac Lodge, Thursday morning, Nov. 10, 2022.

Some shops such as Trisha Stander’s 3Dogs1Cat are staples at the annual marketplace and have returned due to their popularity. Stander sells everything from alcohol-inspired chew toys to reindeer antlers for dogs, in addition to Christmas-themed products for pet owners like socks and gloves.

“Being part of this (the Downtown Detroit marketplace) is probably what kept us in business. During all of everything that went on with COVID we really struggled and this has kind of been our lifeline every year,” Stander said. “Different things that are going on in the community really bring people downtown — in the evenings, especially, it’s jam-packed.”

For some entrepreneurs such as Halie Conyers, the marketplace is a great opportunity to promote the handmade jewelry business that she started in 2019, Halie & Co. The Detroit native has been to the marketplace in previous years as a guest and took the opportunity to apply as a business owner this year.

Employees run into each other in Winter Bumper Cars at the Monroe Street Midway in front of the downtown Detroit skyline, Thursday morning, Nov. 10, 2022. Members of the media attend the opening of the Downtown Detroit Markets & Cadillac Lodge at Cadillac Square and Woodward.

“I’m definitely nervous, but just getting out and being in the community after COVID, having everyone being out and about and having the tree lighting next week, it’s just gonna be a thing of really good atmosphere to be downtown. I’m excited to have my business be a part of it this year,” Conyers said. “We’re popping up as much as possible, hopefully, one day in the future we’d love to have something (a permanent location) downtown.”

The marketplace is managed by the Gilbert Family Foundation in partnership with Bedrock, the Downtown Detroit Partnership and TechTown, a business development service working directly with the 18 entrepreneurs.

“We’re training them or providing them resources on things like inventory management at this kind of level, marketing, their business branding, maximizing sales,” said Christina Devlin, a retail strategist at TechTown. “(We’re) also working with them on making sure to be able to take the success that they have here and use that to catapult their businesses forward after the market is over.”

Shoppers at the marketplace can also enjoy the Cadillac Lodge, operated by The Iconic Collection, which offers a full bar and snacks and is back for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Across the street at the Monroe Street Midway, there is an indoor arcade, bumper cars on ice, an arctic slide and puck-put, a cross between mini-golf and hockey.

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