(C. Proxmire, Feb. 20, 2013)
It may be hard for Ferndale newbies to imagine, but for four years the giant building on the corner of 9 and Woodward was vacant, a shell of what used to be an Old Navy Outlet store years before. A peek inside showed only a couple of check-out lanes left standing in an otherwise large, dusty room. It was not exactly the best face Ferndale could put forward.
In 2011 Chris and Tiffany Best came forward with an ambitious and creative plan. They turned the building into The Rust Belt, a weekend artists market with an ever-changing blend of 60 vendors, usually artists with some food vendors. In the center is a stage and every weekend people come from miles around to wander though the intricately-decorated displays. With Chris’ talent for welding and Tiffany’s fashion sense, the space is an ever-changing castle of imagination and home-made pride.
As described in their Kick Starter webpage,”…The Rust Belt gives makers, dreamers, artists and craftsman a beautiful and affordable place to sell their work. This isn’t just another mall or flea market though; this is curated – almost like an art gallery. You’ll never see Honey Boo Boo shirts, truck nutz or 90’s DVD’s being peddled in our space. Creativity is in the air, along with music, the smell of artisan roasted coffee, and the din of thousands of people connecting with the people that make their things.”
But in order to really make it, the Best’s need to adapt the plan a bit and make it so the space can also be used for events during the week.
Because it is an artsy space, it can be a great setting for gatherings, and the stage makes it nice for shows. Last year’s ARTWN grand opening celebration was held there, as was an awards ceremony for student artists. Plus there have been concerts and even a Ferndale Reads Kick Off Flash Mob. The atmosphere is already there. What’s missing are a few design changes that would make the gathering space even better, and more practical, for private functions.
To make this happen, the Bests have launched a Kickstarter Campaign to raise $20,000 towards the building materials they need to make the renovation. On the site they explain the need for funding, “In order to have successful artists we need to offer them two things: Lots of foot traffic and low costs. If we’re in a hip spot with high foot traffic we’ve got high rent, if we have high rent we need to figure out a way to keep our costs down. That means finding other ways of bringing home the bacon to keep the doors open. This means using the space we have in ways we haven’t. We’re an anchor business in Ferndale because of our location, but we haven’t been acting like it. Our expensive space at Nine Mile and Woodward isn’t open for five days of the week for several reasons. Some vendors make enough during the weekends to sustain a decent living, most don’t and keep a part or full time job to make ends meet. Right now foot traffic during the weekdays is not what it is on the weekends because most people work during the day, so any vendor wouldn’t make the profit they need to stay open. Also, our current model does create opportunity for small business but it does not support us hiring desperately needed help (It’s just the two of us!). This project you help fund will ultimately lead to the first official Rust Belt employees!
“Our long-term goal is to open the market more for artisan shopping. The weekday foot traffic does not currently support the amount of vendors the market houses, but our goal is to change that. By creating an event and all-purpose space, we can capture interest and reach out to larger groups of people who may not usually venture into Ferndale or The Rust Belt. Some events will take place on the weekends after-hours, others during the week. We hope to host workshops, local bands, gallery openings, weddings, showers, corporate meetings, and other happenings that are outside of that typical party/event/workshop box. We welcome all creative ideas. This flex space cures the problems that have plagued us for nearly 2 years: how to ensure merchandise security for vendors and how to make use of the space during the week and after-hours. Depending on the amount of people attending and the vision of the person/company hosting an event, the market may be open. But this new space gives us and our vendors the option in a much more streamlined way.”
Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter appears in the video for the fundraiser, commending the owners. “They’ve been able to, in 15,000 square feet, to capture the essence of this community and of Michigan. Just the name Rust Belt, they’ve taken what was once a pejorative term and turned it on its head and made it cool.”
The Bests say that failing to raise enough money won’t close the Rust Belt, it will simple mean they will have to look at other ways to make the changes to help their business grow. So far over $2,000 has been pledged.
To chip in or to learn more, visit their Kickstarter page at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/chrisbest/the-rust-belt-shall-live-not-by-weekends-alone. See more about the business at http://www.rustbeltmarket.com/.