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Part of Detroit's Avenue of Fashion transformation journey

Part of Detroit's Avenue of Fashion transformation journey


DETROIT (WXYZ) As we celebrate Black History Month, we want to commemorate a historic district for African American businesses in the city of Detroit.

Livernois, Detroit is home to the Avenue of Fashion, which spans three to five blocks. It's been around since the 1960s, but it's undergone a stunning transformation since 2019, and one man and his family have survived the bust and now the boom.

Fashion Avenue is nicknamed the shopping mecca for African-Americans.

“I think people should know that this is one of the highest concentrations of black-owned businesses on a street in America…we don't talk about it enough and we should.” , said Rufus Bartell.

Today, you'll find everything from fashion to furriers to spas.

“Now it's more of an eclectic mix of things. There are bars, restaurants, professional services,” Rufus said.

Rufus is a part of Who's Who in Detroit and has played a significant role in its resurgence.

Rufus is the owner of the fabulous fashion boutique called Simply Casual in the 1900 Livernois neighborhood of Detroit. He has been present on this famous block since 2005.

He said the transformation of the region has been difficult over the past 18 years.

“Very difficult, I eat, I sleep and I drink,” he said.

Rufus, the youngest of 14 children, was the first to set out to create a business along the avenue. Following the example of his father who was married to his mother for 69 years, he worked at Ford Motor Company and always had a side hustle.

“When my dad had all these kids, he needed extra income, so he started a janitorial business,” he said.

Simply Casual is just one of 18 to 20 storefronts that Rufus and his family and friends own along Fashion Avenue.

“Fashion Avenue was a focal point of the shopping districts in the city of Detroit, in the late '50s and in the '60s obviously everything started to move toward the malls,” Rufus said.

That's when the boom happened with the Northland, Fairlane and Eastland malls. The neighborhood was going through a crisis, but Rufus kept an eye on Fashion Avenue.

“I walked the streets for a year before moving into this building, so for 18 years I championed the cause of the neighborhood,” he said.

The Avenue of Fashion is located in the University District, where you'll find impeccable homes in neighborhoods like Sherwood Forest and Palmer Woods. The late Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin and many other famous names had homes in the University District.

“We need more amenities, so my goal and vision is to create more amenities to create value in the surrounding neighborhood; you have one of the strongest zip codes in the entire city here.” Rufus said.

Construction along the avenue in 2019, followed by COVID, caused many businesses to close, but Rufus stayed the course.

“If we want our city to grow, we need to grow it from the neighborhood outward and there is certainly a lot of focus on downtown and rightly so, but the elephant in the room is the redevelopment of neighborhoods,” he said.

Fashion Avenue is only about three or four blocks, but with the help of the mayor and his vision, Rufus wants this area to extend from 8 Mile to the Lodge.

“People understand what it is, but we, along with others, make it even better,” he said.




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