Detroit’s Comeback Fever: Rebirth of an American City

GM Headquarters complex in Detroit along the Detroit River.
GM Headquarters complex in Detroit along the Detroit River. Photo by Richard Varr

Tasting samples clutter the table tops – crunchy tortilla chips, roasted peanuts and sweet potato pie. And they’re all Detroit made.

“Being at this booth, I see people from all over the country and they tell me how great it is to see Detroit on this jar,” exults Jack Corley, a former automotive parts supplier for 25 years who’s now selling locally-owned McClure’s Pickles at Detroit’s bustling Eastern Market. “They say how great it is that it’s happening in the city.”

Across the aisle, Allen Love pitches his peach and blueberry cobbler pies made from family recipes. “We have regular customers that come back every week,” he says. “We’re closer together and we want to see Detroit grow.”

Detroit, the biggest city in Michigan, is experiencing a rebirth. “I’ve seen the hard times and I see us coming back,” he adds.

Outside the Eastern Market in Detroit. Photo by Richard Varr
Outside the Eastern Market in Detroit. Photo by Richard Varr

Eastern Market in Detroit

It’s Saturday morning and the market spanning several blocks is packed with locals and sightseers like me. I’ve joined tour guide Linda Yellin’s ‘Feet on the Street Tours’ which winds in and around kiosks under open-air sheds packed with fresh produce, spice racks, meats and gooey cheeses. Overhead signs sport such headers as ‘Grown in Detroit’ and ‘Detroit Food Academy.’

“We’re seeing more people from outside the city proper that are interested in coming back, and connecting with Detroit in ways their parents didn’t,” says Yellin.

Outside, street art murals awash in brilliant hues emblazon Market warehouses, one with a caption affirming city pride. “We have been considered many things: a city in decay, a city in distress and without hope,” it reads. “However, we have never given up and we never say die. We are born fighters, we rise from the ashes.”

Detroit’s Comeback

This theme abuzz at Eastern Market reflects Detroit’s spirited comeback in recent years – a dramatic turnaround from the downtrodden years of auto industry decline, municipal bankruptcy in 2013 and people leaving decaying neighborhoods for the suburbs. The haunting memories of the deadly 1967 riots again resurfaced with the recent feature film Detroit, released last summer on the 50th anniversary of the harsh street strife.

What I find, however, is a rebirth of sorts summed up in rebuilding, new businesses in bustling city core neighborhoods, and what seems to be a burst of renewed energy and pride exuded by residents. And the metro area’s institutions and museums – sports teams and their new venues, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Motown Museum and the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in suburban Dearborn – seem to be better than ever.

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