The battle for Eastern Market's soul: Rents go up, businesses fight to stay

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Some argue businesses are being forced out, others say it's just too expensive to stay open.
There is a push to keep Eastern Market affordable for shopkeepers despite rent going up.

"It's important to keep the flavor of the community," said David Colling, Vivio's Food and Spirits. "We do not want to come to work and see a Starbucks, an Applebee's. We want it to be local people who are independents."

This spring several businesses at eastern market have closed down or announced they're moving.  While the reasons are all different, concern has been brewing that generations old businesses are being forced out as Detroit real estate whets the appetites of investors who smell success in fertile ground. 
But there's an effort to make sure that rents stay affordable.  
"As the city announces the implementation plan for the expansion of Eastern Market and preservation of the market district," said Dan Carmody, Eastern Market. "What zoning and land use can we build in to make sure that - to the extent possible - we end up 10 years from now with 25 percent of the commercial rents that are affordable and let whatever's going to happen to the other 75 percent happen."  

That's what advocates for the business community are aiming for. But many of the businesses that are packing their bags and closing their ovens aren't leaving because they were forced out.  

"People retiring after 40 years of running a restaurant, tethered after 50 years -  I was in the restaurant business for 10 years and I can tell you that the second happiest day of my life was the day I sold my last restaurant - with the first being the day I opened my first restaurant," Carmody said. "That was after 10 years, I can't imagine what it was like for the owners of Farmer's Restaurant when they were finally able to retire after 40 years and retire with dignity."

While Eastern Market and the area around it is going well, there's still work to be done.  Something that makes investments in the area critical.  

"We need the investment, we have abandoned buildings, vacant lots and buildings that if they don't get structural repairs aren't going to be here for another 20 years," Carmody said. "How do we do that without losing our soul in the process?"

It is something that locals who eat there will be keeping tabs on, making sure their Eastern Market remains what they have always remembered.  

"I think it's important because Eastern Market has always been a family environment place," one man said. "I used to come here as a little boy with my mom and shop for her garden, so if it's more affordable, you bring in more business."