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The Peacock Room

15 E. Kirby
Detroit, Michigan 48202

Rachel Lutz

By MJ Galbraith
November 22, 2013

Rachel Lutz has been coming to the neighborhood surrounding Midtown's Park Shelton building her whole life. As a child, she was hunting for Easter eggs on the lawns of Ferry Street. As a high schooler, she was taking the bus down Woodward for an internship at WDET. Today, the building remains at the center of her life as it now holds the Peacock Room, Rachel's women's apparel and accessory boutique, and Emerald, a gift shop and men's haberdashery. The two stores are part of a recent explosion of retail in the neighborhood. Stores dedicated to watches, running shoes, and housewares have all opened since Rachel brought the Peacock Room to the Park Shelton.
In addition to her own personal attachment to the neighborhood, Rachel cites a number of factors for bringing her stores to Midtown. The leadership of the Wayne State Police department is one of those reasons, saying that public safety in Midtown should be a model for urban public safety everywhere. Sue Mosey and Midtown Detroit, Inc. were also a huge help, as they offered advice and validation, pointing Rachel toward local resources for start-ups. This is the Motor City, of course, and hard work is required in launching any business, be it car parts or handbags.
"If people are looking to start a business in Detroit, they should expect a hand-up from everybody, but not necessarily hand-outs," says Rachel. "I think that a lot of people assume that Detroit is so hungry for businesses that somebody will hand it to you. But like any other place, small business is hard; you have to learn to be resourceful. Whether you have resources or not, you have to figure out how to do it yourself."
Another factor which drew Rachel to the Park Shelton is the Park Shelton itself. The building was built as a hotel in 1926 and now operates as a luxury condominium and apartment building. While so much of the Park Shelton is beautiful, Rachel chose an interior room with drop ceilings and drywall painted "Miami Vice-peach." It was, in her words, the ugliest-looking room in the building. But the location was good and, after a series of well-received pop-up stores, it was time to open a permanent space for the Peacock Room. She signed the lease with Berger Realty Group and went to work, trying to figure out how to make this less-than-inspiring space into something more. Rachel then hit the real estate jackpot.
The build-out process revealed a beautiful room from another era, inexplicably covered up decades before. The drop ceiling concealed the original and ornate plaster ceiling and skylights. The dry wall hid beautiful plaster walls with beveled mirrors and brass rosettes. The old carpet lay atop marble floors.
"That space is really what defined my business," says Rachel. "The business that you plan is not the business that you open which is not the business that you operate. It's this living, breathing organism. No matter how much you dream or envision or fantasize what it's going to be, you never know until you actually build it and open your doors and even then you're constantly changing and re-evaluating what the business is. Like they say: adapt or die."
The Peacock Room opened on Noel Night of December 2011 and has since flourished. It's done so well, in fact, that ten months after the Peacock Room opened, Rachel spun off her men's department into Emerald, now located in one of the Park Shelton's Woodward-facing storefronts. The shop also sells housewares and gifts. In addition to running her shops, Rachel is acting as retail consultant for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Historical Society.
Rachel says a big reason for Emerald's success is the willingness of her landlords to work with her on a creative lease for the shop. She wouldn't have been able to give the idea a shot had it not been for their open-mindedness. Now Emerald is a permanent storefront; a success. More landowners in the city need to be willing to work with small businesses on leasing arrangements, says Rachel, and not just hold out for some imaginary national fast food chain to come in and rent the space. It's important for the city's retail scene to keep growing.
"I think that people are now starting to look at Midtown as a place that can serve all of their needs without having to leave the city. But we want that also to spread to other parts of the city, and not just Midtown. I think that people also need to remember that in addition to the new businesses popping up, there have been a lot of businesses in Detroit doing what they've been doing for decades or generations, when the time didn't seem so appealing to open up or stick around. I like to say that it's great to support start-ups but it's also important to support the been-ups."

All photos by Doug Coombe. 

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  • Midtown Detroit Inc.
    Midtown Detroit Inc. was created to help guide development, enhance public awareness, encourage reinvestment, and celebrate the cultural aspects of the Midtown Detroit district.