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Simply Casual Clothing Store

19400 Livernois
Detroit, Michigan 48221

Rufus Bartell

By Tunde Wey
December 19, 2012

The Avenue of Fashion, a historic shopping district situated in northwest Detroit, has gone from glam to drab and may now be coming back full circle. The issues surrounding the area’s would-be resurgence is less about collective will than available resources and structural challenges.
Avenue of Fashion is a stretch of stores along Livernois Avenue, bookended by McNichols to the south and 8 Mile Rd. to the north. Previously anchored by larger upscale retail outfits like the fine clothing store B. Siegel Co. and famed piano store Grinnell’s, the district slowly declined in tandem with the city, with businesses slowly exiting the area and boarded-up storefronts dominating the two-mile stretch.
The common refrain of “bringing Detroit back” – the implication referring primarily to economic development – is most vociferous on the A of F. There is a culture of commerce and an era of success still recent enough to be relevant. However these assets have to contend with the reality of limited customer parking, fewer high caliber stores, numerous vacancies and a thin retail mix that cannot really support comprehensive shopping needs.
Luckily, the liabilities are in turn contending with merchants with an indomitable will to succeed – after all, they are invested in the area, and anything but success is a personal blow. Some of these merchants, like Rufus Bartell, are being rewarded for their belief in the positive possibilities. Bartell is proprietor of Simply Casual Clothing, a long-running men’s and women’s clothing boutique, and Shoe House Boulevard, an accessories boutique selling handbags, shoes and collectibles.
Bartell is captain on this row of optimism because he sees its redevelopment as not just necessary but imminently achievable. Literally invested in the area, Bartell recognizes the business opportunity that immediately surrounds the Avenue of Fashion and the potential for growth.
“There are strong neighborhoods in the area: Palmer Woods, Green Acres, Sherwood Forests, the University District … are all relatively affluent communities.” According to Bartell these neighborhoods, long recognized as some of the city’s most stable areas, are underserved.  “The entire city is underserved and we are a region of 5 million people – and that is not even counting Windsor,” he explains. “People look at Detroit as a market – no matter what suburb you are in, you are in the Detroit market. If a person runs across a nice restaurant they will stop and dine; as the city continues to get developed there will be an influx. There are people here who have money; they just want what they want.”
What they want is quality and convenience, and Bartell’s Simply Casual Clothing and his fellow merchants are providing that. Stocked with trendy options, the store has a wide variety of clothing for what Bartell refers to as the “grown and sexy” set; hip and trendy urbanites interested in understated yet bold statements in their clothing.
Bartell, 46, is himself an embodiment of the lifestyle he purveys. A dapper gentleman, quite unafraid to match bright sweaters with earth-tone scarves, he is meticulously groomed and nonchalantly suave. His phone spends more time ringing than it stays silent and Bartell, long practiced in multitasking, confidently eases between phone calls and in-person conversations.
Early in Bartell’s professional career, at the age of 26, he made the egregious error of omission – failing to see obvious signs of disaster until it was too late. He lost around $95,000 in a good idea improperly executed. He invested his entire savings in developing a mini mall and operating a retail store out of it. He toughed it out for four years before inexperience in legal issues and lease agreements saw his investments evaporate. Bartell took a few years off to recoup his losses and learn from his mistakes. In 1996 he opened Simply Casual steadily growing and expanding his business.
A more devastating error is that of commission – being willfully neglectful. That the city government allowed A of F to fall into such disrepair is an error of this sort. A district that rivaled any of the suburban shopping options should have been a matter of pride, and more practically an economic priority for the city. Fortunately, the city is coming back around and the last two city administrations have both made the development of A of F a priority. While government intervention is necessary, the real determinant of A of F and stores like Simply Casual Clothing is sustained support from residents.
The new vanguard resuming work in this area are operating restaurants, clothing and accessory stores, galleries and spas. While it is still a far cry from its past, the new Avenue of Fashion is making a strong case for its contemporary development. “We believe the rebuilding of the city is going to start from the neighborhoods and Avenue of Fashion is a strong pocket” says Bartell. And his strategy for this neighborhood-based rebuilding is simple: “What we have to do is shop locally; we have to find a way to patronize local stores. We have to show our actions with our dollars. That’s when you know a person is serious – it’s what you do with your dollars, not what you do with your lips.”

Photograph by Marvin Shaouni Photography.

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