(Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part look at the fascinating Russell Street Bazaar, which is a mere five-minute drive from Hamtramck.)
By Alan Madeleine
If you spend a few moments with Jim (JT) Chapman, General Manager of the Russell Street Bazaar, you’ll almost certainly come away with as much enthusiasm for the unique shopping mecca as I did.
Chapman can give you the building’s history: it started out life in the turn of the 20th century as the Murray Auto Body plant, which built the bodies for the Big Three in the early days. And he can tell you what percentage of the vendor booths are currently filled (about 70-72%), and he can tout the Bazaar’s policy of offering up free space once a month for non-profit organizations to raise funds for themselves.
If you haven’t checked out the space yet, and you live in or around Hamtramck, then you owe it to yourself to take a weekend afternoon (they’re essentially, with a few exceptions, only open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays), and explore the brightly colored indoor plaza, filled with vendor booths offering up everything from original art to new clothing to a makeover.
The brainchild of self-made former busboy John Kefallanos (who Chapman is quick to credit as the venture’s mastermind), the Russell Industrial complex, taken as a whole, spans a massive 2.2 million square feet, spread out over its seven buildings. His concept for this space, indeed for the whole complex, was one that would serve the arts community, even while it served the surrounding greater area for shopping opportunities. Nor is this the only building Kefallanos oversees; he may now own as many as 300-400 around town, according to Chapman. He also has plans for the old Kresge Building near the area of Gratiot and Woodward, as a potentially similar, but slightly more upscale, companion to the Russell Street Bazaar.
There are art shows that are being curated inside the space, and an exhibition hall that can accommodate a large crowd of about 500 or so people — again, the thinking is always for the artistically minded.
(Next week, we’ll talk about some of the specific types of vendors the space has, as well as what they’re still looking for – and how you, too, can take advantage of the space as a vendor for your own business or non-profit.)