Detroit is like a wonderful old house … full of nooks and crannies just waiting to be explored. Those who take the time to investigate are usually pleasantly surprised.
That’s what a new tour company in the city called “Show Me Detroit” wants to show its patrons.
“People seem to have a preconceived notion about Detroit,” says Pat Haller, co-founder of “Show Me Detroit” and one of the tour guides. “It’s not so much about the gritty or pretty we show. We want to show the reality of the city. When we do that, people are pleasantly surprised by the city’s spirit and sense of community.”
Want to see landmarks or get the inside scoop on the legends and lore? They’ve got that and a host of other nooks and crannies to see during their two-hour van tour. It’s an intimate trip that usually accommodates four to six people. Custom tours can also be arranged.
The Heidelberg Project is Haller’s favorite stop. She likes to explain how the now very famous Heidelberg Project landmark was almost bulldozed by the city … twice. Here’s a place where people pull out their cameras. “We get a mixture of love it, hate it or confused,” she says.
Co-founder Kim Rusinow loves the RiverFront’s Rivard Plaza because its shows yet another side of Detroit. “I love that I’ve seen a lady in a floppy hat sitting next to a guy sitting on a beer case and they are both just fishing and chatting,” she says. “Then there’s the carousel music. The RiverFront touches all your senses.”
When the tour gets to the two Coney Island restaurants “they’ll tell us all about them. It’s hysterical. People will jump out of the van and take pictures of the Lafayette and American Coney Islands because they’ve seen so much about them on TV,” Haller says.
Want facts and figures? They’ve got ‘em and they’ll give them to you straight without fluff. They’ll tell you the population loss in Detroit had to do with moves to suburbia, job loss in the city and racism. They’ll also tell you how more young people are moving Downtown and that there are robust plans to continue the city’s transformation.
They show you the vacant land and tell you how the moves out of the city and lack of funds were responsible for so much of it. They’ll also tell you how people are turning that vacant land into opportunities and how people living by that vacant land are doing their best under difficult circumstances.
They’ll explain how the Underground Railroad came to Detroit because the city was close to Windsor and Canada outlawed slavery in 1830, long before it was outlawed in the United States.
They also have to address the lack shopping. Visitors want to shop on the tours but there is real no shopping district in the city and those touring miss that. “We tell them when they come back in a few years we expect Woodward to be full of retail,” says Haller. Right now the best they can do is move the tour around the city stopping for a short time at places like the Peacock Room, Good People Popcorn and others.
“We’ve had requests from shop owners for shopping and lunch tours,” says Rusinow, also a tour guide. “That will require taking people from place to place but it appeals to us to help drive people to the stores. Then we are helping drive the economy.”
“Show Me Detroit’s” strategy is to be fluid and flexible … always learning new things about the city and what people want to see and understand. “We are trying to keep our fingers on the pulse of the city,” Rusinow says. “There are lots of questions.”
Haller and Rusinow have a lot of experience and passion for the city. Haller spent a number of years working with the Downtown Detroit Partnership and Rusinow developed the Tour Ren Cen program for General Motors. “A lot of people came to Detroit with a preconceived idea of what they would find – and it wasn’t always favorable,” Rusinow says. “I love a challenge and found it to be extremely rewarding to be able to change even just one person’s negative perception of the city.”
Hotels and companies are beginning to send tours their way. If you want to take a tour you can check out Show Me Detroit at http://www.showmedetroit.com