Belmont Shopping Plaza is all a glitter in new, glowing snowflakes on all the light poles and an addition of lights in two new shops to serve the surrounding community south of Eight Mile Road. Remarkable cooperation between the owners and neighbors is a gift that goes on giving.
New lights, garlands and festive storefronts speak to more than a 50-year alliance between the Petzold family and Shirley Burch, leader of the Community United for Progress that has helped this strip with 21 businesses achieve one of the most stable strips in Detroit
“Shirley Burch is a real neighborhood leader. She came to us with an idea to spread hope and happiness on our strip of Eight Mile, got the quotes and brought it to us. We paid for it. We invest in people,” said Tom Petzold, grandson of the founders who built the strip in 1958.
“The reason for our success is the stability and loyalty of the immediate neighborhood. The average duration of a store in our plaza is 26 years,” he said.
The plaza lost Radio Shack and DOTS to corporate collapse nationally and two new outlets arrived in late November … Simply 10, a clothing and accessory store with merchandise under $10 and J-Bees, a men’s fashion outlet.
For Burch, the lighted snowflakes are a daily symbol of hope and health in her community. With her help the residents and the plaza owners have worked to restore the neighborhood park behind the stores so children can play while parents shop. She organizes summer music festivals with deejays, bands and a stage where local children put on performances. The Petzolds pick up the tab.
Before Christmas her group will host a toy give-away for the children from battered homes at the Motown Coney Island. At Thanksgiving the stores have away 100 food baskets to the needy, with enough canned goods to keep the families fed for a week.
“Eight Mile might be one of the busiest thoroughfares in Detroit but the Belmont is our plaza. Imperial Market, the supermarket, also gives back with good things to donate for our events. Our residents shop here first because they like the shops here and because many don’t have transportation,” Burch said.
A holiday love fest between shop owners, plaza owners and community doesn’t happen overnight, Petzold cautioned. “It something you build and never stop building. You put the capital back in the stores. Eleven of our 21 businesses have completely rebuilt the inside of their stores in the past five years.”
Burch credits the Petzold legacy for its strong customer focus. “Parents teach their children to be humble, to care, to intermingle with others,” she said.
With the lights up, the stores open and cash registers jingling, Burch is ready to start her next project. She wants to locate the family of Dad Butler, a coach in the 1930s at the University of Detroit who was namesake of the park behind the plaza.
Since 2005, the group has raised money from the city of Detroit, the Kellogg Foundation and others to build a barrier-free playground for kids and a pavilion with seating for 30 people, perfect for family reunions and neighborhood picnics.
Butler wishes the family, who bequeathed the land for the park 50-plus years ago, could see it now and revel in festivities all year long.