At first glance, the brand-new The Commons café/laundromat in Detroit’s Islandview is an apartment dweller’s dream space. With a sleekly-designed coffee shop within the same walls as a clean (let us emphasize the word CLEAN), inviting area of coin-operated washers and dryers, laundry day will never be the same.
Modeled after trendy café-laundry combos like Spin Laundry Lounge in Portland, The Commons at 7900 Mack quietly opened its doors in March, much to the appreciation of neighbors, who’ve had their eyes on the development for several years now.
The spot comes equipped with 8-ounce cups of premium coffee sourced from Bay City’s Populace Coffee for just $1. Tea comes from Eastern Market-based Intu Tea. Baked goods and small breakfast and lunch items from Sweet Potato Sensations, Avalon Bakery, and other local vendors. Run out of detergent? A friendly barista has powder and liquid detergents, oxygen bleach, stain remover and wool dryer balls for $.25-.50 cents. The modern/minimalist interior was designed by Laavu Studio, the same Detroit-based firm behind Gold Cash Gold, Detroit Blows, the former Cafe con Leche Nord and Sister Pie.
Locally-sourced food and drink and chic aesthetic aside, what stands out most to us is the attention paid to involving the community throughout the entire multi-year development process. The Commons is a passion project of MACC Development, founded in 2010 by the Mack Avenue Community Church. Tasked with using a “holistic” approach to the revitalization of Detroit’s 48214 zip code, the organization also encompasses youth sports programming, summer reading for kids and legal services for adults.
MACC Development purchased the property — a former furniture shop — in 2011 for $500 from the Wayne County tax foreclosure auction. Since then, with the help of foundation grants and fundraising, some $1.5 million has been invested in its renovations, says MACC Development executive director Ezekiel Harris. The property initially housed the organization’s office space, but the intention was always to also provide a community asset where folks could gather and that would encourage others to consider Islandview as a viable area of the city to start a business. Harris says the Mack Avenue corridor was once a thriving commercial district, as evidenced by a wall-sized black and white photo of the area that adorns one of the walls. Nowadays, the building vacancy rate within the zip code is right around 50 percent, a figure that could scare some entrepreneurs off from setting up shop. If just the right business got things started, Harris says, others could follow.
“It takes a little ingenuity to show what business can work and where it can work, but if you take the time, it’s definitely worth it,” says Harris.
Harris tells Tostada Magazine that a thrift shop was one idea early on but that that prospect somehow felt less special. No, whatever would occupy the space would have to fit in with what the community really wanted.
MACC Development held a series of meetings over the years, asking neighbors for ideas. What residents asked for time and again were neighborhood amenities that any community would desire: a place to eat, grab a coffee, maybe hold a block club meeting. The idea of a laundromat was a more practical asset being that one was lacking in the area. Added bonus, laundry facilities are fairly low-cost businesses to operate, which helps to keep prices down on the café side of The Commons (hence, the $1 cups of joe, for example). A private meeting room is located upstairs.
“This is really by the community, for the community,” says Jesse Bandfield, The Commons’ general manager.
In addition to The Commons, MACC Development is also raising money to establish a pocket park next door, complete with a stage for neighborhood jazz concerts or outdoor yoga.
In the meantime, an official grand opening celebration is set for 2 p.m.-7 p.m. May 12, with food trucks and family-friendly performances on hand.
The Commons is open 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 3 p.m.-9 p.m. Sundays and closed Mondays. For more information, click here.
(All photos by Serena Maria Daniels; featured photo, barista Dawn Coffey making a caramel latte; last photo, Ezekiel Harris, left, and Jesse Bandfield)
This article was made possible by the Detroit Journalism Engagement Fund, a project of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, that’s working to increase quality journalism and help better inform communities.
Author: Serena Maria Daniels
Serena Maria Daniels is an award-winning journalist based in Detroit. She specializes in reporting on issues that intersect food, identity, and culture.
Find her one Twitter and Instagram @serenamaria36!