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Hatch Detroit

4470 Second Avenue
First Floor
Detroit, Michigan 48202

Nick Gorga

By Tunde Wey
October 10, 2012

There is an audible cringe when thoughtful Detroiters hear the city being characterized as a “blank slate” or “the wild west.” While the sentiment is generally understood as the idea that Detroit is a city open to new ideas and people, the careless implication of such phrases—Detroit as a place bereft of noteworthy history or hard-working residents—obliterates its value. More poignantly, it might be that such characterizations rubs salt on an open, gaping wound; Detroit is still losing residents and rude reminders that conjure up visions of vacancy don’t help. What might help is looking at Detroit as a place with existing resources upon which to build.
Proponents of this school of thought are Nick Gorga and Ted Balowski. They are preaching the gospel of retail density in Detroit. They are working to add to the vibrancy of the Detroit’s richly textured neighborhoods. With them there are no off-the-cuff remarks about vacancy and blight, just deliberate efforts to concentrate retail storefronts in Detroit’s neighborhoods. The vehicle for their efforts is Hatch Detroit.
Hatch Detroit is an annual contest that awards $50,000 in start-up capital and additional support services to a winning business idea for a storefront retail operation in the city. Hatch is predicated on the idea that diverse and vibrant independent retail is crucial to creating attractive neighborhoods.
Gorga says the name “Hatch” signified the role they wanted to play in Detroit’s development.  “One of the reasons we call it Hatch Detroit is what we both saw as a chicken or egg problem,” he says. “Who is going to blink first? Will people move in without the exciting cool retail or will the developers build in hopes of attracting residents? We decided to place our bets on the latter.” Their wager is paying off.
In the two years since Gorga and Balowski launched Hatch they have already awarded $50,000 to two new businesses ($100,000 total). The inaugural winner was Hugh, a housewares store with a masculine focus. The most recent competition winner is Le Feria Tapas, a Spanish-style tapas restaurant. Both of these businesses, scheduled to open in Midtown, will undoubtedly be part of the continued growth of this impressive and fast-growing neighborhood.
For Gorga and Balowski, as well as Executive Director Vittoria Kattanski, Hatch is merely a catalyst: first to propel nascent retail ideas into the public realm, then to activate interest in these ideas through the contest voting process, and finally to promote the winning business (and Detroit in general) as a unique retail destination. This strategy of creating a multiplier effect of diverse retail offerings is being validated in the city and in other urban areas. This correlational relationship between abundant retail and community development has been well established by industry experts. A 2011 research study by American Express evaluating 27 neighborhoods with a robust retail presence in 15 major cities found that home values in these neighborhoods outperformed by as much as 50% the home values in other neighborhoods.  
Beyond the validation of favorable studies, Hatch is just as propelled by anecdotal evidence of the value of independent retail to neighborhood vibrancy. Gorga, who lived in Chicago for seven years before returning to work as a partner at Honigman Miller, says his experience away from home informed the founding of Hatch.
“I saw particular neighborhoods go from being a place where there wasn’t much going on, to cool and hip. One of the constants I saw there was that these neighborhoods were invigorated around dense, cool walkable retail districts.”
Even as Hatch is helping establish critical retail density in Detroit’s more economically prominent neighborhoods, it recognizes the importance of creating dispersed retail districts. Starting this fall, in partnership with Strategic Staffing Solutions and the Detroit Lions, Hatch is launching its Neighborhoods Initiative to provide support to independent storefront retail businesses in specific Detroit neighborhoods. The six neighborhoods of focus are Southwest Detroit, University Commons, the Villages, Jefferson East, Grandmont Rosedale and the North End.
The Neighborhoods Initiative is an extension of Hatch’s mission to attract and retain residents in the community through investment in independent retail. “We are working with Community Development Corporations to identify critical retail businesses in the area and give them a free makeover.” Hatch, having identified certain critical areas that most retail businesses need to improve to grow, will consult with these businesses to offer targeted resources. Signage and branding improvement are among the services Hatch will provide selected businesses.
Judging from their track record, the impact of Hatch in these neighborhoods should begin to boost current retail and spur new activity. Gorga says past Hatch contest finalists such as Anthology Coffee and the Detroit Institute of Bagels have benefitted from the initial exposure from the contest and continued to thrive, with retail locations of their own opening in the near future.
Hatch’s value is much more than the individual business launched. Its value is more than 500 business submissions received and over 100,000 votes cast in support of Detroit retail ideas. The true value of Hatch is its staunch belief that independent retail is central to quality and inspired urban living.

Photograph by Marvin Shaouni Photography.

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    Vittoria Katanski is the Executive Director of Hatch Detroit, a small business grant contest that gives others the opportunity to have a role in the redevelopment of Detroit.
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