Opening his own coffee shop and antique shop was part of Tim McKee’s retirement plans, but with his decades-long nightclub career cut short by the Covid-19 pandemic, McKee’s vision of retirement will soon become his new livelihood.
“When I lost my job, all of this suddenly came to the front of the list,” he said. “It means you have a job.”
A Hazel Park resident since 2016, McKee lives just a few blocks from the relatively new Hazel Perk Cafe, a coffee shop, antique store, community and event space, and much, much more. The locally owned small business celebrated its grand opening in December 2022.
As a resident and now business owner — and coffee shop owner, at that — McKee has a good sense of what’s going on in Hazel Park these days. (“I’m on the side of 75 everyday in my life,” he says). What he has seen, seen and foreseen is a city that is becoming more attractive to entrepreneurs in the area and the region. And while COVID-19 may have forced the coffee shop plans to come a little early, he seems pretty happy they did.
“You’re going to see this area start to take off,” Mackey says of the John R. stretch between 8 Mile Road and I-75, hinting at future developments without giving much away — and only a local coffee shop owner can. “It’s one of the reasons I’m suffering in this area. I want to be a grandpa before it’s too popular.
The prevailing narrative around these parts suggests that the opening of destination restaurant Mabel Gray will be the next local hot spot for local entrepreneurs to set up shop in Hazel Park for small businesses. It’s hard to argue. Since opening in 2015, Hazel Park welcomed Jobar in 2017 (now rebranded and refocused as FRAMEbar). barber and menswear store Youngbloods in 2018; In 2018, the new look of Doug Delight; Hot food and juice destination We Juice in 2020; And starting in 2020, marijuana dispensaries will be open thanks to the city’s generous cannabis business laws.
Detroit- and Michigan-themed outfit Detroit moved from their Ferndale storefront to 9 Mile Road in Hazel Park in late 2019. It’s good for business, says co-owner Paul Marshall. He and co-owner Steven Mansour kept the business afloat in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic — free parking, a prominent storefront on 9 Mile, and proximity to I-75 were key factors then and now. they are. He has helped them prosper since then.
Hazel Park’s business-friendly approach doesn’t hurt either, Marshall said.
“The city of Hazel Park was very easy to deal with. (Former City Councilman and current State Representative for the 8th House District) Mike McFall was a huge supporter. Their social media posts gave us a lot of exposure,” said Marshall. “The city was very nice and easy to deal with. You can have a lot of red tape and other unnecessary places to open a business in their city.
Grand opening and ribbon-cutting celebrations around the city have slowed down in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic and its associated business closures and restrictions have slowed the pace of new businesses here and elsewhere. But things are picking up again. The past year or so has seen a flurry of new businesses in Hazel Park, and if coffee shop owner Tim McKee is as right as he seems, it may just be a sign of things to come.
The same month Hazel Perk Cafe opened, longtime downtown Ferndale coffee shop Java Hut Cafe opened a second location, also on John R. but to the north and about 10 miles closer. Key Western-themed bar Oriental Palace Club and Smoke Lotus BBQ will hold a grand opening from their joint building in early 2023. BDT Smoke Shop has undergone a major expansion, including 2023’s cannabis boutique dispensary, The Hive. And earlier this summer, the Shredders food truck opened a permanent location in the old Dairy Park ice cream stand.
That’s a lot for a city of only 15,000 people geographically 2.8 square miles. But it’s more affordable here than in neighboring Ferndale, and it’s connected to many of the region’s key corridors, including 8 Mile Road, I-75 and I-696. Perhaps it’s a good thing that Hazel Perk Cafe has established itself now rather than later.
And it’s good for society if they do. Like many small businesses here, McKee is bullish on Hazel Park’s future (“Ask any real estate agent. It’s not a myth,” he says), but strives to create a place that welcomes new and established residents. That’s why Hazel Perk is more than a coffee shop, but a community gathering place, hosting open coffee talks with city officials, prioritizing local artists, and creating an atmosphere that feels more like a cozy lounge than a business.
“A lot of people want to treat this as a bar or something like that. No,” Mackey says. “We have a real food menu. We always have art premieres. We host new artists, we have a market. We do a lot of events. We have drag queen bingo, an art gallery, arts and crafts for local families, things like that. Every Tuesday night with live models. It has a picture gallery. Wednesday night is game night and open mic night. Thursday night is our free movie night. Friday night has live bands. Saturday and Sunday have different events; like this Saturday we have a mid-century antique market.
“It’s a real hodgepodge,” he says.