When I was a small child I remember attending America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in Detroit with my parents, aunt & uncle, and cousins. My uncle, who worked construction would bring two ladders and a long plank with him. Once we had our spot, he would set up the ladders and place the board across them so that my cousins and I could sit up high and see the parade. Thinking back on it that was probably a little dangerous, but hey it was the 90’s. Nowadays I’m pretty sure that sort of thing isn’t allowed at the parade although I did see people sitting on top of scaffolding near the construction sites along Woodward.
Flash forward 15 years or so later and the giant balloons, floats, clowns, beads, marching bands, and Santa all make sense. Right here in Detroit is the oldest Thanksgiving Day Parade in the country along with the Macy’s parade in New York. Chalk another historical stat up for Detroit in America’s history. Detroit’s parade is part of a tradition that started back in 1924 by J.L. Hudson’s Department store in downtown Detroit. For 55 years, the historic store sponsored the parade before it closed in 1983. From there, the Parade Company picked up the operation. This non-profit, founded in 1982, utilizes 1,500 volunteers every year to put on the show. In addition, over the years, not only does the Parade Company work all year to plan the Thanksgiving Parade, but they also put on shows like the Ford Fireworks, and the celebration parades when a Detroit sports team wins a championship (although it’s been a while Detroit).
Ironically, I now live next door to where the Hudson Department store used to be downtown and, rather than sitting up high on ladders to see the parade, I was able to view it 6 stories up from my apartment windows surrounded by some of my closest friends. We had a pre-thanksgiving dinner brunch, and overall a wonderful time. It was the first time I’ve seen the parade since I was a kid. Strange how things can come full circle like that.
The parade was great, but after getting an adult context to all this, something’s been bothering me since. I have to imagine that a driving force to Hudson’s starting the parade was to generate business for itself and the city. When the parade was done, the store’s doors, and many others in Detroit were open for people to shop at throughout the day and the day after (their generation’s black Friday). This year, I happened to glance out the window about 30 minutes after the parade’s conclusion and Woodward had turned from 1000+ people lining the streets to a ghost town. I don’t truly believe Detroit is a ghost town but it was such a stark contrast from an hour before that it was hard not to note. Whichever landfill the Hudson building ended up in after it’s demolition in 1998, I’m sure it would be turning over in it’s grave if it could see the contrast I saw. I’m sure that’s not what they ever intended for the city.
- There are 4 buildings across the street from me being renovated into mixed use apartments and office space.
- In addition there are rumors of redevelopment of the Hudson site.
- A downtown Nike store was just announced.
- The city just released it’s small business Directory that our Challenge Detroit fellow cohort partnered with the city to work on at http://dreamitdoitdetroit.org/
- I volunteered this past weekend at the Build Bazaar, a popup marketplace for small businesses in One Campus Martius
The city is doing a lot to revive retail and shopping small and large. As Detroit continues to rebuild, I can only hope that this effort will restore and bring the post-parade vibe, and overall shopping scene of the city full circle to how it all began. So next year I’ll see, and maybe even be, people out and about as I look out my window 30 minutes after the parade.