Something New for Shoppers in Downtown Detroit: Virtual Retail

Detroiters often grumble about the relative lack of shopping options downtown compared to other cities of similar size. Sure, there are boutiques here and there, as well as a handful of stores in the Renaissance Center and the Millender Center, but there is no Urban Outfitters; no American Apparel; no Macy’s.

Somerset CityLoft, a pop-up shop along Merchant’s Row featuring outposts of stores found in the suburban Somerset Collection mall, drew enthusiastic reviews but it was hard to get excited about something so fleeting—CityLoft was only open during part of the summer and again around the holidays.

Downtown shoppers now have a new option: Virtual retail in formerly vacant storefronts at 1520 and 1528 Woodward. Quicken Loans, which also had a hand in opening Somerset CityLoft, has partnered on the new endeavor with Jeff Freedman, a Detroit native and the owner of Resultco, along with its umbrella companies Fathead and Bedrock Real Estate.

Instead of racks of actual merchandise, the group installed product images along with corresponding QR codes in buildings’ windows. Shoppers can stroll past at any hour of the day or night, pull out their smartphones, and scan the codes for more product information or to buy the items. As of now, custom watches from Detroit-based Watchwear are on offer, but Mullen says that the storefronts will feature products from ShoebuyClothesbuyBagbuy, and more in the coming weeks.

“As we build out our properties, we wanted something immediate,” says Bedrock real estate developer Dan Mullen, noting that his company has acquired nine buildings along Woodward between Jefferson and Grand Circus Park. “With the spiderwebs and the rats—ok, rats are an exaggeration, but there’s no question these vacant storefronts are an eyesore. We didn’t want them sitting there and collecting dust.”

Mullen says that though shoppers won’t be able notice, there is construction going on behind the virtual retail shop’s windows as Bedrock continues its plan to revitalize downtown Detroit. When construction is complete, Bedrock will simply pack up the signs and move the virtual retail operation to another of its nine buildings.

“Our thought was, let’s activate this street now,” Mullen adds. “We’re hoping we inspire real, lasting retail.”

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