In a rollicking and often surprising conversation in the First Container installation at Detroit's Eastern Market, a gathering of new and longtime Detroiters listened to St. Clair Shores-native Mark Binelli try and piece together his own impressions of the city as described in his 2012 memoir, Detroit City Is the Place To Be.
The Saturday afternoon event was co-sponsored by the Detroit Public Library's Celebrate Authors Series and Detroit Collision Works, a collaborative art launchpad and future hotel space in the city's market district. Real life characters from the neighborhood and the book itself showed up to chat, and their take on the role of food in the future of Detroit offers a broad picture of how and why people remain dedicated to remaking and demystifying the Motor City.
Binelli, a Rolling Stone contributor and novelist, wrote Detroit City in the aftermath of the 2008 economic meltdown. He told the small crowd at First Container Saturday that he had convinced his editors at the New York City-based magazine to let him return to his native Southeast Michigan and see just what kind of show the financially struggling Big Three Automakers would put on at the 2009 North American International Auto Show.
Dan Carmody, President of the Detroit Eastern Market Corporation, described his own journey to the city six years ago to run the historic market district after it became a privately-owned company, and he said that Binelli's story of Detroit was "the real deal."
Marsha Cusic, a lifelong Detroiter and music writer who makes a memorable appearance in the last chapter of Binelli's book — where she tells him that "Detroit is not some abstract art project" — held her own with the crowd, calling Detroit a "foodie town" and saying that the opening of Midtown's much-hearlded Whole Foods has proved a lot of local naysayers wrong.
"When that Whole Foods opened, we spent seven hours there," Cushic said, gesturing to her husband. "Seven hours! And there were plenty of people who thought that it would just be Hipster Central in there. But a lot of local, African-American Detroiters from the neighborhoods have been shopping there. And I think that's good."
Cushic also admitted that she and her husband are wont to spend seven hours hanging out at Eastern Market on any given Saturday, too. And she praised the Solaka Brothers for their dedication in opening up Midtown's Ye Olde Butcher Shoppe without the kind of advance public adulation that accompanied the Whole Foods debut. (Parade, Mayoral Speech, Choir, etc).
"Detroit is a real foodie town," Cushic said. "People here love their food. It might be a black, soul-food kind of foodie, but people here still have that excitement about food." The wet, city-curious crowd at First Container seemed to agree.
· First Container Book in a Box Program [Official]
· Detroit Eastern Market [Official]
· A Different Detroit, As A Native Tells It [NPR]
· Mark Binelli [Official]
[Mark Binelli / Official]