On The Street
Meet Mikel Smith of Detroit Threads
Hamtramck clothing and record shop owner has dug electronic music since the beginning — and has the global clientele to prove it.
Published: May 20, 2014
This weekend, with Movement taking over Hart Plaza downtown, thousands of global electro fans will descend upon metro Detroit. A good chunk of them will also make a pilgrimage to a little clothing and record shop in Hamtramck called Detroit Threads. After almost two decades in business, the humble shop has become hallowed ground for visitors the world over, sometimes the first stop they make from the airport. For three days, the store will have local DJs spinning records in the store, and a far-flung clientele that’s awed by the nondescript shop and neighborhood fixture Mikel Smith.
Smith, 56, is proprietor and janitor of his domain. Sporting a Fu Manchu mustache, Smith seems relaxed and fit, an avid runner with a deep and gentle voice. The native metro Detroiter was embedded in rave culture throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He says he got into it “all the way back to the ’70s with Kraftwerk, but then in the early ’80s with Detroit techno.” That wealth of experience and love of Detroit dance music finds its expression in his shop.
Smith, who says he had 50 jobs before he was 20, seems to have always had a knack for selling cool stuff. He started out with a little shop in a flea market in the early 1980s at Ann Arbor Trail and Merriman Road, with one crate of records and one little rack of clothing. Within six months, his inventory dwarfed his current store, taking over a corner of the flea market.
In 1997, Smith opened Detroit Threads in a Detroit warehouse, but soon needed to move and was wooed to Hamtramck by the owners of the now-closed and forever-legendary Motor Lounge.
“I put out feelers about needing a place,” Smith says. “And I knew both of the owners of Motor. One called me up one day and said, ‘Hey, there’s a place in Hamtamck. You really should move over here. We can work off of each other. We get the bar crowds coming in, you could be the shopping aspect.’”
Smith was sold, and moved to a spot on Joseph Campau between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in 1997. Within a few years, Joseph Campau appeared to be turning a corner, and Smith had a coffee shop next door that went through several owners, getting better each time. A CD shop opened, as well as a resale shop, a hippie shop, and a small restaurant with weekend brunches featuring live DJs.
Unfortunately, Motor closed, the restaurant burned down, and all those businesses closed. But Smith held his own, thanks largely to the fact that he carries stock nobody else does, music with fans all over the world. And the prices for commercial space in Hamtramck don’t hurt. Smith hopes to see more quirky, small-time businesses on the strip again.
“Hamtramck is cheap,” Smith says. “There’s foot traffic. You’re not going to ask for a better situation. And some people are like, ‘No, I gotta be in Royal Oak. I gotta be in Ferndale.’ I’m like, ‘No, you really don’t.’ Rents up there are astronomical. I’d pay four times what I pay here.”
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