Long before he founded Will Leather Goods in his residence in Eugene, Oregon, Will Adler called Detroit his home. There, his family had been retailers for over 100 years—his father was a buyer for Detroit’s Hughes & Hatcher clothing store and his mother owned a department store in a neighboring Michigan town. And it is because of that family that Adler has taken his brand of leather goods (from accessories to furniture and stunning leather-adorned bicycles) to the home of his roots. The result is a 9,000 square foot space—once a famed (and infamous) grocery store named Tomboy—that comes complete with a coffee shop and art gallery. It’s a vast yet warm retail concept shop that manages to celebrate the neighborhood and showcase the brand for the first time in the Midwest.
“The main reason [we’re opening in] Detroit now is that I was inspired by my brother who was a retailer in the area and who had been ill for the last two years,” Adler explain to CH. “He prompted me, telling me Detroit really is a good retail city that lost its way but is coming back.” Adler began exploring options before partnering with an organization interested in developing Midtown, Detroit. He settled on the Cass Corridor area and began designing something more than a store. “Coming back to Detroit, with it being part of my heritage, I wanted to show people this entertaining experience. There’s a coffee shop with Third Wave Coffee from Oregon, and a first class state of the art gallery showing its debut exhibition,” he adds.
Adler not only has early memories of the neighborhood, but also of the site he now occupies. “I went to Wayne State University about 35 years ago and I knew the Tomboy and the Cass area, but about 15 years the neighborhood had become tough, and the Tomboy became a famous hangout for rough things—a place for drug dealers and prostitutes.” Three years ago, however, the revitalization process commenced and a Midtown resurgence began. Adler visited the Tomboy market, aware that the owners were looking to sell. “I went in and saw the bones. Prior to being a market it was a carriage house and there was involvement from the Ford Motor Company along the way.” From revealing the floor from the ’30s to refurbishing tiles and finishes, Adler created what he refers to as “an architecturally beautiful, warm, big space.”
Moreover, the entire space is adorned with reclaimed materials. In fact, the cafe, dubbed Coffee Station was constructed entirely from items salvaged from a ’20s fire house. “We brought Douglas fir beams from Oregon, but there were certain pieces we wanted to use from Detroit. Part of our brand is to refurbish, remix and give new life to products, so we began talking to Architectural Salvage Warehouse of Detroit. They were going through an old fire department in downtown Detroit at the time.” There, Adler found everything from antique marble countertops to old displays and maps of the city, mapped from the point of view of a fireman.
Elements of production will also take place in the store. Adler has placed a weaving machine in the space, that turns fabric from reclaimed rugs into handbags and belts. There’s a make your own belt station. And finally, some of their hats (which are produced in Texas and Oregon) get their finishing touches on site. Further, with this space being far bigger than their average shops, it’s able to feature products from their global array of artisans. It’s comprehensive but not chaotic.
“My mission is to inspire people to feel creative. For every piece of leather goods we make, we made sure that stories of each are totally told in this store. People can feel the story of where the products are made,” he continues. With that, one of the most important takeaways of the space happens to be that this is a place for people to use. “The store is less about small talk and more about deep conversation. It’s about including everyone—whether or not you want to buy something, just come here and get coffee. All of the furniture in the store we make. Anyone can sit anywhere. We wanted it very much to be an area where family was included,” he concludes.
Visit Detroit’s new Will Leather Goods shop at 4120 2nd Avenue, Detroit, open from 8AM to 9PM every day.
Images courtesy of Will Leather Goods