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Toni Porter seated in the front room of Toni’s Collection. Credit: Courtney Wise Randolph
Toni Porter knew the cozy storefront on West McNichols in Detroit’s Grandmont Rosedale community is where she would open her fragrance and home goods shop as soon as she toured the space in March.
“Literally walking in the door, it felt comfortable. It felt like the nostalgic feeling you get when you come back home,” she said.
That’s how it’s set up, too. The front room and primary retail space of Toni’s Collection is organized like a warm study or sitting room, replete with plush brown chairs, books illustrating the high-end fashion designers who inspired the scents for her Platinum Collection — Hermes, Chanel, Tom Ford — flower arrangements and a glam, old-school rotary phone — right next to a lit sample of one of her candles, of course.
For nine years now, Porter has sold her luxury candles and fragrance mists online. In her brick-and-mortar space, which opened on Juneteenth, she’s elevating that shopping experience to welcome customers into her retail “home.”
It’s a transition that feels natural, because the Rosedale Park neighborhood is where she spent 18 years of her life. Purchasing the building that now houses Toni’s Collection was part of her vision to return to the community that raised her and become an active part of what she views as an economic revitalization and reinvestment in the Grandmont Rosedale community.
“When I moved from Rosedale Park in 2003, there were a lot of vacancies. People had moved, and so many businesses — big places — had left,” she said. Porter recalls there was no more Norwest movie theater, no more Mammoth Shopping Center and the bakeries and pizza joints her family frequented were closed.
“But now as I look around, I see more and more smaller, Black-owned businesses moving in,” she said. Porter describes the neighborhood as one where a family can get everything they need right in the community where they live.
Her observations are no accident. Sherita Smith, executive director of the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation told Detour in an email, “Our economic development program exists to catalyze the market and create opportunity for economic mobility through entrepreneurship and small business development. We are seeing signs of growth and vitality that are encouraging.” Smith also credits the accelerating small business growth to recent investments in the five Grandmont Rosedale neighborhoods through the city’s Strategic Neighborhood Fund and MDOT/City of Detroit streetscape improvements.
Porter is among good company, particularly as a Black woman entrepreneur who both owns her business and the building from which she runs it.
Just next door, at the corner of W. McNichols and Shaftsbury Avenue, is a building owned by Charlotte Simmons that’s home to Admirations (a boutique and salon), Crystyles Hair Salon and a bakery — all owned and operated by Black women. Just a couple of blocks away is Darlene Alston’s tea shop, Just A Bit Eclectic, and sandwiched between them all is a near 50-year staple of the community, McAdoo Dental.
Dr. Jernice McAdoo Purifoy is the second-generation owner of the dental practice, following in the footsteps of her father, Dr. Gerald B. McAdoo. He began as a dentist in 1964 after graduating from University of Detroit-Mercy. For eight years, he was the dentist in a practice of numerous Black professionals called Medical Associates that included a Black pharmacist, Black pediatrician, Black internists and others. He opened McAdoo Dental in its current location in 1972, purchasing the building after deciding to open a practice on his own. Still, Dr. McAdoo Purifoy’s career in dentistry wasn’t a given; growing up she envisioned herself as a pediatrician.
But dentistry presented a way to nurture her medical and artistic interests, while also offering a practical job opportunity. “I was thinking about medical school, but a family friend said, “You know, the building is there and the practice is already set up. Why not go into dentistry? That way your dad wouldn’t have to build things up over the years only to sell it to someone else.”
McAdoo Purifoy took that advice. After school, she started practicing in 1988, maturing as a dentist with her father’s guidance and taking over the practice upon his retirement. She has kept the practice in Rosedale Park because she loves Detroit and being connected to a residential neighborhood with lots of families.
“Our practice is a family practice. My dad and my mother both started this practice and grew it with the support of family. Family worked at the front desk and, as little kids, we all were coming into the practice, answering the telephone, collecting the money, making appointments, learning how to develop x-rays, and learning good business sense…and that’s also what’s important about staying in Detroit,” said Dr. McAdoo Purifoy. “We tried to bring in our families for building neighborhoods as well as businesses. I want to continue that on.”
McAdoo Dental is representative of what attracted Porter to the neighborhood to open Toni’s Collection in the first place. It’s a small, Black-owned business that is proud to have always been based in Detroit and is bolstered by its nearby residential community.
Grandmont Rosedale’s various neighborhood associations were the driving force behind the creation of GRDC, which according to Smith, “acts as a vehicle for sustaining and improving the community.” Those same residents are the champions — and customers — who keep small businesses like Toni’s Collection and McAdoo Dental going.
Porter said that on the same block as her business, a person can buy prepared food, get their hair and nails done, drop in a boutique to buy a new outfit, book an event at a venue, order a cake for the event at a bakery and plan the entertainment by hiring Porter to DJ. (She’s DJ Candlelight in her other career.) There’s even a childcare facility about a mile down the road.
New to brick-and-mortar sales, Porter wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of foot traffic, but she’s optimistic. “Quite a few of my existing customers have taken advantage of curbside pickup to avoid paying shipping and others are excited to now come in because I finally have the space for them to shop and smell everything. But my neighbors — they have been fantastic. They’ve welcomed me and sent people my way. And I send people their way.”