'Wonderful' new store/cafe/bar called a sign of things to come for Ford City

Friday, December 27, 2019

The Windsor Star/Brian Cross




You really need to go to Pressure Drop and feel it.

That’s the advice from Ford City Business Improvement Association chairman Shane Potvin. He says stepping into the surf-and-sail-themed retail outlet, cafe and bar gives people that same “aha moment” they had the first time they experienced another Drouillard Road standout, the Grand Cantina restaurant, when it opened in 2018.

“It’s definitely a cool business for Ford City, but it’s also definitely a great business for Windsor itself,” Potvin said, who raves about the unique vision co-owners Mike Weber and Marina Maffessanti had for the commercial space — in a 1920s building that for decades was a fish store. In Ford City, where rejuvenation is still in its formative stages, you don’t get a lot of foot traffic, so you have to be creative, he said.

So Pressure Drop is not just a retail store selling unique men’s and women’s clothing and other items. It also has a cafe in the back whose focal point is a showpiece plywood-laminated bar shaped like a wave. Weber and Maffessanti invite local people who create unique products but don’t have their own stores, to sell their wares during special pop-up events. And at night, they can open the floor space up, put in tables and sell alcohol, hosting live performances, art shows and social gatherings. They also purchased the vacant lot next door from the city. Last summer in a test run they placed picnic tables out there and illuminated the lot with strings of Edison bulbs. But next summer they plan a patio, stage, and a bar and grill area circling a big tree.

“When you drive down the street, you see it instantly, and for a street where you haven’t seen much change in 30 years … driving by and seeing something new and different is really cool,” Potvin said. He explained that Ford City — a long-neglected neighbourhood now in the early stages of a commercial regeneration — is unique because someone with a great idea can buy a building at an affordable price, rent apartments upstairs to help with expenses, develop a business on the ground floor and even buy the next-door lot.

He said there are seven or eight more buildings purchased in recent months by people with plans on renovating them and turning them into new commercial ventures.

“It’s pretty exciting and Mike and Marina were first out of the gate, and we’re just super proud that they’re there and doing really unique things.”

The couple purchased the building last winter and opened it in the spring after extensive renovations costing around $60,000. On Jan. 6, their application for incentives under two city community improvement plans, goes to city council seeking grants worth $17,000 plus a rebate on any tax increases over the next 10 years.  Weber said the CIP was crucial to their coming to Ford City.

“I think the CIP was like the icing on the cake, but it was hard, very challenging,” he said, referring to the many obstacles they encountered.

Weber grew up in St. Clair Beach and met his girlfriend Maffessanti, a native of Jamaica, while they were sailing in the Caribbean. Pressure Drop, said Weber, is their version of a Jamaican roadside rum bar, an open-air bar with several stools occupied by whomever drops by.

“There’s something about that that we love — create a space that everybody can come to. We can sell a $300 jacket and also sell a $4 beer.”

He said when they run an event, they can get 10 or 12 people who love the clothing and become potential retail customers.

They want Pressure Drop to appeal to the same people who like to visit Detroit regularly and explore the newly reinvigorated neighbourhoods, restaurants and shops. Weber likened Drouillard Road to Detroit’s Cass Corridor, a once-decaying neighbourhood that’s on the upswing with cool new venues. People who appreciate what the Cass Corridor has become can see the potential for Ford City, he said.

Pressure Drop is what Weber and Maffessanti call “experiential retail,” a departure from having a grocery store, a clothing store, a restaurant, all different and separate. They reasoned that they needed to do a lot more than just sell things if they were going to compete successfully with online retailers.

“By having a retail store, mixed with a cafe where we sell coffee, and a liquor licence where we sell wine and beer and spirits, and sort of an open venue where there’s room for people to hang out, we can do all those things at once,” Weber said.

“It’s not something that you see in Windsor, this concept, but it is definitely something you see in bigger cities around the world.”

He said the retail business doesn’t have the busy walk-in traffic that most retailers rely on. But they can create events that draw people in.

“We can throw a big party on a Friday night, bring in some music and maybe get 30 or 40 people hanging out. That is the business model.”

Weber and Maffessanti both have full-time jobs in digital marketing, Weber in London and Maffessanti in Detroit. They had a vision of opening up a store and creating their own brand, centred on sailing and hanging out at the beach.

“She’s from Jamaica, I used to go to Jamaica as a kid, so we pulled all of those authentic experiences and created something,” Weber said. Their style may seem a stark contrast to their Drouillard Road location, a gritty neighbourhood connected to manufacturing and industry.

“I think in many ways by locating here, yeah, it is a contrast, it challenges the history here, but I think it does it in a really interesting way because it says we’re changing, we’re evolving.”

The BIA’s Potvin said he sees Pressure Drop as the beginning of Ford City’s future. “It’s businesses like Mike and Marina’s that are catalysts for more growth,” he said, crediting them for executing a “wonderful vision and end game.”

Other businesses are coming, assisted by the CIP, though there will be a lag time between building purchases and business openings because of needed renovations, he said.

“There have been a lot of buildings purchased and the ideas for these buildings are pretty great and will be unique.”