Rebuilding Detroit, one business at a time.
Detroit is redefining itself and small businesses are playing a critical role in its transformation. Entrepreneurs who are establishing small business roots in the Motor City are not only going full throttle but, want to make a difference.
Some have left Detroit to pursue other business opportunities and others have come back home to invest in Detroit after their hometown beckoned them to return.
Michelle Lewis, the owner of Painting with A Twist, with locations in Ferndale, Farmington and Detroit, left Michigan to pursue opportunities and landed in a city ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, LA.
A long-time architect, Lewis, a native Detroiter and graduate from Detroit’s Mackenzie High School and Tuskegee University, in Alabama, was looking for a change after business slowed.
In 2005, she landed in New Orleans around the same time Hurricane Katrina landed ashore and left a path of destruction from Texas to Florida and , in particular, across the New Orleans region.
Lewis joined an organization contracted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “I needed something to sustain me, and I knew they needed help in Louisiana,” she said. The job was located in New Orleans and she most of her time in New Orleans working with a group of planners focused on determining how to rebuild the devastated city. This experience was like no other. ”There were some places that I have no words for,” said Lewis. “The devastation that the hurricane caused was indescribable.”
However, what she saw was an undeniable spirit of its people. The destruction and damage Hurricane Katrina were enough to break a person’s spirit–not in New Orleans. “A lot of people lost everything except the shirt on their back,” she recalled. “The spirit of the people down there is incredible.”
However, in the aftermath of destruction, she saw hope and business opportunity based on creativity and paint.
After being introduced to a painting class offering art, friends and wine, Lewis liked the concept and started doing her own paintings. Using social media to post pictures of her work, she was amazed by the favorable reviews received online and many wanted to know if there was something like this concept in Detroit. There wasn’t – at least, until Lewis went into action.
And after five years in New Orleans, Lewis decided it was time to return to Detroit and help rebuild her hometown. “I came back here because here is home,” she said. “Even though we’re facing hard times, I’m not ready to let it go.”
Upon her arrival, she remembered the painting class and she began to wonder if she could make the business concept of painting, friends, art and wine, work in Detroit. She says, “I took that ‘what if’ and turned it into a reality.”
With that, Lewis brought Painting with a Twist, a franchise of Corks N Canvas, to Michigan and ultimately and with her sister, Donna, Detroit.
And she wasn’t going to let Michigan’s harsh economic climate scare her away. “Yes, it’s bad, but people still live here,” she said. In September 2010, Lewis opened Painting with a Twist in Ferndale and describes the studio as “an eclectic, artsy vibe”.
Why has she been able to open a business when the economy is working against you?
“I was willing to take a risk,” she said. “And I wanted to be the first one to open one here.”
At Painting with a Twist, guests are encouraged to enjoy a glass of wine as they recreate a work of art with the help of a local artist. “The instructor is able to pull out something from someone that they’ve never used,” said Lewis. “This is not your (typical) art class.”
In 2012, Lewis opened her second Painting with a Twist in Farmington, and recently, had its Detroit debut inside the Julian C. Madison Building at 1420 Washington Blvd, in downtown Detroit.
What is the secret to her success?
“You really have to be passionate about it, and you have to put a lot of time into it,” she said.