Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Shinola's Willys opens in Detroit, but disappoints on big day


The grand opening of Willys, an upscale boutique spinoff of Shinola, was this past Saturday in Detroit.

For some, especially those living in say New York or London, this might not seem like a big deal. After all, shops come and go all the time.   

However, this is Detroit — the city known globally for all the wrong reasons: A mass exodus of its inhabitants, dangerous levels of crime, extreme poverty and unemployment, corrupt politicians and last, but certainly not least, its bankrupt city hall.

Without writing a treatise on everything wrong in Detroit, let's just say it is great to see Shinola prospering in the city once affectionately known as the Paris of West.

Perhaps expectations were too high for Willys, but this correspondent walked away disappointed.

Make no mistake. The store is ridiculously nice. Everything is carefully curated. The merchandising is superb. (For photos of Willys, click over to Curbed Detroit.)

It was what is sold — and for how much — that disappointed.

The prices were beyond expensive, especially for a city whose gilded age faded long ago.

Detroit isn't Manhattan. It isn't Mayfair in London. It isn't even Chicago. Sure, hordes of well-off suburbanites will flock to Willys and buy things like a $900-plus bag from Filson, but the reality is not many Detroiters can afford this sort of luxury.

The mini Apolis boutique was nice, as few gentlemen outside of California get the chance to touch and feel the hipster brand’s offerings.

Other offerings included a fair amount of vintage clothing, which is an odd pairing with upscale brands like Apolis and Filson.

What stood out most, however, was the lack of a festive atmosphere for Willys’ big day.

This correspondent arrived about 10 minutes after doors opened for the very first time, though one would have never known. It could have been any old day.

There were no celebratory whims. No giveaways or special promotions. Nothing to mark the occasion.

Instead, the half-dozen Willys workers tried to look busy as seven or eight other customers browsed about.

Overall, Willys will be interesting to keep an eye on as the store grows. While not worth a special pilgrimage, one hopes that will change.

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