By JESSICA STRACHAN
DEARBORN — Jeff and Elizabeth Dunlap could have moved anywhere in the region when he landed his job at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in 2014.
But, they weren’t looking for just any sleepy bedroom community.
After selling their warehouse-turned-condominium in Uptown Chicago, the couple wanted a quality home in a trendy city with a bit of that coveted outdoor space.
The Dunlaps fell in love with their 3-bedroom, 1.5-bathroom brick home in the city’s Fort Dearborn Manor neighborhood, with its sizeable backyard, traditional features and large bay windows, set on a tree-lined street.
“We wanted something charming and older, with soul and character,” said Elizabeth, 42. “Aesthetically the neighborhood is beautiful and it’s a diverse mix of neighbors.”
But they say it’s the community itself that helps give the Dunlaps lives here meaning.
“We’ve seen a lot of improvements and changes on Michigan Avenue since we’ve moved here and it’s fantastic,” Jeff says. “It reinforces our decision. I definitely feel like things are on the upswing.”
The Dunlaps say they love the new bike path, community and fitness centers, variety of emerging restaurants, and new developments like the soon-to-open dog park they can take their 12-year-old Bichon mix Mickey to.
Some of the Dearborn community staples also make their list of favorite things, like the neighborhood community garden, eating at Dearborn Ham, shopping at Dearborn Sausage and tasting French and Middle Eastern desserts at Shatila Bakery.
“There are so many little hidden gems,” Elizabeth says. “I definitely feel a big sense of Dearborn pride.”
Jeff adds that the accessibility to the airport and major cities like Detroit and Ann Arbor are another big plus living in a central area like Dearborn. Not to mention the proximity of world class institutions like the one he works for, the Arab American Museum and the world headquarters of Ford Motor Company.
“It’s absolutely fascinating,” he said. “It’s wonderful to be a part of this.”
An investment worth making
When Sam Abbas, a Dearborn native, left the city to earn his MBA at Arizona State University and open his first restaurant, he missed home.
“Something about being away from home, friends and family,” says Abbas, 31, owner of Dearborn’s Yogurtopia and Brome Burgers and Shakes. “I really started to miss that hometown feel in the Midwest. The withdrawals brought me right back in.”
That’s when Abbas moved back to Dearborn and opened his yogurt shop in west Dearborn.
“When we first opened in 2013 it was a really risky time that year, the market hadn’t recovered, but I saw an opportunity in the sense that because the recession hit us so hard in the downtown area, there were a lot of vacancies and opportunities for people to come in and capture that demand.”
Abbas says a quick serve restaurant like a yogurt shop was a good fit because even during a recession, there’s a large, diverse market of people in a city like Dearborn who still want to go out for a walk and grab an ice cream. With a mix of 30,000 students, a large workforce from Dearborn’s key corporations and the senior citizens, Abbas said he knew customers would support him.
“It really resonated well with the community,” he says. “It was a great response and one thing led to another. I always knew Dearborn was going to bounce back.”
In 2015 he opened his take on a local hamburger restaurant that would use the freshest, organic ingredients with from-scratch recipes on his menu. Business is doing well and he’s planning to expand into Detroit later this year.
“The scene here in downtown Dearborn revolves around a lot of independence. I love that people seek downtown Dearborn as a place for a new cool startup,” Abbas says. “The opportunity for entrepreneurs to explore an idea is greater and more welcomed here than in other places.”
Abbas says he travels to other downtowns across the country, from Pittsburgh to San Diego, seeing the unique characteristics of each district, but still Dearborn stands out for him.
“You’ve got so many key things here in the city, so many community assets like the museums and just the geographic location of it is great,” he said. “Our real estate is incredible, our public services are awesome, there’s so many good things about Dearborn.”
The city has endless options of cultural institutions, eateries, unique shops, drive-ins, top-notch schools and educational institutions, major hospitals and world-renowned businesses to draw people in, he says.
“It’s nearly impossible for you to live in the area and not need something in Dearborn,” said Abbas.
For him though, it’s his friends, neighbors, customers and fellow community members that really make the difference in Dearborn.
“Being a resident of Dearborn, one thing you can always count on is the resiliency of the community,” he said. “The unity here is incredible, you can’t forget how the community comes together when need be.”
A ‘secret neighborhood’
JoAnn Lopez, originally of Livonia, is one of the many in the area hoping to buy a forever home in Dearborn. Lopez, a 35-year-old finance analyst with Ford Motor Company, has rented a loft in Dearborn and now rents a house near Outer Drive and Pelham Street, but is looking for homes in the historic districts of the city with her boyfriend.
“The market here is incredible. It’s really competitive, the houses go really quick, which is great for sellers,” she says. “For us, it’s just a matter of always looking and finding that perfect home.”
She said they love the older homes with unique character on tree-lined streets in developed and welcoming neighborhoods, all within walking distance to a variety of bars and restaurants.
For them, it’s an eclectic community living in harmony.
“Dearborn is great because it’s a mixing pot,” she says. “You’ve got the 9-to-5ers working in the community you see at the bars and during the weekends it’s a mix of teenagers, older couples, people my age just looking to have a good time and have some fun. Everyone is happy together.”
Lopez has lived in Dearborn for two years now and has already taken roots in the city, living, working and playing within the community. She says Dearborn is a place that has it all.
“There’s a lot of really good things happening in Dearborn, a lot of events, activities and music that bring people out,” she says. “We’re encouraged to come out and get to know our neighbors. There’s a lot of diversity in Dearborn and I think that’s one of the things unique about it. There’s a big sense of community here.”
For Lopez, Dearborn is the winning combination for a community.
(This story was reprinted from Metromode Media. It also is available here.)