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Detroit's thriving restaurant district hit by car thefts

A scene in Detroit.
Ryan Grimes
Michigan Radio

Now that spring is in the air, many people around the state may be planning a visit to Detroit – maybe to watch the Wings (hopefully) in the playoffs, to catch a Tigers' game, or maybe to tour the DIA. 

As Detroit has emerged from the largest municipal bankruptcy in United States’ history, there's been a strong narrative of a new Detroit, attracting energetic entrepreneurs and business owners.

This includes a growing bar and restaurant district along Michigan Ave. in Corktown, just west of Downtown.

However, that new image of Detroit got somewhat "smudged" a few weeks ago, when on a single weekend, seven vehicles were reported stolen in the Third District, which includes Corktown.

After the thefts made some waves on social media, Detroit Police Chief James Craig promised action.

PJ Ryder, a Corktown business owner, owns and runs PJ’s Lager House on Michigan Avenue.

The building, he says, has been there for 100 years this year. For the last 20 it’s been known as one of Detroit’s music bars. It serves gumbo, jambalaya, veggie-friendly plates, and more.

“I can’t say there’s never been a car stolen from my place, but first of all, one thing to understand is we don’t own any of the parking lots around us,” Ryder said. “I don’t own any of that.”

Ryder says he pays security to be on watch outside the Lager House every day from 5 p.m. until 2 a.m. He says he spends $30,000 a year on security, even when times are tight.

“Years ago, Phil Cooley, who owns Slows, told me, he says, ‘That’s one of the things about the cost of doing business in Detroit. If you’re successful, you have to provide security because there’s a lot of knuckleheads out there and there’s only so much you can do to stop them.' And that’s why for me, it’s become absolutely essential for me to have someone out there every night, ‘cause I just can’t let things happen like customers cars, whether in my lot or somebody else’s lot,” Ryder said.

Parking in Corktown, he said, is starting to become a problem. It’s the rise of people coming into Detroit mixed with the lack of proper planning that’s causing the problem.

However, some of the businesses downtown are attempting to begin directing the issue. Around two years ago they started a Business Association, one that includes around 100 members as of now.

But Ryder warns that the car thieves are professionals.

“They show up, they circle the block, they scope out certain cars and things like that. So I encourage people to park in the lots, if there’s a charging lot, like I know over at Slows they have a lot behind the Mercury Burger Bar that charges to be in it. And sometimes we all don’t want to pay for parking. Well, sometimes you’re better off paying for parking.”

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