Midtown Detroit shopkeeper is closing his former 'bachelor pad' store – Detroit Free Press

A prominent Detroit store owner, whose brand debuted in the early pop-up retail days, plans to shutter his upscale Midtown shop and adopt an online-only business model after pondering his financial future and suspecting that a mini-boom last decade of suburbanite shoppers exploring the neighborhood — and his shop — may not return anytime soon.
Joe Posch, owner of the design housewares, accessories and furniture shop Hugh, 4240 Cass Ave., said he is closing the shop at the end of the month.
“Part of it is I’ve been doing this for a very long time, and I’m ready for a change,” Posch, 52, who grew up in Grosse Pointe and now lives in the city’s West Village neighborhood, said this week.
Hugh has been open at its Cass storefront since November 2012, when it was the first business in the then-new retail and apartments complex known as The Auburn.
Previously, Posch owned a modern furniture and lighting store called Mezzanine that he relocated to downtown Detroit from Ann Arbor in 2006.
The Hugh brand debuted in 2009 as an early example in Detroit of the pop-up temporary store trend.
With help from a $50,000 Hatch Detroit grant, three years later, the full Hugh store opened on Cass, just as areas of downtown and Midtown were beginning to recover from Detroit’s deep economic and real estate collapse.
More young people moved in and new businesses opened, including coffee shops, a Whole Foods and artisanal small plates restaurants.
Sales at Hugh grew each successive year, Posch said, then surged between 2014 and 2016. That was a period when masses of shoppers from outside Detroit came to explore the nearby Canfield Street flagship store for Shinola, the Detroit-based luxury goods brand that launched last decade and is perhaps best known for its watches.
“When Shinola opened, we had this frenzy of attention,” Posch said. “All of the sudden, all the suburbanites were coming here. It was literally tour buses of people coming and walking around, and listening to (people) talk about, ‘Oh, we’re so happy Detroit has turned around. We can finally come down here.’ ”
Some of those Shinola shoppers made the short walk over and discovered Hugh. 
“During the week, we used to get a ton of women shopping in groups, and going to lunch at Selden Standard,” he recalled, citing a popular upscale restaurant in the area.
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But those crowds of Midtown shoppers thinned out once Shinola opened a store in the Somerset Collection mall in Oakland County in spring 2017, Posch said.
“Shinola opened in Somerset, and every person stopped coming,” he said.
Hugh’s sales were down 20% in 2017 and 2018 from their 2016 peak. Business rebounded a bit in 2019, he said, and the 2020 Christmas shopping season — when Michigan bars and restaurants were closed because of COVID-19 — was surprisingly strong for the shop.
Yet that mid-pandemic surge lasted only as long as people lacked spending outlets for their disposable income.
“Once restaurants opened, that bump that we got was over. It went back to normal,” Posch said.
Posch laid out the various reasons he decided to close his physical store in a wide-ranging interview peppered with spicy takes on Detroit’s resurgence and why the city became less exciting for him after a deluge of real estate investments swept through the city’s trendy areas in the mid-2010s.
“When Detroit became a real estate town is when it kind of started to suck,” he said. “You’d be walking around West Village and there’d be like dudes in suits and a Lincoln driving around, looking at properties. My friends had people knocking on their doors, like, ‘Are you going to sell your house?’
“And I know real estate people. I’m friends with real estate people. But you had people who didn’t know the city, trying to come in and sell the city. And then you had people who didn’t know the city, coming and living in the city and being ‘Why isn’t this like Ferndale?’
“I know cities can’t stay the same forever. But it did used to seem like it was a lot more fun. It wasn’t so much like networking as it was just hanging out.”
When Posch launched Hugh, the store’s original focus was “bachelor pad” lifestyle accessories and decor.
He drew inspiration from the consumer products features in 1960s and 1970s Esquire and Playboy magazines, the later of which were available for purchase in the store and proved popular gifts for matching the monthly issues with recipients’ birthday months.
The popular “Mad Men” TV series that was on the air at the time helped boost business, he said.
Posch, who is gay and has a long-term partner, later shifted away from the bachelor pad concept and broadened the store’s focus to  unique design items, including kitchenware, cutlery, barware such as wine glasses, coffee-table books and mid-20th-century furniture.
“Maybe in another city that has more churn and more people, it may have lasted as a bachelor pad store,” he said.
While a suburban location like Birmingham might have seemed a more obvious spot in the early 2010s for a fancy design store than a Detroit then on the eve of bankruptcy, Posch said he could never imagine being anywhere but the city.
“Good cities, you bump up against people who are different than you. There’s where the magic happens — finding commonalities, finding the unexpected, and that is what’s always worked for me in Detroit,” he said. “It’s a little bit harder now, to be honest … now it’s the kids of suburbanites moving in, and it feels different.”
Posch said a chief reason why he is closing Hugh’s physical store is he is getting older and needs more time for his other interests and projects, such as growing his successful design consultant business.
“Realistically, I need to save a bit more than the salary a shopkeeper in Detroit allows if I’m going to retire some day,” he said. “It’s really difficult for one person to run a bricks-and-mortar store as well as an online store. They are very different kinds of operations and require a lot of time.”
The landlord for Hugh also sold the building in December. Posch said that while the new landlord seems nice and had yet to quote him any lease renewal terms, he was reluctant to commit to the location for another three years.
Additionally, the shop is facing new pressure from the suppliers of some of its bestselling merchandise, who, since the pandemic, have been requiring Posch and other merchants to buy significantly more inventory.
“Some of my vendors have stopped selling to me because I’m too small,” Posch said. “They only want to work with people who will order like more than $15,000 a year wholesale of their product.
“Some of our best glassware lines — they doubled the minimum order this year and they’re doubling it again next year. And I was like, ‘Well, this is my last order, I guess.’ ” 
“So the local design store really almost can’t exist anymore,” he added. “Certainly not with what you might call heritage design brands.”
Posch said that heading into last holiday season, he made a decision to close the Hugh store if business wasn’t at least as strong as Christmas 2020. 
“And it wasn’t,” he said.
He said he is thankful for his loyal customer base, and hopes to still do occasional Hugh pop-up stores — locations to-be-determined.
“I am already planning Hugh for the Holidays,” Posch said.
Contact JC Reindl: 313-222-6631 or jcreindl@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @jcreindl. Read more on business and sign up for our business newsletter.

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