Detroit Threads Origin Story
For nearly two decades, Detroit Threads has been the spot for Detroit records and unique vintage fashion finds. It’s considered a must-visit for techno lovers who come to the Motor City. For owner Mikel Smith, it was something he always wanted to do. “ In the late 70s I was in the military in Texas and there was a guy who had a record store and he would DJ at night at this local bar,” Smith recalls. He realized it was something he wanted to pursue one day.
A couple of years later (back in Detroit) Smith convinced a friend to open a shop at a flea market in Westland, Michigan. “We had a crate of records and a rack of vintage clothing,” he says. Within 6 months they moved into a 500sq ft space. As the responsible business owner, Smith was headstrong about putting the money they earned back into the store as they built up their business. Besides running the shop, Smith was going to college and working part-time but he was committed to growing the business. “Unfortunately my partner did not have the same attitude,” Smith says. “He was always saying ‘Let’s pay ourselves and go to the bar,’ and I would tell him ‘No, go to work,’ because he had a full-time job.” Smith went to Florida for a year to help open some restaurants and when he returned the business was done. “He would sell stuff and spend the money and didn’t reinvest it back into our store,” he explains. “I learned a big lesson.”
In the late 80s and early 90s, Smith was entrenched in the rave scene. “I met a couple brothers in the scene—Sean and James Rose—and they used to do smart drinks at parties (non-alcohol energy drinks) so I got to know them fairly well and when they got busy, I’d jump back and start helping them,” says Smith. In exchange for his help, he would get into the parties for free. Eventually James moved to California and Smith became roommates with Sean.
Ultimately James moved back to open a record store with his brother Sean. “When they told me they were going to open a record store, I said, ‘Cool, I’m going to open a vintage clothing store right next to you guys,” he recounts. “At the time I had been a hairdresser for a while and was over it,” says Smith. “Plus, I already had experience doing the clothing/record store thing before.” Smith and the Rose brothers opened up their shops on the 3rd floor of a warehouse at Chene and Atwater (in Detroit). Smith named his clothing shop Detroit Threads. Within a year, the Rose brothers decided to get out of the record business “I bought what little they had and incorporated it into my store and went from there,” recalls Smith.
His roommates were only buying new records and with his prior experience selling records, he knew that he would have to incorporate used records if he wanted to make a profit. Soon after he incorporated records into his business, the landlords of the warehouse property told him he had to move or pay a premium. “There was still not much going on in the city back then and I tried to stay in downtown but the landlords were trying to get high rent for spaces that needed a lot of work,” says Smith.
At the time Motor Lounge in Hamtramck was one of the hottest spots for dance music in Wayne and Oakland County. Smith knew a couple of the owners from back in the 80s when they worked at Saint Andrews Hall. “They knew of a spot in Hamtramck and were trying to get me to open my store there,” explains Smith. In Christmas of ’97, Smith moved into the location down the street. The heavy foot traffic and proximity to Motor Lounge allowed Smith to be a flexible business owner, even opening the shop after the club shut down for the night to try and get some people in there to buy records.
When I ask him what has made him stay in Hamtramck after all these years, Smith tells me that Hamtramck is his home “I’m based here and I still like it here,” he says. He explains that there’s still a good amount of foot traffic around there after 5 o’clock. “In the city, people commute for their 9-5 jobs and don’t live downtown so they leave for the suburbs after work but people [in Hamtramck] live here and they’re shopping here.”
We discuss the vinyl explosion among the younger generation and how (if at all) it has impacted his store. “It’s not back to what it was in 1999-2001 at the peak when I had regulars coming in weekly for new releases but there has been a significant increase and wider variety of people showing up and buying records.” He explains that a big core of his clientele is people that never stopped buying records.
When it comes to the appeal of records for the younger generation, his answer rings true, “They like the fact that they’ve got something that they can hold in their hands…there’s a lot of different intangibles that don’t come with point and clicking a song on your iPod, computer or mobile device.”
Somewhere in the midst of all of this, Smith started his own label called Detroit Threads Recordings. “I wanted to showcase lesser known people and Detroit-based artists that might not have a chance to get on a label,” Smith explains. Currently the label is on a hiatus and hasn’t put anything out in a few years and its understandable. Smith has a difficult job on his hands trying to keep up with all of the talent coming out of Detroit. “That’s the biggest challenge right now,” Smith says. “So many people here are putting out music on vinyl again and I have a hard time being able to buy anything else other than Detroit artists,” he explains. “The first thing out-of-towners want to know is ‘Where is the Detroit section?’ But the demand for Detroit artists is only growing and because his shop is the only spot where you can buy this music, it has become a destination and a competitive advantage.
Check out Detroit Threads for Record Store Day (April 16,2016) where Detroit Techno Militia will be featuring DJs all day.
DJ Psycho – DTM
Annix – DTM
Neil V – DTM
Brent Scudder – Burst Radio
Izzie – First ever DJ performance!
Kip & Bethany as Namizdat
Todd Weston & Ava (Daddy/Daughter Set)
Stephen James – Subdivision
DJ Roach – Nuestro Futuro Records/Tec-Troit
Marshall Applewhite – Yo Sucka!
Ryan Start – Convergent Sound
10238 Joseph Campau Street
Hamtramck , MI , United States of America