Going one on one with Rachel Lutz
On a typical day before the coronavirus epidemic hit, you could easily find entrepreneur Rachel Lutz at one of her four Detroit-based women’s boutiques. These days, with her locations operating by appointment only, we caught up with her about how she’s been impacted and her plans for the future.
In May, you were featured alongside Gov. Whitmer at her press conference to discuss the “MI Safe Start” Plan. How did that engagement come to be?
I had written the governor a letter, expressing support for her stay-at-home order. But knowing that she also deeply cares about Michigan small businesses, I gave feedback on what might help us safely serve our customers as we reemerge back into an open economy.
What is the current state of the Peacock Room and where do you see the business going as Michigan reopens?
The Peacock Room, Frida and Yama are currently closed to the public, but I’ve been doing some appointments. We’ve had some wildly successful Facebook Live events, which have taken us into online sales, something we hadn’t really touched before. It’s a completely different business model, so it’s taken some adjusting to. I will reopen my shops to the public when I reach a point of more confidence in the environment around us. The safety of my staff and customers is my top priority, so any decision I make will be based on what I’m hearing from the scientific community.
What would be your message to friends and family on the best way to help others that have businesses impacted?
Every small business out there is in a true fight for survival. Some of us won’t make it, some of us will hang on, and I’m confident some of us will actually thrive — it all depends on how much our community supports us and how willing each owner is to adapt to the new world around us.
One of your earliest mentions in the Jewish News was in 1996. At Berkley High School, during studies to remember the Holocaust, you and other students educated students on modern-day atrocities in Rwanda, the persecution of Armenians and American Indians, and the forced relocation of Japanese Americans. A quarter-century later, if you were to think about the challenges in our society today, what is at the top of your mind today?
The most urgent and important matter in my mind in the continued fight for justice is for the Black community. As a Detroit resident and business owner, it’s impossible to ignore the pain and injustice experienced here on a regular basis, from the school system to the corrections system. Even the topography of Detroit exposes the pockmarks of institutionalized racism that we’ve failed to address for generations — just look at our sharply segregated regional census map from as recently as 2010. It doesn’t resemble a metro area that’s learned the lessons of the past and has made a meaningful effort toward progress. We must do better.
That same year, you were the youngest campaign worker for the Detroit field office of the Clinton/Gore campaign — even taking off election day from school to hold a giant campaign sign at 9 Mile and Greenfield. What was it about your upbringing that guided your early perspectives about politics?
Oh goodness, that was a long time ago. I was 16 years old that year, and I had been stuffing envelopes for campaigns since I was 8. I grew up with parents who did such an important thing — contrary to what many kids are taught, they raised us to actively talk about religion and politics at the dinner table. Kids need to be able to engage, form opinions, be able to defend them and be open to evolve their views.
Your business resides entirely in the city of Detroit. What do you think is most misunderstood about being an entrepreneur in Detroit?
Although it’s not as frequent as it used to be, I’m often asked “is it safe” to visit my shop. I’ve always felt safe and, more importantly, like part of the community here. I actually felt less safe in the suburbs.
Another common misconception about doing business in Detroit: Folks think the streets are paved with gold. I wish I could report that’s true! But just like anywhere else, you have to work hard and know your market.
You have also been a student in Detroit and a resident of the city. What perspective would you share with a younger member of the community interested in living and being more involved in Detroit?
If you’re new here, be intentional about forming relationships with longtime residents. Listen to them. Respect the context you’re moving into. And despite the tired narratives, you’ll then realize this is one of the richest cities in America that you can have the privilege of living in.
If you were to make a best guess, how long do you envision the COVID-19 situation will have the state government restrict some aspect of business activity?
We need to really move beyond the orthodoxies of how we see our businesses and how we ran them before. If there are restrictions in the name of giving us communities to come back to, we should try to figure out how to evolve our businesses alongside them.
COVID-19 has really redefined how we will have to live in the coming months and years (with masks, distanced, avoiding large gatherings, etc.). The more we do now to stop the spread and stay safe, the less time we will have to worry about restrictions.
What do you most look forward to doing as more businesses open their doors for customers?
Sorry, I couldn’t hear your question over my overwhelming need to get a pedicure from Rouge in Ferndale.