The oc115 Oak Park Tour

The oc115 Oak Park TourSahara ad with wine

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Jan. 25, 2015)

In getting to learn about the City of Oak Park, I asked Mayor Marian McClellan for a tour of the City. While we weren’t able to visit all of the wonderful locally-owned businesses, the tour was a great start.

We started on 9 Mile Road, where there was Tai Fai, 8250 Closet, and Scheer’s Ace Hardware royal_serviceswhich has been around since before Oak Park was even a city.  According to their website “Scheer’s Ace Hardware was founded by Martin & Philip Scheer in 1946. It was originally started as ‘Scheer’s Trading Post’ but joined Ace in 1958. Their first store was opened in Ferndale. …They moved to their current location in 1968 and about 10 years later bought the attached building owned by Estes Electronics. Approximately two years later they purchased the field next to it and paved the way for a new parking lot and entrance. Marty’s daughter Carol; and Paul Krupkin are the current owners. Howard, Phil’s son and previous partner of Carol and Paul, retired December 2009.”

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Next we went to the 9 Oak Grill in the shopping center at 9 Mile and Coolidge for an inexpensive but filling breakfast.  waterworkMayor McClellan worked the room, asking people to sign up for the City’s email list, which has grown from about 200 to over 2,000 in the past two years.  As I ate a half order of biscuits and gravy, she talked about the improvements that have been made since her election.  She praised the work of City Manager Erik Tungate, and the development initiatives that have come forward, including increased communications and money-saving initiatives like eliminating healthcare for elected officials (who often have healthcare through their main jobs), and eliminating a policy that provided lifetime healthcare to Mayors once they leave office. Tungate also worked to consolidate insurance programs in the City, saving a million dollars.  There are also new programs in place to help development, like a facade improvement program and an ordinance change that allows for the sale of beer and wine in restaurants.
9 Oaks Grill is in a shopping center with other stores like Glory Grocery, Value World and Family Dollar. All four corners of 9 and Coolidge offer shoppers a variety of products, services, and places to enjoy food.

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After that, we went to the new municipal complex named after former Oak Park Mayor Gerald Naftaly.  20150125op420150125op5

ferncareADMayor McClellan came on board as the project was wrapping up. Though she has originally opposed it due to cost, once complete the value became clear. “We are a first rate city and we should give people that impression,” she said. During her campaign she vowed that if she won she would name the facility after Naftaly because he’d been such an advocate for it. “We disagreed on a lot of things, but I wanted to do the right thing and give credit where it’s due,” she said.

City Hall was closed because it was a Friday, but we still got a peek inside. There we met a traffic enforcement officer who was looking for a copy of last year’s community calendar because his nephew was inside and two nieces were on the cover.20150125op06
Mayor McClellan credited Joslyn Davis and Jennifer Howard for doing work to promote the City, including the calendar. Other points of pride were the portraits on the wall of City Hall, showing the diverse staff and City Council that Oak Park Has, and the public art that is displayed. 20150125op6

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Next we got to see the newly constructed public safety building. In Oak Park the City sidebar012stairssaves money by having police and firefighters trained to do both jobs. Officer Eric Dolan was happy to show off the spacious new facility. “We spent the majority of time in a building that we had outgrown,” he said. He explained that the new design keeps prisoners in areas separate from employees, gives them more room for training, and most importantly a space they can be proud of. “It’s been such a boost in morale,” he said. He added that changes in the City have made officers and employees feel more secure in their jobs. “The focus on development means Oak Park will grow and not be stagnant as it was before. You can’t cut your way into economic recovery. We’re forward thinking individuals and we recognize what happens if our city is not growing.”
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The big yellow firetrucks were impressive.20150125op011
After leaving the municipal complex, we drove past Shepherd Park, which has a trail through the woods and a large wooden train. There are also pavilions to rent, including one with a kitchen. 20150125op012
The next part of our journey took us through the neighborhoods, where many of the homes were built in a similar fashion during the 1950s. The home style was award-winning for efficiency and resiliency, with many homes in great condition compared with others of that era.The homes were similar in style but each unique. 20150125op013

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Oak Park has a thriving Jewish community, with many temples and synagogues, and a Jewish Community Center. The Jewish Community Center is facing possible closure, but members of the community are exploring ways to keep it open in spite of financial worries. 20150125op015

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Due to the large Jewish population, Oak Park is also home to the only Certified Kosher Dunkin’ Donuts location in Michigan, located at 10 Mile and Greenfield.20150125op022

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Oak Park has many other delicious places to eat. One unlikely place is the Scotia Stop, where Bryant Kuza and his mom Muna make delicious chicken wings, pizza and other convenience foods each day. The family business has been there for over 20 years, with Bryant noticing now how neighborhood kids have grown up, and now have families of their own. 20150125op02320150125op24

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And of course there is the world-famous Ernie’s Market!20150125op30

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20150125op035 Another impressive part of Oak Park is the Department of Public Works. With a fleet of vehicles to plow and salt plus the tools and manpower to keep the city clean and functioning, the DPW is an often under-recognized asset. The DPW made a major change a couple of years ago by installing a wood-burning heating system in their main facility. Using old trees and wood that would have been waste, they are able to heat their main facility for a fraction of the cost of gas. Their bill went from $8,000 a month to $800-900 a month in the winter according to the City.20150125opA01

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There is also a watertower, that saves the City money because it allows them to stock up on water during non-peak hours when water prices are lower.20150125op40

The DPW is located in the industrial area, where global companies and local companies all stay busy producing metal, automotive parts, mechanical parts, food production, and more. 20150125op041
At the edge of the industrial section, located on 11 Mile Road, Curt’s Auto is known for it’s eco-friendly upgrades to the facility.Curt’s opened in 1981 and expanded two and a half years ago. They now use in-ground hoists that use water and not oil, radiant floor heaters, exhaust hoses that trap and filter exhaust so it does not stay in the building, skylights that reduce the electric bill and electric vehicle charging stations. “I like the technology of electricic,” said Curt Massoll, co-owner of the shop. “I don’t want to fall behind. I think hybrids and electric are the wave of the future. But we’ll always service traditional vehicles too.”
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Oak Park is also full of unique specialty shops and small businesses. There was not time to see them all, but one that interested Mayor McClellan was Metro Frame, because, as she said “It’s not just a frame shop, it’s like a museum.” Sure enough the space was packed with interesting items like paintings, sculptures and collectables.
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The last stop of the tour, back on 9 Mile Road near Coolidge, is Peteet’s Cheesecake, a culinary delight that is quickly gaining popularity through Metro Detroit. With many kinds of cheesecakes to choose from, it’s nearly impossible to find just one. Plus owner Patrick Peteet has worked hard to get his product into local grocery stores and restaurants, and recently opened a second location in West Bloomfield.20150125op45

Learn more about Oak Park through the City’s official website at http://www.ci.oak-park.mi.us, and through the Ferndale Area Chamber of Commerce Oak Park Alliance at http://www.ferndalechamber.com/.

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