Detroit Firefighter Lights Up Livernois Ave with Pop Up Storefront
Updated: Sep 25, 2019
Written by Margarita Barry, Photography by David Lewinski
He's been protecting Detroiters for 17 years as a firefighter, now Zoser Ahmad has found another way to help the citizens of Detroit with his pop up storefront, Canvas Livernois.
The 37 year-old husband, father, and hometown hero, has always had a passion for helping people. "Being a full time firefighter with the city of Detroit has been a blast for the past 17 years. The relationships I've built with coworkers and the feeling that I get from helping citizens in times of need is most rewarding."
Zoser's no stranger to entrepreneurship. As a teenager, he started a short-lived urban streetwear line. These days, in addition to running Canvas, he also crafts specialty leather suspenders for his fellow firefighters.
Through his full time job and business hustles he gets to experience the best of both worlds. "Canvas Livernois affords me the fulfillment of helping others and operating a business at the same time."
"Canvas Livernois affords me the fulfillment of helping others and operating a business at the same time."
Canvas is located on Livernois, hence its name. Between 7 and 8 Mile roads, Detroit's Livernois Ave is often called the "Avenue of Fashion", a major retail destination up until the 1950s when big box stores and suburban malls began to change the landscape.
Nevertheless, combined with the strength of the longtime businesses who've managed to hold on strong, refreshed interest and new developments have brought excitement back to the Avenue.
Knowing its history, Zoser wasn't sure what he wanted to do with the space when he initially purchased it in 2016. Full of possibilities, over the years it's housed everything from a recording studio, to a sewing shop and beauty supply store.
"After heavy consideration, I fell in love with the idea of having a fly space where startup businesses and internet based brands could have pop ups. Given the historic aspect of the Avenue of Fashion coupled with high visibility and traffic, I think Canvas Livernois is an ideal pop up location," he explained. So Canvas Livernois opened its doors in July 2018.
I'm no stranger to pop ups and the opportunities they present to future retail entrepreneurs. With plenty of unused space, low start-up costs, and built-in marketing, pop ups offer Detroiters a real life crash course in retail business.
Zoser agrees. "Pop ups give startups the ability to take their business from paper to real time and allow for them to make necessary tweaks before committing to long term leasing."
Between working his day job, running Canvas, and providing for his family, balancing it all isn't always so easy.
"If it's one thing I've gained from fighting fires, it's the ability to stay the course during the most stressful situations."
"Admittedly, it has been quite stressful trying to spread myself," he laments. "But if it's one thing I've gained from fighting fires, it's the ability to stay the course during the most stressful situations."
And that stress has intensified recently with the major road construction that has left neighborhood businesses like Canvas struggling. "The construction has not only turned away a number of potential pop ups, but also caused some to reschedule their events for after completion."
Zoser, however, sees a light at the end of the tunnel. "I always look at the glass as half full," he says. "Once the project is completed I believe it will have a greater positive impact. I believe there will be increased interest in the Avenue of Fashion, new businesses to fill many of the empty storefronts, as well as increased foot traffic. "
That optimism is also reflected in Canvas Livernois' branding, where the words "Can" and "Live" are highlighted in contrasting colors. Zoser describes this significance as "the entrepreneurial spirit within all who dare to take the steps toward bringing their dreams and aspirations to fruition. 'Can Live' is saying you can be successful. The entire idea is actually I, You, We, Can Live."
You can meet Zoser in person this Saturday, September 28th, 2019 at Light Up Livernois, where kids and adults alike are invited to enjoy live music and use art to imagine how they'd "fill in the blank" at Canvas Livernois. A great opportunity for entrepreneurs to tour the space and visit some of the surrounding businesses participating.
"Our upcoming event will be an open house as well as an unveiling of the new mural by Walsh Gill of Bee Sting Art Studio during Light Up Livernois. While the open house will be all day from 12-10pm, we will have the sounds of DJ Rue and complimentary wine and cheese between 5-8pm."
You can learn more about Canvas Livernois at www.canvaslivernois.com.
Margarita Barry is a social entrepreneur, designer, storyteller, and marketing expert with a passion for inspiring entrepreneurs, activating creative places and using art and digital media to empower communities.
I Am Mainstreet America promotes small business entrepreneurship as a means to combat unemployment and boost economic impact in cities. Through the platform, she shares the stories of America's small business entrepreneurs and mobilizes citizens everywhere to champion them through Mainstreet Mob, a combined loyalty app, cash mob community, and marketing platform.
She's the founder and executive director of Mainstreet Seed (www.mainstreetseed.com), an organization that raises seed funding for revenue-generating neighborhood retail startups founded by black and brown identifying founders.
Her work has garnered the attention of publications like The Huffington Post, The New York Times, Time, USA Today, PBS NewsHour, Crain’s Detroit, Fast Company, and Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
In addition to her own ventures, these days you can find her collaborating on a number of projects across Detroit and raising her six year old daughter. Her greatest hope is that the content, art, platforms, and experiences she creates positively affect peoples’ lives creatively, socially and economically.