This started out as an "Up with Detroit" column meant as counterpoint to last week's "Guttersnipe Columnist Slanders Great American City" work product. The idea was to telephone random Detroit bars and ask patrons, bartenders, managers, "What do you like about Detroit?" Figured to collect warm and fuzzy Detroit lore and even the score.
Peter Arabo was the third phone call. Arabo, 28, is an owner of Envy. Said club is downtown, inside the ring, couple blocks from the Detroit River, in the Beautiful People entertainment zone. I learn the club has custom appointments, dance floor, V.I.P. floor, indoor waterfall, celebrity patrons, and lines of well-dressed supplicants at the door. I wanted to know if Peter was Detroit born and raised.
"I was born in Detroit, then moved to San Diego. I used to live in La Mesa."
Bingo. Double bingo. "What brought you back to Detroit?"
"I was a kid, had to go with my father. He had a sister here. All his brothers were in San Diego, so he decided to move here and help his sister. But, I'm in San Diego three or four times a year."
I ask, a little too quickly, "How did you come to acquire Envy?"
"I used to DJ and had a few bucks saved up, $20,000," Arabo says. "I brought in investors, started my bar with $400,000. Now we've invested almost $1,000,000. We keep adding floors."
"You must have been one hell of a DJ."
"I'd do 130 parties a year. For ten years. I DJ'ed in Chicago, New York, L.A., San Diego, everywhere. I saw how much money came out of these bars. And now, today, it's my turn to stand behind that bar."
Time for the money shot. "What do you like about Detroit?"
"Detroit is known for its great music, and I'm heavy into the music. We do the electronic music festival. We get two-, three-hundred-thousand people coming down to our plaza on Memorial Day weekend," Arabo says. "Detroit is diverse. All different kinds of people here; big Arabic and Chaldean population."
Arabo tells me he owns three clubs, two in downtown Detroit, one in Pontiac. I ask, "How come downtown Detroit?" I visualize a pit in hell.
Arabo says, "Downtown Detroit is safer than some suburbs."
"Because of the casinos, they need protection. Only the outskirts of Detroit are, I would say, dangerous. Downtown Detroit is like any downtown; it goes down, there's a renaissance, and it comes back. We're on the upswing now."
Need specifics. "How about rents? What does a two-bedroom apartment in downtown Detroit cost?"
"Very, very affordable, maybe $1,100," Arabo says. "That's brand new. Remember San Diego, right before the first Super Bowl, and no one would go downtown?"
"Then, after the second Super Bowl, you couldn't touch anything downtown."
Arabo sounds like a local. "When were you last in San Diego?"
"Six month ago," Arabo says. "I have family there. My dad and his brother had a successful business; it was called Najors Market. Now, my family owns a chain of supermarkets called Wrigley's. My first cousin, Auday Arabo, is president of California Independent Grocers; he was a deputy prosecutor in the San Diego County District Attorney's office."
Very well, Arabo's San Diego citizenship papers are in order. He's qualified to answer this question: "How would you compare the cities?"
"Obviously, San Diego is one of the greatest places to live in the country. Detroit is a very easy place to make money. A lot of money to be made in Detroit."
"Costs are real low. The cost of labor is lower than other cities. Someone can be very successful here if they are aggressive. I had nothing, started from scratch, worked my way up, and now I have three clubs. My start-up costs were minimal."
"How about Ford and GM? They've announced over 60,000 job cuts. How does that affect you?"
"I can feel the hit," Arabo says. "The 22 biggest companies in Michigan are auto-related. So, there's a trickle effect and it hurts everybody."
"You've noticed a decline in business?"
"Not a decline in people," Arabo says. "I've noticed a decline in how much each person spends."
Time to go. "What's coming up for you after the Super Bowl? What are your plans?"
Arabo says, "My goal is to come back [to San Diego]. I wasn't supposed to be here during the Super Bowl. My partners were supposed to buy me out and I was supposed to be in San Diego. I was trying to open a club in the basement of Martini Ranch [on F Street, one block east of Horton Plaza]. I was going to remodel that. The deal was going to work because my partners [in Detroit] were going to buy me out. But, I ended up buying them out. My goal is to end up in San Diego with a beautiful nightclub."
Well, all ye Detroit personhoods, I tried.