Motor City Memoir
Saturday, November 15, 2008
  Little Mike's American Roots

David Mesrey writes:

This dilapidated old building is kind of like the Roman colosseum to me. The remnants of Little Mike's Market remain (for now) at the corner of Charlevoix and Seyburn, just a few blocks west of Van Dyke, near St. Charles, where my father attended elementary school in the 1930s and '40s.

Somewhere in my aunt's basement, there's an old black-and-white photo of Little Mike. He's sporting the requisite white grocery-store apron and standing next to a lovely, smiling, wholesome American housewife type, as they admire an equally lovely bottle of E&B.

I'm not sure if I ever set foot in Little Mike's Market, but I suspect the aroma in there was much like that of Eastern Market.

Years later in 1990, when I was 21 and Little Mike 91, I spent a long, sweltering summer sharing a cramped little bedroom with him in his house on Bedford Road. I spent those months coping with stray gunfire and random dog fights, while Little Mike grappled unsuccessfully with his Clapper. In 2004, I wrote about that experience in Detroit Home magazine.

On the day that Gary and I taped this particular episode, a man from the neighborhood sauntered onto the set, as it were, and overheard me talking about the store.

"Aw, Little Mike?" he asked me.

"Yeah!" I said to him. "He was my great-uncle."

"I been livin' here 50 years," he replied. "I remember him — and Housey was across the street."

This guy seemed like a bit of a street creature, but what he said was true, and I'd forgotten all about it. When I was in college at Western Michigan, I met a woman named Rebecca Housey, whose grandfather, it just so happened, was Little Mike's chief rival back in the day. George Housey, too, ran a grocery store on Charlevoix, and I had the pleasure of meeting him before he died.

In fact, in the late 1980s, these two old adversaries were living just a few blocks away from each other on Detroit's east side — Little Mike on Bedford Road, and Mr. Housey on Berkshire. Each would tell me a story about the other, and I'd relay the message.

"He was my competitor!" Little Mike said in his singsong English.

And what did Mr. Housey recall of Little Mike?
"Well," he said, "your uncle was a little firecracker."

And from what I gather, that was rather polite of old George.
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