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Detroit and Buick: A Renaissance For All, Part 2

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Experience Buick Project

After an amazing first day getting to know Detroit a little better I was raring to go for day 2! We regrouped bright and early to head to a very special place for breakfast. Our day would be book-ended at the vibrant Eastern Market, a six-block public market that has been open since 1891. It is the largest open-air market in the United States. Close to 50,000 people flow through every Saturday even in the middle of the winter!

Eastern Market Detroit MI Sheds 2 and 3

Photo credit: wiki images

Thankfully, we weren’t eating breakfast outdoors! Instead, we headed to an amazing letterpress studio called Salt & Cedar, located in a converted abattoir for poultry in the market. Not only is it a letterpress studio, but it is also a gallery (with works by co-owner Leon Johnson, an awarding-winning artist as well as others), a pop-up cinema, and food events space where they use fresh ingredients from Eastern Market. They also offer workshops on bookbinding (and more) which is why we were visiting.

Leon Johnson and Megan O'Connell

Photo credit: Her Campus

We were greeted by Leon’s wife and co-owner, Megan O’Connell also an internationally-recognized artist, designer, and teacher as well as their son, Leander who immediately served us a welcome drink called Part & Parcel using Detroit City Distillery spirits (they happen to be Salt & Cedar’s neighbor!). The studio is absolutely stunning and we all tried to capture it in photos but the beautiful ambient lighting, the sheer volume of items in the room made it was impossible to capture in its entirety. I have one photo from a new friend I met on the trip, Stella B, a blogger for the online magazine Clementine Daily.

Salt & Cedar Brunch
Any photo really can’t do the room justice! It is dark and wonderfully homey in there. And the meal we were served was deliciously comforting. Fresh ingredients went into the creation of a wonderful frittata, several salads, a sweet potato hash, and warm crusty bread. I was in seven heaven! Bellies full and heads slightly buzzing from mimosas and ‘part and parcels,’ the table was cleared and Leon took over. We spent the next hour or so creating our own monastery journals.

I was completely fascinated by the process, not the actual tactile creation of my own journal, I suck at this type of thing, but the history that Leon shared about every piece and part of what went into the creation of a book. I could have listened to him for hours. Happily, there is an all-day workshop to do book-binding that Salt & Cedar offers and I would absolutely love to do that just to hear more!

As I said the room was very dark, but I found a great photo of Leon and his son that basically mimics our set-up:


Photo credit: Fritz Haeg

Megan had prepared beautiful paper and lint covers, we each had a board to work on with a brick, glue, and thread and needle. We followed Leon’s instructions and in the end, we all had our own journals to take out into the world to fill with whatever our heart’s desire. Here’s mine. I had had it sitting on the top of our wine fridge. When I grab a glass of wine and look out the back window I think about how I am going to do this little journal justice, what secrets will it hold, what dreams will it carry…


We said a fond farewell to Leon and Megan and headed back to Canfield Road to do a little shopping at a few local spots like Shinola, RUNDetroit, and City Bird. We had a quick lunch plus ice cream – yep, I know it was January in Detroit, but when you are sitting in the state’s smallest dairy, you can’t miss out! We then headed back to our hotel for a few hours of rest before the big event in the evening.

We would be attending the unveiling of Buick’s newest car, the Cascada, the first convertible to be made by Buick in 25 years! There would be other surprises that evening as well and we all wanted to relax before the festivities began.

So why Buick?

Honestly, when they first reached out to me, that was my very question. My first car at age seventeen was American but I have never owned an American car since (although it turns out the Opel Zafira I had when I worked in Switzerland was a General Motors car!). American cars have never really been on my radar, my bias has been to foreign cars, my perception is that they are more reliable. I think that many people have had the same impression over the years and as a result the American car industry definitely experienced a decline, and Detroit along with it.

But American cars are back. I have seen some really nice models on the road and I have my eye on what they are doing in terms of hybrids and electric vehicles.

In truth, Buick also made it on my radar with some of their recent marketing campaigns. I am a marketer by profession, so I can’t help myself. I love the “that’s not a Buick” commercials:

It’s great because now all the hashtags on social are #ThatsABuick! But the campaign that really caught my attention was the “blue hair” ads! I love them!

Buick Blue Hair

The ads turned what people think of Buick on its head! It takes guts and I like that. Much like Detroit’s revival, Buick is going through its own renaissance. I can’t say I have all the dots connected yet on what that means, but that is the purpose of this project over the next year, to understand where Buick is headed and why I (and you) should care. It is a quest I am looking forward to undertaking.

So many great brands have lifted themselves out of the ashes and I want to see American car companies do well so I don’t have to buy a foreign car. If you have been reading this blog for any length of time you know how important buying local is to me. I would like to put my money where my mouth is for my next vehicle as well.

After a brief respite in the hotel, we all got fancied up and headed back to the Eastern Market. The evening’s event was held in Shed 3, one of the indoor venues which they rent out for events. It was wonderfully industrial and a great space. It was perfect for making the cars the stars of the show!

Buick Unveiling at Shed 3

Ahead of the unveiling, we got to sit down with Duncan Aldred, the U.S. Vice President of Buick-GMC. Mr. Aldred shared his own journey to Detroit: he came to visit for the first time last January when the city was experiencing snowpocalypse, he jokingly said he almost didn’t come back. In all seriousness, he did come back and the Buick did really well last year. They had 11% growth, gained market share, and continued the tradition of their design which they are well known for. He indicated that Buick has earned the right to build the Cascada and he is really excited to see it flourish.


Photo credit: Mike, Gotta Have Gadget

After meeting Mr. Aldred we also met Ed Walburn, Head of Design who spoke about the design process and the Buick brand’s attributes: premium, contemporary, inspired by fashion and consumer products. He spoke about the great heritage that Buick but that they don’t “do retro.” They are looking to elicit an emotional response. He was really excited for the reveal which he said was like theater. It was clear that the entire Buick team was excited about the unveiling. The previous year they didn’t unveil any new models. The Buick team was also keeping another big secret that we would later learn about in a most dramatic way.


Photo credit: Mike, Gotta Have Gadget

It was time for the unveiling! The CEO of GM, Mary Barra, entered the room. She is a pretty big deal. She is the first female CEO of a major global automaker and the only female CEO of a Fortune 10 company – seriously, you go girl!

Mr. Aldred was introduced and brought on stage to speak about Buick’s growth and its future and then he unveiled the Cascada, a beautiful new convertible whose top goes down in 17 seconds at up to 31 mph. I think it is pretty sleek looking!


The Cascada (photo from the next day at the car show)

Then came an even bigger surprise! Mark Reuss, the Executive Vice President of Global Product Development took the stage. He proudly announced the curveball of the evening…a brand new concept car, the Avenir! Mr. Reuss brought Mr. Walburn up to talk about the design of this new concept, but I didn’t hear much, I was caught up in staring at this gorgeous vehicle.

The Frenchie in me was loving the name (Avenir means future) and that’s exactly what I felt like I was looking at, the future of beautifully designed American cars.


The Avenir (photo from the next day at the car show)

I did not realize until the next day how truly rare a concept car is. The next morning when we headed out [very early] to the North American International Auto Show I spent some time with some lovely Buick folks (along with my new best friend Lois). I learned that Buick has a long history of concept cars, in fact, they launched the very first one called the Buick Y-Job in 1938, but it has been nearly ten years since the Riviera reprisal concept in 2007.

So, it was all very exciting!

Just as I was soaking in the sleek design of the Avenir, beautiful voices coming from the audience distracted me. First one, then another, then another. Until there were ten. Officially ten that is.


Photo credit: Mike, Gotta Have Gadget

This outstanding acapella group was the first runner-up from Season 4 of The Sing-Off. I can honestly say I haven’t seen the show, but Officially Ten? I’m hooked! They are pretty amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed the set they sang to close the evening out.

The next morning I visited the car show which was fun, but tiny after many years of working the CES show in Las Vegas. All too quickly I was back on a plane heading to [a much warmer] San Francisco. During my flight, I had plenty of time to reflect on my weekend.

I am convinced that Detroit is going through a major transformation, one I am excited to keep my eye on, and for the first time in a very long time, there is a shimmer of hope for the future of American cars. I want to learn more, see more from Buick to understand the depth of their renaissance, but from what I have seen thus far, it looks like it is going to be a great year.

Experience Buick ProjectThank you Buick for inviting me to be part of the Buick Bloggers and for sponsoring my trip to Detroit. Despite the compensation, all opinions – as always, are my own.

How about you? What are your experiences with the Buick brand? American cars? And Detroit! Have you ever create your own letterpress journal? Do tell!

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