Posts Tagged ‘entrepreneur’



Excerpts from my journal during a 3 week sojourn in Detroit Michigan, late winter 2014, searching for the seeds of the New Miracle of Detroit


April 4, 2014, Friday, Detroit

Cool, upper 30s, overcast, foggy, mild easterly wind—rain forecast, again.

After a bit of imagined bad news out of the way [a waking nightmarish fantasy about lost love] I can get to the better news, how life is in Detroit for me photographically. Lifting me out of the 4 day no photo doldrums I’d been in, yesterday afternoon [April 3, 2014], thanks to Mike who laid out numerous possibilities for examples of Detroit Up for me to photograph, I met and extensively photographed and interviewed Alan Kaniarz in his shop in the Russell Industrial Center on Detroit’s near East Side.


Alan Kaniarz

60 years old, with a long white mustache and matching goatee, tall and thin, wearing a dark leather long-billed cap and a paisley shirt, he toured me thru his shop. (I thought my son-in-law Phil would admire such a shop and pursuit and must remember to tell him about Alan.) Alan is multi-talented: wood, metal, glass. He invents, constructs, and repairs wood furniture and cabinetry. He collects and repairs antique lamps. He renews old picture frames and other wooden antiques. He commented that being so multifaceted helps him over the tough economic times he, Detroit, and the nation have recently faced. He also teaches at the College for Creative Studies and invited me to photograph him later if the administration gives us permission.




I told him I was searching for the seeds of a new Detroit miracle and asked, are you one? Without hesitation, he answered, yes. And explained that he employs students from the college, and has recently purchased a derelict building that he will rehab into relatively reasonably priced apartments for students. He is part of an association that includes Mike, possibly fosters clever social entrepreneurship, and goes by some initials that I did not record.

After my long session with Alan, at least 90 minutes, I explored the old factory complex, designed in 1915 by Albert Kahn. He’d explained that its first use was as a carriage-making factory, the entire complex, then with the rise of the automobile, it converted to making car bodies, not Fisher, but something equivalent. After other iterations, it now houses more than 140 tenants, mostly artists and craftspeople. I discovered 2 cars cut in half and affixed to walls. I discovered faces made of scrap metal. I discovered a set of words that resonated with me. (I hope to use them somehow, maybe transcribed as a footer or added to a display.) I discovered long hallways, mostly empty. I did not penetrate any studios so what’s behind the doors and walls remains a mystery to me.



The art of others in the building.


Alan gave me more leads including the CEO of Quicken who apparently invests in a socially wise manner. And Whole Foods, committing to the city, a true outpost in the realm of food. (For lunch yesterday from Whole Foods I gobbled down a chocolate chip scone, with milk, heated. I—and I presume many others—cannot survive without my daily consumption of spiffy food. Good bread in particular. And chocolate chip anything. Also peanut butter without sugar, chunky style.)

As usual finding the place presented problems. But the roaming brought me into new zones where I might return to pursue my sub theme of industrial landscape.



Reminding me that I temporarily live in Detroit in a relatively tough neighborhood, out my window yesterday early evening I noticed a heavy woman walking on the opposite sidewalk, apparently tracked by someone in a car. The driver pulled into a driveway to block her, left the car, and walked hurriedly to her. Is this a case of domestic violence unfolding before my eyes? I mused. He confronted her, held her. Because of the distance I couldn’t quite make out the tone. I picked up my phone and thought I might immediately phone 911 to report the incident as it unfolded—let the cops handle the situation. Then a succeeding and perhaps much wiser thought occurred: monitor the situation, outside where he can see me, with phone in hand. Deliberately banging my door, I stood conspicuously on the porch, phone in hand, and observed. He seemed to notice me. From confrontation the mood seemed to change to reconciliation. Another woman cracked open the rear door of the car and shouted something to the couple. He held her, this time maybe lovingly, and escorted her back to the car. No violence that I detected. And they drove off. All three were African-Americans.

What was the true story? Would he harm her later? Should I have intervened more forcibly, either by phoning the cops or walking into the scene? How much risk would that entail? To me and to the woman? Should I have brought my camera, as another form of intervention, not necessarily to use it, but to be ready to use it?



Alan’s workshop and business, A.K. Services

Russell Industrial Center

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A major coup this week was meeting with Sam Bahour. A friend first told me about him, years ago, constantly sending me forwards from Sam. Finally I put myself on the list and have appreciated his original writing and his choice of forwards. I’ve used some of them in my work, for my list, such as his recent account of the targeted assassination near the Nazareth and Osama restaurants.

A big fellow, maybe 6-4, somewhat bulky, his mouth curves graciously into a middle peak. He throws himself into talking about his many projects, as a pitcher might wind up on the mound and let loose a stinging fastball. His current project is organizing a newspaper focused on local events, writing in Arabic, but translating selections with wider appeal and syndicating them to the international media. He claims his project would overlap and not conflict with This Week in Palestine because of his emphasis on local news written in Arabic. He’s working with partners, including Fred Schlomka who I met in 2003 when pondering how to first travel to the area. Fred was an Echoing Green fellow working on a mixed Arab-Jew housing project called Mosaic. We were startled, Sam and I, to realize we both know him. I was recommending Sam look into the Echoing Green fellowship for socially beneficial entrepreneurship when Fred’s name arose.

I queried Sam, “Isn’t working on projects with Israelis a form of normalization, institutionalizing relationships that might obviate the goal of ending the occupation?” He nodded, “This might be so, but when we’re clear that the ultimate goal is justice and peace with security for the entire region I think partnership is worth the risk.”

Sam’s history, as far as I recall it (I took no notes, did not audio record, but had I better audio recording technique and equipment I’d have used it to supplement my memory—I have checked with him about accuracy.):

Born and raised in Youngstown Ohio by a Palestinian father who was a grocer. Arrived here in 1994 at the height of Oslo, just one year before Rabin was assassinated and Oslo caved in. He was 30 in 1994 making him about 43 now. His background is in information technology and business development. He is married to a Palestinian woman and so the question of where to live was clear. His only hesitancy was last summer when Fatah and Hamas openly warred against each other. He said if civil war broke out he would seriously consider leaving. He believes the threat of that now is reduced.

With an MBA he has embarked on a serious of innovative entrepreneurial projects, most notably the Plaza Shopping Center in Ramallah. He took me to it. I’ve sought it for years, hearing it lauded, knowing it is somewhere north, off the road to Birzeit past the Muqata (Presidential Compound). I have to confess, partly because we were riding at night, partly because of conversational engagement, I still do not know how to find it. Except by wandering around that general area and asking—Plaza? Mall? Big shopping center?

The center now has 3 branches, one other in Ramallah which I’ve shopped at, the Bravo Supermarket near the Palestinian Hydrology Group, and in Hebron of all places. Both are supermarkets only, not the entire complex of shops. The main center looks like most smaller strip malls in the USA, with a 4 unit food court, kids’ play area with the theme of jungle, series of ground floor shops, main café, and the supermarket itself. I could write extensively about what I learned from Sam about this—deciding not to boycott all Israeli products but instead to foster Palestinian economic growth thru jobs and startups, orienting security to helping people rather than policing them, doing all the baking under one roof, exploring pricing and margins to reduce costs thereby antagonizing local marketers who Sam feels had been charging exploitative prices, etc—but I won’t. Sam promised the story had been fully covered by media, national, Israeli, international. One remarkable point in the story is that Sam decided to buy an Israeli computer checkout and inventory-keeping system. Cheaper, more realizable, more local, despite it coming from the adversary.


Food court at the Plaza Shopping Center in Ramallah

Sam is proud of the fact that the project persisted and succeeded—his role was project manager, then CEO then Chairman of the Board, not owner—thru the 2nd intifada. Many thought the project would fail. Sam was stalwart. It opened about 3 years later. Also in 2000 a competitor began building a similar complex across the road from the Sam’s. He showed it to me: incomplete. One person who ran out of money had financed it. A group financed Sam’s and they were able to continue the funding.

Stores are opening in the same neighborhood, some mall-like buildings are competing (United Colors of Benetton moved out of the first complex because of high rents and into the second complex which offered lower rents). And some are ancillary, such as a florist. This is much like what happens when light rail opens: development.

I asked Sam, “Isn’t this mall dangerously near consumerism?” He nodded in assent, and added, “To Americanization. Yes, true, but Palestinians wish to have what many in the developed world have. Who am I to deny them this? In addition it provides jobs, some 200 here, and it grows the economy.” Sam had told me earlier that Palestinians have found a way to not lose, but have not yet discovered how to win. A partial answer is thru the economy.

Many of the investors are international, a preponderance from the USA (reflecting the USA-Ramallah connection), franchises, none of which I’m familiar with.

Sam’s first project in Palestine was to help privatize the telecom industry, Paltel, which recently purchased Palnet. This was post Oslo, just as Arafat returned from Tunisia where the PLO had been in exile. Sam serves as a consultant to the Ramallah Friends School, helping them with the development of their football/soccer field and later with a complete renovation of the landscaping on both campuses. Currently a regional Arab company is organizing a new telecom company but is stymied by Israel’s refusal to relinquish more of the airwaves. Yet another aspect of the matrix of control, invisible to most people, unlike the Wall and checkpoints. How to make this visible and real to people? we pondered.

He is voluble, gracious, happy-looking (mubsut in Arabic), and worried about a number of issues, civil war the primary one, denied entry another. He told me, how do you think it feels, living for 13 years here and every 3 months needing to leave the country to renew your visa—and then you’re not assured of re entry? This impedes planning. The Israelis claim we don’t plan; we ask, how can we with so many uncertainties? Sam is part of the Campaign for the Right of Entry/Re-Entry. He also maintains an electronic news mailing list which seems mostly forwards rather than original writing. He promised to send out something last night of his own.

Near the end of our visit I said, Sam, maybe your next project can be a public transit system, even light rail as the Israelis are running (illegally) thru East Jerusalem. He smiled, replied, it’s in the works. He told me about a new quasi-governmental entity that is planning projects such as a bus system for Ramallah. We agreed that the traffic problem here is tremendous, on roads, he noted, designed more for donkeys than for motorized vehicles.

I mentioned my observation that many shops, day and into the evening, seem to be occupied by one lone male, sitting there with nothing to do. At times a friend might accompany the shop tender. Yes, Sam said, and I believe this might dissuade customers, especially women who might not enter if they saw a single male figure. There is also the forlorn, lonely, abandoned feeling we might get when looking into such a shop. Where are the customers, we might ask, why is this place so empty?

We discovered a South African connection. He told me about a radio station apparently owned and operated by South Africans in this country, RAMFM 93.6. They broadcast from Ramallah, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to Palestine, Israel, and South Africa, plus the entire world I assume. Each morning at 10 they do a talk show. So when I mentioned my connection with South Africa and my recent analysis of the situation in Israel-Palestine, and how I dove into a compare-contrast exploration of SA and Israel-Palestine, he lit up. Maybe they’ll have you on, he said with some excitement.

End notes: Sam’s consulting group is Applied Information Management, he’s the Managing partner, phone 02-298-1566, 0599-378-278, sbahour@palnet.com, http://www.aim-Palestine.com. And the company he shares with Fred and others is North Bridge Investments Limited, 059-937-8278, sam@northbridgeinvestments.com, http://www.northbridgeinvestments.com.

To join his list:


Sam Bahour’s website

Writing by Sam Bahour:

“The IDF and my daughter’s hamburger” by Sam Bahour, January 10, 2007

Audio: “Crossing the Line interviews Ramallah activist Sam Bahour”
Podcast, Crossing the Line, 3 December 2007

“Another assassination in Ramallah’s city center,” 29 May 2007

Other links:

Campaign for the Right of Entry/Re-Entry

“Ramallah Friends School Hit by Denial of Entry Policy,” by Paul D. Pierce, Quaker International Affairs Representative- Jerusalem

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