Old School in Ferndale at Western Market
On a midsummer afternoon at Western Market in Ferndale, owners Tony and Steve Selvaggio are standing outside the entrance, discussing the construction along Nine Mile. They stop their conversation to greet a customer by name and retrieve a shopping cart for her.
The Selvaggio brothers know their customers and never miss an opportunity to stop and say hello to the shoppers who support their business. While Ferndale has experienced an exciting burst of new development in recent years, the Selvaggios have been at the center of it all, at their beloved and welcoming market in the heart of the community.
It was back in the 1980s when they first considered purchasing the building in downtown Ferndale. At the time, they had no idea how significant this decision would be to their future. “When we first visited, the building was rundown, dirty and not that desirable,” says Steve, who serves as president. “We were young and inexperienced, and the previous owners couldn’t wait to sell it to us. We struck a deal of a lifetime.”
“I think they saw a little bit of themselves in us,” says Tony, who serves as vice president. “They saw we had that entrepreneurial spirit, and they were willing to take a chance on us.”
First they leased the building and worked hard to create a thriving food market, similar to the ones they worked at while growing up on the east side of Detroit.
“Food has been a part of our family for generations,” says Steve. “Our grandfather bought produce at Eastern Market to sell in the neighborhoods around East Detroit, back in the Depression, and our Uncle Leo ran a market in Taylor.” They worked for their uncle and, later, for their father and eventually at his cousin’s business, Nino Salvaggio’s International Marketplace.
“We were very young, and it was very tough to work there. You had to have tough skin and work hard,” says Tony. “But I remember that they truly served the customers. The fruits and vegetables— they would get everything for you and hand it right to you.”
Along with their brother-in-law, Andy, they opened the market in 1983 and purchased the building five years later, calling it Western Market, with a nod to their family’s roots at Eastern Market.
“When we first opened the place, we had the idea of creating a discount food store, but that did not work. We soon realized that our customers wanted good products, and they were willing to pay for service. Back in the ’80s, a fresh market wasn’t available south of Eight Mile. People from that area traveled to our store. Over 50% of our customers are from Detroit,” says Steve.
“Early on, we didn’t do a lot of research to figure out who our customers were, but that concept of supporting local farmers has always been inherent to us, that’s what we did: We built relationships with farmers,” says Tony. “Our family has gone to the Eastern Market since the Depression. Sometimes we went there daily.”
The market started as a fresh fruit market and deli, then expanded to include a bakery, a meat market and a variety of unique specialty products. In-house specialties include fresh-squeezed juices, coldpressed beverages, fresh pico de gallo, guacamole and house-made entrees. A large selection of made-in-Michigan products line the aisles, along with fresh, seasonal produce from local farms and a nationally recognized wine selection—one of the best in the city.
“You have to keep evolving and answering the call of your customers and have the latest thing that your customer wants. You have to stay relevant with the times,” says Tony.
The impressive selection of food and wine is a great partner to the impeccable service from their well-trained employees.
“We are very customer-service-oriented,” says Tony. “We’re constantly grooming people to deliver great service. We are a neighborhood store. We offer a European shopping experience. Some customers come here daily, others two or three days a week.”
“We are the ‘Cheers’ of retail stores, where everybody knows your name,” says Steve.
As the brothers look back, 35 years later, they understand some of the keys to their success, and they want to share that knowledge with their employees.
“It’s about the people—that’s what makes you or breaks you. Tony and I can run the business better than anyone else, but it’s about teaching people what you know,” says Steve. “We teach about values and working, trying to treat people well and having good relationships with employees and customers.”
“It’s so interesting to see people we’ve known all these years, for two or three generations, and they’re still here,” says Tony. “It’s a great feeling to watch people grow up that worked here, and now their kids work here. They come up to me and say, ‘You guys really taught me a lot here,’ and are really appreciative of what they learned here. We’ve grown with the people. It’s a cool thing to be a part of the community.”
“Being in Ferndale is really a special thing,” says Steve. “You can feel that. It’s something that’s real. People are very happy. It’s a good feeling.”