The 22,000-square-foot facility he named Paper Street attracted graphic artists, jewelry-makers, Web designers, carpenters, metalworkers, a music publicist, a spice-maker, and a motorcycle mechanic. They paid as little as $99 a month for a work space; Didorosi added to the rental income by refurbishing meat slicers and other equipment from bankrupt supermarkets and selling the appliances to new businesses. The money allowed him to buy three Blue Bird buses and start a jitney service to supplement city bus routes. Now, in 2025, Didorosi runs the thriving Detroit Bus Co., and 20-plus small businesses rent space at Paper Street.
Didorosi and Paper Street are emblematic of the DIY ethic that helped bring Detroit back. "It's about starting a creative revolution instead of an industrial revolution," he says.
A few blocks from Paper Street, a nonprofit called i3Detroit is full of new and refurbished tools and machines?>a CNC mill, a plasma metal cutter, a 3D printer, an oscilloscope, welding torches, a machine shop, a woodworking shop, and a video-editing studio. Members pay $39 or $89 per month, depending on their level of use, to make furniture, solder circuit boards, build bicycles, and concoct robots. The exchange of tools and ideas, and energy, is free. "I think of us as a pre-business incubator," says Eric Merrill, a computer programmer and i3Detroit's CEO. "If you had an idea for a widget, you used to have to pay a machine shop $10,000 to fabricate that widget. Now, for a few hundred bucks, you can make it here and see if it works. From there it's easier to get backing."
In 2012, that prevailing philosophy led Inc. magazine to dub Detroit Startup City. It earned the name because of the proliferation of small-business incubators. Among these was TechShop, a national network of member-based workshops. It was another iteration of a model created by TechTown at Detroit's Wayne State University in 2003.
Detroit native Clover McFadden is a TechTown success story. After graduating from college-prep Renaissance High School on the city's northwest side, she earned a degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and dreamed of becoming a doctor. But on a return trip to Detroit she discovered Bizdom, which grooms aspiring entrepreneurs at TechTown. McFadden enrolled, developed a business plan, and successfully pitched investors. Her business, Circa 1837, produces and sells clothing adorned with school logos of the nation's traditionally black universities, such as Howard.
"People told me I was crazy to start a business in Detroit, but I think the exact opposite," McFadden says. "There are so many people here who want to see you succeed."
John Kushigian is one of them. Like McFadden, he was born in Detroit and moved away to go to college and start a career. He had a tech-related job in San Francisco, where he also took up furniture and cabinet making. In 1990, he returned to his hometown. "I'd been wanting to do something to help Detroit, something that involved woodworking," Kushigian says.
One spring afternoon, Kushigian visited Barry Randolph, pastor of the Church of the Messiah. Kushigian's eyes lit up when he saw the spacious church basement, where another Detroiter, Jeff Sturges, had already set up shop for people to work on bicycles, appliances, and computers to screen-print clothing, do Web design, and edit audio and video. Kushigian asked whether he could add carpentry to the mix. "Barry gave me a three-word answer: 'Go for it.'"
Soon people from ages 5 to 88 were flocking to the DIY space, using the equipment Sturges and Kushigian had purchased. Today dozens of people are learning skills to prepare them for the workforce. "A couple of teenagers discovered that our computers had the GarageBand app for simple music production, and they figured it out. Then they started spending 5, 6 hours a day writing lyrics. Now a local Internet radio station is interested in their work," Kushigian says. The young men are on their way.
"Detroit for years, during its decline, had been hoping for a corporate messiah," Kushigian says. "The city finally gave up on that. I'm from Detroit, I escaped Detroit, and yet I came back. Why? Because there's an energy, a lit-up, beefed-up energy, a mental aliveness to Detroit. A lot of people here have a fire burning inside. My feeling is that the messiah is us."