When Tamar Fowler lost her job with Chrysler Corp. after 14 years, she didn’t collect unemployment, leave the state or look for another 9-to-5 job. Fowler instead came to Ann Arbor to do what she had always wanted: open her own business.
Sole Sisters, the shoe boutique on Fourth Street that has been open since July, is one of the newest additions to the downtown business landscape. It’s also Fowler’s own personal success story — even in the face of a failing auto industry that has left Michigan riddled with some of the worst economic conditions in the nation.
Along with about 1,100 other employees, Fowler was laid off indefinitely two years ago from a Detroit auto assembly plant that employed 6,000 people. An internal auditor at Chrysler for more than a decade, Fowler said longevity didn’t prove to be enough to keep her safe from the company’s cutbacks.
“I was surprised,” she said of her job loss. “When you’ve been with a company for so long you wouldn’t think that one day you really just wouldn’t have a job.”
But unlike some of her former co-workers, Fowler said she didn’t want to remain unemployed in hopes that the financial situation for the smallest of the Detroit Three automakers would improve.
“It’s going on two years now that I’ve been laid off, and other people that were laid off with me are still without a job,” Fowler said. “So I had to take it into my own hands and decide, ‘Do I want to stay here and collect unemployment for 52 weeks or do I go out and do something that I enjoy?’”
Finding something she enjoyed is exactly what Fowler did.
In addition to the Ann Arbor location that Fowler owns, there are other Sole Sisters stores in Detroit, Royal Oak and Rochester, which are each run by different women.
Fowler said she chose Ann Arbor because it was home to the University — a connection she suspected would boost sales.
Though she has only been open for business for six months, Fowler said foot traffic from Main Street has kept her store busy. The only drawback to the location, she said, is that it’s not closer to campus.
With students as her target market, Fowler said she suspected business would be better if she were a few blocks closer to State Street. To get younger customers in her store, Fowler said she now offers a 10-percent discount for students every Monday.
“Once people find out about us, I’m sure they’ll come,” she said.