Emily Doerr, originally from a one-traffic light town near Flint, is the force and passion behind the new Hostel Detroit, which opens this Friday in North Corktown. Doerr and I sat down last week in the hostel for a chat amidst the chaos of the last few days of renovation.
The idea for the hostel was sparked while Doerr was hosting travelers staying on her couch.
It started with couch surfing. I hosted 100 people over the course of 2009 and 2010 through CouchSurfing.org and a lot of them asked me, ‘why isn’t there a hostel in Detroit? There needs to be one.’ Foolishly, foolhardy, and very recklessly I said, ‘I can do that.’ I first started serioulsy talking about it last May.
Originally she thought of doing a pilot program out of her own townhouse with 8 beds. However her friends told her, “Emily, go big! Do it for real. The community will support you.”
And the community has supported her! All of the furniture has been donated, teams of volunteers have worked at the hostel renovating and painting, and everything has been paid for by monetary donations. “The community made this happen,” said Doerr.
She continues, “It’ll be cool for people to know that they can come, they can have a place to stay that’s clean, safe, affordable, and that’s not going to break the bank, but also can be this access point to all this other stuff in the city. When you travel you don’t need to print a map of the city, you just need to get to the hostel and they’ll take care of you”
Doerr also says of Detroit, “People say that it's a city of hidden gems and that it’s an insider city. It’s time for us to be a little more accessible.”
“A city is a place where all these people can come together and collide and mix,” she says with that passion I spoke of earlier.
On North Corktown
Doerr isn’t trying to “save” the neighborhood, “The city at large has all this cool stuff, even North Corktown is already really cool. The hostel isn’t making it cool. Nancy Whiskey, Brother Nature Produce, Rachel's Vintage, Pink Flamingo, urban farms,” all those places are already in the neighborhood. "We just want to show off the assets,” adds Doerr.
But how will Hostel Detroit be different from other hostels around the country? “Just by existing,” exclaims Doerr, "There aren’t any hostels in other rust belt cities except for Chicago; Pittsburg and Milwaukee have been trying but they don’t have one yet.”
Doerr explained that currently hostels only exist where there is demand, tourist destinations that attract the masses. But people are coming to Detroit and she’s hoping that the hostel will bring more people. She says, “It’ll be more proactive than other hostels. Other hostels are reacting to market demand whereas we’re reacting on gut instinct, hoping to help influence market demand.”
One of the other things that will make Hostel Detroit different from other hostels is their ambassador program. The ambassadors will be organic tour guides, which is reminiscent of her couch surfing roots.
Doerr found that hosting the couch surfers benefitted her as much as she benefitted them, “they had a place to stay and they knew where to go, I took them around. It benefitted me because every time that I took them around the city I fell back in love with it. I got as much positive energy from them and their stay as they did with me.”
The hostel opens this Friday and is booked for the whole weekend except for one double bed on Friday night. Travelers from England, Australia, and Toronto have already made reservations and one of the upstairs apartments is booked for a month by documentary filmmakers from the Netherlands.
Finally, Doerr adds “I feel like the hostel will be new energy for the city, bringing new people in all the time.” And I have to agree with her.
But I had to ask the girl from Goodrich, outside of Flint, one last burning question. Does she prefer Flint's famed Angelo’s Coney Island from near her hometown or as has her allegiance switched to a real Detroit coney? “I’m a Lafayette person now,” she admits, “but I don’t like mustard so I’ll never be a true coney lover. I’ve been told if you adjust the coney at all it invalidates you.”
Mustard or no mustard, Doerr is a true Detroiter.
Photo credits: Karpov the Wrecked Train