The menu of Bert’s Marketplace reads, “Celebrating 40years in Business since 1968”. It goes on to list the various different venues owned and operated by Bert Dearing Jr. The first on the list in 1968 was a place on Gratiot Ave, called the White Horse owned by some Germans. After the riots white people was trying to get out of their and Bert put a deposit on the White Horse went outside painted it black and called it the Black Horse, correctly it was Bert’s Black Horse Saloon. Bert Dearing Jr. a Detroit born and raised eastsider said that he grew up with the entrepreneurial spirit upon him. His grandfather owned and operator a grocery store in the twenties here in Detroit. He learn from his grandfather at the grocery store, he had a paper route coming up he has always in some shape or form been self-employed. A warm charismatic man, cool and confident was not at all what I expected, he was not the picture painted of a black entrepreneur. Mr. Dearing jr. most affectionally known as Bert spoke of the choices he felt he had growing up in the time and place he grew-up left to independent black men such as himself. The four choices were 1) to be a pimp, 2) to own a store, 3) to own a bar and 4) to own a restaurant. He also spoke of growing up he went to bed to blues singers and musician in the backroom or the back of houses, he said every other house was an after hour joint. So after he finished his tour of duty, he wasn’t interested in working for anybody else and pimping wasn’t his cup of tea. He had to do something he loved and it is evident. In the fifteen or so years that I have frequented Bert’s in the Eastern Market as I’ve called it you could tell that there is love built into that place. Bert is surrounded by family and friends and as he himself puts it, he is the business, he has been happily married for 16years, and he has three grandchildren and a host of family and friends. With the same coolness and clarity he spoke of his business he spoke of God and family, he gave advice with sincerity of a successful business owner. He ended our interview with “Ask God for what you want, be specific and prepare yourself for what you asked for, he said “always be open to learn, and to never close yourself off.”
What prompted you to go into business for yourself?
I was raised in a business; my grandfather owned a grocery store in 1926. I was a paper boy, and I had always been in some way, shape or form self-employed. When I came out of the service I wasn’t interested in working for anyone. I wanted to do my own thing and I back then I had four choices; a pimp, a storeowner, a bar/saloon or a restaurant, that was what most independent black men were doing around that time. I grew-up when everybody brothers were pimps, my friends were pimps and that just wasn’t my cup of tea. I also ran for community supervisor and came in third place and realized that that wasn’t my cup of tea either.
2. Did you start your own business or did you take over an existing operation?
I took over an existing operation. Right after the riots here in Detroit, the white people was trying to get out of here, there was a bar called the White Horse on Gratiot and Seminole owned by some Germans, I put a deposit on it went outside and painted the horse black and called it the Black Horse.
2. (B) did you have entertainment then? If I was going to do it, I had to have something I liked. I started jazz back in 1968
3. How and where did you obtain capital?
I forgot to ask this question but, he did say he believed in working for, earning what you want and that he didn’t believe in going to the white man/establishments for money.
4. What type of ownership (sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation) did your business have when you began and why? Is it still the same?
I started off as a sole proprietorship, but none of my businesses are sole proprietorship anymore, they are L.L.C. and corporation. Now with sole proprietorship if anything happens they can go after everything you own personal goods with corporation it is everything within that corporation, it depends on how everything is set-up it eliminates liability.
5. What were some of the challenges you faced during the first years you were in business?
It wasn’t any, really. I take challenges like just another day and nothing is really hard. I make hard things easy and I make it fun to do. I don’t do nothing I don’t want to do. And I don’t do nothing I don’t like to do. I enjoyed doing all of it (everything involved with running and operating his business).
6. What do you think are the major reasons that made your business successful?
Because the business is me, I am my business. I was there from time opened to time closed. I put myself into it and people came to see me. I know how to create, I know how to entertain. I know how to get people involved. I make it all a good experience. I make it like people at home in their own kitchen. And I still do it today. I am the janitor, the cook whatever I need to be, I know all aspects of the/my business.
7. Do you have a mission statement? If yes-what is it?
Yes I do in directly, I have one for each of my businesses, and they are on the books and their similar in ways. I believe treating people how I want to be treated. I think that everybody that comes in my business should feel very special. I notice when a woman gets her hair done, when she is wearing a new scarf. I know how to compliment when their male friend may have taken it for granted, plus I have a whole lot of bs in me also.
8. If you plan or have already expanded your business-will or did you apply for a loan or use funds from the business?
I believe in using and earning funds from the business. I don’t believe in borrowing or obtaining money from the white folks because they play to many games with you. I rather work to get what I have. It is enough paying the lights, water and heat, paying somebody, paying them interest or a percentage of what you do or doing that’s not what I call being in business. I know some people have to do that to get started but I believe in starting small and investing, investing and letting the business do for itself.
9. Have you ever had a business plan?
I had em’ in mind. I’m a Pisces so I have the ability to visualize step-by-step what it is.
10. What advice would you give a new small business owner?
You want to get involved with something you enjoy and that’s fun for you and you’ll be able to do it and enjoy doing it.I don’t think anyone should get involved with anyone else if they can’t wake-up in the morning and see that person as beautiful and I believe in running a business the same way. If you want to get involved into something get involved with that thing you want to do, it becomes much easier for you to do and it won’t become a job it’ll be a livelihood
11. What was it about the music/club business that attracted you?
The neighborhood that I grew-up in, was raised in it was an after-hour joint every other house. I went to sleep with music in the back of my house Charlie Hinton played blues. In the back what we called junkmen they collected junk hustling and sold the junk to the junkyards, they would have a big tub a campfire, they would cook out on a big barrel, and they would drink they would have their home brew and corn liquor or whatever they got from the store and they would sing and play the blues and that is how I would go to sleep at night, listening to Johnnie Lee Hooker who was ere in Detroit in the late 40’s and 50’s so for me to have a bar and restaurant and to not have music, that wouldn’t have been me. I always had music and entertainment if I was going to be here and do it I had to do it to where I would enjoy it and to the extinct where others would enjoy it as well
12. What was the hardest lesson learned in owning your business? And how long did it take you to correct it?
I am still learning…the hardest lessons a long pause well people are people. I am a people person; I know where a person is coming from before they even come to me. So I keep my shield in front of me you know. I know many people who are sappers, who come and try to sap your time. I recognize people who all they do is read the front paper in the news paper and then want to discuss it because that is as big as they are. I recognize the hustlers the ones that are trying to sell you something. I recognize the thugs, the thieves because I’ve been out here and they don’t get know time with me, because my time is important to me. I’m still open, I’m still learning but I am a hell of a teacher also
Detroit, life has been good to me. God is good. One of my favorite quotes/theme is; I am open and receptive for God’s living spirit and truth. So I keep myself open for all the good things to come my way. I don’t block it, I don’t have any animosity towards anyone, I love everybody, but I love self first and God and everything comes in order.