Decline and growth, close to home on the Michigan Road

For a few years now, I’ve meant to photograph the portion of the Michigan Road nearest my home. For those of you familiar with northwest Indianapolis, it’s the stretch between about Kessler Boulevard and 62nd St. — and its best days are past. I want to record the gritty suburban decline. I can almost see the photos in my head: tight, monochrome, contrasty, grainy.

These shots don’t fulfill that vision. I was just trying to get to know this subject. I was shooting my Canon EOS 630 and the 35-80mm lens that came with it, using Arista Premium 400 black-and-white film.

This barber shop gave me the idea for this series, as it perfectly represents this corridor. The 421 Barber Shop was so named at a time when Michigan Road was also US 421. That designation was gone from the road before I moved here 20 years ago.

Barber Shop

This building has been several different hamburger stands over the 20 years I’ve lived near here. Mr. Dan’s has been the longest lived. You know you’re in a good neighborhood when the one up-front parking spot is reserved for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.

Mr. Dan's

This is where the children of Indianapolis are made.

This is where they make the children

Shortly after I moved to Indianapolis, this liquor store was in the news for its customers drinking in the parking lot and peeing behind the building. Customers sometimes drove to and from it on the residential streets alongside and behind it, presumably under the influence. All of this understandably angered residents. To deter the misbehavior, the city put in some unusually stout speed bumps on the side street and the liquor store put in floodlights and cameras. Fun times. I bought beer in here a couple times — the cashier is behind thick bulletproof glass. Very upscale. Hey, at least they got new signs this year to replace ones with broken letters.


The missing L at Highlander Center, a laundry, is a recent loss.

High ander Center

This homemade sign on the side of a shoe repair business really captures the area’s spirit. I kind of feel bad that I didn’t try them the last time I needed some shoes resoled.

Shoe Repair

This corridor has seen some growth in the last 10 years or so. Many formerly vacant buildings now contain small businesses, like Poor Man’s Towing. In color, this building is white and bright green — easy to spot. If I had this shot to do over, I would have moved in closer.

Poor Man's Towing

Also, this Speedway station was built on this formerly vacant corner about 10 years ago, and then the Family Dollar store next door went in. They are well maintained and fill a need in this middle-class and lower-middle-class neighborhood.


Finally, I was surprised to see this new Pizza Hut going in next to the old one, as this has been nothing but a carry-out store for as long as I’ve lived here. Looks like the new store will be bigger, perhaps allowing more pizzas to be made.

Pizza Huts old and new

There have been other positive signs. A Starbucks went in on the corner of Kessler and Michigan a few years ago. A Dunkin Donuts went in on the opposite corner a little while later, but it didn’t make it. Then the city installed a pedestrian trail along the west side of Michigan Road. It really eased this excursion, as previously there had been no sidewalks on either side of the street.

I am eager to see whether the new Walmart Neighborhood Market that opened last year on Michigan Road just south of Kessler Blvd. will bring more revitalization to this corridor. What looks like a McDonald’s is being built on a Walmart outlot. It’s not a four-star restaurant, but it’s a step up compared to what you see in these photos. I’m hoping for some sort of bar and grill, a place where I can go for a bourbon or a cheeseburger. My neighborhood has been a bit of a retail and restaurant desert until Walmart came; here’s hoping more is on the way.

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8 responses to “Decline and growth, close to home on the Michigan Road”

  1. George Denzinger Avatar
    George Denzinger

    I think it will be curious to see how the Wal Mart affects the area. We were just “blessed” with one in our area, it’s in the proximity to an older Meijer and several other stores (a Target and Menard’s). The Wal Mart was built on the site of a former lumber warehouse, which had been vacant as long as I have lived here (16 years).

    There was a movement several years back to resist Wal Marts moving into business districts, especially close to small towns. I’m in a southern suburb of Grand Rapids, so no small town mom and pop grocery stores were going to be smashed by the clattering giant Wal Mart. However, some of my friends (and me initially, too) were a little skeptical as to what change it would bring.

    I confess to having shopped there on several occasions and thankfully found it devoid of “Wal Martians”, and the place being generally very well kept. I lived in Atlanta during most of the 1990’s, and almost any Wal Mart we went into there were dirty, cramped and generally cluttered. This new one by my house is clean, but still has the smaller aisles and somewhat cluttered feel that reminds me of all those old ones from years ago. Time will tell if the management keep it clean. Here’s hoping they do.

    The upside is, they’ve taken a mostly vacant building and lot and converted it to something that IS bringing value to the community. I forget how many people they employ and honestly it’s good to see that happening. But if they let it degenerate to one of those nasty Wal Marts that I visited in the past, then I won’t be shopping there much longer.

    Good luck with your neighborhood. Maybe we’re all on the upswing again…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Our Walmart is a Neighborhood Market, meaning it is mostly a grocery store with a small section of housewares and health/beauty, plus a pharmacy. Can I tell you it is AWESOME to drive 4 minutes to get groceries? I still have to drive 15-20 minutes to Meijer once a month or so for more major routine shopping, but at least now it’s not every week. That drive was a serious drag after 8 years in this (previously) retail desert.

      This Walmart displaced an old house (moved, not demolished) and part of a parking lot for a Kingdom Hall, but otherwise went in on undeveloped land.

      Clearly, the arrival of Walmart doesn’t mean Nordstrom’s or Saks is behind it. I expect chain restaurants to follow. But out here, that would be a major step up.

      1. George Denzinger Avatar
        George Denzinger

        One note of clarification, our Wal Mart is a Super Wal Mart (but oddly doesn’t have the auto center, ?). I’ve not encountered the Neighborhood Wal Marts yet, but I’m sure I will…

  2. Lone Primate Avatar

    I guess I can’t really judge because I don’t know much about Indianapolis, but it sounds to me like all that really happened was business lost share because the main route bypasses them. Or am I stating the obvious here… um… :) Well, I mean, I’ve seen neighbourhoods where lots of people are on the dole, and half the apartment buildings are assisted housing, and the up note is that Bohemians start to move in because it’s cheap, gritty, and inspiring to their particular muse. Your neighbourhood sounds like people just have to drive further afield for work nowadays but are still making their way… At least I hope so.

    I can’t decide if B&W creates the mood here or if it’s the theme. I guess the place would look more alive in colour, but then that could add irony to them. Yeah, I think you’re right… B&W or at least muted colour would be the way to go here. Is this a first pass?

    I can totally relate to your wish for a nearby watering hole. Redevelopment’s going on at the plaza up the street from me and I have my fingers crossed… :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      US 421 being decommissioned here was part of the puzzle. But if you go 3 miles north, it’s shopping-palooza, and that’s just as much former US 421 as this is. Another part of this puzzle is the normal exodus of people from the center of the city. In the 1950s and 1960s, my neighborhood was “the suburbs” — it was even outside the city limits then. People fled the center of the city for sprawling suburbanism. And in the 90s and 2000s, they fled this band of the city for newer suburbs even farther out. The people who moved in to replace them were not of the same means.

      Interesting thing to note, though, about the passing of US 421. When Michigan Road was the highway, it needed motels. Now that it’s not, it doesn’t. The Kiddie Factory took over a defunct motel.

      Kiddie Factory

  3. Ben Avatar

    Thanks, Jim. I enjoy reading local pieces like these. The pictures are great.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you!

  4. Miles Robinson Avatar
    Miles Robinson

    I Live in Indianapolis and I live in a Subdivision off 71st and Georgetown Road but anyway nice article.

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