With Strike Settled, Local Businesses Hope for Rebound

While the UAW strikes put the spotlight squarely on union workers within the automotive sector, businesses located near automotive plants that in part rely on business from those striking workers have also suffered.

The recent progress in the talks (the UAW has settled with all of the Big Three automakers) has business owners hopeful and looking for something of a rebound.

Mike Anton has owned The Dovetail, a coffee shop and eatery in Warren, for 10 years. The Dovetail is located at 12 Mile and Hoover, and therefore draws a number of customers who either work at the nearby General Motors Global Technical Center or the Stellantis Warren Truck Assembly Plant. Anton says his business has been “down the last couple of months” but is unsure if the UAW strike played any role.

What Anton does know is that he heard both sides of the UAW strike story from both salaried auto workers and blue-collar, hourly workers on strike given his location.

“I have regular customers both who work in the union and at the tech center, so I’ve heard a lot of stories and opinions,” says Anton, who remains neutral on the topic. “It’s a complex and nuanced topic and both sides want what they want. They seemed pretty dug in to their (positions).”

The Dovetail often hosts political, community and even special interest group meetings because of its location and setup. He encourages those types of gatherings because it helps bring in extra revenue and attention to his shop, making it a natural venue for such dialogue. He hopes the resolution of the strike, particularly now that the remaining holdout, GM, has settled, coupled with the coming holiday season, will help lift his sales in the coming months.

City Glass Co. in Pontiac is located across Joslyn Road from the General Motors Stamping Plant. The glass distributor and installer has been a family owned business since 1961, according to owner Rob Wilson, whose grandfather started the business.

Wilson noticed a slight slowdown in his auto glass business in recent weeks amid the UAW strike, but he’s unsure if that has more to do with inflation and softness in the overall economy. City Glass’ home glass business is thriving as Wilson believes consumers continue to invest in their homes provided they have some income and/or can get a loan. Auto glass is a different story since it can be considered a “want” rather than a “need,” Wilson says.

“We’ve noticed some days when the phones don’t seem to be ringing as much as we think they should, but our home (glass) business is staying busy,” Wilson said. “We have a number of customers from the plant but are probably (less reliant) on them now than we used to be.”

That’s because not only are there fewer individuals working at the stamping plant than in previous years, even before the strike, but City Glass’ brand has expanded, making it less reliant on sales from auto workers there. Wilson says that Joslyn Road is a “pass-through” road, so he gets good visibility from other commuters and local residents traveling around the Auburn Hills/Pontiac/Orion Township area.

The Oakland Diner is also located on Joslyn Road in Pontiac close to the General Motors Stamping Plant. The restaurant opened in 2016, serving breakfast and lunch. Owner Simon Tinaj draws a diverse crowd of customers throughout the week, but he says his weekday business seems to be down in recent weeks.

A decrease in early morning or lunchtime weekday business could be in part because of the strike. He adds the location of the diner is “convenient” for auto workers coming to and from work.

Fortunately, the strike hadn’t impacted his weekend business, including the church crowds on Sunday mornings, adding that the restaurant has a regular base of customers they can rely on.

One of Wilson’s glass distributors has described having fewer deliveries in recent weeks, which may have been caused by the lingering strike, he says. Wilson understands that his auto glass business relies on consumers who have disposable income, especially if they want a custom job such as tinted glass. Other customers will even put off repairing a crack in their windshield if money is tight.

“We know there are some people living paycheck to paycheck and they will have to make tough decisions if their income goes down,” Wilson said.

Anton agrees with many striking workers that the disparity in pay between automaker executives and UAW members is disturbing. He believes that’s a topic that most (while and blue-collar) workers can get behind.

“That just doesn’t seem right,” Anton says. “I hear that (sentiment) in the shop. And I can understand those frustrations from both (blue-collar and white-collar) sides.”

More of Wilson’s auto glass customers at City Glass tend to be older and have the personal savings that allows them to freely make their own buying decisions. Younger customers however are more likely to buy auto glass from a vendor their auto insurance recommends, Wilson adds, which is rarely a locally owned small business.

“The industry has really changed with how insurance companies dictate which (auto glass) supplier you order from,” Wilson said. “We have customers from the plant. I hope they get back to work soon so it doesn’t put our economy into a bit of a frenzy, but I also want them to buy from us when they can.”