by Mary Stokley, photography by Susan Ayer
YpscityAn Artist’s Kind of Place
YPSCITY, Damien Lamberti
2898 Washtenaw Avenue Ypsilanti, Michigan 48197
When Damien Lamberti, more commonly known as D, first decided to open YPSCITY, it was to be a custom sneaker shop (there’s a major market for upcycled, custom designed tennis shoes in the Sneaker Culture, and they’re fetching incredible prices) and graphic design business, but it quickly grew into a broader concept which included providing a space for artists, home crafters, and creators to display and sell their work. As D put it, “I wanted to create a space in which artists are taken seriously and can be fairly compensated for their creations, rather than accepting the minimal amounts often offered for the piece they spent weeks or months creating.”
Artists often have difficulty putting a price on their work and end up selling themselves short. Consumers don’t necessarily understand the artistic process, and they may assume a design (sculpture, painting, and so on) is whipped up quickly rather than realizing the extensive amount of time spent on a project. “Art is a skill, and like any other profession that takes training and time to practice and perfect, it needs to be appreciated,” said D.
YPSCITY has limited space, but D’s goal is to try to include anyone locally who creates. D explained, “Inventory (artwork, upcycled shoes and clothing) will have to be rotated frequently and customers need to understand that items will be in stock on a very limited time basis.” Most artistic creations will be one-of-a-kind pieces or extremely limited editions, and once they’re gone, they’re gone. So, if you see something in the store that you like, you may want to go ahead and purchase it because it may not be there when you return.
D also began to worry about the creators stressing out and doing art just to pay bills. The rent has to be paid in order to keep the space available for artists, and so to alleviate the worry, D added some retail items to ensure rent could be paid every month. “This way we’re not rushing through our artwork,” he said, “or finishing projects just to make rent, rather than taking them to full completion, which is what our clients deserve.”
The Letter D LLC, is the graphic design arm of the business. “When we design something and have it manufactured, we have it done locally; if not in Ypsilanti, we do it through Michigan based companies,” D explained. “I really want YPSCITY to be a one-stop-shop business, meaning we can provide you with whatever you’re looking for.” As an example, let’s say you’re planning a wedding. D is able to provide you with the total wedding solution from announcement and invitation design to photographer, baker, and musicians/DJ. “I have connections within the Ypsilanti community that will enable us to meet all the client’s needs as they come through the door of YPSCITY.”
Two other visions D has for YPSCITY. The first is to feature local musicians and bands in the store. “I don’t want to house Detroit-based musicians and bands because they’ve had their own music culture for a long time. I really want to keep this local and sell Ypsilanti based musicians,” said D. And then, once or twice a month, a specific artist will be featured by taking all YPSCITY products off their walls and hanging the works of the artist for sale in a special “gallery night.” “We just really want to put a spotlight on the culture of Ypsilanti and give all the incredibly talented people in this city a high-five.”
D is a second generation Italian, originally from Harlem, New York, who spent time living in New York, Florida, Jamaica, and more, working in construction and in the music management industry, but landed in Ypsilanti in 2008. “I was fortunate to have the opportunity, as a child, to travel and live in these places because it provided me with a wealth of experiences and a depth of culture that I wouldn’t have had if I’d been raised in just one location.”
D began taking classes in graphic design at Washtenaw Community College (WCC) while rehabilitating after a car accident did major damage to his back, which afforded him the opportunity to recreate his life. Ypsilanti has become his home, the place where he’s raised his children, and the place where he was given a new opportunity to build a new life. “This year makes Ypsilanti the place I’ve lived in the longest ever. One of my children is a Pioneer High School graduate, my second graduates from Pioneer this year and is preparing to ship out and serve his country in the Marines, and my youngest is getting ready to enter Pioneer,” he shared.
The idea for YPSCITY was born while D was attending and taking classes at WCC. “I talked about it with some of my friends and even a professor or two.” But, it was his girlfriend, Megan Daniels, a southwest Detroit native who attended Eastern Michigan University and later graduated from Wayne State University in Occupational Therapy, who really helped him organize his thoughts and give them form and function. Megan also does all the purchasing for the retail aspect of the store, makes jewelry, and basically keeps D alive.
“If it wasn’t for Megan,” he said, “I wouldn’t have made it through the last few years. She was there when I was at the bottom; she helped me get back on my feet, and encouraged me to chase my dreams.” Now he wants to bring the incredible talent in this city to the forefront by giving the artists a home where they’re appreciated and valued, watch them grow and take off. “I think it can be a good thing for everyone involved.”
YPSCITY’s grand opening was in June of this year. If you’re in the area, stop in, meet D, and see what the talent in your city is producing, or how you can become a part of that talent. If Ypsi is your city, become a part of the excitement that is YPSCITY.