Alice Brazelton-Pittman’s earliest memories are of childhood days spent in her family’s flower shop.
Nearly 80 years ago, her father, Edgar Brazelton, first started selling flowers curbside in Black Bottom, a neighborhood known as the center of Black entrepreneurship in Detroit. He would go on to open a brick and mortar called Acme Flower and over the years became known as a leader in Detroit’s Black business community.
As a little girl, Alice was in charge of arranging the greeting cards on the display stand, sweeping the floor, and welcoming customers.
“I grew up in the business with my brothers and sisters,” she says.
“[My father] built his business from scratch…There were no loans given out–you had to do it yourself.”
Eventually, the shop relocated to West Grand Boulevard, just down the street from Motown Records’ famous Hitsville U.S.A. studios, and was renamed Brazelton’s. It was in this location that the family’s name would become iconic in the community. For years, Edgar Brazelton served as a mentor to young people, helping many open their own shops or become floral designers.
But Alice would forge her own path. She married at 20 and went into church ministry with her pastor husband James, and together they raised a family. It wasn’t until 2017 following the deaths of both her brother Edgar Jr. and sister Irene that Brazelton-Pittman would find herself taking the helm of her family’s legacy.
“It was one of those situations where I had to step up to the plate. I was put in a position where God said, ‘Here, I want you to do this,’” says Brazelton-Pittman.
Big shoes to fill
In Detroit’s Black Bottom, the Black dollar went straight to Black businesses. African Americans were able to do all their grocery shopping, visit the drug store and pick up their dry-cleaning without having to venture outside of the neighborhood.
“We were a community. Black businesses (were) supported by our people. We didn’t depend on anyone to support us. We supported ourselves,” says Brazelton-Pittman.
“[My father] built his business from scratch. That was common in those days. If Afro-Americans were going to have a business, they had to start it on their own. There were no loans given out–you had to do it yourself.”
By the time Brazelton-Pittman was eight years old, her father opened a second store near the current DMC Children’s Hospital.
Brazelton-Pittman says her father was unlike many of the other men in the neighborhood who got their hands dirty from toiling away in auto factories to provide for their families.
“God will do his part, but you’ve got to get up off your behind and do your part.”—Alice Brazelton-Pittman
“He was a man of independence…He was respected,” says Brazelton-Pittman of the legacy her father left her family.
What stands out to Brazelton-Pittman is her father’s involvement in the community. Like other Black business owners at the time, her father wasn’t only concerned with making money.
“They would not only think about their sales but what can we do to help our people? What can we do to help our community? What can we do to help see that our young people are educated? It wasn’t all about them. It was about what we can do for the next generation,” she says.
When her father died, Brazelton-Pittman’s brother Edgar Jr. and sister Irene eventually took over the family business until their deaths in 2017.
“I was grieving, not only for my sister and brother, but I also grieved over the store. I grieved the loss that the business suffered,” she says.
Brazelton-Pittman had to rebuild the business essentially from scratch. The building had been completely gutted and cleared out. She didn’t know much about the wholesale business side. There was the matter of designing the arrangements. And of course, she had to reintroduce herself to Brazelton’s longtime existing clientele.
She credits her success to the outpouring of neighbors and colleagues in the business.
“Another florist who knew of my circumstance came to my aid to offer her assistance until I could get on my feet. She encouraged me to keep the store open and to take orders,” Brazelton-Pittman says. “She would have her designers make up my arrangements and only charge me for the wholesale cost until I was able to hire my own designers.”
As she began showing up at community meetings, neighboring businesses like James H. Cole, the Motown Museum, and Henry Ford Health System reached out and pledged to continue supporting Brazelton’s.
Meanwhile, Brazelton-Pittman has been building an online presence to cater to a younger, more digitally-savvy generation. She’s also thinking about ways to renovate the business’s aging property, without going into debt, perhaps seeking grant funding.
“I’m old but I’m cute. I’m old, cute, sassy and I’m smart.”—Alice Brazelton-Pittman
For now, Brazelton-Pittman is thankful that she has the opportunity to continue building on the legacy that her father built.
“Ultimately, at the end of the day, it is God who keeps me going, the door open, the lights on, the phone, and the taxes paid on time,” she says.