The rapidly growing township was attractive to several types of business. As the area developed, the enterprises became more diverse in response to the changing needs of the residents.
The primary business of the first settlers was, of course, agriculture. Soon enterprising men put the Rouge River to work as saw mills and grist mills, much the same as those that were springing up all over Michigan. One of the first was Arthur Power's Old Eagle Mill. Unfortunately, because of its location, the Old Eagle Mill was not very successful. The Rouge River was not strong enough to support a mill, especially in that part of the township. This, coupled with the fact that the engineering of the dam was not the best, meant that production was slow and unpredictable. A dry season halted operations altogether. As trees were cut, the soil lost its ability to retain water; the lower water table weakened the Rouge to the point where it was powerless. The mill fell victim to the very ecological conditions that it had helped to bring about.
The Steele Mill, known in the 1860's as the Hardenburg Mill, with its better location on the Rouge, was a more successful venture. Built in Pernambuco Hollow in the north area of the township, the Steele Mill was a center of activity in the area, offering a cooper's shop, soap factory, and store, as well as a saw mill and grist mill. While other mills converted to cider mills, tried conversion to steam power or fell victim to fire, the Steele Mill continued its operations until 1904, when a flood swept out the dam.
The first twenty years of the town's development saw the establishment of merchants' shops, an undertaker, a small foundry, a potash plant for making soap, and dairies and cheese factories, the last of which remained until World War II. The main business in the North and Western sections of the township was apple and small fruit orchards; produce was sold at Detroit's Eastern Market. An example of this business was Button Orchards, located on Twelve Mile Road near Drake, run by descendants of John C. Button.
The period of 1850-1890 was a period of growth for merchants, but the agricultural industry rose as the dominant factor of the community. According to the 1870 census, Farmington had 16,514 acres of farmland valued at $1.4 million; machinery was valued at $43,900. Livestock was valued at $186,880, including 642 horses, 1,117 cows, 22 oxen, 5,378 sheep and 1,060 pigs. The harvest included: 1,442 bushels of spring wheat; 42,201 bushels of winter wheat; 38,175 bushels of Indian corn; 39,127 bushels of oats; 36,780 bushels of potatoes; and 75,775 pounds of butter. Orchard produce brought in $16,880.
The agricultural dominance was also reflected in the businesses of the town, including blacksmith shops, harness shops, and farm implement and repair shops.
The average wage of 1870 was $1.00 per a twelve to fifteen-hour day. Carpenters made 15 cents an hour, stone and brick masons earned 20 cents. One could purchase a suit for $20; butter for 20 cents a pound; eggs, 10 cents a dozen; and pork sold for 8 - 10 cents a pound. Not a home in Farmington at that time cost over $1,000.
The 1870's saw the transition of the central business area from Shiawassee to Grand River, to be closer to the center of activity. The E. C. Grace Dry Goods Store was established at Grand River and Farmington; it is now the Korner Barber Shop. A few doors to the east was the O. B. Smith Drygoods store, where a major fire broke out in October, 1872. The volunteer fire brigade was unable to control the fire, having only two wells nearby as a water supply, which soon ran out. The spread of the fire was finally halted when a house was torn down, creating a gap too large for the fire to jump, but not before the flames had ruined Smith's Store, Dr. Woodman's Drug Store, W. B. Shelly and Porter Shephard's Store, the Masonic Hall and the Township Office, including many township records.
A new Town Hall was constructed in 1876, a two-story brick building, 30' by 60', built at a cost of $4,300. The Masonic Lodge leased the upper portion of the building for $1,150, rather than replacing their facilities. Other rebuilding and new construction included a hotel, two saddlery and harness shops, three blacksmith and carriage shops, two wagon shops, a foundry, sawmill and a grist mill.
The first Farmington newspaper, the Enterprise, was published on November 2, 1888, by Edgar R. Bloomer and his printer's devil Fred Cook. The paper, having undergone various owner and name changes, is still the main local newspaper, now known as the Farmington Observer.
In the 1890's business continued to flourish, dominated in many areas by Fred and P. D. Warner. Fred owned a hardware store; he was the manager of the Farmington and Franklin Cheese company, and had interests in the Warner Dairy, Warner Buckmaking Company and Warner Drygoods. P. D. Warner was involved in private banking.
Another well-known merchant was Fred Cook, owner of Cook's Drygoods, later carrying groceries and shoes, crockery and firearms. While no groceries were sold, one could purchase everything else from gingersnaps to "Black Cat" hosiery and "American Lady" corsets.
Business in the Gay Nineties saw the branching out of various specialty shops. Custom made boots and shoes could be had from H. W. Habermehl. Miss Marie Gill offered dressmaking services in her millinery shop beginning in 1893. A meat market and vegetable store was established by Henry Schroeder, and barbers M. B. Pierce and C. W. Chamberlain offered their tonsorial talents in two new shops. Chamberlain, not one to leave success in his competitive business to chance, also sold cigars and offered clock and watch repair services.
At the turn of the century, the sprouting businesses reflected both the needs of the past and advent of a new age of technology. Two new blacksmith shops opened, one at Grand River west of Farmington Road, the other at Farmington and State Street. In 1910, the Nelson sisters announced the opening of their ice cream shop, west of Farmington Road on Grand River, where the municipal parking lot is now. The telephone arrived; several pay stations were set up in stores by the Michigan State Telephone Company. The local exchange was operated by Mr. and Mrs. C. M. Doherty, in their combination telephone office and tin shop.
It was not long before the automobile began its takeover, first with a repair shop on Grand River in a building that in 1970 was the Precise Tool Company, then with the establishment of a Ford sales and service shop on Grand River in 1915. Two other dealerships, Chalmers and Overland, operated on a part-time basis, predecessors of the several full-fledged dealerships that would spout up in the Twenties.
As in all towns, a few "undesirable" businesses were established. William Walters ran a pool room where the Old Village Inn is now: J. E. Phelps, perhaps in an attempt at discretion, advertised the sale of paints and brushes at his pool parlor.
Business continued to flourish during the first half-century. The Farmington area was not hit hard by the depression because it was basically a rural population; its economy was more dependent upon the earth than on stores. The decade of the Thirties saw business continuing somewhat as usual. The Farmington Dairy and Grocery Store sponsored Saturday specials of pork sausage at 25 cents for two pounds, smoked hams priced at 22 cents and butter sold for 24 cents a pound.
The car dealers reported that in August, 1935 (regarded as the depth of the Depression), auto sales were double what they were in 1934, with most customers paying cash. A Kroger store opened where Scott Coburn's saddlery is now located, followed by Dancers Department Store, Bradley Drugs, the Oak Pharmacy at the corner of Farmington Road and Grand River. The Civic Theatre was built in 1936. And, the inevitable happened; the Handmart, Farmington's first hamburger stand, opened for business on the south side of Grand River: the building is now a small accounting office.
There were some casualties; the Peoples State Bank succumbed even as the Farmington State Bank reopened on May 19, 1934 after closing for the 1933 Bank Holiday.
Unfortunately, the closing of the Peoples State Bank was a portent of what the future really held. Progress was halted by the war, which created a lack of building supplies. To the flood of newcomers to the area, the old buildings were tawdry and unappealing. Turnover was rapid, with many of the businesses moving to one of the shopping centers being built in the outlying areas. (One such example is Kroger's, which moved to the Farmington Plaza at Grand River and Orchard Lake Road.) The Farmington State Bank sold out to National Bank of Detroit, which shunned the facility which is now the Village Mall and built its own cubicle on Farmington Road, south of State Street.
The end of the war marked the end of the farming era in Farmington. The land became too valuable to farm, and taxes skyrocketed. Owners sold their farms to developers who created the myriad of subdivisions and shopping centers.
In the 1960's, in an attempt to stimulate interest in the City of Farmington area, a Federal's Department Store was built next to the Downtown Center. A rash of drive-ins and hamburger stands sprang up, anxious to cash in on the new interest in the area, much to the alarm of the downtown business leaders who saw this as a move toward further degradation. New restrictive zoning was designed. The outmoded area was redeveloped by the provision of off-street parking areas, the modernization of some of the older buildings, construction of commercial buildings and three new banks, and the building of new municipal offices.
To upgrade the commercial and industrial base, an industrial park was developed at Eight Mile and Farmington Road at a cost of $7,000,000. As a result, $5,000,000 of equipment and inventory were added to Farmington's commercial value.
Similar steps were taken in the township; commercial and industrial tax bases were needed as business incentive here too. One of the underlying reasons for the incorporation of Farmington Hills was fear that the City of Farmington would annex the valuable township Industrial Park property, near the Ten Mile, Grand River and Halsted Road area.
Leadership in the burgeoning business community fell largely to three groups. The Farmington Downtown Development Authority organizes marketing and promotion activities to benefit the retail development in the downtown area; it insures that the downtown is maintained and coordinates improvements.
The Farmington Hills Economic Development Corporation serves as a facilitator to attract businesses to the area and to initiate studies of needed improvements, such as the boulevard for the Twelve Mile Corridor between Farmington and Haggerty roads and the renovation work on Eight Mile Road. The Farmington/Farmington Hills Chamber of Commerce included about 750 members in 1996; the Chamber actively creates a climate to encourage business growth and development, through legislative advocacy and networking among members.
By 1994, Farmington Hills had seven industrial parks with a total of over 600 acres. The Farmington area had almost 4.5 million square feet of office space, which ranged from $10 to $18.50 per square foot for rental. Occupancy was 87.1%, which was higher than in some surrounding communities.
In 1996, approximately 3,000 businesses are located within the 36 mile area of Farmington/Farmington Hills. The variety of businesses range from large multi-national corporate headquarters to the smaller "Mom & Pop" businesses. Support for the automotive industry is demonstrated by the companies: TRW, Automotive Electronics Division; Robert Bosch; and Nissan Research, among others. Many of the local businesses are active in the export/import of products. The Oakland County Development and Planning Division reported local operations of foreign-owned firms with the following diversity: Japanese, 23 firms; German, 9; Italian, 4; French, 3; Canadian, 2; Mexican, 2; Dutch, 2; Swiss, 2; Swedish, 1; and British, 1.
With increased mobility in suburban transportation, gone are the days when the majority of residents work in close proximity to their homes. In 1990, approximately 90% drove to work alone and the average travel time was 23 minutes. Less than 1% used public transportation while 6% used carpools. Only 3% either walked or worked at home.
The relative upward mobility of the residential community adds to the desirability of the Farmington area as a place for businesses to locate. The upward mobility was a trend noted in the changes from the 1980 to the 1990 census figures which showed a high increase in the percentage of people in executive, administrative, managerial and professional positions. For Farmington, the percentage of adults over age 16 in those categories changed from 15% to 41% and for the Hills the percentage went from 19% to 45%.
The national shift of employment to the service sector was mirrored in the Farmington area as well with 36% of the Hills' working population and 34% of Farmington's workers classified as service employees.
By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the commercial climate again changed in response to greater population stability and economic downturns. These are succinctly summarized in the Oakland County Development Profiles for the cities of Farmington and Farmington Hills, respectively.