Flint Township, MI—In the early afternoon of May 2, Devonta Smith, 32, cut through a thick red ribbon that stretched across the entrance of The Flint Store, with scissors that were a little too small. As he snipped away for several seconds with a smirk on his face, his supporters applauded him, excited to go inside to purchase new clothing and accessories.
The Flint brand, Smith’s creation, has been around for a few years now, but he’s just opening up his new storefront inside the Genesee Valley Shopping Center across from H&M.
As a child, he would have never imagined that the game store he shopped at inside the mall would one day be his own storefront. At one point in time, his life was headed in a very different direction.
Smith grew up in the Merrill area of Flint’s north side. Around the age of 15, he started hanging out with a new crowd and getting into trouble. Over time, the group, later named “Dynasty” began committing armed robberies around Genesee County. On Jan. 25, 2010, Smith faced four charges related to armed robbery. He ultimately spent a year in the Genesee County Jail.
In 2012, Smith was charged again for delivery of a controlled substance, and went back to jail.
“When I came home from that I was a good guy. No more [of] that. No more jail, I didn’t want to experience it anymore. So I let that side of me and that part of my life go.” Smith explained.
“I just had a different outlook on life. I wanted to do something different and better and make my people proud, and it’s been 15 years since I’ve been in trouble, and I’m just trying to be great,” he said.
Smith spent much of his 20s “just living life,” spending time with loved ones, making music, and trying to figure out his path.
Three years ago, when he was in the recording studio working on a song, he had an epiphany.
“I think I said, ‘fight like it’s no tomorrow’ in one of my rap songs and the producer stopped me and said, ‘man that’s an acronym, you just spelled out Flint.’ And when he told me that, that’s when I ran with it and got it printed on t-shirts,” he said.
Originally, Smith opened a store on Ballenger Highway on the north side of Flint, not too far from where he grew up. People he knew would stop in to shop, and the occasional walk-in traffic kept his bills paid and money in his own pockets, but over time business waned.
“The support was awesome, the money was great, but after a year I got tired of being there. I needed to take it where more people could see it instead of having it on one side of town,” Smith said.
Though many people advised against him moving to the Genesee Valley Shopping Center, claiming that the mall had lost its oomph, Smith felt confident that it would be a better location for his business.
Red accents on the walls of The Flint Store’s new spot lead you through the displays of clothing options–from t-shirts to jackets, two-piece sets, hats, and phone cases. The logo, which spells out Flint, with the F in the shape of a leaky pipe, is embroidered or printed on each article of clothing.
The pipe symbolizes the Flint water crisis, and the phrase ‘Fight like it’s no tomorrow’ represents the strength and resilience of the community, Smith said.
“It’s so amazing to see people that are not from Flint wearing it and representing our city, because when you bring up Flint any other time it’s always murders and bad stuff, so now we got something positive that we can brag about,” Smith said.
As he sits behind the register on day two of being open, there is no shortage of attention. A flow of customers, friends, and supporters bustle through the store offering their sentiments and purchasing Flint brand items.
One visitor, Keonne Parks, has been Smith’s friend since childhood. “I’m just glad to see him come as far as he came. I remember when he was just talking about the vision, and he brought it to reality, I’m real proud of him, man. He’s doing what he got to do,” Parks said.
“He’s got a nice brand. It’s meaningful. Fight like it’s no tomorrow. That’s what I’ve been seeing him do since I’ve known him. That’s how we grew up. And I’m just proud of him for real,” he continued.
Smith’s success propels him to continue to grow his brand and hopes to inspire others to follow their dreams. “I always look back at all the guys I grew up with that’s in the streets and I keep telling them they don’t got to do that. There’s other opportunities that you can do to take care of your family,” he said.
His advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, “Whatever it is you want to do just make sure you stay focused on the goal and never give up. And I promise you you will achieve greatness. Don’t let anybody tell you what you can’t do, because they all told me that I couldn’t.”
The Flint Store is now open in the Genesee Valley Shopping Center in Flint Township from 12-8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 12-6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.