Flint, MI—Robert Walter McAdow admits he’s been to some “dark places” over the last month, ever since his jewelry design studio and gallery, Flint Trading Co., closed due to a July fire.

He’s spent that time trying to figure out how to salvage one-of-a-kind items from the other artists who sell in his space, save his now-corroded metalsmithing tools, clean soot-coated walls and floors, and air out a newly repainted showroom that still carries the faint scent of charred wood.

“There’s going to be a bunch of things that aren’t covered,” McAdow said, sitting with his golden retriever, Emmett, in his downtown space. “My insurance is only good for so many things.” 

McAdow has not been able to get a loan from his bank, which was his concern in the first week following the fire. So, he’s been putting most of the clean up expenses on his credit card in an effort to reopen quickly.

“Oh, everything has been going on the American Express bill,” he said with an uneasy smile. He estimates he’s already spent thousands.

But recently, McAdow added, “everything has flipped.”

Flint’s director of placemaking, Kady Yellow, ran into McAdow at a downtown restaurant roughly a week after the fire. She offered to help him set up his now-active GoFundMe page, a move which McAdow admits he was skeptical about.

“The thing was, I was really hesitant to ask the community for money,” he said. “I didn’t get grants to open the business when I came here…and you know, if people are going to trust me to make jewelry for them, I should be able to run a business fairly well also.”

However, after being over halfway to his funding goal in about a week, McAdow is a crowd-funding convert. 

“It seems that people that are interested in your story or hear your story—even when you don’t know them—care a lot more about you than the institutions that you’ve done business with forever,” McAdow said, rubbing Emmett’s chin. 

“It’s a great irony … but, wow, I don’t even know how to say thank you.”

What’s more, one of McAdow’s past clients, Townes Osborn Miller, decided she could do more than just donate. She offered to open up her Westwood Parkway home to help, too.

“I just said, ‘Well, what do you need?’” Miller explained when asked how her backyard became a fundraising space on Sept. 1. McAdow had said he didn’t know, so Miller answered for him: 

“Let’s do a fundraiser. Why not?”

A few weeks later on a sunny September evening, around 50 guests cycled through Miller’s backyard, writing notes of encouragement to deposit in a basket at the check-in table and admiring the hostess’s earrings, which McAdow had made in 2019. 

Townes Osborn Miller greets guests at a fundraiser she hosted in her Flint home on Sept. 1, 2021. The fundraiser was to support Flint business owner Walt McAdow of the Flint Trading Co. after a fire damaged his downtown store weeks before. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Aside from a small display of McAdow’s jewelry, limited due to the fire, guests were able to purchase spun-wood vessels from Russ Dotson, another local artist and friend to McAdow.

“When I had no idea what I was doing, Robert was incredibly generous with his time and showing me how to do things,” Dotson said. He now sells his work out of Flint Trading Co. among other galleries.

So when Miller called to ask if Dotson might donate all proceeds from the work he sold during her backyard fundraiser Dotson said, “It wasn’t even a question.”

Russ Dotson sits with his woodwork at a fundraiser event for the fire-damaged downtown Flint shop, Flint Trading Co. on Sept. 1, 2021. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

To end the night, McAdow addressed his assembled supporters, many of whom Miller and Dotson had invited as a way to introduce them to McAdow and his work. After thanking Miller, her planning committee, and Dotson, McAdow turned to his new community of supporters.

“Thank you for giving. Thank you for supporting my business,” McAdow began. “It’s actually very difficult for me to articulate this, ” he said, and paused, apologizing for not being prepared. He said a few more thank yous and began again:

“When I opened my business in spring of 2018, I thought that I was trying to bring something special to Flint,” he said. “And what I’ve learned as part of this whole process is that, really, you’re the people that bring something to me … I would wake up and be like, ‘Am I really good enough for this?’ And honestly … I just can’t thank you enough for making me feel like I belong here.”

McAdow called the evening an enormous success and said, based on the funds raised between Miller’s event and the online fundraiser, he feels confident Flint Trading Co. will be able to open in time for the city’s next ArtWalk, Sept. 10.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....

One reply on “Flint community steps up to help businessman after fire”

  1. Thanks for writing this. I was able to make a small donation to Walter’s fund after learning about it in this article.

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