How a shoe repair shop bouncing back from tragedy can be a model for a new economy.
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CNBC's The Profit

Ronda Morrison runs a shoe repair shop in Detroit. It's a family business dating back over 60 years.

And with a name like "House of Morrison Shoe Repair," they obviously want it to stay in the family. That's where Ronda's 25-year-old nephew Keenon came in.


Ronda and Keenon Morrison. Image via New Economy Initiative/Detroit Lives!/Vimeo.

Keenon had worked with Ronda in House of Morrison since he was a kid, learning the ropes to one day run the business, as his grandfather and aunt had done before him.

All GIFs via New Economy Initiative/Detroit Lives!/Vimeo.

But tragedy struck the family, and House of Morrison's future took a turn.

On the July 4, 2014 holiday weekend, Keenon and his 16-year-old brother Kalen died in a car accident. Reeling from the loss, Ronda began to lose her will to keep running the family business.

"My plans went totally down the drain with his death," Ronda told the Detroit Free Press. "When that happened, the House of Morrison's fate was on the chopping block."

Ronda pushed on, deciding that getting back to work might help her cope. And it turned out her timing was perfect.

Before the accident, she'd applied for a $10,000 small business grant with the Detroit New Economy Initiative (NEI). Amid the grief over the loss of her nephews, she had completely forgotten about the application.

But two days after Ronda returned to work, she got a letter.

She took it as a sign that House of Morrison was meant to persevere.

With the money, Ronda can do more than keep the business open. She can help others learn the trade.

The grant gives her a chance to do more of what her father always wanted for House of Morrison. "I'm going to do exactly what my father did," she says. "Open his door to train people out of the community."

Their proposal included launching an apprentice program for members of their community struggling to find work, investing in business software that will help them be more efficient, and opening new locations once they've built up their customer base.

Small businesses like House of Morrison are working to rebuild Detroit through people-centered enterprise.

In 1950, Detroit, a manufacturing powerhouse, was the richest city per capita in the United States. As people flocked to job opportunities in the Motor City, the population swelled to over 1.8 million.

Detroit in 1942. Photo by Arthur Siegel, U.S. Office of War Information/Wikimedia Commons.

But free trade gave companies a way to boost their profits by moving manufacturing operations to countries with cheaper labor and fewer regulations, putting millions of American workers out of work.

And Detroit was in the middle of it all.

The city saw an exodus as the jobless became economic refugees in new cities.

In 2010, the population had shriveled to just over 700,000. And in 2013, Detroit became the largest American city to declare bankruptcy.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Since then, Detroit has become a canvas for creative ideas to spur urban renewal.

And groups like NEI are helping by funding small businesses, like House of Morrison, that "represent the innovation and ingenuity of Detroit's small business market."

As the country continues to bounce back from the Great Recession, we should look to Detroit for ways to do it that go beyond the conventional economics that brought the city and the country to their knees in the first place.

Watch NEI's profile of House of Morrison:

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