Archive for the ‘Feature Story’ Category

Can a building’s design reflect the persona of the community in which it exists? The two have more in common than one would realize. Read more here.

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By John Q. Journalist
Some kids are just driven more than others. They have a craving. A Saginaw school incubates the intangibles that lead to success. Read more here.

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DC Comics began renumbering its superhero titles, setting the issues back to No. 1. These titles include Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and more. The first renumbering was issued at the end of August 2011 with The Justice League No. 1. Read more here.

Previously published at oaklandpress.com



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U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow has a challenger for her seat. It’s Royal Oak Water Resources Commissioner John McCulloch. Stabenow is a two-term Senate Democrat. McCulloch is a Royal Oak Republican. Read more here.

Published previously at RoyalOak.Patch.com



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When former Royal Oak Dondero varsity football coach Ivy Loftin passed away, he left behind a rich community legacy. Football may be only sport to some, but for those who played under Loftin, it was a tablet from which to read life’s lessons. Read more about Loftin and his community impact here.

Published previously at RoyalOak.Patch.com



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By John Q. Horn

Terrance Burney sees in people what they often have a difficult time seeing in themselves: greatness. And, with much success, he is using a somewhat unconventional but popular medium by which to convey the sentiment.

The 28-year-old Lake Orion motivator uses the text-messaging component of his Blackberry mobile phone to thrice weekly send inspirational and motivational missives to everyone on his contacts list. The messages are fewer than 138 characters and are sent out every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

So, some guy is sending out motivational messages to his phone contacts. Big deal, right? It is becoming a significant deal, actually, when one considers that Burney’s contact list includes local and national celebrities, including several current and former Pistons and Lions players, as well as members of their coaching staffs. The Rev. Jesse Jackson pulled him on stage when he was last in Detroit, and Burney has been contacted by the creators of the ABC drama Detroit 1-8-7 for a cameo in an episode next season, where he will portray a motivational speaker.

His phone list contains the names of professional athletes anyone would recognize, right alongside the names of strangers Burney has never met, living in states and other countries Burney has never visited.

His list contains more than 3,000 phone numbers and each one receives a text. A recent one read: “The longer you wait, the longer you go without. When we procrastinate, we just waste our time. Get your GREATNESS.” Come in contact with Burney and you won’t leave without him saying, “I see greatness in you.” Talk may be cheap, but Burney lives and breathes his belief.

“No matter what you are going through, or who you are, I see greatness in you. You really can achieve what you want to achieve,” Burney says.

His life’s work is called The TexTBook. The unique capitalization highlights Burney’s initials: TB. In some phone systems, when a string of Burney’s messages run together, it reads like a book, hence the name. According to Burney, the book is designed to be the first ever read, written and received via text.

Burney calls it “mobile mentoring,” and is using his phone to help uplift anyone willing to read it.

And that would sound incredibly corny if Burney was on your TV screen at three in the morning trying to get you to call an 888 phone number, or if he were trying to rope you into a Ponzi scheme.

But he’s not. Burney works 30 hours a week as a restaurant server. The rest of the time he is working on The TexTBook. He wears the only suit he owns everywhere he goes. He mentions the economic recession this region continues to try to crawl out of and says, “It seems like it has been a recession since I was born.” He shucks and jives financially, and when he does get a couple of bucks he shares. Eight months ago, he was living out of his car.

Burney tells a story of a trip to Dallas for a network marketing convention. The day before he left Texas to head back to Michigan, he was a little light on cash, so a good friend flipped him $50 for the return trip. En route to a convenience store, Burney saw what looked like a small homeless community beneath a freeway. At an additional glance, these guys were actually living in a sewer system below the freeway. Down goes Burney, all 6 feet 9 inches of him, dressed in his only suit. He wants to talk to them and tell them he sees greatness in them. Firm, to the point of being intractable, in his belief of giving 10 percent of his monetary possessions to those less fortunate, after engaging the guys in conversation, Burney ascended to the surface, only to return with five bucks worth of purified water in gallon jugs. Instead of having $50 to get back to Detroit, he has $45. He doesn’t flinch.

He says he sees greatness everywhere. Burney grew up in the Linwood-Puritan area of Detroit’s west side. A kid growing up in that neighborhood sees more than he really should. Burney, however, remains unfazed.

“There is greatness in that area, it’s just not being exploited,” he says.

Tom Gendich is the co-owner of Rochester Media, who is working with Burney to publish a book containing 30 of Burney’s most popular motivational texts. They are currently in the initial draft stage. Gendich says he heard about Burney while having lunch with former Detroit Lions defensive tackle Luther Elliss.

“We were talking about publishing a friend of Luther’s and he said, ‘I need to get you in touch with this guy called The TexTBook,” Gendich says. “Later that day, I called Terrance and we met a few days later.

“He is the same whether he is talking to Jesse Jackson or spending an hour with some homeless guys living down in a sewer. The message is the same regardless of who he is talking to. This guy is not out to make a million dollars. He is not out for self-promotion or running for office. He is literally out to change the world through inspiration.”

Where does the motivator go to seek inspiration? Burney looks to his own mentors, family and the composition of friends working with him on TexTBook, a group he calls “the team.”

Burney is initially reluctant to drop names. After some time, he proudly mentions his brothers Roland and Brandon; his sisters Sabrina and Kelly; his mom, Denise and his father, Ceci; and grandmother, Lelia. He respectfully mentions his 102-year-old great-grandmother who recently passed away.

His TexTBook team is strong. Burney is quick to mention Mike Laperre and Dave Thomas, working in sales and marketing capacities, respectively. Sonja Murphy Gors provides support to the project, as does Burney’s best friend, Marcus Evans. Cousins Rudy and Amyre, he says, are also critical to the TexTBook’s support system. Burney is especially grateful to Facebook followers and everyone else online who has supported his mission. “I see greatness in all of them,” he says.

A quick glance of his phone shows the names of NBA players Chucky Atkins and Kwame Brown. MC Hammer receives text messages from TexTBook. Burney identifies Bill Peterson, a Rochester Hills real estate company owner, who has been a mentor to him.

“Terrance keeps searching for ways to help mentor and inspire people,” Peterson says. Peterson isn’t the only one recognizing Burney’s work:

  • “I believe that as much as possible, we have to find things that inspire us. If the inspiration happens to find you, then that’s great,” — Burney’s aunt and retired iconic Detroit newscaster Amyre Makupson.
  • “It’s like a God-sent message. We all need inspiration and something positive. I am thankful for the TexTBook. I read it whenever it comes to my phone,” — former Detroit Lions tackle Lomas Brown.
  • “The TexTBook provides powerful, clever and uplifting motivational messages to improve our daily performance. I see greatness in Terrance.” — former NBA player Tim McCormick.
  • “I have never had an experience with this type of motivation. It is a great thing. I am on my way back to Germany and I will recommend this to the players to use the TexTBook and to spread the message.” — Wiebke Redlin, high performance sports coach working with Euroleague athletes in Germany.
  • “The TexTBook really inspires me, especially when I really need it on those tough work days in the classroom and on the field. Thinking about my greatness really pulls me through.” — University of Michigan starting nose tackle Mike Martin.
  • “The messages that I receive from The TexTBook are informative, inspiring and very on point, relating to my life.” — Coco, radio host on 97.9-FM WJLB.
  • “Each day, I look forward to the enlightening, encouraging, often oh-so-timely, positive, motivating messages I receive from The TexTBook.”– Durand “Speedy” Walker, a Detroit Pistons coach.

In the short term, Burney will continue to message inspiration to those who want it, and will continue to tell strangers he sees greatness in them. Some inroads are being made with the people at Guinness Book with respect to the record for most text messages sent in both a day and a month.

And it probably won’t be long before Oprah is on the other end of the line, as well.

Published previously by Real Detroit Weekly Magazine. Photo by John Q. Horn



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By John Q. Horn

Nobody has paid the cost to be the boss more than Alan Markovitz.

Markovitz’s ascent into becoming a self-made strip club tycoon has encountered impediments that would have left most men dead, literally. He’s been shot on two separate occasions. In one ill-fated encounter, he was shot in the face; the other, in the chest. He had a Mob contract put on his head, and once lost $1 million to a shady business partner. He has been sued, harassed and once had a furious ex-girlfriend drive her Pontiac Fiero through the front door of a club, trying to use him as its new hood ornament.

On his left, his Eight Mile businesses in the ’80s were the subject of seemingly monthly police raids; on his right, religious leaders trying to shut him down in the name of morality. And yet, he stiff-armed his way through it all, in a rise to the top of the topless dance industry that could be described only as meteoric.

“The difference between a successful adult club and an unsuccessful one is that one is chaos and the other is controlled chaos,” Markovitz says. “You have to be number one now, because it’s a long drop from number one to number two. Number two is a long way down.”

He presently owns the Penthouse Club on Eight Mile, a sprawling, showy den of topless dance and unrivaled hospitality. Its exterior is lit up like Vegas. His fleshy empire also includes The Flight Club in Inkster, in addition to strip clubs in Florida and Philadelphia. At 50 years old, he has no designs on pumping the brakes.

“I always tell people, ‘as long as I love what I’m doing, I will do a first-class job,'” he says. “The day I don’t, I’ll turn it over to someone else and they can send me a check in Florida.”

Markovitz’s book, Topless Prophet, The True Story of America’s Most Successful Gentleman’s Club Entrepreneur, was published October 2009 and chronicles the story of his life, from his Auschwitz-surviving father, to his early inroad in the industry, to being shot by a dancer he had just fired. It’s a fascinating tale of drive, determination, learning on the fly and sustaining a vision of business success. Markovitz told Real Detroit Weekly that Hollywood is also calling. The book has been sold to a Hollywood producer who is in the process of writing a script and working on casting. An episodic cable series — not a reality program; Markovitz has turned down two such proposals — on HBO or Starz is in the embryonic stage.

Randy Greenberg is a Los Angeles-based producer and President/CEO of the Greenberg Group, an entertainment consultant group. He purchased the option on the book and is presently crafting the script with the intent of getting it green-lighted.

“I bought Topless Prophet and was completely mesmerized and fascinated with his life,” Greenberg says.

“I told Alan that I thought his life would make a great pay cable or cable TV series, where he was the straight guy, the moral compass, the father figure, among all of the craziness, both literally and figuratively, that is the topless entertainment business. The project is still in the early stages of development but suffice to say, that if this series does get picked up, there is plenty of events from Alan’s life to fuel the creative of the series for many years to come.”

Foot, meet door

Markovitz’s path started in the very early ’80s in Oak Park. A self-described “greaseball” who once was kicked out of school for riding his motorcycle down the hallway, Markovitz turned 18 when that was Michigan’s then-legal drinking age. He liked the nightlife. It also helped that one of his neighbors, Sol Milan, at that time owned La Chambre, a topless club at Telegraph and I-96.

Markovitz, just out of high school, got a job bartending at the club. Once on the inside, his interest in owning and operating one grew exponentially. He was hooked.

“I loved going to those places and I always wanted to own one,” he says. “I said to Sol, ‘I would really love to get in this business. If I can find a location, would you be interested in going in on it? That’s how the Booby Trap started.

“I found a place that had fallen into disrepair, we picked the place up and it just rocked.”

When Markovitz’s finances dwindled, to keep his share of the club, he sold everything he had, including his prized Triumph motorcycle. His father, a used appliance repairman, reluctantly loaned to his son the rest of the money.

Markovitz would usher in a new approach to operating strip clubs. They would no longer be dank and dive-y. He spent the money to have nice wood and brass appointments, new tile and a spiffy look. The place would be clean, comfortable and secure. In short, business took off, and over the years, Markovitz would open, in order: BT’s in Dearborn, a BT’s in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Tycoons, Trumpps and All-Star (all on Eight Mile); and the Avenue Diner on Woodward.

He would later open The Flight Club in Inkster, 10,000 square feet of topless swank with 300 dancers. And in 2007, he would build his crown jewel, The Penthouse Club, after buying the naming rights from the bankrupt magazine, on Eight Mile. He opened another Penthouse Club in Philadelphia in 2009 and is presently working on a deal to open another club in Hallandale Beach, Fla.

Game changer

While ushering in a commitment to heightened style to strip clubs, Markovitz, almost by accident, saw the advent of the lap dance unfurl inside of the Booby Trap. Disappointed that his favorite dancer had to end her shift, a long-time regular (his nickname was Pac Man) persuaded her to dance on the tiny table in front of him, amid cocktail glasses and napkins.

Before long, dancers were moving from the stage and into the laps of customers.

Markovitz also improved the quality of a club’s menu. He stressed quality ingredients, top cuts of beef and brought in experienced chefs to work the kitchen. All of it, from the dancers’ curves to top-shelf liquor to improved interior design, Markovitz says, is designed with the customer in mind.

Strip clubs provide a decidedly specific type of escapism for visitors. Yes, it’s part voyeurism and erotica. It’s hard not to be when you’re two feet away from a pair of D cups on a 23-year-old blond who has no skin pores. For Markovitz, his calling card in this industry is part of a subtler nuance.

“The business we are in, we have great food and a great environment, but you have to have good-looking girls who are personable,” he says. “The bottom line? You get a guy who works in an office building, he has his cubicle and he’s making a good living. Maybe he has a couple of kids at home. He’s among a hundred guys at his company. He’s just a number there.

“He comes here a couple days of week, has a couple of drinks and it’s like ‘Hey John, how’s it going?’ A girl comes by, we know what he drinks; here’s a Grey Goose. The manager comes up and says hello. He’s appreciated. We feel he’s more than just a customer. We provide a fantasy, yes, but we want to provide to him that we feel he is important. Guy has a rough day; he comes to the Penthouse, has a couple of drinks and chills out. It’s stress management. I need to get some doctors to write prescriptions for this!”

Looking down the barrel

When Markovitz was 26 and running The Booby Trap, he discovered one night that a dancer was performing oral favors on a customer in a back room. He says she was fired on the spot. Hours later, at closing time, she returned and began creating a ruckus in the parking lot. When Markovitz stepped outside, she shot him twice in his chest. One .38-caliber bullet tore through his liver; the other collapsed a lung. He recovered and was back running the club in a matter of months.

In 1997 inside of the Flight Club, Markovitz says a couple of off-duty Inkster cops had become drunk and unruly. Bouncers escorted them outside, where guns were drawn and the carrying-on continued. Again, stepping outside to check on the bouncers who were breaking everything up, Markovitz was shot again, this time by a .40-caliber Glock, and this time in the head. This recovery wasn’t so swift. It took a year before his face was even close to being put back together, thanks to more than a half-dozen surgeries, plastic and otherwise.

A lot of people, if they’re even lucky to be alive, never come back from something like that. The emotional tar pit one finds themselves in is as troubling as the physical trauma. Markovitz says he had to dig deep.

“When you’re down and you have 10 doctors over you and tubes sticking out, it’s a nightmare,” he says. “At first, you want to survive and stay alive. The challenges come mentally when you start feeling better. I should just say that I appreciate the fact that I survived this, but then you get mad and bitter. The challenge is to keep it in check. I’m not maimed, or disfigured.

“What carries me through the day is that, through both shootings, I had a feeling that I was unlucky, yet lucky that I came out alive. Others have been paralyzed, but I’m rocking. Mentally, you’re kind of fucked up for a while, but I looked at it as more of a challenge. The man upstairs, I would think, says ‘I got certain guys down here I want to challenge. I know they’re strong enough to make it.'”

City politics

Amid his accomplishments in the industry, and the adversity and setbacks he has encountered, Markovitz can say he’s done something not a lot of people can say: He’s sipped Hennessey with former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young.

Markovitz said the two had a good relationship, and that he had little problems with police during Young’s administration.

“He once told me, ‘as long as you don’t bring these bars downtown, I’m not going to run you out. Hey, we know these guys in town for conventions aren’t here for the ballet,'” says Markovitz of his conversations with Hizzoner. “He was blunt and to the point. We had no problems.”

Since then, Markovitz says he has made it a point to sit down with each mayor, including Dennis Archer (“he would say one thing and do another”) and Kwame Kilpatrick.

“The city suffered under Kwame,” Markovitz says of the former mayor, who is currently serving a five-year prison term. Laughing, Markovitz says, “He was obviously busy with a lot of other stuff.”

While maintaining relationships with city leaders, he’s also had the morality police trying to shut him down. People are quick to call strip clubs seedy and immoral. Area religious leaders and those interested in rights of women have made it clear that they think his is a business of exploitation. Markovitz says people can think whatever they want.

“If you close 40 titty bars, you put 7,500 to 10,000 people out of work,” he says. “What about the beer distributors, the meat guys? I don’t get it. If you close every adult club, are the security bars going to come off the doors and windows on the homes in the neighborhoods?”

And then there are political games topless dance operators have to play with those in power. It seems that the language in strip club ordinances change from one municipality to the next. While Markovitz doesn’t speak of former city officials accused of shaking down business owners to get permits pulled or to encourage necessary yes-votes from elected officials, he has seen the same processes contradicted time and again.

“In Detroit it took me two years and a court order to get a liquor license transferred,” he says. “We opened a Penthouse in Philadelphia. It took 30 days to get a transfer and we got a letter from the city welcoming us. There was no harassment and no problems with enforcement. I don’t get it.”

Published previously by Real Detroit Weekly Magazine.

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