"They taught you how to cook, how to sew, told you that you can be a better person. And now we don't have recreation centers and we don't have co-op anymore. There's nowhere for the children to go."
She trains neighborhood kids as cashiers, cooks or managers. A handful of them have passed through her shop so far. She's trying to get more for this summer.
"I think people criticize young people too much and then they don't offer them anything as an alternative," she said. "Somebody offered me an alternative and said, 'Hey, come in here, I'm going to teach you something.' That's what they did. That's what I know. And I want to help them become more than what they think they can become, just open up their world a little more."
Community garden, too As winter melted away, Alston wanted to create a community garden behind the shop, where raised beds could provide vegetables and herbs and broaden the shop's purpose even more.
And on the spring day she set out to build it, a bunch of the neighbors showed up to help.
They gathered out back, many with their children, next to piles of salvaged wood pallets, and plastic buckets full of yard dirt, and seedlings sprouting in little containers, and got to work building a garden that won't just supply the shop, but is also meant to teach the neighborhood kids what actual food is.
"They don't know where food comes from and they don't know what real food looks like," she said. "They have no idea how a tomato tastes. They have no idea how a cucumber really smells."
It's been two years since she opened, and for the most part McNichols is still McNichols. There's been no major transformation, no surge of development.
Yet there are little signs that something's different. Some long-absent building owners have taken the boards down from their storefront windows, and are doing renovations, including in a building across the street. A new cake shop opened a few blocks away. And someone told Alston that just down the road, someone's opening another tea shop.
They're little but encouraging signs that people are beginning to agree this road can come alive again, like it was when she grew up.
"It's been kind of left on its own, but that's because nobody's doing anything about it," she said, as the garden was built up around her.
"Detroit is giving out money to do different things, but for this area, for whatever reason, nobody's invested in it. So we have to invest in it ourselves." _____________________
Just A Bit Eclectic tea shop 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 1-5 p.m. Saturday 19015 W. McNichols Detroit The Knitty Gritty, One Needle Two Needle, Knitting and Crochet group meets 6:30-8:30 p.m. Friday at the shop. justabiteclectic.com