No one died, though it may have seemed so, as the media for the masses last week wrote or broadcast obituaries for one of West Michigan's oldest retailers — even going so far as to republish the founder's obituary. The real obituary, however, was for portions of 28th Street, long holding the Michigan record as the corridor with the highest grossing sales revenue.
The late Hyman Berkowitz has been immortalized in West Michigan business having founded Rogers Department Store 50 years ago — and for his acumen in expanding that business. He was proud to name his grandson Daniel Hurwitz as his replacement in the family business upon retirement in 1998, and rightfully so. Hurwitz has managed the family business with all the acumen his grandfather modeled. His move to open a more "boutique" high-end store, Daniel's, at Terrazzo Fine Shops along East Paris Avenue was strategic, and successful. He plans more of the same — expansions in other locations made with greater ease with the cutting of the unprofitable store. The action was no different than that of any business owner, whether engaged in manufacturing or the service sector.
There is no "death" in this transition, but another story about the manner in which "old" is evolving to "new" in this millennium.
Rogers was an icon, in its time drawing "big and tall men" from throughout the state and beyond. Its service to the community has been unequalled among retail clothiers. Daniel's has continued that tradition, and in all likelihood so, too, will its new sister stores.
Wyoming-Kentwood Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO John Crawford immediately began making lemonade last week, noting that between Rogers Department Store and Rogers Plaza, Wyoming has enough retail space to rival Woodland or RiverTown, and "communities everywhere would kill to have a business district like 28th Street."
A "destination" center (a la the national chain store shopping centers) would certainly assist Wyoming's efforts in its pursuit of defining its downtown. City and business leaders must also consider the impact of the South Beltline and its draw of traffic away from those blocks. One of the original fears by those opposed to the South Belt construction was that it would further cripple the region with additional suburban sprawl and create a climate of disintegration along 28th Street, much like what happened to Division Avenue as residents were first drawn out of the urban area to the 'burbs in the '50s and '60s — when Berkowitz first opened Rogers amid new subdivisions.
Grand Rapids Business Journal this week reports on the number of new retail establishments now seeding the downtown. The 25-year-old owners of the coming Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwich Shop say they have been impressed with the city in subsequent visits over the past several years and "want to be part of the revitalization of downtown, and specifically the center corridor."