ArtPrize best event downtown has ever had

October 8, 2010
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According to Grand Valley State University, Experience Grand Rapids and the Downtown Development Authority, the economic impact of last year’s inaugural ArtPrize was estimated at $7 million. Now that the second art competition has come to a close, the trio plans to release another impact study soon. But if anecdotal evidence counts for anything, it’s almost certain the study’s estimate will top last year’s.

“It’s been wonderful. Last year, it was great. This year made last year look non-existent. Our sales numbers are through the roof, compared to last year,” said Doug Bickel, manager of Groskopf’s Luggage & Gifts at 112 Monroe Center NW.

Bickel said nearly perfect weather, anticipation of the second event following the unmitigated success of the first one, and a longer ArtPrize — which ran three weekends this year instead of two — all contributed to sales numbers that set a record at Groskopf’s for this time of the year.

“Retail stores live and die at Christmastime, for the most part. We had more traffic, more people coming through the door than we have at Christmastime. Now, we’ll do more business, on the whole, at Christmastime than we’ve done, but we won’t get the exposure that we got during this. And that exposure is huge because you don’t know how many more people will come back later and spend money next time,” said Bickel. “ArtPrize is the best event downtown has ever had.”

The arts competition also turned into a holiday for Bohemia Too at 10 Weston St. SE. The store wasn’t a venue last year but became one this year. Store Manager Lauren Mullen said, “ArtPrize is our new Christmas.”

Mullen said she couldn’t keep inventory on the shelves and had to reorder merchandise every day, reordering scarves five times. She also added three new lines during the event.

Emily Stavrou Schaefer, who coordinates promotions for Schuler Books & Music, said of the store’s location at 86 Monroe Center NW: “The impact that ArtPrize has had on our downtown location has been phenomenal. Even in comparison to last year, we have doubled the amount of people coming through our doors. Our suburban locations have also had a little piece of the action. We sold ArtPrize merchandise at the 28th Street and Alpine Avenue stores successfully this year.”

Stavrou Schaefer told the Business Journal that Grand Rapids has benefitted greatly from the annual event; she predicted that the visibility of downtown is going to grow rapidly because of ArtPrize.

“We overhear people saying, ‘I never go downtown,’ and we are happy to have such a new group of people finding enjoyment in our downtown area,” she said.

Dennis Moosbrugger, co-owner of Bar Divani at 15 Ionia Ave. SW, said his sales were flat and perhaps even a bit slower during the event’s first week but rose the second week. He also noted that there were three more restaurants open during this year’s event that weren’t last year, and the additional eating places may have split the sales pie into smaller pieces.

Moosbrugger is president of the Arena District, a coalition of 18 downtown restaurants and taverns. The group is meeting this week, and he said members will discuss then how much business ArtPrize sent their way. Several preliminary reports from restaurants show that business was pretty good.

Dan Gendler, president of San Chez Bistro at 38 W. Fulton St., said the restaurant had its busiest day ever during ArtPrize’s first weekend. Dan Verhil, who owns the Cottage Bar at 18 LaGrave Ave. SE and One Trick Pony at 136 E. Fulton St., said both restaurants were seriously busy once the arts competition started. Brad Teachout, general manager of Bistro Bella Vita at 44 Grandville Ave. SW, and Erin Lindsey, sales manager of McFadden’s Restaurant & Saloon at 58 Ionia Ave. SW, said the same.

Mark Sellers, who owns HopCat at 25 Ionia Ave. SW with his wife, Michele, said sales during the first two weeks of ArtPrize were 25 percent higher than HopCat’s previous two-week record — set during the inaugural competition last year. “Rick DeVos, we love you,” said Sellers of the ArtPrize founder.

Downtown Alliance Executive Director Sharon Evoy expressed the same sentiment. “Downtown Grand Rapids loves ArtPrize. It brings people into the downtown and it features art and culture — things that downtown is very proud of hosting,” she said. “I don’t know how to adequately describe this year. Epic? Fabulous? Inspiring? Yes, yes and yes. A big, big thanks to Rick DeVos and his staff for creating this amazing thing called ArtPrize.”

Evoy said downtown business owners eagerly got on board by serving as venues, extending their hours of operations, holding special events related to the competition and offering discounts to those who attended. “They had some very long days, which they were grateful for. Many had planned for ArtPrize for months. They were ready and eager for ArtPrize and they embraced it,” she said.

One retailer ready and eager for ArtPrize’s second coming was the Grand Central Market & Deli at 57 Monroe Center NW. Co-owner Christina Klunder said her store has been very busy and has found a lot of new customers by being a venue.

Chuni Raniga, owner of Superior Watch Repair at 116 Monroe Center NW, said he had repeat customers during the event, and his sales of watches and souvenirs were 25 percent higher this year than last.

Curtis Gray of Premiere Skateboarding, 14 Weston St. SE, said the new business gained a lot of exposure during the event, as did two other new downtown businesses. Nikki Dykstra, who owns woman’s clothing store Lee & Birch at 50 Louis Ave. NW, said her shop had consistent traffic and steady sales during the event. Craft Revival, a custom jewelry store owned by Brandon and Jayson Craft at 16 Ionia Ave. SW, had two large diamond sales for anniversaries. Lee & Birch and Craft Revival opened shortly before ArtPrize began.

Anne Marie Bessette, a retail specialist with the Downtown Development Authority, said the Heartside Community Artists Gallery opened during the ArtPrize weekends and sold some pieces.

The new retail store opened by Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts had a steady flow of customers, she said. “They had unique ArtPrize souvenirs such as limited edition T-shirts, ceramics and art dolls that were produced by students under the direction of professional artists, with all proceeds going to support the Artworks program. Since ArtPrize began this year, UICA has sold 50 memberships, with 30 going to new members,” said Bessette.

“I heard from retailers that one of the biggest benefits is the exposure ArtPrize brought them — not only from people out-of-state but especially people here locally. It is exciting to have people discovering the great stores and restaurants that we have downtown,” she said.

The Grand Rapids Art Museum hosted the works of 43 artists, of whom three were in the top 10. Kerri VanderHoff, GRAM marketing and public relations director, reported that 127,000 attended the museum to view the art through last Wednesday. She said sales at the museum store for the event’s first weekend were up by 122 percent from the same period last year.

“It was wonderful to be a part of this community-wide event. Many of the artists participating at GRAM were on-site during ArtPrize and available to talk with the visitors about their work, their inspiration, their process and more,” said VanderHoff.

“With so many visitors, many were surely introduced to the art museum for the first time. We hope they enjoyed the experience and come back to discover the diverse programs and engage further with the permanent collection and special exhibitions at the Art Museum year round.”

SMG Assistant General Manager of DeVos Place Eddie Tadlock said roughly 10,000 people strolled through the vast convention center at peak times. The building hosted works from 52 artists; five placed in the top 100 vote getters, with one reaching the final 10.

DeVos Place was also the location for the very first Art Fair, a three-day event that had 45 of the artists selling some of their works. Tadlock said traffic was slow on the first day, but he estimated that more than 7,000 attended on the second day and at least 6,000 came on the sale’s final day. “So we considered it successful. Some sold pieces, while others didn’t,” he said.

By the numbers, the second ArtPrize had 192 venues, 1,713 artists, $449,000 in prize money, and perhaps an economic impact that tops the first event’s $7 million. But as Evoy pointed out, the arts competition is much more than its numbers.

“The impact of having ArtPrize here is not only the obvious benefit of having people downtown. This event is very much a West Michigan event. It speaks to the creativity of this area, to our ‘can do’ attitude and to the richness of our art and cultural offerings,” she said.

“It is a very positive event. It shows what people can accomplish when they try. We are the only city in the world that has ArtPrize … and I think there is something quite appropriate about that.”

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