Small businesses invest millions in city
Annual business awards celebrate and honor that effort.
Eighty-nine very diverse small businesses were highlighted as award nominees last Thursday evening at a celebratory event held at Wealthy Street Theatre and hosted by Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell.
The nominees ranged from such longstanding businesses as Ball Park Floral in the West Fulton Business District and Robbins Lock Shop in Burton Heights to newcomers like Hair Benders in Boston Square and La Huasteca in the Creston district.
“Some people might be surprised when they look at our list of nominees as a whole this year. We saw quite a bit of investment by small, independently owned businesses, as always. But there was notably a big jump this year in corridor investment by restaurants and big-name retailers with a national presence, too,” said Mark Lewis, executive director of Neighborhood Ventures, which provides marketing and additional assistance to the city’s 20 neighborhood business districts.
Those retailers with a national presence include a Family Dollar on Wealthy Street, a Walgreens on Michigan Street, and two Subways, one on South Division Avenue and one on West Fulton Street.
“All told, new investment in Grand Rapids neighborhood business districts was in the tens of millions of dollars over the last 12 months. I think it’s pretty cool that for all the commercial markets where that new development could have been focused, that commitment went right here into the urban core of our city,” said Lewis.
“The selection committee was very excited during our tour to discover some really fine neighborhood projects in 2012,” he added.
Fifteen winners were named at the event, led by brothers Barry and Jackson Van Dyke and their sister, Heather Van Dyke-Titus, who picked up the Gerald R. Helmholdt Grand Award for their Harmony Brewing Co. The trio owns Bear Manor Properties on Wealthy Street.
They opened the neighborhood brew pub in an abandoned liquor store at 1551 Lake Drive SE that had sat empty for the better part of a decade.
“It seems like Jack’s Liquor had been sitting there vacant at the front door of Eastown for way too long. The Van Dyke siblings at Bear Manor had already made a name for themselves over on Wealthy Street with previous projects like Cheetah and Brick Road, so we definitely had high hopes for 1551 Lake Drive SE. They didn’t disappoint, coming up with a new format and site plan that is more like a neighborhood café than traditional bar,” said Lewis.
Harmony distinguishes itself by brewing small batches of what the owners call “well-balanced beers,” such as Jackson’s Joy, Ale to the Chief and Grand Pumpkin Ale. Harmony also offers wood-fired pizzas made from scratch daily.
It’s the second consecutive year the Grand Award, named after the late mayor Gerald Helmholdt who also was a business owner, went to a brewer. Jason Spaulding, owner of Brewery Vivant, captured the honor last year.
Giving the award to Harmony Brewing puts an exclamation point on Grand Rapids being named Beer City USA a few months ago.
“We weren’t sure we wanted to go with yet another microbrewery again this year, after last year’s Grand Award winner. But the truth is, the project at Harmony Brewing Co. is great in so many way that it would be hard not to give them the nod,” said Lewis.
“Harmony Brewing has really immersed itself in the ever-expanding brewing culture in Grand Rapids. And this notable building reuse and new neighborhood favorite is definitely doing its part to make our community Beer City USA,” added Lewis.
The John H. Logie Neighborhood Business Champion Award, named after three-term mayor John Logie who was himself cited as a champion of small business, went to Locus Development. Partners John Green and Andy Winkel have been active in urban development for years now. They have developed sites that have led to new businesses opening their doors downtown, such as Two Beards Restaurant at 38 Commerce SW, and in neighborhoods like East Hills, where Brewery Vivant is located at 925 Cherry St. SE.
Dwelling Place Neighborhood Revitalization Specialist Jenn Schaub was honored with the P. Michael Wanroy Volunteer in Business Award for her efforts, especially in the Heartside Business District.
Eric Albertson won the highly competitive Best New Business Award for his SpeakEZ Lounge at 600 Monroe Ave. NW in the North Monroe Business District. SpeakEZ was one of 22 new businesses that vied for that honor.
The Best Longstanding Business Award went to Tom Duthler for Duthler’s Family Foods at 1226 Madison St. SE.
“Duthler’s Family Foods reminded us, as Best Longstanding Business, that access to basic necessities and good food is paramount to the stability of any neighborhood,” said Lewis.
Other winners included Trillium Haven, 1429 Lake Drive SE, for Best Interior Renovation; Uncle Cheetah’s Soup Shop, 1133 Wealthy St. SE, for Best Neighborhood Restaurant; Wealthy at Charles, 738 Wealthy St. SE, for Best Window Display; and Supermercado La Placita, 2424 S. Division Ave., for Best Exterior Renovation.
“Supermercado La Placita, a landlocked victim of their own ethnic market success, showed us that, when it comes to property redevelopment, even the ‘little guy’ can be creative when it comes to great business expansion projects,” said Lewis of owners Bertha and Rigo Garcia.
U to the Zoo on West Fulton Street won Best Nonprofit Project. U to the Zoo is a development plan for the West Fulton Business District that was recently added to the city’s Master Plan.
Additional winners were the Alger Heights Business District, which runs along Eastern Avenue SE, for Best Business Exterior Maintenance; Fulton Street Farmers Market, 1147 E. Fulton St., for the 2012 Green Award; and San Chez Bistro at 38 W. Fulton St. for Best Promotion.
The Best New Construction Award went to Arnie’s Bakery Kafe at 815 Leonard St. NW. The Fahlen family kept their promise to rebuild the business after a fire took down the popular west-side restaurant a few years ago.
Last but not least, the Sun Title Agency at 1410 Plainfield Ave. NE in the Creston Business District won Best Reuse of a Building. Company co-owners Lawrence Duthler and Thomas Cronkright renovated and then upgraded a century-old building that houses their business.
“The Sun Title Agency put the finishing touches on a great building reuse that tops off a Creston Business District already hopping with development this (past) summer,” said Lewis.
Nineteen of the city’s 20 neighborhood business districts had nominees in the competition. Eastown had the most nominations with 18, followed by Wealthy Street with 10. Both the Heartside and Michigan Street districts had 8 businesses nominated