Inside Track: New CEO is in awe of what Downtown Market will offer
Mimi Fritz fondly remembers the excitement of visiting the Eastern Market in Detroit as a child.
Nearly three months ago to the date, Fritz was chosen to be the first president and CEO of the fledgling Downtown Market being built on Ionia Avenue SE in Grand Rapids.
The market’s board of directors, a group put together by the Downtown Development Authority and Grand Action Committee, selected her to get the start-up off the ground and steer it in a successful direction.
The announcement most likely made her feel like a kid who just caught a glimpse of a shiny new bike under the Christmas tree.
Fritz is a self-proclaimed supporter of buying local and proud of being an unrepentant foodie, and she holds a special place in her heart for what an urban market can offer.
“It has a big-city feel and it’s a place to go where you can purchase and shop for unbelievable, high-quality products that are all locally grown, locally produced. I remember when I was younger and going to markets like this — not exactly what the Downtown Market is going to be — and just being in awe,” she said.
When Fritz was about 10 years old and living on the southeast side of the state, she went to the Eastern Market in Detroit and fondly remembers those visits.
“I’d love to go back and see what it has become today because I’m imagining it is bigger and better than ever before. So from that aspect, I think the new market it extremely appealing to me,” she said.
“It’s a tremendous amount of work, but we have had a great time behind the project. That includes everyone involved, from those who came up with the idea, raised the funds and are doing the actual construction. And it will include the folks that are going to be a part of the market when it opens,” she said.
Fritz considers her current position as one of two highlights in her marketing career. The other highlight came earlier and clearly led to where she is today: Fritz was chosen to direct activities at both the Downtown Holland Principal Shopping District and Holland Farmers Market. Before she landed that position, she had owned a small marketing firm for roughly 15 years and operated it in Michigan and Illinois. The position with the city of Holland was quite a change.
“That took me out of the private ownership world and put me more into the government-public sector world that was completely different,” she said of that assignment in her hometown. “What that really did is it took the direction I was headed in and completely altered it.”
The change not only altered her career but also her life. While Fritz ran her firm, she also was a single mother of three daughters.
“To work for myself and (raise) my three young daughters by myself was not easy,” she said with a laugh. “(The Holland position) kind of gave me a personal break, as well.”
Today, her oldest daughter, Erin, is 24. She is working on getting into the University of Chicago to study neuroscience. Cait is 21 and in her final year at Grand Valley State University studying geography and planning; she hopes to attend grad school in Chicago next fall. Megan is 19 and in her second year at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. She is focusing on baking and pastry and working toward a Bachelor of Science degree in food service management.
“Obviously, three different children with three different career directions,” she said. “I love that about my daughters. I have always told them the best way to live their lives is to live it doing something they love to do — that we only get one life to live and you might as well live it to the best and the fullest.”
Fritz attended Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. She started out in computer science but ended up earning her degree in photography with a minor in graphic design. She said she really liked the concept of studying computer science and tackling the language courses of Fortran and Cobalt. She also liked the practicality the field offered and the direction it was going at the time. But she also found she really wasn’t enjoying it all that much and didn’t feel she wanted to make it her life’s work.
The bottom line was that Fritz was more artsy than nerdy.
“I did a lot of soul searching and thinking,” she said about continuing in a computer science curriculum. “Ever since I was young, I dabbled in creativity and just loved the arts. So I decided to pursue a career in the arts, and I did two different things: photography and graphic design. And graphic design was probably the one that was more of a realistic career choice. I minored in that and majored in photography,” she said.
After graduating from Bradley, Fritz jumped into the graphic design field. Her degree in photography contributed to her work as it gave her the knowledge and a solid visual aspect of what she wanted to accomplish, she said. Also, the photography degree made it easier for her to work with the professional photographers she contracted with for her designs.
Besides living in Holland and Peoria, Fritz has resided in Ann Arbor, a couple of Chicago suburbs and San Diego. Fritz said she really doesn’t have a favorite locale among the places she has lived, saying all have played a role in her life and career. But she does feel that her time spent in Ann Arbor as a youngster helped to shape her personality and thought process more than the others.
“There I was exposed to people from all over the world — all different types of cultures and backgrounds — and I lived right in the midst of it. And with me coming from Holland, you can imagine that was quite a culture shock to me. But it did open my eyes to the world and it helped to shape and form what I think and what I’ve been able to do in my profession and my career,” she said.
Despite all the places she has lived, Fritz keeps returning to West Michigan. When asked why, she said, “I guess because it’s home.” Although she now works in downtown Grand Rapids, she still lives in Holland. She is planning to move here, though, possibly sometime after the market opens next summer. That will involve selling her home in Holland.
“I’m holding out a while to see what the market does. It’s improving, which is wonderful.”
Fritz is a voracious reader, spending several hours each day at it. She also is taking Spanish lessons to become bilingual. She runs in her spare time and made her debut in the Fifth Third River Bank Run last spring. Her reaction to running that marathon was typical of more than a few first-timers.
“I’m never doing that again,” she said with a hearty laugh.
Besides moving to Grand Rapids, Fritz has a few more things she wants to do in her immediate future. She sees lots of work, learning, education and fun ahead in both her personal and professional lives.
As for the Downtown Market, she said, “I want to be moving forward, building the programs, opening the facility and paying the bills.”