Arts & Entertainment, Retail, and Small Business & Startups

Creston gallery owner embraces creativity of all stripes

Kendall art grad opens art retail boutique, community education space.

December 2, 2016
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Lions & Rabbit
Hannah Grohman’s Lions & Rabbits has a retail component but also offers classes for adults and children who are interested in learning more about art. Photo by Michael Buck

Hannah Grohman has two missions in her new business: To provide space for art to be created and sold and to educate creative types of all stripes.

Her gallery, retail and community space, Lions & Rabbits, 1264 Plainfield Ave. NE, had its grand opening Oct. 13 and has been actively open for business since Oct. 24.

“I always wanted to open a retail boutique, so it was about really great timing,” Grohman said. “My goal was to create a space that’s conducive to learning, a space where (artists) can do their work and a place where people can hang their work that’s not as stuffy as a gallery.”

Starting the week of Nov. 13, Grohman and her group of 10 teachers began offering 15 classes, including yoga, embroidery, painting, clay, recycled quilt making, classes for parents on how to make art with your children and art-making classes for kids. During the holiday season, she intends to add “pop-ups — work stations where you can make wrapping paper, ornaments, things like that.”

Another feature of the store is a play area for children to use when their parents come in for classes. Grohman said she also uses it for her daughter, who goes to school three days per week and comes to the store the other days.

The genesis of Grohman’s idea for the space dates back to when her friend, Shawn MacCartey, senior vice president of account management at supply chain operator Geodis, purchased the former St. Vincent DePaul’s store in the Creston neighborhood as a hobby and was considering what to do with it.

MacCartey, who was a regular at the Winchester gastropub where Grohman used to work, was a fan of Grohman’s art and bought the first piece she ever sold.

Grohman said he was blunt with her after hearing she wasn’t selling her other work.

“He was like, ‘Why aren’t you selling your work? Do you want to work in a bar for the rest of your life?’”

She pondered it and, eventually, quit her job at the Winchester.

While MacCartey briefly considered opening a bar in the vacant storefront and asked Grohman if she would manage it, the two instead came to an agreement for Grohman to lease the space to open Lions & Rabbits.

“I knew Hannah was kind of at a crossroads in her life: She was going to grad school (for social work) but ended up deciding to take some time off,” MacCartey said. “I’ve always loved her energy, so I said, ‘Why don’t you open up an art gallery in the space?’ From there, she just took off.”

Grohman, who has a bachelor’s degree in art education from Kendall College, said she wants her store to be wide open to anyone who wishes to explore their creativity.

“In my mind, I think that if you are doing something that is taking creativity and making something, that is art,” she said. “Yoga is taking the art of meditation and opening a creative pathway. There’s a lot of people who have money to buy paintings and people who have money to buy smaller things. (This place) is making the space for people to buy all things.”

The gallery features 55 artists of all different styles, mediums and backgrounds, which Grohman said she loves.

“I met most of them through the Winchester,” Grohman said. “Everyone has such different mindsets. Type A, Type B, etc. It’s challenging at times, but it’s also awesome because you get to talk to so many kinds of artists from different backgrounds. Some days, you talk to someone who works at the UICA, and the next day, you’re talking to a math teacher. It’s always a roller coaster.”

The gallery’s three yoga teachers are Molly Duff, Adam Hutchins and Kate Lawrence. Grohman said Duff, who studied yoga under a guru in Costa Rica, hopes to add natural medicine and essential oils classes in the future, in addition to her yoga classes.

While Grohman, who funded Lions & Rabbits from her savings, has artists and teachers and signs consignment agreements with all her artists (“If you sell X amount, you will get X amount, and I get the rest”), she does not technically have employees.

She does, however, have a pro bono social media coordinator, Kenny Smith, and a volunteer graphic designer, Kyle DeGroff, who does design work for Barfly Ventures, as well.

When it came to fixing up the storefront, MacCartey and Grohman agreed it was quite the project, from tearing out and replacing the floors to replastering the walls, reconstructing the ceiling and repainting everything.

“Once we’d signed on, (MacCartey) did the build-out, and my fiancé and I did all the painting, the caulking, etc. We have a couple other friends who donated, but that’s about it,” Grohman said.

MacCartey sees Grohman’s venture as a vital part of the resurgence of the Creston business district.

“I think Hannah’s not just utilizing the space for retail; she wants to do stuff for the schools and community, and all of that is positive for the rejuvenation of the Creston area. She’s got the health side with yoga, she’s working with kids and she’s working with the school system,” he said.

Grohman said while she was not initially drawn to opening a place in the Creston neighborhood, the idea grew on her.

“Two years ago, (Creston) was not nice,” she said. “I live in Alger Heights, and after a while, I came back here and said, ‘Oh my gosh; there is life here.’”

She cites the addition of places like Creston Brewery, Swanky’s Pizza, Brighton Graye’s Bistro, Brambles Custom Woodwork and Design and bike shop Central District Cyclery, as well as the neighborhood staples that existed before, such as Graydon’s Crossing, the Garage Bar and the Choo Choo Grill.

For the first two weeks of business, Grohman said visits to Lions & Rabbits have been inconsistent.

“It’s been weird, because we had 450 people for our opening, then about 40 to 50 people for yoga classes, and then one day, we had 15 people come in and other days none,” she said. “It’s the way that business startups go. All good things come in time. Having classes and events will help bring people in.”

Grohman said she is proud of the fact Lions & Rabbits is the first art center in the neighborhood.

“I always tell people Creston’s going to be the new Eastown of Grand Rapids,” she said. “It’s going to be an Eastown vibe, like a Rebel Reclaimed, where people buy handmade gifts. There’s nothing like it over here. It will be great for the art world and Grand Rapids in general.”

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