GR Night Moves

December 3, 2007
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They’ve been talking about the “Bob Seger guy” since summer, and now there is clarification. That would be Grammy winner Robyn Robins, former producer for Seger’s Silver Bullet Band. The rumor was that Robins had opened a studio in downtown Grand Rapids, but apparently that’s only temporary.

So say the band members of Ensemble Al-Asdeka who worked with Robins on their about-to-be-released CD. Ensemble Al-Asdeka member Kathy Roberts said Robins sent the CD master “off to the manufacturer last week,” also indicating Robins’ studio is “temporarily located here in GR.”

Community Media Center’s WYCE radio Music Director Pete Bruinsma says the Ensemble group includes “some really solid GR musicians.” And there have been other Robins sightings: Bruinsma said members of local Celtic band Craic Wisely “were very excited to be talking to (Robins)” and so, too, have local singer/songwriters William Norman Edwards and Ralston Bowles.

Roberts describes her group as Middle Eastern folk music with a rock/jazz twist. “We sound sort of like Rodrigo y Gabriela for belly dancers.” Check it out at or

  • After decades of sinking its teeth into downtown grime, the Downtown Development Authority may try taking a bite out of crime this month. The board that usually concentrates its spending on improved and cleaner buildings, sidewalks and streets in the central business district just may hand some money over to a local anti-crime campaign in a week or so.

DDA Vice Chairman and County Commissioner Paul Mayhue would like the board to pay for billboard ads within the district that carry the message, “Report the crime, it’s not snitching.” The county’s Black Elected Officials organization came up with the slogan and the campaign, an effort the group hopes will eventually result in fewer drive-by shootings, muggings and purse snatchings.

The ads are already up and running in other parts of the city. Mayhue told the board that he has raised $1,400 from residents and business owners to pay for the billboards and that the campaign’s slogan is aimed at young adults. Because people that age spend time in the downtown entertainment district, he said it would be a good idea to expose those folks to the campaign’s message while they’re having fun in the district.

“People need to know that reporting a crime isn’t snitching,” said Mayhue.

When DDA member and Mayor George Heartwell asked Mayhue what he was asking for, Mayhue said, “I just brought it up, and maybe we can figure out what the ‘ask’ is.”

And it looks like that’s what they’re going to do. DDA Chairwoman Kayem Dunn told Mayhue to bring more info with him so the board could discuss the matter further at its next meeting on Dec. 12.

  • When does being second in line mean you get served first? When you’re dealing with the Michigan Liquor Control Commission and you’ve applied for a new downtown liquor license. Bernie Kersten and his crew at Big O’s Café at 80 Ottawa Ave. NW were the first to apply for the license and the first to be approved by the DDA and City Commission last June. Then Kevin Ritz and his group at Ritz Koney Island at 64 Ionia Ave. SW applied in August and got clearance from both boards.

Well, Kevin tells us that his restaurant began serving on Thanksgiving Eve, appropriately enough, as the beer and wine flowed that evening, which became what he called the largest bar night of the year. “We were extremely busy until we closed,” he said in a release. “Our sales were well over last year, thus showing how important the DDA-approved license was to the future success of our restaurant.”

That’s good news for us, too. But what about Bernie? The state sent his application back to the city because it was lacking a suite number in the address. How suite is that? So city commissioners did the right thing last week and approved Big O’s application — for the second time. Just to make sure you don’t get lost when you’re heading to Big O’s — which, by the way, provided free meals on Thanksgiving — it’s in Suite 001.

  • Steelcase Foundation is providing a “generous” grant to fund a new Local First initiative, according to Executive Director Elissa Sangalli. The group will begin surveying locally owned businesses next week to determine the community economic impact of local vs. non-locally owned businesses, and where and how the business revenues are reinvested in the community. Sangalli said it is the third but most comprehensive study completed in the country. San Francisco and Andersonville, a Chicago suburb, completed studies in 2007 and 2004, respectively.

The Local First mission is to “encourage the development of a vibrant, sustainable West Michigan economy by promoting local business ownership, social equity and environmental kinship through education, support and collaboration.” More than 268 local businesses are now members of the organization, including a growing number in Ottawa and Muskegon counties. The economic survey, however, will be limited to locally owned businesses in Kent County. A portion of the grant also will be used for consumer education.

  • Peter C. Cook is a man who needs no introduction in most circles. But his legacy will continue for future generations who will have yet another way to understand his significant contributions to this area. “Sharing the Wealth: The Biography of a Cheerful Giver” documents Cook’s “transformation from blue-collar upbringing to white-collar success as one of the leaders in America’s import automotive business.”

That’s just one description of the biography written by Holland author Michael Lozon, who transcribed dozens of sit-down discussions with Cook into a book that hit the streets last week. It’s available for purchase at Baker Book House stores in Kentwood and Holland. Cook’s portion of the proceeds for the book will, per his form, be donated to the Cook Charitable Foundation for reinvestment in the community.

Lozon has made a name for himself capturing that interesting reality for corporations in West Michigan. In addition to the Cook book, Lozon has written six corporate histories and one local history book. He uses the same skills and methods to record history and events as he used in journalism — but with more depth.

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