Eastown fertile soil for new business

July 5, 2011
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The owners of The Funky Buddha Yoga Hothouse pledged to keep an open mind when they were scouting business locations for what they were sure would be a popular offering for the growing yoga and fitness craze in West Michigan.

Six months later, they were proven right on both counts.

“When we were opening, we looked everywhere from East Grand Rapids to downtown Grand Rapids. This location was a natural fit for us,” said Chris Reinbold of The Funky Buddha’s digs at 1331 Lake Drive SE in the Eastown Business District. He and wife Kerri opened their doors in the Boland Building last December. Thirty classes a week and 3,000 students later, the studio is ready to expand its space and will re-open in early July with an additional 1,400 square feet, for a total of 3,400 square feet. The Reinbolds also hired five additional teachers and four full-time and five part-time staff.

Small business success stories seem to be spreading in the Eastown Business District. From 2007-2009, the area saw many businesses open and close their doors due to the dip in the economy. However, the appearance of dozens of successful fledgling entrepreneurs leads Jaye Van Lenten, president of the Eastown Business Association, to believe new small businesses in Eastown are sustainable and thriving once more.

“There are several significant development opportunities in Eastown. That has not always been the case,” said Van Lenten. The five-story Kingsley Building, which has been closed for commercial use since 1954, is being redeveloped and leased by Bazzani Associates, breathing new excitement and opportunity into the historic building.

Live, Work, Play has been Eastown’s motto in developing the area. Eastown is one of the four business districts and five neighborhoods that collectively comprise Uptown.

“Although all function independently, they work collaboratively,” said Van Lenten. Events such as Shop Hop and a concierge tour create new exposure to all of Uptown in a collaborative effort between the districts.

Within Eastown, collaboration between the Eastown Business Association and Eastown Community Association has been a key to the area’s success.

“We’re not just looking out for businesses,” said Ryan Ogle, owner of Blue House Properties and vice president of the business association. “In everything we do here, we take into consideration the residents and the community.”

An ongoing endeavor to improve the streetscape has led to planting new trees and expanding infrastructure such as bike racks and bus stop benches to encourage foot traffic. Long-term goals include getting more public transportation to the area, he said.

“Right now, Eastown is one of the biggest full-service neighborhoods in Grand Rapids, and there is still room to add,” said Ogle. One of the most recent renovations is the former Fifth Third Bank that is now home to Eastown Veterinary Clinic. After less than a month in business, Dr. Lynn Happel already has seen the importance of relationships in the business district.

“I didn’t realize how strong it was until I got here and opened my doors,” said Happel. “There is a huge ‘buy local, support local’ initiative.”

Eastown provides small businesses the opportunity to grow in an area that isn’t dominated by corporations and chain stores. The Reinbolds say many people outside the community may not be aware of the quality, professional businesses that populate Eastown.

Chris Reinbold said many Eastown business owners stopped by The Funky Buddha when it opened and extended good wishes to him and his wife.

“They’ve seen the ups and downs of this neighborhood,” he said. “One success does something for everyone.”

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