Focus, Lakeshore, and Real Estate

Armory’s flexible space draws an eclectic crowd

Venue is home to art center, brewer, coffee shop, eatery and more.

October 9, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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Grand Haven Armory
Jim Anderson revived the former Grand Haven Armory with an eye toward making it a community gathering spot. Photo by Michael Buck

The death of an important person can make people reevaluate their lives.

When Jim Anderson lost Janet, his wife of 24 years, last October, he pulled back and took a look at his life. His two teenage daughters became his focal point.

“When you go through a loss like that, you realize nothing really matters like it used to,” Anderson said. “Right now, my girls are all that matter to me.”

With insurance money, Anderson decided to make an impact on his daughters’ lives and the community around them. He talked with his financial advisor and found an opportunity at the Grand Haven Armory, 17 S. Second St., where 4,400 square feet had sat empty for three years.

He decided to use the space to launch a business related to his daughters’ interests in arts and writing: Armory Arts Center.

“I’ve always been a make-an-impact-on-lives type of person. It was either put the money in the market and let it do whatever, or we could do something like this and have … people getting together and making life happen.”

The armory opportunity was the result of conversations with Ben Tabor, co-owner of Grand Armory Brewing, and Andrew Boyd, co-owner of coffee roaster Aldea Coffee, who also had interest in the space.

Tabor had been homebrewing for several years and wanted to make a career out of beer. At the same time, he thought about having both a coffee and beer venue in conjunction with Aldea Coffee.

The brewery, however, had used nearly all its capital starting up a brewing facility near the Grand Haven airport. So Anderson bought the armory and now leases space in it to Grand Armory Brewing. Concession agreements allow Aldea and Righteous BBQ to legally operate in the same space as the alcohol business.

Anderson didn’t disclose the purchase amount of the armory, but said since the space was vacant and bank-owned, the deal was “very advantageous.”

“My financial guy just said, ‘You buy it and let Ben do what he does best: beer,’” Anderson said.

Armory Arts Center occupies the upper loft part of the space, and Anderson also rents out various rooms upstairs to businesses and artists in need of space.

The shared space is one that works well, especially for four businesses in their infancy. Aldea Coffee has been around since 2009 as a roaster, but never had a retail location. Righteous BBQ is a spin-off location of Righteous Cuisine in downtown Grand Haven. Grand Armory Brewing is just now beginning to produce its own beer after contracting for the first several months of operation.

“This has been such a supportive environment,” Boyd said of the businesses, which were under a “soft opening” period until a grand opening last Thursday.

“We all work together really well — and look at how we can push and help each other. We get so much drive and energy to where, if we were doing this on our own, it’d be a little more scary.”

The collaboration isn’t only about sharing a space: Aldea’s coffee has been used in Grand Armory’s beer. Both beer and coffee will be used in barbecue recipes. Armory Arts Center hosts Brushes and Brew classes.

All four businesses have an “eclectic, romantic and soft feel,” Anderson said.

The delayed opening period has allowed the businesses to find their groove, Boyd said. Initially, the coffee shop opened with just pour-over coffees, before moving into espresso drinks. Other chocolate, vanilla and caramel drinks just became available, and the ingredients are all made from scratch.

Grand Armory Brewing’s production equipment delivery was delayed, so it had been relying on the friendly breweries nearby to allow for small-batch production.

“It’s unraveled slowly and carefully,” Boyd said.

With coffee served up in the morning and afternoon, and beer and barbecue taking over in the afternoon and evening, Anderson is glad there is always some chatter going on in the venue.

The arts center also has seen the use of the space increase. Anderson rents spaces out by the hour, and the spaces are Google Calendar-driven. Many of the renters are artists, but he said he has a friend who does about six divorce consultations a month and another former businessman who just needs to get out of the house a few hours a day.

“The uses aren’t enough time to warrant renting a full-time space,” he said.

Anderson said the options for using the spaces are wide open.

“I’ve never had a business without a business plan, but this is,” he said. “If we did have a business plan, we’d tell these people they don’t fit. Customers are telling us what they want this place to be.”

The location on Washington Avenue in Grand Haven’s downtown is perfect as a local hangout, Anderson said. It’s across from a parking lot with an accessible entrance that will draw people in, he said.

“It’s a beautiful building,” Anderson said of the former armory and one-time YMCA. “It’s already getting that flavor of a non-tourist place. It’s a very nice place to just hang out.”

Boyd said it is a perfect community space.

“We’re very open and approachable,” he said. “We don’t care if you come and work for two to three hours. We want you here the whole day and to utilize the space.

“Coffee, beer, BBQ — take your pick or all three. Have a cup of coffee and get your creative juices going and do an art class.”

Anderson said the businesses weren’t worried about being fully open for this year’s Coast Guard Festival, as many people said they should have been.

“Any business can make it in Grand Haven during the summer,” he said, stressing the local vibe he desires. “We have a slow-growth mentality. We want to be here a long time.”

The location also gives Anderson and his daughters a downtown Grand Haven presence. Following his wife’s death, he said his daughters wanted to make a move from Spring Lake to Grand Haven. He said everything he read advised against making a drastic move too soon.

“This is our place, and all the art and writing opportunities and things coming up on the arts side of it lend well to what they want to do,” he said. “If they were into sports, I would have bought Shoreline Soccer Club, or something like that that fits them.”

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