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New Sovereign Arms Tattoo Co. is a 'nice and classy tattoo shop' for East Hills neighborhood

Walls painted in subtle, warm hues complement the dark wood paneling, floors and freshly painted copper-toned tin roofing inside the newly renovated 974 Cherry St. SE storefront, now home to Sovereign Arms Tattoo Co

"I've always liked the look of old, dark wood," says Gareth Hawkins, owner of and artist at the new East Hills tattoo parlor, which he opened just last week alongside fellow artists Ryan Stout and Matt Pike. "It's classy and comfy – those are probably the two descriptors I'd use for it." 

The old, classic parlor vibe that creates the shop's interior makes a lot of sense with the art on the walls, a style which the artists describe as "turn of the century, American tattooing" and "World War II, sailor-style tattoos with a hint of Japanese influence." 

Hawkins, who is an East Hills resident, says he started apprenticing in Grand Rapids about 15 years ago, working at various tattoo shops including Mos Eisley's and Wealthy Street Tattoos, among many others. 

"I decided that after 15 years of being in this, I'm not getting any younger," Hawkins says. "I love this neighborhood, I own a home in the East Hills area and so this place came open and it's all been kind of fortuitous." 

Since Sovereign Arms Tattoo Co.'s soft opening last week Tuesday, he says they've seen a pretty steady stream of clients come through for tattoos – thanks in part to faithful clients who followed them over to the new shop, but also because of the walkability of the area surrounding the storefront, which sits directly across from Grand Rapids' oldest restaurant Cherie Inn and the East Hills fixture Marie Catrib's. 

"I've been consistently tattooing every single day, which is fantastic for a new business," Hawkins says. "I've had a lot of clients follow me over, Ryan and Matt are the two guys who followed me over, too, they have a great client base, they're great artists and great people to work with so we've managed to have a steady stream of people coming in and new people coming in off the street. The traffic in this neighborhood is fantastic for walking."

Whether it's pre-drawn and selected from an artists' collection hung on the wall of the store's modest but cozy lobby or custom-made based on a specific concept or idea brought in by a customer, Hawkins says any ink done by Sovereign Arms Tattoo Co. artists will be original, simple and timeless. 

"We're a nice and classy tattoo shop. We do solid, classy tattoos that will last you forever and that you'll be very happy with," he says. "We do good work."

To learn more about Sovereign Arms Tattoo Co. or stay updated on upcoming events for its opening, check the shop out on Facebook here.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Le Bon Macaron to bring a little bit of European charm to the already charming Cherry St. in May

After successfully launching her unique café in 2009 in East Lansing, owner and designer Kelly Toland of Le Bon Macaron is bringing her colorful, French-inspired pastries to East Hills. 

Set to open in May at 951 Cherry St. SE, Le Bon Macaron's new Grand Rapids location will replace the recently relocated furniture and home design retailer Hunt & Gather after its move to a shared space on Curve Street late last month. The new shop will share the space with Ginko Studios Floral Design. 

Toland says she always knew she would bring the business to Grand Rapids eventually, but was waiting patiently for the right location and the right timing to collide. 

"We've had our eye on the area for a few years; we liked going there for ourselves in general," says Toland, who has been a Grand Rapids resident since marrying her husband in 2012 and commutes to work in East Lansing each day. "The restaurant, the shops, it's a charming area and it has sort of a European feel to it with it being pedestrian and more historic."

Toland says other than bringing in the refrigeration case and other store fixtures specific to her product line, most of the remodeling continues to be largely cosmetic, with plans to finish painting the Cherry Street Le Bon Macaron's interior in the same color scheme as her East Lansing store – light greys, blushing pinks and creamy whites – and planning to tie up the French café look with bistro tables before the store's May opening. 

"I'm just excited to be a part of that community; it's a great group of small business owners," she says. "Everyone is very nice, we've met a lot of people and it's already like a family, so I think it will be great." 

Visit Le Bon Macaron online for more information about the East Lansing shop or find Le Bon Macaron on Facebook to stay updated on the progress of the upcoming Grand Rapids location. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Le Bon Macaron/Kelly Toland

GR staffing agency hopes new office space bolsters goal to change perception of industry by 2020

Just in time for winter to melt into spring, employees at Fettig watch from brand new 65-foot windows as the ice breaks up on the Grand River. That's the view from its newly remodeled 6,435-square-foot office space at 265 Leonard St. NW. 

A welcome change from its old offices in Cascade at 6151 28th Street SE, the 16-person staffing agency moved in about two weeks ago after working with Pinnacle Construction and Kentwood Office Furniture over the last four months to convert the 1960s-era space into a modern, collaborative workspace. 

"In the first couple weeks, I've noticed people using the space," says Mike Fettig, Vice President of Operations. "You're able to be a bit freer and move and not be confined to little spaces. I don't think people want to work in just one little chair anymore; there's a lot more flexibility." 

Fettig says the new space, designed to have an "industrial loft feel," has a lot of open seating near the large windows overlooking the Grand River, with a multi-purpose room that can be used as a large conference room space or a gathering space, complete with a couch, television and café-style seating. There are also open-style interview pods and a video training room. 

Another draw for Fettig is the proximity to Rapid bus lines, which it didn't have at its old location. 

"For the applicants coming in, I see their faces looking around and thinking, 'Wow, that looks really nice.' We care about our applicants and the people we're placing," Fettig says. "It partners well with our culture and now we have a space that reflects that."  

Fettig says this is the third time the company has expanded its office space since President Kim Fettig bought the agency and rebranded from its former name, Ameritemp Staffing, in 2007. He says Fettig has grown around 600 percent over the past eight years, hiring 450 people into full-time, permanent job positions over the last year. 

"I believe the reason for the growth has been our focus on finding the right people for our customers," Fettig says. "A lot of our industry has focused on filling those with temporary positions and not focusing on what is primarily temp-to-hire positions."

He says Fettig's goal is to change the perception of staffing agencies in West Michigan by 2020, and he thinks the agency is up to the challenge. 

"I want to change the perception of people who haven't wanted to work for staffing companies," he says. "I know we have good jobs and partner with good companies that care about people."

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Fettig

Woosah looks to Kickstarter campaign to build out S. Division retail space and printshop

Erica Lang says she's been checking her Kickstarter campaign religiously since it went up earlier this month, knowing that in order to meet her $15,000 fundraising goal by April 4 and keep the nearly $8,000 currently in the campaign's bank , she'll have to raise the remainder over the next 15 days. 

"It's a lot of pressure," she says, but worth a shot for the Grand Rapids artist and Kendall College of Art & Design graduate, who will use the money to build out her new work-retail space at 131 S. Division Avenue, the future home of Woosah Outfitters & Printshop

"I've just kind of been outgrowing my current situation and just felt it in my gut that now is the time to take this next step," says Lang, who has done freelance work for Harmony Brewing Co., Patagonia and Finistene to name a few. "I'm really excited to bring printmaking to the everyday person. You don't have to go to college and take all of the classes and get a degree in printing to do it." 

Lang says since graduating last May, she's accumulated almost everything she needs for a print shop on her own, but still needs a little help raising the funds to build retail fixtures like clothing racks, tables and the check-out counter, as well as a separate room for inventory and shipping and a few materials for printmaking workshops she plans to hold there once the space is officially open. 

She's currently operating out of the community printshop Dinderbeck, but says she's already signed the lease for the 1,875-square-foot space on S. Division's Avenue for the Arts and is excited to be a part of a community that champions creativity as a lifestyle. 

"I think it's really cool to be within that community of people because we all have a similar passion in doing what we love for a living and educating others about the arts," she says. "It's really cool because that community is so active and is constantly hosting events to get more people to come downtown, which is also really good for that area of town because it's just now starting to become an area people feel comfortable walking around in and visiting the different stores." 

Pledges for Lang's Kickstarter campaign for Woosah Outfitters & Printshop range anywhere from $5 to $1,800 and can earn contributors a whole array of different combinations of Lang's product line, which are simple, nostalgic designs she says are inspired by Michigan's natural beauty, long hikes in Saugatuck and the "things in nature that make you realize how small you are, that kind of humble you; the overall feeling you get from those experiences and that excitement you get with a new adventure." 

To help Lang bring Woosah Outfitters & Printshop to Grand Rapids' Avenue for the Arts, donate to her Kickstarter campaign here before April 4. To learn more about Woosah Outfitters and see some of Lang's designs, visit www.spreadingthewoosah.com or find Woosah Outfitters here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Erica Lang/Woosah Outtifters & Printshop

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Hunt & Gather brings modern-vintage feel to new retail-workspace in renovated warehouse

After celebrating with an open house reception that boasted foot traffic of over 350 people, Hunt & Gather has officially opened for business in a renovated warehouse space at 740 Curve St. SW. 

Kelley Howley is owner and interior designer at the "modern-vintage" inspired furniture retailer and shares Hunt & Gather's new 5,000-square-foot space with artist Jeff Kraus. The two are kicking up the collaborative workspace concept a notch to create a sort of retail-design-showroom-gallery hybrid that still has a clean and simple feeling, thanks to the pair's shared aesthetic sensibility.  

"When I was thinking of expanding, I knew I wanted to have more of a collaborative space, and he was one of the first people I thought of," Howley says, adding that she and Kraus signed the lease in November and did all of the renovations – which involved more than 100 sheets of drywall and dozens of gallons of paint – by themselves throughout January and February before it opened this month.

Howley says she started to think more seriously about moving from her Cherry Street storefront last summer, when she realized her growing customer base wasn't necessarily the people who stumbled into Hunt & Gather to browse, but rather a younger, more creatively-inclined demographic that used social media, in large part, to engage with her brand differently than before. 

"Obviously social media plays such a big role in businesses now, especially creative businesses," says Howley, who also used the transition between locations as an opportunity to set new store hours that essentially change Hunt & Gather's business model.

"For me, my biggest bottleneck with retail is time," she says. "My husband and I do everything ourselves – both retail and design – so everything else we have to do outside sales is after-hours."

For example, when she is working with a customer to find the perfect piece for their home and it ends up being in a Chicago storefront, Howley has to drive there and transport it back to her store without any major interruptions to her regular workday. So, in order to get those unique, one-of-a-kind furnishings that she knows her customers come to Hunt & Gather looking for, she can't be a full time salesperson - she had to embrace the designer, too. 

"If we were strictly a retail store, there's no reason we should have ever had to leave Cherry Street; it's a traditional shopping experience," she says. " But, because a big part of what we do is find items for customers, I just wanted to find a space that would better highlight our design services and…kind of use a new (business) model to give myself a little bit more time so I can provide a way better service for my customers because it means I'm out more, I'm shopping more, bringing more things back – instead of having one dresser available in the shop, you'll have five dressers available." 

Now, Hunt & Gather will be open Monday-Thursday by appointment only, with weekend hours for the retail space on Fridays from 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. 

"We really wanted to set ourselves apart and be an actual brand," Howley says. "For us, we really wanted the space to be a clean canvas. I wanted it to be a place where I could have a blank slate each week to create new designs and do more of those behind-the-scenes things… I've been there for two months like every single day, but it didn't hit me until Sunday how beautiful it is and that it has come such a long way."

For more information, check out Hunt & Gather on Facebook or visit its website here

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Hunt & Gather

thePlate Boutique opens MoDiv retail space downtown with community-driven focus on food

When thePlate Boutique held its first full cooking class in February at its new downtown Grand Rapids location in MoDiv, owner Kati Mora says spots in the class sold out so quickly they decided to open up another class the same day. http://aroundtheplate.org/boutique/

"You never really know until you open what the response is going to be, but we've been really grateful for every person or every small business owner who comes in and is excited about what we're doing," Mora says. "We have been so happy with the responses we're getting. Our customer base continues to grow – we've seen an increase each month in returning customers."

Mora, who is the director of communications and owner of the umbrella brand Around the Plate, opened her first location for the nutrition-inspired kitchenware store thePlate Boutique in Mt. Pleasant, which received a nomination for Independent Kitchen Retailer of the Year in 2014 by Gourmet Retailer Magazine. 

A registered dietitian with a passion for her heath and nutrition, she says after years of working with individuals one-on-one and having conversations about issues surrounding healthy eating, she noticed one, reoccurring theme. 

"I thought if I could focus in on one thing and make a huge difference, it really was this idea of getting people into the kitchen, because that's where it begins," she says. 

With three registered dietitians on staff, Mora says her goal with thePlate Boutique is not only to offer customers affordable, unique, convenient kitchenware that make cooking more fun and engaging, but more importantly to build a community around the idea that spending time in the kitchen doesn't have to be a bad thing.

"I think time is a big issue for many people we work with or that come in and we have conversations with," she says. "Having the time to spend in the kitchen to make a healthy dish has been a real struggle for a lot of people. The other side of it too is usually cost; How do we reduce costs when making meals, how can we stretch that dollar? Time and cost are usually the biggest areas of concern." 

So, in addition to cooking classes and taste-maker events, thePlate Boutique holds in-store demos of new products every other Saturday and has created something called the "Inspiration Station," where customers can drop off old cookbooks they aren't using anymore or pick up a new one to try out along with recipe cards developed by boutique staff.  

"We really wanted to be able to start a little local hub where people could come in and get excited about spending time in their kitchen and hopefully start looking for ways to eat healthy," Mora says. "That's what we envision for our retail spaces — to not only have a thriving community, but also a healthy one, where people are excited about getting into their kitchens, maybe eating local food...but always emphasize the idea of finding ways to make nutrition interactive and fun."

To learn more about thePlate Boutique or its parent organization, Around the Plate, visit the Facebook page here or go to www.aroundtheplate.org, where you can also learn more about events hosted by thePlate Boutique and other local organizations in honor of March's National Nutrition Month.   

"Every person who comes in and chooses to shop with us - it's a huge deal," Mora says. "We know it's not the most convenient place to shop — we're small and we're still growing — so we want all of our customers to feel like guests and feel they're appreciated, because they are."

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Around the Plate, LLC. 

Downtown Market scores second full-service restaurant with Social Kitchen

After enormous success in 2012 opening his first location in Birmingham, near Detroit, Zack Sklar has announced the opening of a second Social Kitchen & Bar at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market, expected to create anywhere between 50-70 full-time and 100 part-time jobs between the restaurant and its catering company, Cutting Edge Cuisine. 

"There's this contagious excitement and pride that's so undeniable, at Downtown Market and in Grand Rapids both," Sklar said. "It's the vendors. It's the pride in the city. It's the growth that's happened in the last decade. This is such a great space to be a part of, but the community of people is what really sold me, and sold us as a company." 

Social Kitchen & Bar is touted as accessible, everyday comfort food and is not the first brand under Sklar's past ventures, which include the Mexican restaurant & tequila bar Mex in Birmingham and Beau's in Bloomfield. 

"With Social coming to Grand Rapids, it's the first time I've expanded an already successful concept," Sklar says. "But now we're doing it with so much more structure and intention than we did the first time. I'm so excited to do this, because I think it’s really going to take off. We're going to hit the ground running in a way we didn't the first time. This is a first for us, even though it's not our first restaurant or our first Social. So it's going to be cool and unique."

Construction on the Social Kitchen & Bar will begin this summer, with the restaurant expected to open to the public in August. 

For more information, visit www.downtownmarketgr.com.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer
Images courtesy of Zack Sklar

How a Start Garden grows

On the second floor of the historic Trust Building in downtown Grand Rapids, Start Garden's Director of Marketing and Communications, Paul Moore, points to the sunlit space near the windows in the front room and jokes that they plan to treat the barstool tables like beachfront property – designated shared workspace belonging to no specific startup habitating the venture fund's new "Start Garden Village" neighborhood on Pearl Avenue. 

"We got the point where it was getting really, really cumbersome to try and keep up with what was going on with the companies we were funding, because they're all kind of working in silos around the city," Moore says about the move from its old offices at 50 Ionia Avenue. "

Moore says the idea behind Start Garden Village isn't to create another collaborative workspace, but rather, a new piece of infrastructure lacking in Grand Rapids until now – a central hub for startups and entrepreneurs, regardless of whether or not they're funded by Start Garden, to come and share ideas, find investors and accelerate company growth

Though it has already been equipped with its own "neighborhood café," single-desk workspaces, conference rooms and private phone booths, the new hub will soon see the installation of "work pods," which Moore says were designed quite literally from the row-house concept. Right now, he added, the space has room for at least 100 people. 

Raising the stakes
The expansion is just one part of Start Garden's re-envisioning of its role in the West Michigan startup scene, which also includes an upgraded fund with the capacity to boost investment in growing companies up to $1.5 million, a significant increase from its previous $500,000 funding cap. 

"Here is where we've been, helping these companies figure out what they're not," Moore says. "In a certain way we're almost queuing them up to leave. At this point where a company would say, 'We don't need $500,000, we need $5 million,' the answer has been, 'Okay, go to the coast?' We didn't incubate all of these companies so they could come here and leave."

As far as investment in new business ideas go, Moore says two years ago it seemed like the biggest thing West Michigan needed was more experimentation and risk taking, and that's where Start Garden came in. Founded by Rick DeVos in 2012, Start Garden's initial goal was to find startups in their infancy, the very first project stage, and invest actual money. However, as those startups grew into companies with solidified visions, Moore says Start Garden found more and more that these new companies didn't need help growing their vision; they needed help growing their brand. 

"Now, two or three years later a lot of these 'projects' have grown into people who have left their day jobs to bring in new team members, co-founders, maybe even employees," he says. "They're actually working full-time at going from being projects to becoming companies that will hopefully grow quickly into something other people want to buy."

The New 5x5 Night
Though Start Garden will continue to invest smaller amounts in the $20-30,000 range in younger start-ups, they've handed over weekly investing to Emerge West Michigan, who is retooling the monthly pitch night and $5,000 reward into a member-based crowdfunding platform model. 

Now, grant funding for startups will be pooled from members' contributions and members will be allowed to become part of the judging process. 

"(Emerge) is actually writing checks, which is a big deal to us," Moore says. "You can launch an educational program for startups, but if they can't get funding to run, there's not a whole lot of application of the education they're getting. So Emerge is definitely getting into writing checks and it's also diversifying not only the investors that we've brought in over here, but also the city – where can people go when they have an idea, who can they talk to and how can they raise funds?' 

Onward & Upward
Moore says much like the companies who will now have funds to help mature past the project phase, Start Garden itself is using the transition into a new space and new funding model to make its own leap into adulthood – it's growing up. 

"Just as much as financial capital, we like to invest in intellectual and social capital. Building on to this space is almost entirely about intellectual and social capital investment," he says. "We want them to learn faster and meet new investors and new entrepreneurs and better entrepreneurs and get to know them on a much more relational level, so it seemed like we needed a place to actually house that kind of stuff." 

So, as more companies come to West Michigan to invest in the garden of startups they've grown here, Moore says a little bit of competition is exactly what they're waiting for. 

"If we were actually fighting to get into a deal on a company in the region, that would be awesome," he says. "That would be so great. It would mean the entrepreneurs have a lot of options for funding, but it would also mean that there are some really aggressive investors in the area and I think that it's kind of virtuous cycle. If you have a very large group of aggressive investors, you'll have a large group of aggressive entrepreneurs trying to get in on that funding." 

"I think the deals and the startups and the options only get better with more funding." 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Start Garden to triple its downtown footprint to serve more startups

Rick DeVos shares how Start Garden is pruning its funding model

Start Garden's downtown HQ to open this week

Introducing Start Garden

Start Garden opens idea, mentoring space in downtown Grand Rapids

CityFlatsHotel adds second event location to its brand

In the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, CityFlatsHotel is adding another event space at the former Louis Benton Steakhouse at 77 Monroe Center St. NW near its existing Ballroom @ CityFlatsHotel. 

"Since we opened the ballroom in 2012, we’ve had tremendous success and really positive feedback," says Jack Peaphone, Marketing Coordinator. "We have our guests booked well in advance. There are only so many days people are looking to book space and we really hated having to turn people away, so when the space became available, we jumped on the chance to add more rooms so we can kind of continue that success and able to provide more guests with more rooms." 

The new space will be a 13,000-square-foot space with a larger room for events and two smaller meeting spaces intended for about 20 people each. 

Although it's difficult to design the interior of Events @CityFlatsHotel with the same historic feel as the Ballroom @CityFlatsHotel, the former Michigan National Bank located next to its main hotel building at 83 Monroe Ave. NW, Peaphone says the new digs will be consistent with the rest of the CityFlatsHotel brand. 

"The ballroom definitely has its own look and feel. We renovated that from a 1920-1930’s era bank, so we obviously can’t replicate that look," he says. "However, we’ll still have full-service catering available for all of the new rooms and all of the same audio-visual equipment - we'll just have more to offer our clients by way of how many bookings we can fit." 

The boutique hotel has also announced the addition of a new "blowdry bar", which will be staffed with trained hairstylists under the CityFlats brand and offer blowout and salon services to both guests and residents in the area. 

"We’re still working on the design of that, but we’ll basically have a blow-dry bar; you’ll be able to get blowouts, but other salon services will also be available," Peaphone says. "We’ll have make-up and lashes and we’ll also do cuts and colors, as well as manicures."

He says there are no concrete numbers on how many jobs the two new spaces will create quite yet, but knows they will be hiring for numerous open positions within both the salon and the event space. In the meantime, CityFlatsHotel is working with its parent company Charter House Innovations to begin renovations on the former Louis Benton Steakhouse, with the expansion slated for completion this summer. 

We think it’s a great option for the downtown area because of how centrally located we are," Peaphone says. "Not only will it be great for guests of the hotel who are there for events to be able to get services at the blow-dry bar or take over some of our meeting space, but also really the walkability of the location. It’s great for anyone living or working downtown or working, to be able to get appointments and come in and get these services."

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of CityFlatsHotel

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CityFlatsHotel opens modernized 1920s ballroom, event space in downtown Grand Rapids

Moving supplies company simplifies the chaos of relocating with unique plastic boxes

Chris Marsman knows what a pain the whole process of moving from one city to another can be. He's moved 13 times in the past 9 years himself, and said one day he found himself thinking about how he could 'uncomplicate' the process. 

"I thought, 'There's got a be a way to help people out; there's got a be away to make this easier,'" he says. 

And so, moving supplies company Boxzilla was born. 

Boxzilla finds its unique value in the 100% recycled plastic moving boxes, which Marsman says can be used about 400 times before being recycled again, whereas cardboard boxes have a much shorter lifespan.

"You don't have to use the tape or assemble them," he says. "We drop them off at somebody's door and then they just pack them up and then finish their move and we come and pick them up from wherever they unpacked them at," he says. 

Boxzilla's industrial-strength plastic moving boxes are designed with a subtle groove in the top for easy stacking, so Marsman says about 25 unpacked boxes only stand about 6 feet tall, "nested" in each other like plastic cups. It helps not only with easy storage, but also allows customers a more flexible packing regime, saving space while taking the worry out of stacking boxes with fragile items. 

The way Boxzilla's business model is a simple one - Boxzilla drops off your plastic moving boxes at your requested location, you "pack, stack, and roll to your destination, and when you're finished unpacking, Boxzilla comes to your new destination and picks the boxes up. 

Each plastic moving box is sanitized between uses and rates are up to 50 percent cheaper than other traditional moving supply store boxes, Marsman says, at $1.75 per box for the first week, which is cut in half each additional week. 

Boxzilla also offers custom, four-wheel dollies for easy transportation during move-in, bubble wrap, packing paper and zip ties. 

Marsman says currently, Boxzilla's 4920 Plainfield NE office space is only used by administrative staff while their storage warehouse is located off-site. However, with Boxzilla's consumer base of both residential and commercial movers growing steadily since he opened last month, he says he's in the process of finding a larger space - possibly a little closer to downtown Grand Rapids - where he can house an office space, warehouse facility and new storefront for customers.  

Boxzilla's service area covers most of greater Grand Rapids and out to the lakeshore, but on its website users can key delivery and pickup locations into a form that will confirm service area eligibility. Marsman says Boxzilla will also deliver outside of those specified service areas for a small fee upon request. 

"It's awesome, people are loving it and it makes their lives way easier," Marsman says. 

For more information on Boxzilla products and service areas, visit www.rentboxzilla.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer
Images courtesy of Boxzilla, LLC

Family-owned Reynolds & Sons plans modern revamp to downtown Grand Rapids storefront

With almost 90 years under its belt, the Grand Rapids family-owned Reynolds & Sons Sporting Goods is ready for a new look. 

Inspired by the last few years of increased redevelopment activity in Grand Rapids' downtown core, owner of the historic storefront at 12 Monroe Center St. NE Jeff Reynolds says construction is scheduled to begin in the spring to give both the exterior and interior a new, more modern feel. 

"Downtown, from where it started, to where it’s been and where it’s going now, is totally different," Reynolds says. 

Although the past decade has brought competition in the form of big-box retail outlets, the sporting goods store that first sprang up in the late 1920s is now owned solely by the Reynolds family, who say they've had to change some of their inventory to keep up with the population's specific demand. 

Though the store still sells a variety of general sporting equipment, they have made a shift toward more niche products and urban clothing brands like Nike and Jordan. 

"That was a big transition for us and our retail that helped us grow," Reynolds says. "What we're looking at in the future is not to go away from that, but to expand on that and try to captivate and create some more clients with more people now living downtown or wanting to live downtown and capture some of that market, as well." 

He says he's looking at supplying more equipment for customers interested in practicing yoga, for example, to help diversify his customer base and draw in different demographics of downtown clientele. 

Pioneer Construction will begin renovation on the exterior in the spring; however, Reynolds says he's still working on locking in the designs for the interior revamp before scheduling a construction timeline for the second phase. 

"It’s really kind of happened within the last two years – just all the sudden, bang, it was here," Reynolds says. "The buildings are filled up, businesses have moved into the places across the street. With the city redoing Monument Park and that transition, it really inspired me to say, ‘Alright, maybe now it’s time to make that change.'" 

Visit Reynolds & Sons on Facebook to see weekly Jordan releases or find them online at www.reynoldsandsons.com

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Pioneer Construction, Inc. 

Everything in its Right Place: Economic developers relocate downtown HQ to Ledyard Building

After nearly 20 years at its fourth floor Waters Building office space, the economic development nonprofit The Right Place, Inc. opened its new downtown Grand Rapids headquarters last month in the historic Ledyard Building at 125 Ottawa Avenue NW.
"It’s a great historic building," says Tim Mroz, vice president of marketing and communication at The Right Place, Inc.  "The architecture is unique, the core layout is more interesting and it provides for an interesting experience for our business prospects both inside West Michigan and those visiting West Michigan."
Though its Waters Building office played a faithful host to The Right Place, Inc., Mroz says for nearly a decade now, they've not been able to centralize its entire 22-member staff and since it was established in 1985, they also have not been able to accommodate the entire Board of Directors around one table – that is, until now.
"One of the best things about our new headquarters is that over the years, our organization has continued to grow and for the last eight years of our existence, we’ve actually operated in two separate suites at the Waters Building - our organization was literally split in half," he says. "This new office, for the first time again, brings our entire organization back together…Now for the first time in 30 years we’ll actually be able to hold a board meeting at our facility and be able to seat all members."
With a large part of the organization's mission centralized around hosting business prospects from outside of the West Michigan region, Mroz says they wanted the new headquarters to reflect both the history and the vibrant forward motion of the Grand Rapids community. So, with help from architects at Progressive AE, construction crews at Triangle Associates, Inc., state of the art audio-visuals by Custer and furniture provided by Steelcase, Mroz says The Right Place, Inc.'s new 10,280-square-foot office space maintains the building's history while creating a more flexible work environment than ever before.
"It’s an interesting mix," he says. "We obviously tried to stay true to some of the historical significance of the space, so much of the existing original trim work and molding and doors remained throughout the remodel. The finished office is an interesting mix of acknowledgment to the original historic elements of the building with a very modern, sleek finish."
For more information, visit www.rightplace.org.
By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of The Right Place, Inc. 

Locally-owned financial planning firm opens in renovated East Hills storefront

After opening up a fully renovated new office location at 922 Wealthy St. SE in December, Sytsma Wealth Strategies' Tamara Sytsma says she's excited to finally be a part of the East Hills neighborhood renaissance. 

"It's an up-and-coming neighborhood with a lot of activity and I wanted to be a part of the revitalization of the neighborhood," says Sytsma, who has lived on the southeast side of Grand Rapids with her husband and two young children since 2004. 

The financial planning and investment advisory firm marks Sytsma's departure from The Sytsma Group, which has operated from its Grandville offices for the past 26 years under her father Ronald until her brother Thomas purchased the business in 2009. 

Although Sytsma Wealth Strategies is a branch office under the Tampa-based broker Raymond James, it operates as an independent firm, which means all of its clients and profits stay local. 

Sytsma did a complete build-out and renovation to create separate rooms in the 1,200-square-foot storefront and former nail salon prior to Sytsma Wealth Strategies' Dec. 29 re-opening. 

"The space used to be one big, open box, so we had to build off of that and the interior is completely new," Sytsma says, adding that she liked the benefit of having a welcoming window front of her own versus just another suite in a big office building. "We wanted to be part of a neighborhood, so I didn't want it to feel like an office." 

While moving close to her home allows Sytsma to maintain a better work-life balance, Sytsma's other primary motivation for the move is a much less obvious one. 

"Probably one of the biggest reasons was having more female business owners in the area," says Sytsma, who grew into the family business as a CFP/financial strategist alongside her father and brother in a male-dominated industry. "I know several females in the area that are business owners, so from that perspective, being here offered a good support system that I wanted to be around."

So, as Sytsma Wealth Strategies is welcomed into its new home in the East Hills business community, Sytsma says she hopes her bright, open storefront welcomes the community into her firm, too.

"The best way to describe it is welcoming, because we want it to be a place where people feel comfortable coming in and sharing and hanging out," she says. 

Sytsma Wealth Strategies is currently looking to hire for a new full-time position in marketing and client relations. Interested applicants can contact the firm's client service coordinator, Christine Lindeman, at christine.lindeman@sytsmawealth.com or visit Sytsma Wealth Strategies online for more information. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Sytsma Wealth Strategies 

Thinkbox Creative brings modern sensibility to historic spot as latest Widdicomb Building tenant

Grand Rapids design and branding agency Thinkbox Creative is the most recent addition to the roster of tech-driven companies making the renovated historic John Widdicomb building at 601 Fifth St. its new home. 

"We were looking for a space close to downtown and also nice and accessible for our clients and the Widdicomb building presented an opportunity to do a 100 percent build out with Copper Rock Construction, so we could really think about how our team works and how we work best with our clients and design a space around how our business flows and how we work," says Travis Fahlen, partner of Thinkbox Creative.

The 15-person team moved into Widdicomb's 3,700-square-foot Suite 301 during the first week of November, designing the space to serve two main purposes – a private team meeting space for phone calls and strategizing, and a second more open, collaborative space to meet with clients and brainstorm. 

"It's a client-centric move," Fahlen says. "For our clients, we wanted to build a place where our team can be creative and successful and focus on building great work. When we have multiple clients here at the same time, we have private space to hold meetings and conference calls and then we also have a space where our team can communicate and continue to do their jobs."

A decade ago, former owner and furniture retailer Bob Israels invested around $11 million to convert the 65,000-square-foot building into a high-end showroom, but later defaulted to Fifth Third Bank. Energetix Properties invested $1.5 million in converting the showroom to commercial office space after purchased the mid-19th century building for $1.7 million last year. 

Fahlen says Thinkbox loved the design options presented by the Widdicomb Building, which, with elements of its historic designs still intact, allowed the design team to marry their modern sensibility with the more ornate aesthetic of the old building.

"The Widdicomb Building on the West Side, it has a lot of history it has a lot of character, so we wanted to take those elements and use them," he says. "We're a design agency, so we could design our colors, our floor plan and our layout using the historic, cool elements already in the building and add our modern feel right around them."

He says Thinkbox is excited to be a member of the West Side business community, who, from their perspective, share a blue-collar mentality that creates an atmosphere of a no-nonsense, hard work ethic the creative design firm can rally behind.  

"The vibe on the West Side is a key piece," Fahlen says. "There are a lot of creators here, there's a lot of technology. There are a lot of people here who want to work hard and get the job done and sort of this blue-collar mentality, which is also our mentality as a company. As we researched the other things around here, we thought we fit in really well with the other companies and the mentality of the West Side, as well."

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Thinkbox Creative

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Construction on affordable, ownership-driven townhomes begins on Wealthy St. at Tapestry Square

CEO Jonathan Bradford of the Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) will tell you that even in urban districts, strong neighborhoods should look – and even operate – a lot like a forest does.

"If you were to take a walk through the woods, it's impossible to have a healthy woods composed only of maple trees," he says. "There will be all kinds of plants in the woods – some live a long time and some only live a short time – but there is this cycle of growing and dying and decomposing and more growing. It's quite comparable to the way the strength of a neighborhood is to be found in its diversity."
Though Bradford admits this particular metaphor isn't his to claim, the idea that incorporating key elements of diversity is at the heart of fueling urban revitalization is very much at the forefront of the nonprofit developer's Tapestry Square, where construction is finally underway on the first seven of 15 affordable townhomes under "Phase A" of the project. 

"The entire vision for this development is to achieve a newfound stability in the neighborhood and we believe that's best accomplished when we have a lot of use-diversity and economic diversity," Bradford says, adding that each of the new townhome units that stretch along Wealthy St. SW between Sheldon and LaGrave avenues will be sold in a condo association configuration for owner occupancy. 

Phase A's 15 townhomes are only half of the eventual 30 total ICCF has planned for Tapestry Square and the seven currently under construction include three four-unit buildings and one three-unit building. 

While eight of these units will be market-rate, homebuyer assistance will be made available for the first seven Phase A units at two different levels, adjusted according to family size. 

Five will be made affordable to households making less than 80 percent of that average medium income, which works out to roughly $43,000 for a family of three, while the remaining two townhomes will be available for ownership through homebuyer assistance at 60 percent of the average medium income, or about $36,000 for a family of four.

"We know that ownership is important for the long-term stability of a neighborhood and we've done rental and we will do more rental, but we also want to do ownership," Bradford says. "We know there's a demand for ownership units and from the very first dialogue we've had with local stakeholders 12 years ago, we made very sure of that." 

Phase B includes the other half of the 30 townhomes, the construction timeline for which Bradford says is contingent on how the first 15 Phase A townhomes sell. 

Tapestry Square Townhomes marks another move toward final fruition of a decade-long renovation project spearheaded by ICCF in the early 2000s, when the stretch of Wealthy St., once packed with 30-some retail businesses in the 1950s, had only two operational storefronts – a liquor store and a tire store. 

"If a neighborhood is nothing but institutions – hospitals and schools and churches and more hospitals, you have just one use happening and you don't have much human activity happening around the clock," he says. "…We will eventually have ownership and rental activity, educational activity, retail activity of several kinds, green space for recreation, etc."

Although the past decade has ushered a slow but steady catalyst of urban redevelopment through the city of Grand Rapids, Bradford says recent meetings with local stakeholders and area residents are only serving as further proof that the mission of Tapestry Square, the foundation of what the ICCF project set out to do all those years ago, is still relevant.   

"We learned that the opinions and the hopes that were voiced to us back in 2002 had really not changed much at all," he says. "In other words, people said, there had to be affordable units, which we knew and that's what were all about anyway, but there had to be more rental and ownership units, more retail and hopefully a grocery store. The needs, the concerns, the ideas of 2002 were substantially reinforced."

Though Bradford says ICCF's working "very, very hard" to make the ultimate goal of having grocery, commercial, and residential forces at work in Tapestry Square, he says at this point in the process, the organization isn't ready to make any kind of public comment on the details. 

The seven units pioneering Tapestry Square Townhomes will officially open for reservation within 30 days of March 1, though Bradford says ICCF has already got a waiting list of people who emailed in hopes of claiming the handful of affordable housing available. 

He says, "They are very eager to sign up." 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Inner City Christian Federation 

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