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New Grand River Cigar introduces cigar lounge to Grand Rapids

With its leather chairs, a walk-in humidor and hundreds of cigars, Grand River Cigar could be West Michigan's first classic cigar lounge. With an eye to creating an atmosphere where cigar enthusiasts can relax and enjoy a good smoke, owners Robin and Tina Day and Charlie Rossi hope to give cigar enthusiasts a unique experience in one of the few public places where smoking is legal.

"Charlie and I used to hang out and have a drink and a cigar and talk about our woes," says Robin Day. "When the law changed and you couldn't smoke in public, we decided to open our own cigar store."

Day has spent the past 25 years working for retail giants Lowe's, Michael's and Jo-Ann Fabrics, but says this is his first foray as an entrepreneur.

The focal point of the shop (131 S. Division Avenue, Grand Rapids) is the walk-in humidor -- a 16-ft. wide by 8.5-ft. deep by 9-ft. tall state-of-the-art cigar vault -- which sports an all-mahogany exterior case and a Spanish cedar interior. Day says the special cedar not only absorbs excess moisture, but releases it into the humidor when needed to keep the cigars perfect.

"We have 20 different cigar brands coming in, including Arturo Fuente, Ashton, Avo, Camacho, Montecristo, Gurkha and H. Upmann," says Day. "Most of the cigars we carry are hand rolled. The differences between them are like the differences between wines -- each cigar has a different flavor based on the climate and soil where the tobacco is grown."

Folks can enjoy a soft drink or coffee, catch a television show, peruse a periodical or tap into the worldwide web while at the shop, or simply listen to the selection of jazz from the '30s, '40s and '50s compiled by Vertigo Music, located next door.

Cigar aficionados can also rent a cigar locker where they can store their cigars in a climate-controlled environment.

Store hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Mon. - Sat.

Source: Robin Day, Grand River Cigar
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Allegro Coaching to open fitness studio in Eastown's reopened Kingsley Building, Grand Rapids

Kendra Bylsma spent the last three years building her fitness coaching business, all the while saving money to open her own studio someday. That "someday" comes in early January 2012 when she'll open the doors to a new 2,500-square-foot fitness center in the newly reopened Kingsley Building, a former warehouse in Grand Rapids' Eastown.

Allegro Coaching, a home-based business that operates onsite fitness programs for area corporations and public fitness sessions in local parks, will continue those programs. But Bylsma says the new studio, a renovated retail bay at 1422 Robinson Rd., adds another element for clients.

"I want it to feel warm and comfortable, not like a big gym with bulky equipment," Bylsma says. So she hired Sapak Interiors to design it using warm woods and cabinetry divided among spaces that include conversation areas and open workout rooms. DeGraaf Interiors is handling the installation, with the buildout by Bazzani Associates.

"We'll have a shake bar that offers Shakeology nutritional shakes, so people can sit down after their workout and meet with friends," Bylsma says. "I want that space to really feel like a conversational space to hang out in."

Bylsma will invest some $35,000 in the studio, which will offer several fitness and personal coaching plans including an Urban Boot Camp and an Urban Class Pass. The boot camp offers and eight-week class where participants can choose to work out once a week ($79), twice a week ($149), or more ($199). The class pass offers eight weeks with a choice of fitness regimens: boxing training, Pilates-based training or TRX suspension training.

"Our first core value is to have fun," Bylsma says. "I think of the Allegro Coaching studio as a mesh between a fun little boutique and the culture of fitness."

Bylsma plans to hire more fitness coaches, but will open the studio with herself and one additional coach on staff. Classes begin Jan. 8, 2012.

Source: Kendra Bylsma, Allegro Coaching; Jen Huizenga, J Studio Designs
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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LINC incubator launches with six new businesses in Grand Rapids' Madison Square

Six new businesses opened their doors on Friday, Nov. 11 in Grand Rapids' Madison Square business district, the first step in an economic development push by Grand Rapids-based LINC Community Revitalization, Inc. to help entrepreneurs launch local businesses and create jobs.

The businesses are all part of a new business incubator, the LINC Business Center, formerly C & J Plaza, an abandoned, ramshackle building at 1258 Madison Ave. SE. The shops range from 400 square feet to 1,000 square feet, all available at reduced rates to give entrepreneurs a leg up. The business owners enter a three-year business development program that will equip them with the knowledge to keep the business running, including legal advice, payroll processing, accounting, business plan development, networking skills and mastering social media.

"I wasn't sure if we'd have enough businesses that qualified, but for these six spaces, we had over 20 applicants," says LINC Economic Development Director Jorge Gonzalez. Gonzalez says LINC reviewed each business plan to determine if the business was ready to move forward and could be sustainable.

"We want them to be able to get their own space in the community at market rate by the end of the three years," he says. "If they're ready earlier, we'll help them move out earlier."

The businesses are:
Epic Emporium, art gallery and gift shop featuring local artists
Klipper Kingdom, barber shop.
Southtown Guitar, offering guitars and guitar lessons
RaiderTek, computer repair
Sydney’s Boutique, women's apparel.
WYGR 1530 AM, radio broadcasting studio.

Gonzalez says there are four spaces still available. Lease rates begin at $200/month, depending on the shop size and location within the building.

Source: Jorge Gonzalez, LINC Community Revitalization, Inc.
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Under The Vines uncorks Michigan organic wines, hard ciders in new Grand Rapids tasting room

A new wine and hard cider tasting room in Grand Rapids' Cherry Hill business district will soon uncork some of Michigan's fruits of the vine for patrons to sample. Under The Vines (959 Cherry St. SE) aims to introduce customers to organic fruit wines and hard ciders produced in the Leelanau Peninsula by Good Neighbor Organic Vineyard and Winery.

Besides the tasting room, the 1,100-square-foot boutique will carry wine and hard ciders by the bottle, plus a host of wine-friendly gift items, including glassware, wine glass charms, picnic baskets and create-your-own gift basket options. Under The Vines will also offer its own coffee line.

"We will sell food items that pair well with wine," says shop owner Sandra Kidner Otte. "We'll have Awesome Chocolates, and I'm looking into offering cherry food items from the Traverse City area and a selection of cheeses. We'll offer six or seven different types of wines and hard ciders, including chocolate cherry, apple and mixed berry, plus we'll carry iced dessert wine."

Otte and her husband, artist David Otte, spent a lot of time over the last two years selecting a site for the store. Sandra Kidner Otte says they'd ride their bicycles from their Wyoming home into Grand Rapids' neighborhood business districts where they'd chat with shoppers and shop owners to get a feel for each area. Once selected, Otte says she quit her job as a special education teacher at Kalamazoo's Paramount Charter Academy to start Under The Vines.

"I love Grand Rapids and I just love this neighborhood," Otte says. "I believe in Michigan, and I tell people when they say they're leaving 'don't turn the lights out because I'm still here.'"

Otte hopes to have the retail side of the shop open by Nov. 21, and will offer the wines and hard ciders as soon as the state approves the liquor license. Store hours will be 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Mon. through Sat.

Source: Sandra Kidner Otte, Under The Vines
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Tiny Chai Boutique in downtown Grand Rapids bursts with new, vintage fashions, jewelry

It's not much bigger than a walk-in closet, but Sarah Ables aims to have Chai Boutique become a women's go-to store for more than just the fashions and jewelry that adorn the glass walls and vintage tables.

At just under 200 square feet in downtown's new Shops at Monroe Center and Division (MoDiv, 40 Monroe Center), Chai Boutique also offers vintage painted furniture finds, gift items, hair accessories and more. Surrounded by glass walls that let in daylight and allow shoppers to see through to nearby shops, Chai Boutique feels open, yet cozy.

Ables launched the business in February in a 900-square-foot space at 1120 Knapp St. NE, but struggled with having to order merchandise just to fill the racks. In the smaller MoDiv space, Ables says she can order very small quantities of items, which allows her to keep the store new and fresh as items sell and new merchandise arrives.

"I only buy about six of any clothing item, then when it's gone I order something new so I don't have everybody walking around Grand Rapids wearing the same thing," Ables says. "And I have budget-friendly prices; I don't have what people usually think of as boutique prices."

Ables offers a number of locally crafted items, such as Britteny Young's magnets and coasters decorated with illustrations from vintage books, and jewelry that combines new and vintage pieces collected and re-set by mother/daughter team Dawn Orr and Jen Bumstead.

"I'm loving the concept of MoDiv and that I have a smaller space," says Ables, who spent 12 years as a visual merchandiser for Art Van and sold her own painted antique furniture at Blue Door Home Design. "It was my dream to own a shop for as long as I can remember. I'd like to grow it right downtown where we are and grow the MoDiv location."

Hours: Mon., Weds., Fri., Sat. 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Tues., Thurs., 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Source: Sarah Ables, Chai Boutique
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Fusionary revamps Hopson Flats' game room into an upscale HQ on Grand Rapids' SW side

Steve and Bryan Lewis unintentionally wore identical shirts to work on Monday -- part of an identical-twin-mind-link the brothers share. That connection is what stirred them to found Fusionary Media in 1995. They brought on a third partner, Jack Baty, and now the 13-person multi-media corporation has moved into a newly renovated urban loft at 220 Grandville Ave. SW, Grand Rapids.

The new digs used to be the game room at Hopson Flats, a student housing building next door. The game room was underused, so Fusionary jumped at the opportunity to renovate it to fit its employees' collaborative work style and moved from 820 Monroe North last Friday.

"We added a horseshoe shaped mezzanine along three walls which has three private offices, a catwalk, and a secondary meeting space with a Steelcase Walkstation, seating area and a TV," says Steve Lewis. "We also installed a spiral staircase, which will soon have a slide that wraps the outside edge of the staircase."

The mezzanine overlooks an open main floor work area with a combination of individual workspaces and a comfy media area with a projector for team collaborations and meetings. The layout includes a glass-walled conference room and a full kitchen/cafeteria space for employees.

Lewis says the huge projection screen, televisions and Apple TV will make it easy to present work to clients. He says the space also provides enough room to host web developers groups and other events.

"We looked at probably 30 different spaces," Lewis says, "and this side of town has done what we thought the north side of town would do. We gave up free parking, but there's so much more energy here being right across from Founders and next door to The Rapid. I think this new space is revitalizing us."

Design: Fuller Design
Construction management: Fusion Properties

Source: Steve Lewis, Fusionary
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Photos: Jack Baty

Smitty's Specialty Beverage rebuilds, nearly doubles craft beer offerings in Grand Rapids' Eastown

The term "Closed for Remodeling" took on new meaning in September when Smitty's Specialty Beverage locked its doors for the demolition of all but the two front walls of its building. But come about Nov. 11, an all-new Smitty's (1489 Lake Dr. SE) will reopen for business with more than twice the store space within the same footprint.

Founder Joel "Smitty" Smitter, who owns the business with son Jared Smitter, says the previous 900-square-foot store was a retail expansion added in 1920 to the front of an 1890s house. Smitter has owned the building since 1982. The house, which served as storage/office/warehouse space, and all but the two walls along Lake Dr. and Hampton SE, were demolished and replaced with a 2,000-square-foot modern store.

"The house foundation was 3.5 feet above the store floor so we had four steps to go up and down," Smitter says. "Now everything is on one level and we have a monster walk-in beer den cooler for the customer to shop in, which will have 400 craft style beers."

Smitter says the craft beer offerings will include every craft beer made in Michigan, hiking the selection from the previous 250 beers to 400.

Other changes include a nine-door cooler for juices, sodas and dairy products, and moving all the liquor fifths and half-gallons from behind the counter to the sales floor. "(The liquor section) will wrap around the front and west walls," he says. "You'll be amazed at our selection because you could never see it before."

Smitter says he's also going to offer fresh produce, as per customer request. If he can sell enough to break even after six months, he'll continue offering it.

Bamboo flooring, cherry laminate and granite countertops round out the new look. Upstairs, a new two-bedroom, two-bath condominium is under construction, where Smitter will live.

Smitty's will have a grand re-opening celebration in early summer 2012.

Construction manager, design: Pioneer Construction.

Source: Joel "Smitty" Smitter, Smitty's Specialty Beverage
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Developers say restaurant, office tenants to occupy renovated JA Building, Grand Rapids

Thousands of people got to experience the cavernous depths of the former Junior Achievement Building in downtown Grand Rapids during the Site:Lab art installations there last April and again this fall during ArtPrize.

The wide open spaces of the iconic building (southeast corner of Fulton St. and Division Avenue), its 12- to 16-foot-high ceilings and concrete floors on all three levels, are all part of the building's appeal to Locus Development owners John Green and Andy Winkel. Green says the planned $4M renovation could bring the neighborhood new office tenants and a "locally-owned restaurant not currently in the downtown."

Green says they are in negotiations with an American food restaurant to occupy some 4,500 square feet of the 7,500-square-foot main level, but stopped short of naming names. Green says talks are also underway with a potential office tenant for 5,500 square feet of the second story, and Locus looks to fill some of the remaining 12,500 square feet, which includes an underground level, with an arts-related organization and an entertainment venue.

"This is the gateway to the Avenue for the Arts, a highly visible building that's been neglected for a number of years," Green says. "There's a lot of activity along South Division and there continues to be several buildings in redevelopment along Division. This is a critical redevelopment, being right on that corner."

"We're always thinking about improving an eyesore that's been there a long time and how to use it to leverage further development on Fulton and Division," says Winkel.

The renovation could begin in early 2012, driven by LEED sustainability guidelines. Green and Winkel envision a new streetscape and historically accurate façade repairs.

The Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority awarded the project a $65,000 Building Reuse Incentives Program (BRIP) grant, a $35,000 Areaway Fill Incentives Program grant and about $140,000 in TIF credits.

Click here to visit the Facebook page for 2 East Fulton to weigh in on how you'd like to see the building used.

Construction manager: Pioneer Construction
Architect: TowerPinkster and Visbeen Associates

Source: John Green and Andy Winkel, Locus Development
Photographs: Nate Umstead Photography
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Rose Colored Glasses puts positive spin on women's, girls' resale on Grand Rapids' West Side

A building on Grand Rapids' West Side known as the "old pawn shop" is now recycling used possessions to a new crowd of customers: women and girls. Rose Colored Glasses brings fashion resale to a cozy 700-square-foot boutique at 827 W. Fulton St.

The store's tag line, "a resale shop for girls of all ages," invites shoppers into a welcoming atmosphere filled with trendy clothing and one-of-a-kind wearables in sizes ranging from girls' 14 to women's plus.

"The store's name comes from the Faulkner novel "A Rose for Emily," about an old lady who saw things only through a positive light," says owner Kathleen Wojtowicz. "So I named my daughter Emily Rose, and I thought the positive meaning of Rose Colored Glasses would be a great name for a shop for women.

"We have some vintage, some retro," she says. "I collect the fashions myself and have buyers working for me in the community, but the bulk of our clothing I buy from my customers."

Shoppers will find shoes, purses, belts, scarves, "scarves are one of our specialties," says Wojtowicz. Costume and vintage jewelry pieces include pins and necklaces of sparkling rhinestones, and even clip-on earrings.

Rose Colored Glasses offers a variety of new and upcycled items made by local artists: stained glass necklaces and wall hangings by Karen Kennedy Thoms, vintage pillowcases fashioned into unique skirts by Candice Norcross and skirts Sherie Armstrong embellishes with used neckties.

"I'm a third generation West Sider and I have a lot of interest in the growth of the West Side," says Wojtowicz. "The newer businesses coming in are taking cues from the success of Wealthy Street and other places around Grand Rapids. We want that walkability. Our forefathers had vision and wanted things to grow on the West Side, and I'm playing a very small part to make it happen."
Store hours: Tues. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Weds. 11 to 3; Thurs. and Fri. 11 to 7; Sat. 11 to 5. Visit the store's website here.

Source: Kathleen Wojtowicz, Rose Colored Glasses
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

GR8 Tastes tempts Grand Rapids' sweet tooth with tasty cake balls, chocolate and coffee

Cake balls are better known down south then they are in Michigan, but a new sweets shop in Grand Rapids' Creston business district is out to change that.

GR8 Tastes (1503 Plainfield Ave. NE), formerly Brittany Café, specializes in cake balls: crumbled cake mixed with flavored syrups or frosting, formed into balls about the size of donut holes, then dipped in dark chocolate, milk chocolate or white chocolate.

"A cake ball is a decadent cake confection," says GR8 Tastes owner Trish Hollemans. She and partners Donelle Bentley and Corinne Felt opened the shop three weeks ago. "We always carry chocolate truffle made with chocolate cake and golden delight made with yellow cake. We can create custom orders and add Irish crème syrup, pumpkin, cherries, cheesecake -- just about anything you can think of, we can make into a cake ball."

Hollemans says the cake balls are filling, so the shop also offers a smaller petite size, which is available singly or in a petite gift box containing four cake balls of four different flavors. Hollemans says the gift boxes are popular as wedding favors. The shop also does special orders for meetings and offers a shippable gift tin.

Customers can order in person, via phone or on the GR8 Tastes website.

GR8 Tastes also sells chocolate-covered pretzels and caramels, as well as a variety of coffee drinks. Patrons can get everything to go, or sit and enjoy the goodies at one of the shop's four tables while checking out the décor of antique cameras and photos of Grand Rapids, taken by co-owner Corinne Felt, an avid photographer.

The shop's core hours are Mon. - Fri., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with later hours on Weds. and Fri. For more information, visit the web site here or call (616) 447-7599.

Source: Trish Hollemans, GR8 Tastes
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Vacant warehouse, hotel now 45 apartments as Grand Rapids' Division Park Avenue, Serrano Lofts open

Three historic buildings that were showing their age are now 45 apartments and lofts, bringing a host of urban living and live/work options to Grand Rapids' S. Division Avenue.

The Palatine Building (c. 1911) at 209 S. Division was originally a rooming house for furniture buyers. Developer Brookstone Capital combined the building with 217 S. Division (c. 1888) to create the 47,000-square-foot Division Park Avenue Apartments, a 30-unit building with six live/work apartments along S. Division.

"The live/work spaces are two-story units," says Aaron Jonker, construction project manager with Wolverine Building Group. "The building was cut up into small rooms and had a lot of water damage. We were able to save a couple of historic walls, a couple of stairwells were restored in-place and we restored a three-story atrium with skylights. A huge mirror from the atrium was removed and restored offsite, then re-hung."

Around the corner at 17 Williams St. SW, a former four-story warehouse (c. 1917) now offers 15 one- and two-bedroom urban loft units under the name Serrano Lofts.

Both projects expect to attain LEED Gold certification, states Wolverine Building Group in a recent press release. Some of the sustainable features include indoor bike storage, LED lighting in all common areas, a reflective roof, high efficiency windows and recycling areas for tenants. All apartments have electronic keyless entry.

Federal Historic Tax Credits, Michigan State Historic Tax Credits, MSHDA Low Income Housing Tax Credits and Brownfield Tax Credits combined with other financing options to fund the projects.

An open house for both projects will be Friday and Saturday, Oct. 21 and 22 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Contact Kristine Hibbard at 616-643-8500 or visit www.livedowntowngrandrapids.com for leasing information.

Architect: Concept Design Studio
Historic consultant: Past Perfect
Sustainability consultant: Catalyst Partners

Source: Aaron Jonker and Wolverine Building Group
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Goodwill, YMCA team up to offer healthy menu at new GW2 Café in downtown Grand Rapids

You've had a great workout during your lunch hour and you'd like to grab a bite of something healthy to take back to the office.

The folks at the new GW2 Café in the David D. Hunting YMCA lobby (475 Lake Michigan Dr. NW) have just the thing: fresh sandwiches and wraps, fresh fruit, fruit smoothies, salads, coffee drinks and more -- all made with the health-conscious customer in mind.

Goodwill Industries and the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids teamed up to remake an existing café into a convenient fueling-up spot for Y members and folks who just want to stop in for a bite. Goodwill, whose mission is to provide job training and placement for individuals with barriers to employment, will use the café as a final training ground for its hospitality services program.

"Last year, we trained about 30 people in hospitality services. The partnership with the Y will enable us to train above and beyond that number," says Goodwill's Communications Officer Jill Wallace. "They'll learn food prep, get certified in the ServSafe Food Handler Program and learn to work with customers, all at our kitchen on Sheldon (72 Sheldon Blvd. SE). They work their way up and then they can go out to the public training at our CrossTown Deli Café in The Rapid station and now at GW2 Café at the YMCA."

Proceeds from the café with help fund Goodwill's 20-plus job training programs, says Wallace. She adds that in 2010, Goodwill's job training programs placed 1,300 people in jobs throughout the eight counties the organization serves: Kent, Claire, Gladwin, Ionia, Isabella, Mecosta, Montcalm and Osceola.  

GW2 Café opened October 10. Hours of operation are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Source: Jill Wallace, Goodwill Industries
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Vue Design brings custom-designed bridal wear to Center City in Grand Rapids' MoDiv incubator

After two years of operating out of her Ada home, bridal fashion designer/creator Shannon Gales decided to bring her custom bridal creations to the heart of Grand Rapids. So last Friday, she opened her first Vue Design retail showroom and studio in the Shops at Monroe Center and Division, known as MoDiv (40 Monroe Center).

Gales, 44, began sewing at age 10. She spent 23 years in the corporate fashion design industry and then stepped out on her own two years ago with Vue Design. Now she finds herself in a temporary 200-square-foot space at MoDiv -- a space she'll leave within the month to walk her creations down the aisle to a boutique space twice the size.

"I have examples of some of the work we've done, a few boleros and ready-made bridal gowns, handbags," Gales says. "The larger shop will be a working design studio with sewing machines where customers can observe us working. We'll also have a showroom of examples and ready-to-purchase items, a consultation room with fabric samples and a changing room."

The "we" Gales refers to includes two student interns from Calvin College's art program. Calvin doesn't offer a fashion design course, says Gales, "So this allows students interested in fashion to experience it in a working studio." She adds that she'll be adding two more interns soon.

The custom bridal gown design experience begins with Gales learning the bride's dreams for her wedding day. She works with the bride's body type to design the most flattering gown, even helping the bride learn what styles look best by fitting her with prototype skirts, bodices and sleeves.

During the design process, dress mockups are fitted to the bride and then the dress is created. The process can take as much time or as little time as the bride wants, Gales says.

Gales says the gowns typically start at about $1,200, but she says she never wants a bride to be deterred by price and can design simpler gowns to fit a more limited budget.

Source: Shannon Gales, Vue Design
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Jenison Public Schools to break ground on $17M performing arts center for entire community

Jenison Public Schools will break ground next year on a proposed $17M performing arts center that will be available to the whole city for live performances and concerts. The 9,000-square-foot facility will be a stand-alone structure that will replace the current administration building on the Jenison High School property at Bauer Road and 20th Avenue.

The project, funded through a complicated combination of a voter-approved bond plus state and federal monies, will include a 1,200-seat performance auditorium, a costume shop, a scene-building shop, school administrative offices and event/convention space.

"This will be a true community performing arts center with a music hall that will transform into a theatrical performing area," says JPS Superintendent Tom TenBrink. "Each of our schools will be able to have all their performances at the center, instead of traveling to various churches [like they have to now].We'll also get the community involved by bringing in performances that will appeal to senior citizens, and bringing in concert performers and dinner theaters."

"It's architecturally very modern and different than any other building on the campus, which will make it very striking," says Mitch Watt, president of Triangle Associates, the project construction manager. "Jenison schools don’t have a facility that allows them to bring in large groups for performances or to bring in professional groups. This will allow them to schedule performances year-round, creating a really good resource for the community."

Demolition of the current administration building begins in February 2012; construction starts in March. TenBrink expects the project to be finished in time for the schools to host their Christmas holiday concerts there in December 2013.

"In Jenison, the center of our community is our schools," TenBrink says. "We don’t really have a downtown, people move here for the schools. We needed to build a facility that will draw people to the community. Eight years ago, we had one percent poverty level in homes with school age children and it’s over 30 percent now. The bottom line is the Jenison community took a step of faith to invest in our kids’ future and passed the bond proposal."

Architect: URS Corporation

Source: Tom TenBrink, Jenison Public Schools; Mitch Watt, Jeff Jelke, Scott Jernberg, Anne Rothwell, Triangle Associates
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Grand Rapids' Sofia Bella Couture adds infants, girls clothing to shopping options at MoDiv

For shoppers looking for hip infant and young girls clothing that's a bit off-the-wall instead of off the rack, a new specialty shop in downtown Grand Rapids' MoDiv is the right place.

Sofia Bella Couture, a cozy 400-square-foot boutique in the Shops at Monroe Center and Division (MoDiv, 40 Monroe Center), offers delightful clothing, onesies, bibs, hats and more in bright fabrics and animal prints -- many sporting a healthy dose of frills and bling.

Owner Brandice Labadie, 28, named her new venture after her eight-month-old daughter, Sofia, who she says is the inspiration for the shop.

"When I went shopping for her, I couldn't find anything I liked," Labadie says. "I wanted girlie, and tutus, but it didn't matter what store I went to, it was the same prints, same cuts, same styles."

Labadie says she's offering fabrics that are "a little edgier than the typical fabrics for girls," for instance, "the rocker-chic look with pink guitars, and skulls and crossbones with hot pink bows."

Some of her products are ready-made and some she designs herself. Other items Labadie upcycles by adding embellishments to ready-made items, like the cute piggy banks that she adorned, adding earrings to one, a flower halo to another, and glittery hot pink crystals to another.

Other items include "cupcake" hats with "sprinkles" and a cherry, zebra-print crib shoes and baby bottle holders shaped like cats, dogs and frogs.

"I'm working on our own clothing line, and have samples in the store that can be custom ordered from size newborn up to a girls' size 10," Labadie says.

The line features fun styles: long pants with ruffles, and layered skirts that resemble flouncy petticoats. Peasant tops and an entire line of Christmas and holiday wear will be out soon, Labadie says.

Store hours:
Mon., Tues., Weds., Fri. - 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Thurs. 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.;
Sat. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Source: Brandice Labadie, Sofia Bella Couture
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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