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RapidBlog: A decade on Wealthy Street, by Amy Ruis



Art of the Table celebrates 10 years on Wealthy Street this month. Owner Amy Ruis looks back on a decade of change for the neighborhood and looks forward to future food culture possibilities in this week's RapidBlog.
Ah, Wealthy Street, you’ve been good to us.

October 2002 was one of those pivotal moments when my husband Steve and I peered in a barred-up, closed-up, quite nasty party store (with dirt for floors & rotted-out plumbing) and wondered when it would reopen. Again. It was the week before the Wealthy Street Bakery opened and we were dreaming.  What would it be like if Wealthy Street were more than just a single bakery full of brave people trying to make it work? I clearly remember the bakery owners saying, "Well, if it doesn’t work, there’s always wholesale!" Days later there was a long line streaming out the double doors of 610 Wealthy Street -- a line that doesn’t seem to end 11 years later.

A decade ago on Wealthy Street, there was not much going on. There was Gietzen Auto Repair. There was Somerdyke Plumbing – now Winchester. Kregel Books and Tatum Bindery have ‘always’ been there, but with little street presence. On the south side of the block between Eastern & Charles, every building was stuck shut. The only bright spot was Ainslie Upholstery but it was on its way out; it’s now Wealthy at Charles. Phil’s Stuff and other antique shops were fixtures even back when no other retail would dare.

Then there was Juan. We talked to him almost every Sunday on our walk home from church. He desperately wanted to make good of his crumbling property, so much that he painted “coming soon” on the front of the building. We wondered a bit with him on his plans; unfortunately he couldn’t get it done, but his former row of buildings are now known as Rowster Coffee, Nourish & Jonny Bs – along with beautiful urban apartments above.

When we opened, if I wanted lunch out, choices were Wealthy Street Bakery and Sandmanns. Today we have food & bar options numbering so many it’s difficult to choose! From Fuller to Union (the official Wealthy Street Business District), I count 16 places I could eat, drink or shop for food items!

Ten years ago this month, October of 2003, when Art of the Table opened, although we opened to brisk business, there were times the phone would ring and a woman’s voice would say, “I hear your store is amazing, but my husband won’t let me come because it’s in a dangerous area.” While this is rare these days, I actually encountered another of those last week! She had to be persuaded to stop in with another couple who are seriously great customers. She hadn’t been down Wealthy Street in over 15 years. She was impressed!

A great part about Wealthy Street is that it has maintained an historic feel, with its buildings being revitalized when possible in a historically accurate way. Where it’s not possible, insightful organizations (Bear Manor Properties for Electric Cheetah, Bazzani & LINC for the apartment building with retail below where Erb Thai resides) have designed buildings that fit the feel, that follow the neighborhood ‘lines’ and fit seamlessly.

It’s fun to be watching change. Since moving to Heritage Hill in 2000, I never expected to see the business district changes on the east and could never imagine what is occurring to my immediate west as well. The projects taking place -- from Mary Free Bed’s growth, to ICCF’s Tapestry Square project –are doing just what they should: encouraging retail with living quarters above and inspiring that move for Wealthy Street as it becomes a gateway and connector from 131 down a long corridor. The view down our street is becoming more impressive all the time.

I fully realized what city growth and change could mean when I started to become a part of the Grand Rapids Downtown Market picture. This new icon – only a mile from Art of the Table – is a place that gives our pod of the world we call Wealthy Street an extension for people already shopping there. It makes the local food movement a bunch of us started a decade ago even more important because it complements what we're already doing so well. It was enough impetus for me to expand my Art of the Table wings a bit further by opening Apertivo, a true cheese & charcuterie shop with a wine bar, at the Downtown Market this fall.

Looking back on 10 years on Wealthy Street (and just a few short months at the Downtown Market), I'm amazed at the growth of the food culture in Grand Rapids. I’m personally thankful for where we’ve been, excited for where we are all going, and looking forward to another wave of growth for those of us putting our all into our neighborhoods and our city.
 
Amy Ruis owns and operates Art of the Table, a specialty food, beverage, and tabletop retail store in the Wealthy Street Business District, and Aperitivo, a cheese and charcuterie shop and wine bar at the Downtown Market. 

Disclaimer: RapidBlogs are lightly edited and honor the stylistic decisions of the writer. Views and opinions expressed in RapidBlogs do not necessarily reflect the views of Rapid Growth Media or its staff.

 
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