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Guide to Holland

Hopwood DePree was born in Holland, MI. And, since going off to study at the University of Southern Cal in Los Angeles, he's had an inspiring run in show business.

There was his first paying gig in the film Rhinoskin, a 1995 cult favorite about, ironically, an actor striving to make it in movies. There was his self-produced The Last Big Attraction, a low-budget, award- winning 1999 romantic comedy set on Windmill Island in DePree's hometown. And then came exciting deals with some of the industry's top film houses, including Lionsgate, Artisan, and the Weinstein Company.

Today, DePree holds the titles of actor, writer, director, and CEO of TicTock Studios, his own production company. Yet, in many ways, the guy is right back where he started: Holland, MI. And that, he says, is just the way he wants it.

“I love the area and just kept coming back to my roots,” says DePree, now 37. "There has always been steady change around here but things seem to have really picked up recently."

With one foot in West Michigan, and the other foot in Hollywood, Hopwood DePree exemplifies Holland's ongoing transformation. Sure there are the typecast plot lines about how Holland is a hyper-conservative retirement town with nothing more than an overabundance of churches, a 250-foot Dutch windmill, and the world's largest pickle factory.

But dig a little deeper and the city's modern day storyline gets much more interesting. The city, for instance, is the unlikely birthplace of Slashdot, the pioneering Internet techie blog launched in 1997 by Hope College graduate Rob Malda. The city gave rise to the insanely popular WWJD – What would Jesus Do – bracelets that swept the nation in the early '90's. And now creative people like Hopwood DePree are establishing new businesses and working to build a bridge from the LA entertainment scene to Michigan's West Coast.

Clearly, this is not the same Holland settled by Dutch Calvin separatists in the 1840's.

Holland, MI is located approximately 30 miles west of Grand Rapids, the cultural and economic epicenter of greater West Michigan. On the shores of Lake Macatawa, along the banks of the Macatawa River, and  the coast of Lake Michigan, the city is a hotspot for residents and visitors who seek ready access to water-borne recreation. And it continues to cultivate a national reputation as one of the best places to live in America. For instance, Kiplinger Personal Finance Magazine named Holland one of the Top 50 Smart Places to Live in 2006. And Money Magazine recently named the city one of the Best Places to Retire in the U.S.

Here are the city's basic characteristics, based on 2000 census findings:

  • The population is approximately 35,000 in the central city.
  • The median family income is about $50,300.
  • The median asking price for homes is $137,500.
  • The city crime rate is a miniscule 3.5 percent.
  • Ottawa County is one of the fastest growing counties in Michigan.
  • Latinos make up some 22 percent of the local population.

Home is Where the Heart is
While Holland continues to evolve, Dutch culture does permeate the atmosphere year-round in the city. Windmill Island is a local park that includes replicas of historic buildings from the Netherlands, authentic Dutch games, Klompen dancing in the summer and, of course, the only authentic Dutch windmill operating in the United States. The annual Tulip Time Festival, held in May, features more than six million tulips planted throughout the city and was recently recognized by Reader's Digest as the best small town festival. Indeed, right down to the street banners that show off famous paintings with a Dutch twist, Holland's link to the Netherlands and its strong cultural roots are readily apparent.

Barry Rice, president of the Holland Young Professionals, says that heritage is one of the city's defining strengths. “It definitely makes Holland unique,” says Rice, a 26-year-old business development manager for Worksighted, an IT firm headquartered in Holland.

Rice attended Hope College and, after a brief stint in Grand Rapids, he eventually moved back to the Holland area to live and work. The city's proximity to Lake Michigan, its unexpected cultural diversity, and a growing business scene were the principal attractions, he says.

“There is a wealth of intelligent and interesting people that are doing really important things here,” Rice says. "And most times you can access those people with relative ease."

“The age diversity in this community is a real strong point too,” Rice adds. “It is cool to see how Holland has changed just over the last five years. People have really come together to make it a more livable city.”

Rice said Holland could use more urban-style living to attract more residents to the downtown area. But something is working right. As the State of Michigan wallows in an historic economic funk, the City of Holland has created more jobs than it has lost for five years running, according to Assistant City Manager Greg Robinson.

“We have experienced steady business growth here for a while,” Robinson says. “We have a lot of homegrown companies that start and remain in this area; people put their heart into their businesses."

8th Street and Beyond
Holland offers an abundance of retail and dining options in the central city. Most of the shopping starts on the heated sidewalks of 8th Street where unique boutiques mix with more common shops and a few chain restaurants are scattered among the local eateries. Overall, the scene is charming, clean, and cohesive, with everything coming together in one of Michigan's more vibrant smaller-scale downtowns.

The Windmill Restaurant is one of the more popular local breakfast joints in the district, and early risers take advantage of the al fresco seating while sipping specialty drinks from JP’s Coffee and Espresso. Most downtown restaurants, in fact, offer outdoor seating during the summer months. And on Thursday nights local street performers set an energetic scene with jazz and other acts.

“You won’t believe what goes on here on Thursday nights,” Robinson says. “It's something you would see in a bigger city but we have it here.”

Another must see in the downtown district is The Peanut Shop, an old fashioned candy store with sweets priced from 10 cents on up. The store opens at 9:30 AM but it's not unusual to see children waiting outside with noses pressed against the windows. So the stores first customers often times are in the door by 9:31.

Also located immediately downtown is the Holland Farmer's Market. Situated in an expansive new covered venue on 8th street between Pine and Maple, the Wednesday and Saturday market is a popular stop for locally harvested plants, produce, meats, and other foods.

For an up-to-date summary of what's happening in Holland, stay tuned to the Downtown Live newspaper. The monthly publication is available on the City's Website under the 'News' heading.

Shops and restaurants continue outside of the 8th Street district, although they are not as concentrated. Just outside of downtown is Boatwerks located on Lake Macatawa. This newer restaurant features an atmosphere filled with vintage-style motor boats and a variety of comfort foods from macaroni and cheese to fried lake perch. The restaurant also offers curbside and dockside take-out. Local Barry Rice recommends UNKH's, a tasty place for traditional Japanese and fresh sushi. And New Holland Brewery and Butches also are popular with the younger set.

“There are reasons I like go to bigger cities," Rice says, "but in terms of everyday living, Holland has a lot going for itself. Once you can get plugged into the community and know what’s going on it is easy to take advantage of all Holland has to offer.”

In other words, global cities like Los Angeles might have the big glitz, the big arenas, and the big corporations, but Holland has an unmatched lifestyle the big boys just don’t offer.

Directions to Holland

From the North:
Take US-31 S. Take the I-196-BL / CHICAGO DR exit toward HOLLAND / ZEELAND. Turn RIGHT onto I-196 BL W / US-31 BR W. Stay STRAIGHT for E 8TH ST in downtown Holland.

From Grand Rapids:
Take US-131 N. Merge onto I-196 W via EXIT 86B on the LEFT toward HOLLAND. Take the I-196 W exit- EXIT 55- toward ZEELAND / HOLLAND. Take the I-96-BL W ramp toward ZEELAND / HOLLAND. Merge onto I-196 BL W. Stay STRAIGHT for E 8TH ST in downtown Holland.

From the South:
Take I-196 N / US-31 N. Merge onto US-31 N via EXIT 44 on the LEFT toward LAKE MICHIGAN / HOLLAND / MUSKEGON. Take the I-196-BR / US-31-BR exit- EXIT 47B- on the LEFT toward HOLLAND. Turn SLIGHT RIGHT onto US-31 BR / BLUE STAR MEMORIAL HWY / I-196 BL. Continue to follow US-31 BR / I-196 BL. Arrive Downtown Holland.

Liz Klimas is a freelance writer and a Grand Rapids native. She recently wrote the Guide to Grand Haven for Rapid Growth Media.

A street perfomer in downtown Holland

Public sculpture in downtown Holland

The Alpine Rose Restaurant

"Big Red" - The Holland Lighthouse

Outdoor dining abounds in the summertime in downtown Holland

Holland Farmer's Market (photo by Johnny Quirin)

Outdoor dining at The Curragh Pub and Restaurant

Photographs by Brian Kelly - All Rights Reserved

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