In 2018, Wyoming restaurant, Tamales Mary, launched the first food cart of its kind in downtown Grand Rapids. Manufactured by Walker-based Move Systems, the cart was the first sold to a local business; most of its clients are in New York City, where food carts are more commonplace. According to Tim Kelly, president and CEO of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc (DGRI), the eatery uses the cart as a way to promote its restaurant and catering business with hopes of opening a second brick-and-mortar location downtown. Now, thanks to a $30,575 DGRI retail incubation grant, Tamales Mary is closer to those goals.
The grants are a strategy for increasing the presence of local retailers downtown to not only draw more people to the center city, but provide more retail destinations for residents living there now.
“Having a healthy, strong retail environment is a goal in our GR Forward plan. It goes back to the idea of having a vibrant downtown, having a strong community presence,” Kelly says. “This also creates an environment that supports small businesses and entrepreneurs, and that has been a hallmark of Grand Rapids over the years. Downtown as the center of the city symbolizes that philosophy.”
The $250,000 in grant money was awarded to seven recipients in December 2019. Tamales Mary and two other grant recipients are already up and running. Mosby’s Popcorn, which expanded from its Kentwood shop, received $45,000 and Oh, Hello Co. Paper and Gifts, $21,000. Four grants were awarded to businesses that will open their doors soon: Ambiance GR Kitchen and Lounge, $45,000; Art Caribbean Fusion restaurant, wine bar and gift shop, $36,000; GR Noir Wine and Jazz, $21,000; and Mel Styles, a men’s clothing store, $10,908.
Oh, Hello Co. Paper and Gifts“What we’ve seen is that local, small businesses are often the businesses that are going to need help, Kelly says. “In some cases, they started on a smaller scale, like a food truck, or at a different location. They are different than a national retailer. They need a little more help to make it to the next step.”
While a good many of the selected recipients were businesses owned by minorities, Kelly notes that this had nothing to do with their selection.
“The program is open to anyone and everyone,” he says. “I think these applications stood out for the reasons I mentioned. Most had already taken a step and were demonstrating success. In order for them to come downtown, they needed a little support.”
DGRI launched the grant program as a pilot and will continue to monitor the recipients and offer additional support through its Retail Incubation Program.
Kelly concludes, “This pilot will help us to understand the dynamics at play that may or may not support the inventory of commercial space in the City and to develop more tailored strategies, not only for downtown, but for other business districts in the City.”
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy of DGRI