And The Winners Are...

The Inner City Christian Federation was honored as exemplifying the best in neighborhood business district reinvestment during yesterday's 19th Annual Neighborhood Business Awards for its renovation of 920 Cherry St. SE as its new headquarters.

"In two weeks we’re going to be celebrating literally to the day the 100th anniversary of the building," said Jonathon Bradford, ICCF executive director, following his acceptance of the Gerald R. Helmholdt Grand Award for the best most significant impact across all categories.

"To be able to return it to its original intent as a service to people in need--that was the most special honor," he said. "It was two months from being demolished and now it’s returned forever to the benefit of the families of the community."

Mayor George Heartwell and Rapid Growth Local Publisher Jeff Hill handed out the awards during a ceremony on Wednesday, Nov. 5, at the Wealthy Theatre in Grand Rapids. Sponsored by the Neighborhood Business Alliance and Neighborhood Ventures, the awards honor Grand Rapids neighborhood businesses and celebrate the constant renewal of the neighborhood business districts throughout the city. There are two awards in each category, the primary award winner selected by a committee of neighborhood volunteers, and the People’s Choice Awards, which were selected through a week-long survey on Rapid Growth. Roughly 80 businesses were nominated for awards this year.

Other big winners this year were eateries Chez Bayou and Brann’s Restaurant, who took home the top prize for Best Longstanding Business and Best New Business, respectively. Heartside hot spot HopCat took home the People’s Choice Award for Best New Business, while Flying Bridge Fish Market beat out a highly competitive field for the People’s Choice Award for Best Longstanding Business.

"It's unexpected, I just didn’t expect this," said Chez Bayou proprietor Denise Vanderweyden. "I’m so happy that I decided to go to (Eastown). The diversity and the support has been so wonderful for a unique business like ours. Everyone supports everyone there, it’s been very good to me, obviously."

Chez Bayou brought a new cultural experience to Eastown with her New Orleans-themed restaurant. Brann's restaurant on West Leonard has been a staple of the neighborhood since 1971. Not only are they an example in the neighborhood, as the NBA explained, but they are the type of small business that keeps the economy rolling: Brann's employs 900 in West Michigan. 
The Flying Bridge Fish Market at the corner of Leonard Street and Plainfield Avenue in the Creston neighborhood beat out the Fulton Street Farmers' Market and Rylee's Ace Hardware in the tighest People's Choice balloting of the contest.

"We've been a family-owned business for 25 years," said the fish market's Shelly Vondale. "People see us everytime they come in."

Vondale explained that there are so few fish markets in town, and as such a large part of the market's success has been its ability to attract patrons from across the city.

"You talk about neighborhood business and you think about people in the neighborhood," she said. "But we see people from all the city, that’s what has made us so successful and so long-standing."

Christine Helms Maletic and Baird Hawkins were honored with this year’s John H. Logie Award for their work as co-chairs of the Uptown Forward Committee.

Three businesses were able to take home both awards in their categories, with Nantucket Baking Company winning the selection committee and People’s Choice awards for Best Use of a Sign or Awning, Wealthy @ Charles doing so for Best Exterior Maintenance and the Schnitz Deli taking home double honors for Best Interior Maintenance.

The awards ceremony was open to the public and featured a special “Taste of Our Neighborhoods” reception. The event was organized by the Neighborhood Business Alliance, a volunteer organization comprised of representatives from each of Grand Rapids’ 20 local business associations that work together to advocate on issues affecting neighborhood business districts.

“This past year has been another incredible year for investment in our neighborhood business districts throughout the city. The NBA feels honored to give many of theses business that have contributed to this investment the recognition they deserve, but seldom receive,” said Ron Zoet, Executive Director of the Neighborhood Business Alliance. “The Neighborhood Business Alliance created this event nineteen years ago to celebrate the contributions of neighborhood business. We recognize their significant role in the redevelopment of our community and entire region.”

City Commissioners Rosalynn Bliss and David LaGrand were also on hand for the awards. LaGrand was actually a nominee for his Wealthy Street Bakery.

"This is what neighborhood business is about," he said. "It's not big offices. It's not national chains. It’s about individual people putting their individual dreams on the ground in this town."

The awards went to:

The Gerald R. Helmholdt Grand Award
Inner City Christian Federation for 920 Cherry

John H. Logie Award
Christine Helms Maletic and Baird Hawkins (Co-Chairs of Uptown Forward Committee)

Best Longstanding Business
Brann’s Restaurant (Leonard Street)
Peoples Choice Award
Flying Bridge Fish Market (Creston)

Best New Business
Chez Bayou (Eastown)
Peoples Choice Award
Hopcat (Heartside)

Best Exterior Maintenance
Winner/ People’s Choice Award
Wealthy @ Charles (Wealthy Street)

Best Exterior Renovation
Rockwells Kitchen and Tap  (Heartside)
Peoples Choice Award
Inner City Christian Federation (East Hills)

Best Interior Renovation
Winner/People’s Choice Award
Schnitz Deli/Common Ground (East Fulton)

Best New Construction
Winner (TIE)
Cook Library Center (Grandville)
Lemmon/Holton Cancer Pavilion (Michigan Street)
Peoples Choice Award
Founders Brewery (Grandville)

Best Reuse of a Building
Israel’s Designs for Living for 665 Steward (Stockbridge)
Peoples Choice Award
Bethlehem Lutheran Church (Heartside)

Best Promotional Event
Monroe North Business Association for the Monroe North Picnic
Peoples Choice Award
Eastown Business Association and Eastown Neighborhood
Association for Eastown Street Fair

Best Use of a Sign or an Awning
Winner/People’s Choice Award
Nantucket Baking Company (Michigan Street)

Best Window Display
Accents Gallery (West Fulton)
Peoples Choice Award
Shakedown Street (West Leonard)

Daniel Schoonmaker is managing editor of Rapid Growth.
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