From coffee and cosplay to food trucks and film: Reasons to love Grand Rapids in 2017

Internationally acclaimed filmmakers. Embracing our immigrant communities. An ever-growing music scene. Happiness in a cup (seriously). There are more reasons than ever to love, and explore, Grand Rapids in 2017.
In January we are presented with a chance to clean the slate of the prior year. Some do this by firing up an app on their phone to, say, exercise more or eat healthier, while others might head to social media to track their newfound goals.

But what about those who eschew this annual prescriptive ritual and instead seek a different path?
For those folks seeking new adventures in an always-shifting city, we want to offer reasons to love Grand Rapids in 2017 and show you why, this year, you’ll want to explore new places, fall in love with old favorites all over again and meet your fellow city adventurers.

We recognize right out of the gate that this list should not be seen by any means as an attempt on our part to be an exhaustive compilation. In fact, we encourage folks who might be feeling a bit disconnected in their very connected digital lives this year to consider this list of experiences as a way to connect with the physical spaces all around the city in a unique fashion.

Here are our ways to Love GR in 2017.

Because we could be Coffee City, USA. There are no shortages of places in the city to grab a good cup of coffee. Whether it’s machine-brewed, pour-over, or those artfully rendered concoctions that are passed over the counter at MadCap (a coffee shop that seems to always be winning national competitions and is now in two locations downtown), our city is bursting with some of the best java we can serve up.

The Sparrows.
But, honestly, a good coffee shop environment is just as important as what is served. To this end, East Hills’ The Sparrows is one coffee shop that looms large above all the others for its earthy design,but also its host of amenities on site, from local art for sale to the local ‘zines that share shelf space with national magazine titles.

A close second is The Bitter End, which has saved many a night owl’s heinie working on a deadline at this 24-hour operation located within the West Fulton business district.

Because sometimes you want to work alone-ish. While the city is flush with co-working spaces, from the startup-friendly The Factory to the newish urban chic space at Linc Up! to the fashionably forward WorkLab by Custer, we’ve long had other places where those on a budget can really stretch their dollar if they are seeking a quiet and unique spot to work.

In the area of providing space for one to work somewhat uninterrupted, the Grand Rapids Art Museum hits all the right buttons for those seeking a bit of privacy in a space hidden away inside an environment many would often overlook.

For the low cost of an annual membership, you gain access to a long list of amenities the GRAM has to offer, including access to the second floor rooms and lounge area. There, you can work in an inspiring setting, or just kick back on the spacious outdoors hidden balcony that overlooks Monroe Center and allows you to soak up the sights and sounds from a thrilling perspective.

A close second is the Urban Center for Contemporary Arts, which has a downtown venue that also offers its members access to a well-designed room, complete with a kitchen-like bar and unique views of both the city and the art contained at their 2 W. Fulton location.

If you are light on cash, these are two great alternatives in our city for those seeking spaces where they can drop in and work in (often) silence, all the while enjoying the beauty of their surroundings. 

Because we finally have food trucks. It is no secret that food trucks are a part of the mobile entrepreneurial landscape of the U.S. Whether from Los Angeles to Cleveland, so many cities have opened their arms to this culinary trend that is enabling new ways of enjoying food. Plus, these trucks are providing new financial security to many different people who have taken the time to invest in these kitchens on four wheels. [The family behind the beloved Daddy Pete’s BBQ food truck, for example, was just able to open a to-go shop on Eastern Avenue after much success with their food truck.] Not to mention, these food trucks whip up some seriously delicious eats: think smoked ribs, spiced peach shrimp tacos and beer brats -- and a whole lot more. To find out what food trucks operate in Grand Rapids and how you can find them, check out the Grand Rapids Food Truck Association’s website and Facebook page.

Finally we have food trucks.

And while our local scene is always adding new trucks to the cityscape, it is worth noting that, while we delayed getting an ordinance for these mobile vendors, food trucks appeared in our local Meijer stores. The grocery stores carry a line of frozen items produced by famous food trucks from around the nation. If we are to stay current on future urban trends that communities are seeking elsewhere, we will need to move faster when hoping to follow others on such new adventures in eating. 

Because cosplay here is really, really fun. Locally, we have a lot of shops devoted to comics and the illustrated novel, but one downtown store, Vault of Midnight, has elevated cosplay via its many activities in this town, from Free Comic Book Day to co-sponsoring super hero-themed dance parties.

Cosplay is the art of dressing up as a favorite character from a movie, book or video game. Often many who engage in this activity draw heavily from Japanese genres of manga and anime. The best way to keep in the loop on such community-building activities is to be sure and visit Vault of Midnight’s Facebook page, where events are posted on a regular basis. 

And, when it comes to cosplay events in the city, our Grand Rapids Comic Con just keeps growing. This year, the four-year-old con drew somewhere around 30,000 people -- and more visitors, vendors, personas, and artists are expected next year.

Because we can eat around the world via The Rapid. Foodwise, the city is truly growing as local chefs are making their mark on the many dining establishments in the popular neighborhoods of our city. 

But if you are seeking a wonderfully diverse culinary journey, then hop on The Rapid and head southeast/southwest, where so many ethnic restaurants, like one of the latest, The Candied Yam, have opened up to the delight of foodies everywhere. 

Check out this video of Chef Jenna Arcidiacono of Amore Trattoria and Paul Lee of The Winchester as they take us to the always delicious Pho Soc Trang and Kim Nhung Superstore via The Rapid’s Silverline -- the state’s first bus rapid transit line. 

Bing Goei

Because the State of Michigan’s Office of New Americans is run by one of our own.
 Bing Goei, who has devoted his life to not just making our city look and smell a bit more beautiful with his Eastern Floral business, but through his leadership and example he has ensured that our local minority entrepreneurial community is connecting to programs that will help advance their success.  

Michigan’s Office For New Americans, where Goei is the founding director, was created in 2014 to help grow our state’s economy “by attracting global talent to our state and promote the skills, energy, and entrepreneurial spirit of our immigrant communities.” 

Second to Bing in his local mission to unlock the potential within the women of our city is the often missed Hook a Sista Up -- an organization of women ensuring through this tight knit group accountability check in model that their small business dreams become a reality.

Because we are On The Ground. Our new series rooted in embedded journalism is taking a deep look at our community’s neighborhoods and, in doing so, enabled positive dialogue about these pockets of our city where so many diverse people call home. (You might be surprised at the discoveries.)

Because we have a Bermuda triangle of good beverages emerging right beneath our noses. It is no secret that the West Side of Grand Rapids is experiencing a lot of attention these days, but one player on Leonard Street SW has become the anchor organization enabling an ever-growing corner to emerge devoted to the art of the good, locally-made adult beverage -- all which disappear, deliciously, into residents' mouths.

When The Mitten Brewery opened in October 2012 by friends Chris Andrus and Max Trierweiler, they would apply a simple baseball overlay to their brewpub housed in an old firehouse that would grow to become a favorite spot for a pizza and a beer. 

The best corner for drinks in town.

But the reverberations that would follow in the years to come could not have been predicted, as the award-winning Long Road Distillery —  named one of "The Best New Distilleries in the World" by TimeOut USA — and the soon-to-open The People’s Cider Co. are both within steps of The Mitten Brewery and each other. Truly, there is no excuse for those who often complain upon entering an establishment,  “There is nothing to drink at this bar.”  This corner might not look like much in the city, but those who know their beverages know that this is probably going to become one of the hottest addresses in the city.

Because when you kick us, we get back up again, and again, and again. The city is filled with talk about how the rents are advancing at a rate that many call unsustainable. And while talks of rent increases are not just a Grand Rapids issue, there are those locally who have learned the language of urban change and worked to ensure via their networking to beat the odds and stay in business. 

While there are many who can attest to the power of a low rent as a point of access for small businesses in our region having a shot at success, it cannot happen without a landlord who also understands that investments like this are risky and so we must take the longview approach.

Peri Olson in Flashback.

One such business that has withstood the tests of time since the 1980s, when she opened her first of many second-hand thrift stores in our city, is Peri Olson of Flashback. Recently, the building Olson used to inhabit faced a transfer of ownership after her landlord passed away, and she found herself back on the market again.

Fortunately for us, Flashback found a new home on Leonard Street and just a few blocks west of her previous location. Be sure to visit Olson in the coming weeks as she unpacks more some of the region’s best vintage clothing, as well as a host of other amazing items -- like her collection of bootleg cassette tapes she purchased from a record collector’s estate sale. Many of these are one-of-a-kind recordings and from well-known and indie acts from the late 70s through the early 90s. I recently score a cassette of Prince live from a concert in Paris. 

Because our local public school system is turning heads across the state. It is not a secret that Grand Rapidians have fallen in love with their local Grand Rapids Public Schools. Need proof? Rapid Growth produced these reports on GRPS that showcase what a turnaround looks like and how the community is connected to these changes.

Because our music scene refuses to be pigeon-holed. (See the Jammies, Feb. 10 at the Intersection Lounge.) 

20 Monroe.

Because we are adding new venues for performances all the time for local and touring acts to perform their music in the city. 
 Grand Rapids has many venues devoted to music and of all sizes, from the intimate Tip Top Deluxe to the fiercely independent Pyramid Scheme to our internationally celebrated Van Andel Arena, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary in our city. Soon they will be joined by 20 Monroe Live, located next door to The B.O.B. (Big Old Building). 

Because we have numerous movie theatre options -- with many just a few minutes from your door. It is no secret that movies are still hot, even in a time when our patterns of viewing have drastically shifted. 

There are many reasons for such a shift, but as Grand Rapids continues to grow so do our opportunities for film. This can be witnessed not just via the many cineplexes that have popped up around town, like Wealthy Theatre and the UICA theatre, but also because of our local homegrown  Celebration Cinema’s newest theatrical property will be in downtown Grand Rapids. 

Studio C.

Construction on this new addition to the downtown landscape is breaking ground this spring and is located behind the Van Andel Arena. 

Because we have locals making waves in the film industry. It is good to know that our city’s movie making street cred did not end after Calvin College graduate Paul Schrader made “Hardcore” (1979) here on the streets of Division Avenue.

Not only have we witnessed in the last couple years a resurgence within our filmmaking community via the many organizations devoted to this art, but because of their building blocks we have a tight community of creators, makers and actors -- like director Joel Potrykus, who made a trio of films (“Ape” “Buzzard” “Coyote”) with local musician and actor Joshua Burge (“Buzzard” “The Revenant”). Their contributions have changed the way those in the industry are looking at our region of the country. 
Joel Potrykus

And we are looking forward in 2017 to what the newly launched Grand Rapids Film Society's contribution will be to our filmmaking community.

Because you cannot ignore our bike culture any longer. There was a time when a cyclist had zero protections via the roads we designed…but not anymore as groups like Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition and The Spoke Folks have advanced the much-needed education and powerful lobby of their memberships to make our local bike-friendly goals a reality. 

Happiness in a cup.

Because you can find happiness in a cup.
 While we have grown as a region, complete with a vast and every expanding spectrum of itches eager to be scratched, still one of the best pleasures in this life is knowing that Grandville Avenue’s M&M Bakery still offers pure bliss via their cake in a cup. 

And while the city has shifted along with the bakery, which now offers such options as a variety cup filled with an assortment of mixed cake flavors, M&M still has the traditional white wedding cake complete with a frosting that is sure to make you want to say “I do” to Grand Rapids over and over again.

And finally, because when problems present themselves locally, we are the kind of people who are willing to roll up our sleeves to set it right. Sure, we may not be delivering always on time, but it is worth noting that we are a city that is blessed with so many people who are hoping to perfect the urban experience for everyone as we experience this truly rapid growth of our region together. 

So, while we know there are many more wonderful things to embrace in the year ahead as you set out to explore your city, this list helps fill in the blanks for those seeking to go off-road and seek new paths of discovery in Grand Rapids.

If you have a few places that you want to share as to what you love about GR, please be sure to tag #RapidGrowth and add #LoveGR to your post.

The Future Needs All of Us. 

Tommy Allen
Rapid Growth

For the best in events happening this week, please visit G-Sync: Let's Do This!

Photos from various venues or individuals featured.