‘Heal the Zeel’ campaign rallies community support

The city of Zeeland’s “Feel the Zeel” tagline has temporarily switched to “Heal the Zeel” as a way to bolster those who are struggling during the pandemic.  

Beyond the inspiring words, the campaign gives residents, businesses, and others a way to show support through window stickers, Zoom backgrounds, Facebook posts, and sidewalk messages. 

“This is a communitywide campaign, which represents encouragement and good faith that we will overcome this. We recognize that different parts of our community will need to heal from different aspects of this pandemic — health, economy, education, relationships, and more. We will need to support one another through this recovery,” says Zeeland City Marketing Director Abby deRoo.

Stepping up support

The campaign comes as the Zeeland City Council is stepping up to support businesses struggling because of the pandemic. Council members are considering temporarily lowering the city’s property tax rate by 1 mill and forgoing charging maintenance fees this year for businesses in the downtown district, which alone could save merchants about $500.

The West Coast Chamber Chamber of Commerce is also offering grants to downtown Zeeland establishments.

Businesses have been creative in working within the restrictions set by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, recently extended to May 29 to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which has killed more than 4,500 people across the state. 

Merchants have increased their online presence and offered store pickups and deliveries.

Appreciates city efforts

Roughly, a third of the community’s downtown businesses stayed open or have reopened. One is Out of the Box, at 114 E Main Avenue, which sells games, toys, and puzzles. The store increased its online presence and began shipping online or making deliveries.

Owner Jeff Rietveld has a big “Heal the Zeel” sticker in the store’s window, along with many other merchants. He appreciates everything the city has done to help merchants like himself. The shop has been able to adjust by selling online, making local deliveries, and recently adding curbside pickup as Whitmer’s order relaxed to allow that. 

“Even with us being probably better off than many stores because we were able to adjust like that, we're still losing a lot of money,” Rietveld says.

Our small businesses want you to know that you're on their hearts! ?? They can't wait to see you in person, but until...

Posted by Zeeland--Feel the Zeel on Thursday, April 30, 2020

He says the city’s effort to reduce costs means a lot during this difficult financial period. The shop has been located downtown during nine of its 11 years in Zeeland.

“We love it,” says Rietveld. “We highly recommend Zeeland as an amazing place to do business. Our customers are very loyal and really understand the importance of supporting local businesses.”

Banding together

Laura Gentry, co-owner of Tripelroot Restaurant and Brewpub also appreciates the sentiment of the new campaign that is about supporting each other. She is taking that approach by creating a menu of “Stay at Home” specials that incorporates ingredients grown by local suppliers.

Tripelroot, at 146 E Main Avenue, offers slider and taco meal kits, made with meat from Michigan Craft Beef and lettuce from Crisp Country Acres. 

Laura Gentry, co-owner of Tripelroot, is offering “Stay at Home” specials.
Another option is pasties. Previously, the savory baked pastries favored in the Upper Peninsula was a Monday special. Now, Gentry has increased production and has put them on the menu for Takeout Tuesday. 

“We freeze them so people can thaw and reheat them. That's been going really well. My husband, Nate, and I went to Michigan Tech, so we spent a lot of time eating them in the UP, and we love them. It’s been fun to introduce the pasty to people around here.”

“Our main goal is just to be there for the community and band together with other local businesses, and do what we can with what we have and just take one day at a time,” Gentry says. 

Out of the Box and Tripelroot are among the businesses placing the large Z! heart decals on their storefront windows. Residential and vehicle-size decals can be bought from a display outside The Zeeland Record Co., 16 S. Elm. 

To encourage local shopping, the city also is keeping a current list of open businesses on its website.

Promoting unity

The Heal the Zeel campaign is promoting unity in a variety of ways, including:The campaign includes sidewalk messages.
  • Zeeland Police officers are handing out kickballs with the message “Zeeland will bounce back.” 
  • The city created custom web meeting backgrounds of favorite Zeeland places that can be used during virtual meetings.
  • The city is stenciling Heal the Zeel messages on the sidewalks.

Sharing the "Heal the Zeel" message is one more way residents are showing support for each other, says deRoo. 

“There is a lot happening right now that we cannot control, but we do have control over how we respond and how we come together as a community. It is our hope that, when Zeelanders reflect back on this time — although there will be some hard memories around loss — we are hopeful that there will be good memories as well, warm thoughts about how it felt to be part of the Zeeland community during this season,” she says. 

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs, and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.
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