This article was published on February 8, 2012 on Spartan Online Newsroom and was written for my JRN 400 class. I also made the accompanying graphic.
by Nicole LaChance
Spartan Online Newsroom
Just 20 years ago, Lansing’s Old Town neighborhood was full of broken down, empty buildings. Today, thanks to the Old Town Main Street Program and the dedicated efforts of local residents, just 7 percent of the neighborhoods buildings remain empty, a sure sign of a turnaround. The once non-existent small business community is now filled with a diverse, supporting group of people.
The community is known largely for its art galleries, antique stores and unique shops, which brighten up the old buildings of the neighborhoods namesake. The main streets are typically filled with a mix of everyone from young, arty college students to middle-aged people perusing the local businesses. Old Town attracts creative people from all walks of life, said Louise Gradwohl, executive director of the Old Town Commercial Association.
“We have such a diverse group of business owners,” said Gradwohl. “It makes our neighborhood full of more flavor, more life.” Diversity also makes the neighborhood more appealing to visitors, she added.
The neighborhood is in an ideal location and comes with a supportive community, said Chad Jordan, owner of Cravings Popcorn. Jordan, an African-American, has been a business-owner in Old Town for three years and has had a very positive experience with the community. The community is also very diverse, he said, citing the high number of minority and female business owners.
“I think there are more women who own businesses here than anywhere else in town,” said Jordan.
One of those women is Kim Robertson, who co-owns Favorite’s Café with her husband. Robertson loves the other businesses in the area and has enjoyed the sense of community in the neighborhood.
“People come in all the time. Everyone always wants to pray for you,” she said. Robertson has been a member of the Old Town business community for about a year.
Old Town is a great place to open a business, said Robertson. However, you have to make sure you have the time, money and resources to put into it, she said.
Old Town has also proven to be an enjoyable place for local residents.
Liz Kim enjoys the local business, antique stores, restaurants and festivals in the area, as well as the location off the River Trail. She also enjoys the range of ages and types of people the area attracts and the fact that is has less of a “big city” feel than downtown Lansing.
Old Town is a special place for Kim. She and her fiancé went to the Old Town Jazz Festival on their first date, her fiancé proposed to her on a street in the neighborhood and they plan to have their wedding reception at a local art gallery. In addition to being a great place to create memories, she believes the neighborhood is a financial asset to Lansing.
“While the area surrounding tends to be a poorer place and business seem to be struggling, old town itself looks like it’s thriving,” said Kim. “I think it’s really good for Lansing because it is a great location for community events that bring in business.
The Lansing Economic Development Council, in conjunction with the OTCA, is also trying to bring business to the area, and offers several programs to help with the financial burden of small business owners. These include the Lansing Main Street Loan Fund for small businesses, the Business Finance Assistance Program, which aims to encourage diversification of the business community, and the Lansing EB-5 Regional Center, which encourages those from other countries to invest in Lansing businesses and projects. Information about these programs can be found at the LEDC’s website, www.edc.lansingmich.gov.