Business owners feel a sense of community in Old Town

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Businesses in Old Town feel a sense of pride in their community. Photo by Kaley Fech.

Businesses in Old Town feel a sense of pride in their community. Photo by Kaley Fech.

Located just north of downtown, Old Town, still a part of Lansing, is its own unique community.

The business owners in Old Town have both a love for and a sense of pride in the community they have helped to revitalize.

Lillian Werbin, daughter of Stan Werbin, the founder and owner of Elderly Instruments, is extremely proud of the progress the area has made.

“I was kind of raised in Old Town,” Werbin said. “It didn’t always have this homey and welcoming feel. Now that I’m an adult and I can participate in the community experience, I’ve seen how far this area has come and matured.”

In order to help their community thrive, the businesses in Old Town often interact in both a neighborly and a business sense.

“If a business needs help shoveling their walk, somebody nearby will lend a hand,” Werbin said. “We really embrace the word community.”

Alissa Sweet, co-owner of Sweet Custom Jewelry, believes the communication between businesses is important.

“All of the business owners communicate all the time about the little things happening in Old Town, we ask each other for advice, et cetera,” Sweet said. “It’s like a little family.”

The business owners in Old Town wish to see the other businesses in the area succeed as well.

As it has been there for quite some time, Elderly Instruments is very well established in the Old Town community. The business attracts people from all over, not just Lansing or even Michigan.

Elderly Instruments, located on North Washington Avenue, has been in the community since the 1980s. Source: Google Maps. Graphic created by Kaley Fech.

Elderly Instruments, located on North Washington Avenue, has been in the community since the 1980s. Source: Google Maps. Graphic created by Kaley Fech.

“We have a lot of people who travel from different states to come visit our business,” Werbin said. “We encourage our customers to go and visit the restaurants and shops. This way, everything gets highlighted when people come to visit.”

Sweet, who has only been in Old Town for a short time, has found partnerships and marketing are other ways in which businesses in the community help one another.

“Businesses help one another by giving excellent advice and partnering with one another,” Sweet said. “We have many different cross marketing events that we participate in which helps their business and ours.”

Sweet Custom Jewelry specializes in handmade custom jewelry design. Photo by Kaley Fech.

Sweet Custom Jewelry specializes in handmade custom jewelry design. Photo by Kaley Fech.

Neil Kane, a leading authority on technology commercialization, entrepreneurship and commercialization, and the director of undergraduate entrepreneurship at Michigan State University, believes these interactions and the sense of community are important for success in an area made up of many small businesses.

“If you’re a small business owner, your livelihood largely depends on the success of the area,” Kane said. “You then have an incentive to help the other businesses succeed. The more businesses that do well, the better for you.”

The Old Town Commercial Association also works to contribute to the success of the community. In early February, the OTCA hosted their fourth annual Chocolate Walk, which is designed to allow participants to explore Old Town while simultaneously collecting almost two pounds of chocolate.

The funds raised from the event are put back into the community through revitalization efforts, but the purpose of events such as this is twofold; Jamie Schriner-Hooper, the president of the board of directors for the Old Town Commercial Association, said the goal is also to attract people to the community.

“We don’t want people to come to Old Town and just go to one specific store or restaurant,” Schriner-Hooper said. “Through our events, the OTCA is trying to get people to come to other businesses. Any business can participate in the Chocolate Walk, and the event gets people to go into businesses they may not typically go into.”

Sweet Custom Jewelry was one of the businesses that participated in the event.

“All of the events that the businesses in Old Town put on or that we participate in bring so many new potential clients here that it would be foolish not to participate!” Sweet said. “Unique events are what make this town so exciting. There is always something fun to bring our customers back time and time again.”

Kane also believes events such as the Chocolate Walk are good for a small community like Old Town.

“Events like this help a lot,” Kane said. ”They give people a reason to come into the area and learn about the businesses that are there.”

Business owners in Old Town hope to see the area grow, but they also hope that it never loses its sense of community.

“What I really want is to see this sense of community last,” Werbin said. “I’m really hoping this welcoming feeling sticks. I don’t want Old Town to mirror the rest of the world.”