The successful events and volunteer service in the past year has been nothing but amazing for the citizens of Old Town. However, it is ready for the next step of expanding.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Lansing’s unemployment rate has dropped nearly 10 percent over the past 10 years, however in cities like Detroit it remains at 12 percent. With families being brought in from the city because of how expensive it is to live there, Old Town must look toward to the future and expand.
The main goal of Old Town business leadership for 2017 is deciding whether or not they should expand its boundary physically or the overall perception of it. Committees are looking to bring in the correct business and not dress-type of shops that do not appeal to the overall atmosphere and community of what Old Town really is. They want to make it a Midwest destination and different than other areas that is known around the city.
Vanessa Shafer, Executive Director of the Old Town Commercial Association, believes the reason people love Old Town so much is because of the love and passion and the real mission of bringing the community together. To be able to make it something bigger than itself and not go to big because it will lose that small mentality.
As of now they do not have the right direction of where to start and how to start.
“The people and families of this community constantly volunteering year by year are just unbelievable and I cannot thank them enough,” Shafer said. “However, these are volunteer-based and we depend on non-volunteers for money and an unsuccessful event loses a lot of our profits.”
According to Ben Dowd, treasurer of the Old Town Commercial Association, the best financial and effective decision is to continue with the festivals they have, decide whether or not they want to build up or build out.
Dowd says expanding businesses is another great decision for the future, like Preuss Pets which is the largest family-owned pet store in the Midwest that attracts people not only from the country, but from around the entire world. Along with Elderly Instruments, which is another global attraction that many people often visit year-round.
Ben Hassenger, former board member of Old Town, says that one of the things that made Old Town stand out from the rest of Lansing was that there are no chain stores here and that everything is a family-owned business that allows you to get to know the community as you work there.
“I was born and raised here and have gravitated to the Old Town district over the last 10 – 15 years because of the wide range of people, businesses, events, and activities here that no where in Lansing has,” said Hassenger. “It help keeps ‘Old Town weird’ to steal a slogan from Austin, Texas.”
Professor Evelyn Blumenberg from the University of California, Los Angeles was able to break down why people are attracted towards smaller towns and districts rather than major cities.
“Typically tourists are attracted to what the area has to offer – amusement parks, museums, concert venues, etc. which many are located near large population centers that generally everyone likes,” said the urban development expert. “However, people may be attracted to smaller cities for other types of amenities, including outdoor hikes, national parks, and overall being able to do it as a community together.”
It is often cheaper to stay in smaller cities and towns compared to larger metropolitan areas, along with where you are located in the city or town plays a major role, according to Blumenberg.
“To be able to expand the goal for Old Town is to continue to host more events but with fundraisers to raise money for music programs, art galleries, and the community,” said Shafer. “We need to host more events like this because no one else does it like us and it’s always heartening to me to see more and more different people each time at these events as they always have a wonderful time.”
Jamie Schriner-Hooper, President of Old Town and head of the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan, says the original idea when Main Street was first constructed in Old Town, was for all the businesses to focus in a condensed area so that your work is shown towards others.
“This was the original idea at first so that all our stores could make business, now more and more people are looking to start up here so we need to find a way of scattering our shops without losing that Old Town small mentality feel,” said Schriner-Hooper.
Places like the Golden Harvest where it is not near Old Town’s boundaries, but is still considered part of the town. Old Town is slowly opening up businesses that are opening up and extending their boundaries as much as possible. There are certain area’s that are considered part of Old Town as non-profit organizations, however the perception is there that it is part of Old Town and not Lansing, according to Schriner-Hooper.
Resident Andrea Kerbuski was not aware this was the goal of the board, but loves the idea of Old Town growing and expanding.
“Economic growth in Lansing is always a positive to me and I believe the small town mentality will remain in tact as Old Town grows,” said Kerbuski. “The businesses are a tight knit community, which is why it is attractive to businesses.”
Okemos did not have that community spirit and passion and businesses were not helping each other out nearly as much as Old Town. In Old Town, it is definitely a part of the culture to support each other’s businesses and grow together as a community, according to Kerbuski.
New board members were picked recently at the beginning of February and are hopefully looking to continue from the past members and make Old Town one of the top Midwest destinations.
There will be an event called “March Wake Up Old Town,” where professionals from across the city will come together and help businesses grow and future plans for Old Town on March 3 at Clark Hill, 212 E. Grand River Ave.