Downtown area remains economically strong, faces challenges

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The Capitol building is easily seen from local Washington Square businesses.

By Andrew Krietz
Lansing Star staff writer

Lansing resident Glenda Osterhouse, 56, has witnessed change occur all around her — being at a location for 44 years, one “sees a lot.”

“The store hasn’t changed in 74 years,” said Osterhouse, owner of The Peanut Shop, 117 S. Washington Square. “I’ve been here since I was 12, (and) we do very well — almost every storefront now has been full of business, which is good.”

From candy to peanuts, the business has been a staple to many downtown and beyond. Although the storefront hasn’t changed, the area up and down Washington Square certainly had a mix of customers during the past decade, Osterhouse said.

Recent developments and fluctuations in government employment in the immediate area has made an impact on the store’s business.

“This last year has been down for us quite a bit — and we’ve noticed it,” she said. “A lot of retirees with the state (are) not here anymore, and we miss them.”

According to census data, Lansing’s population decreased about 4.1 percent since 2000 and the Ingham county workforce shrank by about 12 percent from 2000-08. Information from the 2010 census concerning employment is not yet available, but Osterhouse said the change of people who have jobs — or not — has affected business.

Although the city’s population decreased and is affecting regional economics, the downtown area near the Capitol building remained stable, even in the face of great adversity, said Tim Daman, president and CEO of the Lansing Regional Chamber.

“What we find in that area is a lot of small business owners, entrepreneurs who are setting up and trying to establish something in the downtown,” he said. “(There are) restaurants that cater to a very large population of people during an eight-to-five workday.”

For some, that many restaurants on Washington Square have created a problem of their own.

“We need more stores for the people who are down here that work every day, stores that they can shop at,” Osterhouse said. “I know people have said, ‘Oh, I’m walking by The Peanut Shop, but I need batteries before I go home. Where can I get that on this street?’ You can’t.”

Like The Peanut Shop, Kositchek’s Menswear, 113 N. Washington Square, also has remained in the downtown area — it has been in the area for more than 140 years. Owner David Kositchek said an economic recession during the previous decade was noticeable, but didn’t derail business for the store.

The store doesn’t fulfill everyone’s needs, but it’s there for those in the area, he said.

“I’ve seen all the ups and downs and I’ll tell you, over the last 10 years — (we’ve) continued to evolve and have been very strong,” Kositchek said.

The offerings of the downtown area are enough to keep coming back, especially with a population of young professionals in the area, Lansing resident Devon Brooks said.

With the Capitol building nearby and a college campus down the road, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to have too many restaurants in the area — it’s about the nightlife, he said.

“At the end of the day, if you work downtown, you’re going to want to relax and have fun,” Brooks said. “Downtown has that to offer.”

To recover from an economic recession, city officials need to keep business in mind and promote the area, which has been done and is something officials seem to plan for the future, Daman said.

“I think there’s been a more concerted effort for a downtown development plan that the city has enacted and put in place,” he said. “Investment from Cooley Law School, Lansing Community College and the Lansing Center brings brings people to the area.”

Lansing 4th Ward council member Jessica Yorko is on the advisory board for Downtown Lansing Inc. She did not respond to requests for an interview. Other council members did not return phone calls for this report.

On May 3, Lansing residents will vote on a question to raise property taxes by 4 mills to 19.44 from 15.44 mills toward the funding of police, fire and road maintenance. About $8.5 million could be generated for the city next year, according to the Lansing State Journal.

“It’s time for us to band together more than we ever have before … (and try) to find the positive side of our situation,” Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero said during a March 28 City Council meeting.

But the tax hike might not be in the city’s — or businesses’ — best interest.

“It’s been proven and I think folks have been in agreement that government doesn’t create jobs — it can create a regulatory component to help create those jobs,” Daman said. “I think it sends a negative message.”

Even so, Osterhouse said if the business remained in the area for decades, she hopes is continues well into the future.

“We’re very fortunate,” she said. “As far as staying downtown, we plan on it.”

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