By Jake Bross
Grand Ledge Gazette staff writer
Grand Ledge resident Shonda Bain’s hope of owning an antique store came true last August.
Black Dog Antiques opened on South Bridge Street after a heavy load of hard work and advertising.
“It’s tough being a new business, opening up in a downtown area,” said Bain. “With all of the advertising and marketing, there’s never time to rest.”
Though there are few businesses coming into Grand Ledge, there has been a controversial drop in business openings for the past three years.
Jill Russell, the director of the city’s chamber of commerce, finds the small town feel of Grand Ledge to be idyllic to any family and business.
“There’s been a stabilization within the economy where the businesses that are starting out are able to sustain their businesses, pay the bills, keep the lights on, and aren’t closing up shop and moving to a maybe more populated area,” said Russell.
In 2011, a total of 72 businesses opened in Grand Ledge alone, according to the Eaton County Clerk’s Office’s business filing report. Since then, the openings have slowly decreased.
“It would be my interpretation that because businesses aren’t moving in, there just isn’t space,” said Sue Stachowiak, zoning administrator for Grand Ledge. “And that may be a good thing.”
Mark Sullivan, the economic development coordinator of the Grand Ledge Downtown Development Authority, disagreed.
“A number of businesses downtown are running on the edge, waiting for the economy to turn around, so you see a number of businesses go and some come in,” said Sullivan. “Trouble is, you can’t really look at them as one for one.”
Though there is much development, especially around Saginaw Street, according to Sullivan, closed businesses are not getting replaced quickly enough.
“Most of the storefronts are full, it’s just not as vibrant downtown as we hope it to be,” said Sullivan. “We’ve had some empty space for a while downtown and some spots are starting to fill up which is good, but we have been hit hard like many other cities.”
On the other hand, City Administrator Jon Bayless remained hopeful.
“A new business is coming in the old Montgomery Ward Warehouse that will bring in about 300 jobs on the west side of Grand Ledge,” said Bayless. “There are businesses growing in Grand Ledge. For example, the Pro-MEC Co. is taking over what was formerly the HG Steel Company near the city’s industrial park.”
With a possible growth of larger businesses, there is still room for smaller, family owned businesses as well.
“Grand Ledge is great if new residents want a place where people know each other—local shops where you know people and where you can establish yourself and your family,” said Russell. “That’s a community you’re not necessarily going to find in a larger city.”
Residents have been increasing in numbers for the past year, according to Russell and Bayless.
“As far as homes, the growth population has been increasing each year, so there’s more people moving to the Grand Ledge area,” said Russell. “Basically, this is because the economy is coming back around and they want a smaller town.”
The reason for new residents coming into the city may be that property value is low.
“Property value has generally been weak for the last five years,” said Bayless. “That’s attractive to new buyers, and of course interest rates are low which makes it even more attractive. It’s definitely a buyer’s market.”
Sullivan agreed with Bayless.
“There has been a 5 to 6 percent decrease in property value the past few years, which is a good thing for a slow market,” said Sullivan.
With such a decrease, Bayless expects new things on the way to Grand Ledge, despite a decrease in business openings so far this year.
“I hear over and over again that Grand Ledge is an ideally located city between Lansing and Grand Rapids with a lot of character,” said Bayless. “It’s very accessible and a wonderful town for businesses.”