Destination Old Town

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By Shanin Thomas
Old Town Lansing Times staff writer

Visitors of Old Town walk down Turner Street to shop in unique boutiques on a beautiful day in Lansing. (Photo by Shanin Thomas)

OLD TOWN LANSING – Thinking of going on a road trip? What’s your destination?

Lansing, Mich., has multiple assets that attract visitors. Michigan State University and the capital are two of the three connected communities that maintain diversity when encouraging travel. Old Town Lansing, the third community, offers a one-of-a-kind atmosphere that will leave visitors with inspiration making it the ultimate entertainment district.

In the beginning…

Old Town was created from Lansing’s original downtown in the early 1970s by nominated mayor, Robert Busby. He took a run-down, uninviting area and transformed it into an artist’s paradise of creativity, Old Town volunteers said.

Jamie Schriner-Hooper, previous executive director of the OTCA, said before the artists came to Old Town it was “dangerous and sketchy.”

Vacant storefronts and crime were not uncommon in the now thriving neighborhood of Old Town. Fortunately a few years after Busby’s efforts to change the perception of Old Town, the community became known as a historic, non-profit commercial district.

Meegan Holland, Old Town volunteer, said in 1996 Old Town was designated as a Main Street program, which qualified it for funding and support from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“The federal program was major in giving people confidence that the neighborhood could be a thriving place to live and work,” Holland said.

Tragedy to inspiration

Tragedy struck Old Town when the murder of Busby occurred on Feb. 27, 2007. His memory thrives still today through his daughter, Ena Busby, Creole Gallery and the Busby Memorial Garden.

Holland, Busby’s life-partner, said in a Facebook post, “we never forget that Old Town’s passion, ambition, vision and work ethic is what is today because this man and the many others who followed in his path.”

Volunteers, residents and shop owners all commit time and money to create festivals, clean up streets with holiday decorations and participate in fun events, Holland said.

Louise Gradwohl, executive director of the OTCA, said, “all the events show a different piece of what makes Old Town what it is today. The concentration of small businesses and the artistic flair make spending time here an experience that can turn into a lifestyle.”

According to the National Main Street Center, the vacancy rate of Old Town decreased from 90 percent to 11 percent with a population of 119, 128 residents.

Schriner-Hooper said people in Old Town care and will work to improve their own community unlike other tourist’s towns.

Julie Pingston, Senior Vice President of The Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau said, “these activities have complemented the activities in the downtown district and made our overall region ever more desirable for visitors.”

This graphic shows a map of Lansing, MI referencing Old Town to the capital, Michigan State University and the near freeways and major streets. (Created by Shanin Thomas)

Send out the invitations

Pingston said the visitor’s bureau markets the entire region as a travel destination for visitors, conventions, meetings and sporting events. The bureau does advertising, promotions and social media outreach to encourage travels to visit to many assets of Greater Lansing.

“We print 150,000 Visitor Guides and Old Town is featured in many places.  The Old Town Main Street Association purchases two advertisements in the Visitor Guide to promote to visitors.  One ad features the festivals and events in Old Town and the other highlights the unique businesses in Old Town,” Pingston said.

Kelly Smith, a MSU student, has heard of Old Town’s unique shops and bars. However, the best way to inform college students about the events and boutiques would be through social media, she said.

Gradwohl said the OTCA advertises Old Town through the City Pulse every month, multiple social media outlets and print and magazine for events and festivals.

Watch Old Town grow

A simple way to expand Old Town’s business would be to expand people’s perceptions of the boundaries, Holland said.

Schriner-Hooper said the efforts of Old Town were focused on a small area in the past, now the boundaries are expanding.

Pingston said visitors cannot see the boundary lines in each community; therefore a connected community is better for visitors.

“The River Trail is marketed as a convenient way to travel from the downtown to Old Town and we are hoping for more connectivity from the river as well,” Pingston said.

Shoppers explore through unique items in Old Town’s October Moon. (Photo by Shanin Thomas)

Pingston also said a great asset to keep the communities connected for visitors is the water taxi that travels from downtown to Old Town on the weekends.

Gradwohl said in the past three years Old Town has gained 18 businesses and only had five close. There are a total of 92 businesses in Old Town and the vacancy has slowing decreased to nine percent, she said.

More business incentives, stronger recruitment efforts to attract currently thriving businesses that want to open a new location and building a bigger brand are future steps that need to be taken to expand Old Town, she said.

“People come to realize they can live, eat, play, and share their life with this community because in the end what people give to us – we give right back to them,” Gradwohl said.

Pingston said, Old Town provides new options and is constantly evolving and changing.

“Old Town is truly an example of how the arts can be a catalyst for business development and bring diverse groups to a neighborhood,” Holland said.


Questions or comments? Contact Shanin Thomas at

Connect with Old Town through these links:

Link to storify:

Link to Magisto:



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