By Alexis Howell
Listen Up, Lansing staff reporter
Downtown Lansing may not have a lot of chain businesses and restaurant to offer, but the uniqueness of the businesses that they do have is what makes downtown Lansing attractive to eaters.
Michelle Rahl, director of business development who has been at the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce for four years, said that they sponsor a lot of entrepreneurial growth.
“The charm of downtown is not chain-heavy. The unique bars and restaurants have created their own niche, which is want people want. In my opinion, the most popular places to eat downtown are not chains,” she said.
Rahl also said that restaurant chains have a level of comfort, however people want something new.
Christine Zarkovich, manager of business development who has been at the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce for three months, said that just within the three months of working at the chamber, she has seen development and growth in the business scene downtown. She believes that the non-chain restaurants offer a fresh menu, while with food chains offer more of a frozen product.
Zarkovich said, “Don’t get me wrong, we love Biggby Coffee, but we want something different. Strange Matter Coffee only offers a few choices and doesn’t have a huge book of menu items.” She thinks the smaller menus help consumers get a variety.
Both Rahl and Zarkovich believe that people want to know where their food came from and they want better food in general.
Laurie Lonsdorf, senior business consultant of the Small Business Development Center, describes the business scene as an “amazing animal.” She believes that there is a good mix of restaurants; however, there isn’t a lot of retail.
She also said that the ideal way to make a city thrive is to have it be populated six out of the seven days a week, where downtown Lansing is usually only populated during the week.
Lonsdorf said the struggle of downtown is that most businesses are targeted towards lunch and very few towards dinner. Another struggle she talked about is the competition of businesses and the targeted customers.
If a business wants to be successful in downtown Lansing, she believes it has to be able to cater to the needs of everyone downtown.
“For example”, said Lonsdorf, “if you want to open up a store that caters to moms with yoga pants, downtown Lansing wouldn’t be an ideal place. Most moms with yoga pants are hanging out around Eastwood (Towne Center mall, in northern Lansing) so that would be a better marketplace.”
After talking to consumers that work downtown, they did not have a problem with the small businesses. Sarah Pulver who works at the Lansing Art Gallery says she is not bothered by the small businesses; in fact, she prefers them.
Pulver says, “Mediteran Cafe is my favorite place to eat. I would rather eat here everyday than eat McDonalds.”
Stephanie Lerman, tour guide at the State Capitol says, “I’m kind of a $5 lunch girl. I’m not really into fast food. I really enjoy the Empire Szechuan, its quick and inexpensive. I also eat at Jalapeños. It just depends on what I have a taste for.”
Shift manager of Tom + Chee, Jordan Babcock, says that as a franchise he thinks Tom+Chee is doing pretty well, especially compared to other businesses in the area.
Autumn Weston, manager at Kewpee Sandwich Shoppe, said “We’re doing okay as a small business” According to Weston, their peak hours are between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
“Honestly,” said Weston, “we are doing the best that we can.”
Dr. Jeffrey D Elsworth, MSU associate professor of Hospitality Business Entrepreneurship, says to have a small business, you have to do your homework. “As a small business, you cannot afford any surprises,” said Elsworth.
Elsworth said that the more surprises you have, the less likely to succeed. He also believes that preparation is key.
“Being too successful in the beginning can cause a problem in the long run,” said Elsworth. “Some businesses are so far ahead of themselves that they run out of things and it causes their business to suffer.”
Elsworth also said that retail drives restaurants because once you go shopping, you get hungry and having that cluster of restaurants and retail together is a marketing strategy that many thriving communities have.