In an era of fading downtowns, the numbers prove Grand Ledge’s downtown is growing

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Downtown Grand Ledge lined with parked cars on a gloomy Wednesday afternoon. Peter Nuttall/Living in The Ledge

By Peter Nuttall
Living In The Ledge Staff Reporter

Over the past few years Grand Ledge has seen a disappearance of shops, specifically in their downtown area. With buildings open for rent, Grand Ledge City Administrator Adam Smith said that they are always open to the idea of new businesses coming in.

“The city is always looking for businesses to come into our town looking to make a good positive investment and impact in the community,” he said.

Grand Ledge Mayor Kalmin Smith said the building of the Eastwood Towne Center and the Frandor Shopping Center in nearby Lansing hurt some stores and businesses that used to be downtown.

“Before the growth of Lansing, Grand Ledge was a separate little city and it had a vibrant downtown providing just about everything,” he said. “They had clothing stores for both men and women, restaurants, bakeries, and things like that.”

Dickinson College economics professor William Bellinger said some of the reasons small shops don’t last in a small town is that people are willing to travel to larger shopping locations for lots of reasons and if they need to get a variety of things.

Also, larger centers often offer cheaper prices. Bellinger said that’s clearly a factor in the disappearance of retail and other businesses in a town’s downtown area. He said local stores can survive as long as they’re not competing directly with the malls.

“Most of the stores providing more durable goods and services went out of existence, and the businesses that remained were a couple of specialty stores and restaurants,” Kalmin Smith said.

Despite the loss of durable goods and services, according to Grand Ledge’s audit reports, Grand Ledge’s net position from business activity actually has increased. Since 2012, it’s increased from $11.3 million to $12.5 million.

Grand Ledge's net position at the end of each year from Business-activity

Grand Ledge’s net position at the end of each year from business-activity. Data from Grand Ledge’s annual audit reports

Kalmin Smith said despite empty buildings downtown he believes that the downtown doesn’t need saving. He believes it is still vibrant and successful and actually busier. He said in the last decade it’s been busier mainly because of the expansion of downtown restaurants.

Most of the restaurants downtown are packed every night, the stores are filled, and there’s a decent amount of people walking around the downtown area, he said.

“There has to be a reasonable amount of foot traffic so there’s kind of a minimum dimension to what a successful downtown can be.” Bellinger said. “An anchor of some sort could still exist in downtowns — a local theatre or a series of restaurants that could be a local night spot location.”

That anchor for the downtown of Grand Ledge right now, according to both Kalmin Smith and Adam Smith, are their restaurants and their local movie theatre.

“Restaurants in downtown Grand Ledge bring in a lot of foot traffic and revenue to the downtown businesses,” Adam Smith said. “The Grand Ledge Sun Theatre is very popular” due to its’ friendly, welcoming theater atmosphere and $2 movies showing premium movies.

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With an unique log cabin facade, this building right in downtown Grand Ledge is available to rent. Peter Nuttall/Living In The Ledge.

Kalmin Smith said in the past you’d see a lot of cars in the parking lot on a Friday or Saturday, but other days they were rather empty. Now they’re packed mostly every day because people are going out to eat or to see a movie.

Recently Grand Ledge has had a couple new restaurants emerge into the area. BrickHaven Brewery Company, a brewpub that’s set to open hopefully sometime next year, and Crossroads BBQ, which recently opened. The buzz around the town is that people are excited for the additions.

“I haven’t tried it (Crossroads BBQ) yet, but it’s on my list,” Kalmin Smith said. “People also keep coming up to me and asking me when BrickHaven will be opening up. They wish it was sooner after I tell them.”

However, there are still buildings in the downtown area that are available to rent. Grand Ledge resident Celeste Gray said she thinks that one of the available spaces would make for a good place for another restaurant.

“When we’re talking about empty storefronts it’s kind of a no lose situation to try to fill them,” Bellinger said.

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What formerly was a bakery and deli on one side and a golf shop on the other is now just another available building to rent out in downtown Grand Ledge. Peter Nuttall/Living In The Ledge

From a business viewpoint, Ruth Creyts would love to see another antique store come to Grand Ledge because it would create more foot traffic for her business the Salvage Yard — an antique store that’s located in downtown Grand Ledge.

From a citizen viewpoint she would love to see a used bookstore come to Grand Ledge. But overall, she would just love to see these available spaces not be turned into office space.

“I think downtown spaces on the main street should be designated for service and retail because you want that constant foot traffic,” she said.

According to Grand Ledge Grad Analyst Nick Sizeland, Grand Ledge is still looking to develop for the future but it’s not looking to expand or re-do it’s downtown. They are focusing on marketing the downtown area as is.

Kuntzsch Solutions is helping to develop market analysis statistics regarding the downtown. Bellinger said that it’s wise for small downtowns to not expand, because for most towns it’s not really realistic.

“To some degree local developments can happen where the regions are doing relatively well … other than that you can’t shoot too high in situations like this,” Bellinger said. “If the town is not going to grow, the downtown is probably not going to grow either unless a few things around the edges can be done to change the dynamic of the town.”

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