By Jason Dunn
Clinton County Staff Reporter
ST. JOHNS — Between 2010 and 2014, there has been a 1.3 percent increase in population in the town of St. Johns.
The city isn’t exactly booming. But neither does it clearly appear to be dying.
According to Tina Hicks, owner of Redwings Barber Shop in downtown St. Johns, people are not leaving the town in droves.
“I have lived in St. Johns for 15 years; from what I’ve seen, there hasn’t been any particular decline in population recently, people just aren’t moving in at the same rate. We’re at a standstill right now.”
Hicks also mentioned that the slow growth in population has a direct correlation with the dearth of students in the area’s school system.
“Early on, we grew tremendously. But now kids are growing up. As older people die, new ones come in, but not at the same rate,” Hicks said. “Schools are being shut down because kids are growing up and the population isn’t growing as fast.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the slow ascension in the population of St. Johns is merely a reflection of the state.
The state of Michigan recorded a minus-0.6 percent decline in population as of 2010, and is not projected to make any tremendous gains any time soon.
St. Johns Community Director Dave J. Kudwa agrees with Hicks’ claim that the population is not growing at the same rate as it once did.
“The city needs more retail and coffee shops to bring more people in. Also, online shopping has started to become increasingly popular,” Kudwa said. “So if you decide to actually make the trip to a store, you want the full experience.”
According to Kudwa, St. Johns is simply behind the eight ball architecturally.
“The buildings in St. Johns were not created for the purpose of functioning during this century. If you look at them, you’ll notice the lighting is different, the windows are different. Stores in malls typically have transparent windows from the ground to the ceiling,” Kudwa said. “The windows in St. Johns don’t have that. These buildings have been around for more than 30 years.”
Kudwa believes that in order to improve population growth, there needs to be more governmental support.
“Changes need to be made. The streets were re-done in 2005, but that’s not enough. There has been some progress, though,” Kudwa said. “There are two senior housing buildings, 30 units each, that are worth $3,000,000 to $4,000,000 in value. Those are slated to be up and running in May.
“But honestly, at the end of the day, municipalities like this one need to improve their areas to get businesses in. And it will take time, these types of renovations cost millions of dollars.”
According to Tina Boettger, a volunteer at The Basic Needs Center on the downtown strip, the reasoning behind the low increase in population is directly associated with socioeconomic status.
“From what I’ve seen, it is getting harder to raise a family,” she said. “I’ve seen many people come in, anywhere from the ages of 18 to 80.”
Boettger, who has only been in St. Johns for five years, has seen more service from members of the millennial generation than any other demographic.
“Over the course of my five years here, I’ve seen more and more families come in. There have been more middle-aged people in the age bracket of 20 to 40; that’s why this place is so important,” she said. “I think it would hurt the already-small amount of people here if this organization didn’t exist.”