GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The more than century-old Sligh Furniture building has become an antiquers’ mecca in West Michigan.
But plans to build affordable housing in the landmark building could end that.
“It’s been my daily life for the last 12 years,” said Mark Miller, who owns Lost & Found, one of three massive antique shops in the five-story Sligh Furniture building.
“Part of the charm of it is actually what the building looks like, and it’s not perfect, and neither are we,” Miller said. “It’s like we’ve got this synergy working with the locals.”
Detroit-based Sturgeon Bay Holdings plans to buy the building that’s stood on Century Avenue since 1880 — long before the US-131 S-curve swerved by.
Most of it will become apartments, some of them affordable — part of a bigger development that could ease a housing shortage.
John Gibbs, a partner in the development group, told News 8 on Monday that it would include some retail space and that he plans to meet with shop owners soon.
He said Sturgeon Bay Holdings plans to buy the building in the next couple of months and start work on it in about a year.
“I’m planning to meet with each (tenant) individually to find a creative solution that works for everybody,” Gibbs said. “We respect the heritage of the building. But it needs a lot of love.”
During construction, he said, the existing shops would need to vacate the building.
“We will work with tenants and try to bring them back if possible,” he said.
Shop owners are skeptical. Some have started a Facebook page to “Save the Sligh.”
“What we’ve read so far is that there’s 20,000 square feet dedicated to retail, and I occupy 50,000 square feet myself,” Miller said.
Mary Beth Schutt, who owns Wearhouse One Antiques next to Miller’s store, takes up 40,000 square feet for 200 antique vendors.
“We don’t want to move; we love it here, and everybody loves to come here that’s in Grand Rapids and knows about us, and we draw from all other states even,” Schutt said.
“I think it’s kind of a shame; I feel like this is kind of a staple of the area,” said Fern Lenor, who drove from Grand Ledge on Monday to shop for antiques.
“There’s lots of great places to antique around me, but nothing like this where you can spend five hours getting lost,” Lenor said.
“It’s an antique mecca, basically,” said Kyler McQuesten, who was shopping with Lenor.
Miller said he’s “begrudgingly” started looking for a different place.
“We are not happy about it and we are definitely going to make our voices known because I don’t think it’s a positive for the community,” Miller said.
“At some point, we need to stop and go, what is it that we really want to be?” Miller said. “If we take everything like these buildings and turn them into apartments, what’s the space left for other interesting things to do? Where do people like us go? And if you eliminate that all from your town, why go?”
The Grand Rapids Planning Commission last week approved Sturgeon Bay Holding’s plan to add two buildings, five and six stories, to the site. But the city hasn’t addressed the company’s plans for the Sligh Furniture building.
Developers say the new buildings would house a mix of apartments and retail space. They also are planning a standalone one-story building for a cafe, as well as parking structures and a rooftop garden or restaurant.
Developers said a courtyard in the heart of the development could be used by neighborhood groups for events, as well as live concerts and food trucks.