GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Downtown Grand Rapids retail has been growing at an exponential rate since 2021 despite the COVID-19 pandemic and rising inflation.

Data from Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. shows for every downtown business that closed last year, roughly two businesses have opened downtown.

Grand Rapids retail, retention and attraction specialist Richard App says the interest is keeping him busy.

“I think there’s this misconception that things aren’t moving forward and you know, they’re exploding,” he said.

In addition to new places like ArtRat gallery, Periwinkle Fog, Grand Vin, Brooklyn Bodega Bagel & Deli and K-ROK Korean Barbecue & Karaoke, App listed off seven other businesses preparing to open in the next three months. Among them are restaurants serving Egyptian, Vietnamese and Japanese fusion dishes.

App says they are filling more than vacant space downtown.

“What I like is not just the new restaurants, but the wide base of diversity we have coming in. It’s great. They fill a void we have in our food scene,” he said.

Gazelle Sports will celebrate its downtown opening with an April 30 “fun run” that’ll temporarily shut down Monroe Center, according to App.

Additionally, App expects Ambiance GR to hit a milestone in the coming weeks when it opens its kitchen to start serving food.

“Downtown is just activating in a really cool way and it’s fun to see all these new businesses,” App said.

He says more new businesses are on the horizon, like a martini bar, Indian restaurant and Mediterranean restaurant. Those owners have signed letters of intent but must still lock in their leases.

App says the growth is fueled by more people coming to Grand Rapids. Between 2010 and 2020, the city population swelled by more than 10,000 to just under 199,000 residents, a U.S. Census Bureau report shows.

The largest demographic making the move to downtown is people between the ages of 25 and 29, according to App. The Census estimates nearly 22% of the city’s population fell in that age bracket in 2019.

As a Grand Rapids resident, App says it’s exciting both professionally and personally to watch his city grow after a tough two years.

“It’s really cool to see this much coming our way given the fact that… we have gone through some challenging times, but people are ready to get out,” he said.