GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — From a boutique and a tea spot to a diner and a distillery, Wealthy Street in Grand Rapids is hopping with several new businesses.

Ingrid Miller, the executive director for nonprofit Uptown Grand Rapids, said she counted 11 businesses that have moved in just in the last six months — and more have moved in over the past year.

Businesses that have opened over the last year include High Tea Grand Rapids, the Basic Bee Boutique, the Chartreuse Sisters, Vinyl Alchemy, Cultivate and Jenna in White.

Still in the works is Good Truckin’ Diner, a Lansing restaurant expanding to the former Jonny B’z and Royals building; Testa Rossa Pizzeria, a new concept the Electric Cheetah owner is bringing to the former Brick Road Pizza spot; and Mammoth Distilling, which will open its sixth Michigan tasting room this summer.

Miller said while some of the new businesses are moving in following departures, most have been filling once-empty buildings.

“Of those (11) that I counted, a majority of them are vacancies that are coming back online,” Miller said.

Uptown Grand Rapids is continuing to work to fill vacancies and bring more development to the area. Miller said some businesses have been able to fill those vacancies because the buildings changed ownership.

The building that now houses the Chartreuse Sisters and the Basic Bee had sat empty and abandoned for more than a decade, she said. Local owners bought and got it up and running, in part because of Uptown Grand Rapids Façade Improvement Program.

FILE – Co-owners of Chartreuse Sisters, Alyson and Mallory Mallory Caillaud-Jones, cut a guimauve “ribbon” to officially open their patisserie on Jan. 14, 2023.

That program and other incentives, like a Renaissance Zone that offers low tax rates or no taxes for businesses, have helped the area grow over the last two decades.

Pattie McGovern, the vice president of the Wealthy Street Business Alliance and the business manager of Terra Firma Development, which owns several properties along the Wealthy Street corridor, said those incentives have helped it bring in tenants that are small retailers, mom-and-pop shops, artisans and startups. 

Amy Ruis, owner of Art of the Table and a member of the Wealthy Street Business Alliance Board, said the Renaissance Zone helped her start-up on Wealthy Street two decades ago.

Her shop was one of the first to move into the area, along with the Wealthy Street Bakery. She knew the bakery’s owners and moved into the spot next door.

“I always like to tell the story that the first thing that happened was that they asked us to sit out front of their business and look happy and eat their food,” Ruis said. “Because everyone was scared to stop and people were scared to be on Wealthy Street at that point … It was really rough and there was not a whole lot going on.”

Cultivate's storefront on Wealthy Street. (December 2022)
FILE – Cultivate’s storefront on Wealthy Street. (December 2022)

She watched as Wealthy Street slowly grew into what it is now.

“I think a lot of other people got bold seeing what we were doing. Some of the people who … had really what I like to call the ‘scary buildings’ started either redoing them themselves or sold them to somebody who would,” she explained.

Now, there’s a variety of businesses up and down the corridor, and business owners are working hard to create spaces that aren’t “cookie-cutter.”

“I’ve always loved it. It’s where I landed intentionally and I think that it’s just because of who’s joined, because of what it is now,” she said. “Every day I can look down that street and be like, ‘That was not here before.’ And it’s just an in exciting endeavor to be a part of.”

McGovern said Terra Firma — whose tenants include Mammoth Distilling, Good Truckin’ Diner, Fox Naturals, Cultivate and Diamond Regal — is intentional about finding and vetting the right tenants for its buildings.

Wealthy Street near Henry Avenue. (Feb. 21, 2023)

“They’re all great local businesses and artists and they all work so hard,” she said. “We love all of our tenants, we hope we get more.”

McGovern said the company typically likes to rehab beautiful old buildings and keep their historical character.

Moving forward, Wealthy Street stakeholders are working to fill in some of the gaps. Ruis specifically mentioned a residential gap between the east side of Wealthy Street and the west side of Wealthy Street.

Miller said Uptown Grand Rapids is working to make that area more walkable.

“We’ve been putting in more street trees so that the pedestrian experience is a little bit friendlier and you feel a little bit more pulled or incentivized to walk from one end to the other because it’s really not that far and they aren’t separate,” Ingrid said. “But you do have that feeling when you’re physically there that you’re going across the desert to get to the other end.”

Many neighbors in the area see Wealthy Street as an “extension of their backyard,” Miller said.

The “local flair” continues to attract businesses and customers, McGovern said.

“I think it’s special to go shopping in these modern times and you walk into a store and there’s the owner,” she said. “It’s just a totally different feel than walking into a chain store.”

She said people want to feel that connection and build those relationships.

“It’s special. And that’s what we’re going for,” she said.

Miller hopes to continue to bring in small businesses from neighbors.

“My dream is we can get some more businesses that are actually pulled from the garages or the attics of some of the houses … that surround us and really help people fulfill that dream of having always wanted to have a storefront on Wealthy Street,” she said.

McGovern said she recently saw a Facebook post asking the community where to take someone from out of town. While some suggestions included places like Meijer Gardens, over and over, people suggested Wealthy Street.

“That just warmed my heart. I love it that people think that Wealthy Street is a gem of our city, and I hope it stays that way,” she said. “… All these corridors … make Grand Rapids what it is. And it has the local flair and the local vibe, and we just have to keep working to keep that going.”