West Side porn store transformed into art gallery

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A notorious former porn shop on Grand Rapids’ West Side is being transformed into a legitimate art studio that will benefit the community.

For nearly half a century, the 700 block of Leonard Street NW west of Seward Street was home to the Capri No. 3 adult book store, which was considered an eyesore and a magnet for drugs and crime. It closed down several years ago. Though empty of customers, it was still filled with porn.

Finally, Grand Rapids Public Schools counselor Stephen Smith and his wife Taylor Smith, who works for the nonprofit organization World Renew, looked at the run-down porn shop and saw a place they could realize their dreams.

“We told them that we wanted all the magazines out. They asked us if we wanted to keep it, but we were like, ‘Nope, we’ll just get rid of it,'” Stephen Smith said.

The young couple, who are expecting a baby in July, are transforming the Capri No. 3 into an art gallery called Muse GR.

“He just felt like he wanted a place where he could be a photographer but be creative and have a community feel, so we felt like let’s find a place where we could do that,” Taylor Smith said.

They started looking for a spot two years ago, found it a year ago and have been working on it intensely for the last six months. They stripped it down to studs, getting rid of all the unsavory aspects of the former bookstore, including a secret room labeled the “massage room.”

“It was creepy, it was a little creepy feel when you first walked in,” said Jesse Dewitt, owner Steadfast Remodeling, which oversaw the project. “At some point in time, there was this transition to where it wasn’t the bookstore anymore, now it was Muse and that felt great, it really did.”

The Smiths said despite the dark past of the building, they believed good could come out of it.

“The place was so dark and you need darkness in order to bring light,” Stephen Smith said.

“Through conversation and just like putting our heads together, we were able to look past what it was and to be able to see what it could be,” Taylor Smith said.

But it has not been easy.

“I don’t think we realized the magnitude of this transformation when we started it, and as we kind of dug into it, we got to know a little bit more about the area and the history and the neighborhood and just how big this transformation was for the people in this area,” Taylor Smith said.

They plan on the Muse being more than just a storefront. The 3,000-square-foot building features 2,000 square feet for events. The Smiths want that to be a space for people to express their creativity. 

“We want people to just have fun but also to come together,” Taylor Smith said.

“And to make positive contributions to the community. That’s what I want this place to ultimately do is just create a positive contribution,” her husband added.

For West Side neighborhood advocates, it’s the latest development in a renaissance that shows no signs of slowing down.

“It’s just really awesome that minority business owners can come in and bring something new and different to West Leonard that’s not been here in a long time, an art gallery and a studio. It’s pretty exciting,” said Annette Vandenberg, director for the West Grand Neighborhood Association.

The Smiths say they have felt welcomed by the community and received a lot of help and support.

“We’ve put so much thought into it and so much love into it that it feels like it can’t not work,” Taylor Smith said.

The plan is to have the gallery open to the public next week. A list of events is available on the Muse GR website.

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