GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A children’s television show born out of the pandemic is getting ready to open its own production studio and merchandise store in downtown Grand Rapids.

Wimage is moving into the Ledyard Building on the corner of Ottawa Avenue and Pearl Street NW. The Grand Rapids Downtown Authority approved an $18,448 retail innovation grant for the children’s entertainment company Wednesday.

“Having a store that’s focused on kids downtown is great,” said Richard App, the Grand Rapids retail, retention and attraction specialist who helped facilitate WIMAGE’s move.

“I think the best thing about what’s happening in our downtown is since the last week of April, we’ve had seven businesses open downtown… and you think about the diversity we’re bringing downtown and it’s cool,” he added.

U.S. Navy veteran and entrepreneur Michael Hyacinthe says it all started with a program at the veteran organization he co-founded, Has Heart. Hyacinthe says he would pair wounded veterans with designers to create artwork “that helps veterans become a part of this space Grand Rapids is really building itself on.”

Hyacinthe wanted to continue to inspire veterans to create, so he built an app called Wimage, which turns typed words into images. While the app was originally meant for veterans, Hyacinthe says feedback started pouring in from children, parents and educators, so he shifted Wimage into a tool to teach children how to become visual storytellers.

Hyacinthe teamed up with local puppeteer Kevin Kammeraad and together they created Wimee the robot puppet, who would visit children’s classrooms and host workshops.

The pandemic brought another pivot for Wimee. With classrooms closed and children learning virtually, Hyacinthe and his team created an interactive TV show in the attic of a home, eventually moving into their first production space in Cascade Township.

Wimee’s Words now livestreams online three times a week. This month also marks one year since the show began broadcasting on the Detroit PBS station. Hyacinthe says Wimee’s Words now airs at every PBS station in Michigan, New York and Los Angeles, reaching 8 million children.

“I knew work compassion, conviction and dedication would eventually get me to a point where I could see the result of the hard work,” Hyacinthe told News 8.

Hyacinthe is still active with Has Heart, but says “Wimee has really taken a life of its own.” He says WIMAGE is talking with Hollywood area production groups to potentially distribute the show nationwide, but the show will still stay on PBS.

Hyacinthe hopes to have the new Grand Rapids production studio up and running in a couple weeks. His goal is to have the new retail space selling Wimee merchandise beginning in the first week of July.

Wimage began activating its new home during Festival of the Arts with an exhibit for children. Another Wimee exhibit, Wimee’s Dreams, is slated for the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum in September. Hyacinthe says it’ll allow kids to play the role of producer, creator and writer of Wimee’s show. The interactive exhibit will also include a puppet-making station.

Grand Rapids-based financial tech firm Acrisure donated $100,000 to bring Wimee’s Dreams to GRCM. The exhibit will remain at the children’s museum through September 2024.

Wimee’s Words airs Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on PBS. You can also watch it live Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 4 p.m. at https://wimee.tv/watch/ and follow Wimee the robot on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.