Old Town Pushes East

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Lansing, Mich. (WILX) Shoppers browsed the racks at Grace Boutique and Curvaceous Lingerie Friday evening, wine glasses in hand.

No, it's not some sort of sales gimmick. It's a celebration of Old Town's two newest commercial arrivals, occupying side-by-side lots on Grand River Ave. -- farther east than most of the shopping district.

"I think Old Town is growing a little more every year, be it restaurant, bar, or more retail," said Summer Schriner, the owner of Grace Boutique. "It's really a thriving, great neighborhood to be a part of. I'm really excited to have grown down here and to have a building down here now."

Grace moved from its old location between Turner St. and Washington Ave. to take advantage of a larger retail space. Schriner's new spot has twice the area, giving her the opportunity to carry more merchandise, including men's accessories.

"I'm really thrilled that people are coming out to support us," she said.

Loyal customers like Nancy Wefel and her husband were among those browsing the racks and ultimately making purchases. She regularly drives from Perry to enjoy Old Town's shopping and restaurants.

"It's Old Town!" she said with a laugh. "It's the ambiance, the stores, it's more like a gallery-type atmosphere."

She's been an Old Town customer for years and says she has seen economic improvement in the area.

"If something closes, something just as good if not better moves into the space," she said. "I think it's a good sign that the economy is improving. You don't have to be frightened to come to areas like this, it's more cultural."

Louise Gradwohl, executive director of the Old Town Commercial Association says she sees businesses staying longer, pointing to Schriner's business as a prime example.

"It shows you can make it in Old Town," she said. "People think there's turnover and whatnot but it shows that entrepreneurs are really making it."

The vacancy rate has stayed low, Gradwohl says, and that's keeping sales up.

Zoobie's Old Town Tavern, one of the few businesses that has crossed Larch St., has helped maintain that low vacancy rate. Its owners recently bought the Papa Geo's pizza joint next door and plan to open a wood-fired pizza restaurant by mid-August.

Its owners are also working on turning the former Creole Art Gallery into a jazz club.

Owner Aaron Matthews says Old Town's eastward push "only helps" the economic revitalization, allowing open spaces to be filled in and fostering a stronger connection with the neighborhood.

And the longer businesses can stay along, the better it is for Old Town, Gradwohl said.

"There's always going to be that nice dose of entrepreneurs that go in and out and move to a different location or a different city," she said. "But I see us really grasping on to these awesome people that really want to spend an ample amount of time in our neighborhood.

Zoobies Old Town Tavern plans to expand its patio this summer.
Zoobies Old Town Tavern plans to move into the old Papa Geo's pizza restaurant next door by mid-August.

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