Home décor items
on display at i.candy artwork. Opposite
page, hanging out at The Sparrows.
Welcome to Wealthy
once neglected street is buzzing, thanks to new
by Jim Gebben
It’s not exactly downtown — but it
sure isn’t the suburbs.
Wealthy Street has
its own quirky personality, attracting businesses
and residents looking for something a little
different — “something between the ‘big
city’ feel and suburbia,” said Johannah
Jelks of the Wealthy Street Business Alliance.
Thanks to those brave enough to take a chance
on a once neglected area, “a new culture
sprang forward,” Jelks said. “There’s
now affordable housing, shopping and dining with
a walkability factor in an area that makes convenience
Over the past few years, more than $5 million
of redevelopment has occurred along Wealthy Street
between Fuller and Madison avenues.
The atmosphere is “buzzing,” said
Erin Wilson, director of Wealthy Theatre.
“Almost halfway through 2009, Wealthy Street
is stronger than ever, growing in the midst of
housing crisis and all-time high unemployment,” Wilson
said. “We have an audience of loyal, local
patrons, who now have many choices for where
to go before or after an event.”
Hanging out at The
Several Wealthy business owners reside nearby — some
even live above their stores — giving them
extra incentive to keep the neighborhood prosperous.
“We’re interested in seeing our neighborhood
improve, not only from a business perspective
but as the place where we live,” said Roni
Devlin, owner of Literary Life Bookstore.
Delvin transformed a former bank space into a
cozy bookstore. Although she is trained as a
physician, her passion lies with all things literary,
and she hopes the bookstore will provide the
Wealthy district a place to celebrate all aspects
of the literary life.
“When I found my building up for sale,
I recognized its potential right away. It was
I wanted to live and what I wanted for a neighborhood
Guy Bazzani, president and CEO of Bazzani Associates,
a firm specializing in restoring old buildings
using green technologies, viewed Wealthy Street
as an opportunity to reconstruct a historic neighborhood
“Our business has been located here for
seven years, and my wife and I live here, as
said. “We saw a historic district with
a penchant toward sustainable reconstruction.
To restore the business district, we needed to
extend the hours of operation. The opening of
the Wealthy (Street) Bakery and Sparrows Coffee
increased the morning traffic, while stores like
Art of the Table, Meanwhile and Brick Road Pizza
extended the evening hours.”
Cultural diversity also is a strength. Along
a short stretch of Wealthy, you can find a Guatemalan
grocery store, an Asian nail salon and a chicken
wing restaurant. Phil’s Stuff, the antique
shop located in the old Loveland’s Drug
Store, has an eclectic collection of what owner
Phil Ondersma describes as “traditional
fare generously interspersed with the odd and
the quirky.” At the other end of the spectrum
is Wealthy at Charles, an elegant boutique offering
modern, classic and country styles of home and
“The mall mentality is so boring to me,” said Amy Ruis, who opened
Art of the Table in 2003. “We watched Wealthy Street Bakery flourish
from its beginnings and jumped in as their next-door neighbor.”
Ruis saw the promise the area held. She and her husband have lived one house
off of Wealthy Street for nine years, and they wanted to help make the neighborhood
more viable to neighbors and conducive to business growth.
Her specialty shop sells tableware and kitchen
accents, gourmet foods — including
many Michigan-made products — and smaller batch wines, beers and liquors.
“The area just has atmosphere and unique shops with a relaxed, fun approach
shopping and dining,” Ruis said. “The business owners on the street
are here because they truly thought it their ‘dream’ to open a store
or restaurant — because they have the passion to do it. None of us are
doing it for wealth or fame; we do what we do because we love it.”
Milanowski at Wealthy Street Station Deli & Grill
Jill Childs of i.candy artwork agreed. She purchased
her building in 2007 because she sensed the area
was the next up-and-coming “artsy district.” Wanting
to give customers the freedom to choose the size, shape and even custom colors
of their canvases, Childs offers a selection of hand-stretched canvas artwork
ranging from the abstract to whimsical.
“We’ve worked very hard to bring in different, locally manufactured
said. “Going down Wealthy Street through (what is now called) Uptown used
to simply be a way to get to better shopping. Today, Wealthy Street has some
of Grand Rapids’ most sought-after boutiques.”
And as you travel down the road from i.candy — just past 40-year Wealthy
Street veteran Verhey Carpets and recent addition Sparrows Coffee and a bit before
Armenta Dance and Yoga Studio — you’ll run into the Electric Cheetah,
a bistro specializing in fresh, local offerings. Owner Cory DeMint lives in
the area and knew it was the perfect place for his restaurant.
“Down here you can be an artist and be
well received,” he said. “People
want you to try new things and they reward that risk. It’s not just a
collection of corporate suits and buildings you see all over the place.” GR
Abby Heugel is a freelance writer based
in Grand Rapids.