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Heartside : Development News

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Perception, longtime Grand Rapids gallery, moves to new Heartside location after 19 years

When Perception opened at 7 Ionia Ave. SW in 1989, owner Kim L. Smith says the only other business was Richmond Stamp across the street. Now, with the thriving entertainment district that's sprung up around the Van Andel Arena and the future Grand Rapids Brewing Company development in Perception's space, Smith, an energetic and passionate lover of art, seized the opportunity to buy a building and relocate the gallery.

The new location at 210 E. Fulton St., in the former EyeCons Gallery, offers 2,000-square-feet of gallery space and 2,200-square-feet of workshop space. The iconic brick building greets visitors with a unique corner entry framed by storefront windows that will give passersby a glimpse of the treasures inside.

The current gallery overflows with original art from America and Europe, with hundreds of oil paintings, watercolors and acrylics, and an eclectic mix of furniture pieces, like the ancient hand-carved chair for royalty that sits next to a 1970s polygraph chair.

Smith, who was constantly on the move during our interview -- pointing out works in the current gallery, then seated, then giving a free appraisal on an Asian carving to a customer, then getting a chart from the backroom, then talking with a utility service technician -- seems to put the same energy into art research and customer service.

"I offer a free verbal appraisal for anyone who brings anything through the front door," Smith says. Last year, according to Smith's hash-marked, color-coded chart where he tracks the number of visitors, appraisals and other things, he appraised 881 pieces brought in by 322 people.

Knowledge of his trade -- much of it gained through research, he says -- is crucial to his paying business: written, documented art appraisals for insurance purposes and estate valuations for which he charges $150 per hour.

Smith expects to stay open during the relocation and will have a sale on hundreds of frames and some art at the end of April. He hopes to be in the new shop by April 30.

Source: Kim L. Smith, Perception
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Photographs: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

An outdated Heartside building becomes modern guest house for Saint Mary's Health Care families

Saint Mary's Health Care is in the midst of transforming an outdated mid-century building directly behind the hospital into a contemporary and welcoming guest house for the families of patients.

The former St. Luke's House on the corner of Lafayette Avenue SE and Cherry St. SE will soon be the new $3.5 million Sophia's House, named after the mother of lead donor Peter M. Wege.

The guest house features 15 private guest rooms with televisions and wireless Internet access, a larger family-sized guest room, and common areas that include a kitchen, living room/library, a game room with a television and Wii, a children's alcove, computer center and a fitness room.

"The guest house will be for patient families who come from over 30 miles away while their loved one is being cared for at Saint Mary's," says Michelle Rabideau, executive director of the Saint Mary's Foundation, the fundraising arm of Saint Mary's Health Care and overseer of the guest house operations.

"Also, if a patient is coming from over 30 miles away and has an early morning surgery, they can come in the night before and stay at Sophia's House," Rabideau says. "They'll be less anxious, their car is already parked and then can just walk across the street to the hospital."

Rabideau says the design includes a homey feel with all the amenities of a hotel, warm colors and is just yards away from the hospital and Lack's Cancer Center.

An overnight stay is $35 per room, and guests can bring in their own food to prepare in the kitchen, says Rabideau.

The guest house will open on Monday, June 4. Sophia's House will begin taking reservations in May.

Interior design: Progressive AE
Construction manager: Erhardt Construction
Furnishings: Custer

Source: Michelle Rabideau, Saint Mary's Foundation
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Downtown movie theater proposed for the Heartside District

Grab the popcorn and the Mike & Ikes. Many residents of Grand Rapids have long been clamoring for a downtown movie theater as one of many "must haves," and it appears as though that may become a reality in the coming years. J.D. Loeks, President of Loeks Theatres, Inc and Celebration Cinemas presented conceptual designs of a new 60,000 square foot movie theater and retail complex to the Downtown Development Authority this week, capping off weeks of rumors that a new entertainment complex might be coming to the Heartside area.

The city-owned parking lot where the development is proposed, known as Area 5, is located south of the Van Andel Arena near Ionia Ave. and Oakes Street. The lot was listed by the DDA in February of 2012 to solicit potential development proposals. Jackson Entertainment LLC, representing Loeks, presented an offer on the property, and was seeking approval of the option before the board (which was approved) at this week's meeting. 

In addition to showing first-run movies on eight or nine screens using advanced audio/visual technology, Loeks is hoping that the theater will provide multi-use functionality for the growing convention and life sciences industries in downtown Grand Rapids. This sentiment was echoed by Doug Small of Experience GR at the DDA meeting. Their goal is to attract over 400,000 visitors to the theater each year.

Dating back to 1944, the Loeks family has had a movie theater presence in Grand Rapids, beginning with the purchase of the Midtown Cinema at the corner of Pearl St. and Ionia Avenue. Though the downtown area has not had a working stand-alone movie theater in over 50 years, Loeks Theatres operates four movie theaters in the Grand Rapids area, as well as numerous other locations around the State.

No specific timeline was given by Loeks for when the project would start, but optimistically,  construction would begin within a year.

A similar movie theater, retail and nine-story condo complex was proposed in 2006 for the same parcel by a Farmington Hills based developer, but never materialized. The Heartside Historic District surrounding Area 5 has seen over $500 Million in new and redevelopment projects in the last 15 years, much of which was initiated after the building of the Van Andel Arena in 1996.

Source: Anne Marie Bessette, Downtown Development Authority

31 apartments underway near Grand Rapids' Cooley Law with development of Grand Central Lofts

One of the last vacant buildings to be redeveloped on Grand Rapids' Commerce Avenue SW should be complete by late fall, bringing 31 loft apartments to Heartside.

Fusion Properties is giving the building a massive $3 million overhaul following a 15-year stretch when the building at 100 Commerce, at the crossroads of Commerce and Oakes St. SW, sat vacant and decaying across from Cooley Law School's Grand Rapids campus.

"I was a partner and contractor in the development of Hopson Flats, which is mostly three- and four-bedroom apartments," says Doug Gulker, managing partner of Fusion Properties and Gulker Group. "Gulker Group manages Hopson Flats, and we found there is a need for more one- and two-bedroom apartments. Grand Central Lofts is not a student-only project, but we expect a lot of our tenants to be Cooley Students."

Gulker says his research shows that the aging four-story building was once a commercial bakery called City Bakery. It's most recent use was as a manufacturing facility for Fireboy, maker of fire protection products.

Of the 31 apartments, six will be studios, plus 16 one-bedroom and 9 two-bedroom lofts. Some 1,500 square feet on the main level will be retail with storefront windows overlooking both Commerce and Oakes.

"Ideally, we would like some kind of coffee shop or small convenience store for local business people and students, maybe something with a lounge area," Gulker says. "There's not much around there where residents can go to grab a gallon of milk."

The apartments will have exposed brick walls, new wood floors in the main living areas, ceramic tile in the bathrooms and carpeting in the bedrooms, says Gulker. Ten-foot-high ceilings and numerous windows maximize the natural light.

The project secured State and Federal Historic tax credits and Brownfield Credits, totaling about 40 percent of the project costs, says Gulker.

Design architect: Hooker DeJong, Inc.
Construction manager: Gulker Group

Source: Doug Gulker, Fusion Properties and Gulker Group
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

26 urban loft apartments slated for two buildings in Grand Rapids' entertainment district

Twenty-six urban loft apartments will soon grace the upper floors of two prominent buildings in Grand Rapids' burgeoning entertainment district. 616 Development, sister company to 616 Lofts, will create the lofts by combing 1 Ionia SW and 7 Ionia SW, the buildings that run a half block south from the corner of Fulton St. and Ionia SW.

Last year, Derek Coppess, owner of 616 Development and 616 Lofts, announced plans to develop urban lofts in little pockets around the city, beginning with 25 lofts at 139 Pearl St. NW and 206 Grandville Ave. SW. Now, he's ready to move ahead with a new $7.5 million plan.

The project will combine the two buildings on Ionia into one 50,000-square-foot mixed-use center that features the apartments on floors three, four and five, commercial tenants on floor two and the historic Grand Rapids Brewing Company will occupy the entire main level, including the former My Bar space. See Grand Rapids Brewing Company story here.

The tenants already on the second level, Conduit Studios and The Judson Group, will stay. Perception Gallery on the main level will relocate.

"One Ionia is five stories and 7 Ionia is four-and-a-half stories, so we will remove the floor between floors four and four-and-a-half and will make seven two-story units within that space," Coppess says. "The apartments will have windows overlooking either Ionia or Fulton and the Van Andel Arena [to the rear of the building]."

Coppess says construction will start within 30 days.

Design and construction: First Companies

Source: Derek Coppess, 616 Development; Chris Knape, SeyferthPR
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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616 Lofts announces 65 new loft apartments for downtown Grand Rapids

Historic Grand Rapids Brewing Company to open expansive microbrewery next door to Van Andel Arena

The historic Grand Rapids Brewing Company (GRBC) that once operated in the heart of downtown will be back this summer in a new, expansive location next door to the Van Andel Arena, the heart of the city's busy entertainment district. The brewery, which was in business for over 100 years, first on Michigan and Ottawa and later on 28th St. SE, will be the groundfloor tenant at 1 and 7 Ionia SW with nearly 10,000 square feet and seating for 450.

Barfly Ventures, owned by Mark and Michelle Sellers, announced today that the new venue will be family-friendly, with children's menu items as well as 8 to 10 specialty beers, including a new version of GRBC's original Silver Foam beer. Barfly owns some of Grand Rapids' most popular gathering places in the entertainment district, including HopCat, McFadden's, Stella's Lounge and the The Viceroy and is a partner in The Pyramid Scheme, all within two blocks of the new GRBC location.

Derek Coppess of 616 Development and 616 Lofts recently purchased 1 and 7 Ionia SW and will combine the two buildings to create 26 loft apartments and commercial spaces on the upper floors. The buildings front along Ionia on the east and a brick paved alley on the west; 1 Ionia NW also runs along W. Fulton St., kitty corner from The B.O.B. and its proposed market/concert venue.

New indoor/outdoor seating, created by replacing three loading dock doors on the alley side with glass garage doors, will open the bar to the Van Andel Arena and provide outdoor seating for 15.

"This is arguably the prime spot for a bar in Grand Rapids. If I could pick any location, it would be this place or where The B.O.B is -- but that's taken," says Mark Sellers with a laugh. "To have three sides facing different streets is incredible."

Preliminary plans to host GRBC in the Brass Works Building fell through, Sellers says.

The new GRBC could create some 60 jobs. Sellers hopes to have the bar open sometime in August.

Architectural design: Greg Metz, Lott3Metz

Source: Mark Sellers, Barfly Ventures; Chris Knap, SeyferthPR
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Renderings: Dixon Architecture

East Lansing-based Netvantage Marketing sees promise in Grand Rapids, opens satellite office

The leaders of East Lansing's Netvantage Marketing say their backgrounds in consulting gave them a desire to move web-based marketing from the sterile realm of the Internet to the more personal environment of face-to-face meetings with clients. That desire prompted the duo, Adam Henige and Joe Ford, to open a satellite office in Grand Rapids to be closer to clients here.

The new office is on the third floor above San Chez A Tapas Bistro (38 W. Fulton St., Suite 301). It's part of a group of offices under development by CWD Real Estate Investment that have private offices and shared conference rooms and a kitchen, says Henige.

Netvantage hopes construction will wrap up for an early April opening. An East Lansing employee will relocate to Grand Rapids and staff the office.

Netvantage Marketing specializes in search engine optimization, social media consulting and paid search management, says Ford. "With most of our clients, the key overarching statement we hear is 'when someone Googles our service, we don't come up,'" he says.

"We've found that a lot of people are really good at developing websites, but not good at directing people to them," says Henige. So, the company focuses on helping other companies build a web presence. If web design and development are needed, Netvantage collaborates with local companies who specialize in those services.

The client list for the four-year-old company is impressive and varied, including: Autocam Medical, DTE Energy, Hyundai, Suzuki, General Motors, University of California Berkeley and Gordon Food Service.

"We've been able to get national clients that we've never met, but we really like to give it the personal touch," Henige says. "To be able to sit down in someone's space or walk through it is one of the reasons we've been so successful so far."

Source: Adam Henige and Joe Ford, Netvantage Marketing
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Free-market group, Acton Institute, buys downtown Grand Rapids' "WMCAT Building" for new HQ

The downtown Grand Rapids building often known as the "Wim-CAT Building" will soon undergo a facelift and transformation that will meet the needs of its new owner, the Acton Institute.

The Acton Institute, a faith-based proponent of free-market economies worldwide, will relocate from leased space in the Waters Building to the historic two-story structure on the corner of Fulton St. NE and Sheldon Blvd. The building's current tenants, West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT), will continue to occupy the building's second level. Acton Institute will move into the main level and basement.

"We're growing internationally and domestically, and have over 40 staff, so this means we will have space for meetings, technology and lectures," says John Couretas, director of communications. "We also have an office in Rome and affiliates in Brazil, Austria, Zambia and Argentina, so we're doing events all over the world and a lot of that is managed from Grand Rapids."

Design plans are in the beginning stages, but Couretas says the space will include a multi-purpose meeting and lecture space, as well as accommodations for Acton's documentary and video curricula, in addition to office space. He expects the new location will provide room for educational events for students, seminarians and clergy who enroll in Acton's programs, as well as enough space for future growth. Couretas says the institute's largest event, Acton University, attracted 625 participants from 69 countries to Grand Rapids in 2011.

"We wanted to stay downtown and invest in downtown Grand Rapids, and this was an ideal place for us," Couretas says. "Obviously, we're going to be one of many organizations and investors that are helping Grand Rapids create a vibrant downtown for the future. That's an effort where there's a lot of shared activity going on. It's a much bigger picture when you look at downtown as a whole, and we're big believers in the downtown of Grand Rapids."

A construction start date has not been determined.

Architect: Via Design
Construction manager: Pioneer Construction

Source: John Couretas, Acton Institute
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Mary Free Bed plans $48M expansion of rehabilitation hospital in Grand Rapids' Heartside

Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital has plans to build a 115,000-square-foot addition connected to the west side of its existing hospital near the corner of Wealthy St. SE and Jefferson Avenue SE in Grand Rapids.

The four-story structure will rise above the property now used for Saint Mary's Health Services parking along Jefferson Avenue, allowing for an enhanced parking area under the structure, says Mary Free Bed CEO Kent Riddle. Included in the $48 million construction cost is a complete revamp of the existing 80-bed hospital to all-private patient rooms.

The entire project will bring another 40 private beds to the hospital campus, larger therapy rooms with state-of-the-art equipment, and family-friendly gathering areas and overnight accommodations.

"Families are an integral part to the rehabilitation process, and currently, if parents are staying with children [who are patients], the parent has to sleep in the room on a cot," Riddle says. "Also, patients coming from outside Kent County have families that need to stay in the area, so we're looking at adding 10 rooms where families can stay overnight or just have a place to get away from it all."

Riddle stresses that everything is still in the early planning stages, and while there's a general vision guiding the process, details have yet to be hammered out.

The main thrust of the vision is to provide beds for patients who no longer need acute care, but who still need around-the-clock care and rehabilitative therapy.

"Patients already come to Mary Free Bed from around the country and Canada," Riddle says. "We're seeing an increase in patients from the east side of the state and other areas outside our typical regional area. The new facility will allow us to have even more sub-specialization in therapies for pediatrics, amputees, stroke rehabilitation, brain injury rehabilitation and oncology, pulmonary and cardiac rehabilitation."

Riddle expects the construction to be completed by late 2013.

Source: Kent Riddle, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital; Mary Ann Sabo, Sabo Public Relations
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

$32 Million Transit Operations Center Set To Roll

Doubling the number of transit riders in 10 years requires a lot of planning and some large investments in infrastructure. And with riders on The Rapid reaching a record high of 10.8 Million in the last year, a greatly enhanced and larger operations center could not have come at a better time.

The Rapid, Grand Rapids' transit authority, marked the opening of its newly renovated $32 Million Wealthy Operations Center this past week. The three-year project was made possible with a combination of $10.7 Million in Federal stimulus money and $17 Million in Federal transportation funding dollars.

To mark the occasion, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Senator Carl Levin made a special visit to participate in the ribbon cutting. As Ray LaHood pointed out, "The $10 Million for this project that came from Federal stimulus dollars did exactly what it was supposed to do: create jobs."

Carl Levin spoke about the reputation for collaboration in the area, saying, "West Michigan is known for working together. The biggest example of this is the 6 cities and suburban areas that make up the Interurban Transit Partnership (ITP), a feat that the Detroit area has not been able to accomplish."

The renovation project doubled the size of the old operations center to approximately 280,000 square feet, providing space for a much larger fleet (over 150 busses) and for future expansion of services. With the design work of ProgressiveAE and construction management from The Christman Companies, many "green" features were added to the building including large skylights to greatly reduce the need for artificial lighting, a 40,000-square-foot green roof (the largest in West Michigan), a water reclamation system for bus washing that saves 9 million gallons of water a year, and 95% of construction and demolition materials being diverted from landfills.

The facility also contains operations staff, driver training facilities and will soon house an on-site fitness room.

Writer: Jeff Hill
Source: Ray LaHood, Secretary of Transport; Carl Levin, Senator; Jennifer Kalczuk, The Rapid

Proposed Grand Rapids Urban Market lands $1M grant toward contamination cleanup

A proposed $28 million urban market with a focus on food preparation and sales got a huge shot of energy this week with the award of a $1 million grant for the cleanup of contaminated soil and removal of dilapidated buildings.

The grant, part of Clean Michigan Brownfield Initiative, was awarded by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and will be administered by the City of Grand Rapids. The grant joins another $4.7 million awarded to the project by the Michigan Economic Growth Authority in November 2011.

"In terms of regional scope and draw, the urban market project is probably along the same lines as the Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place projects," says city Economic Development Director, Kara Wood. "We're hoping this project serves as a catalyst for additional redevelopment in that area, and could bring about 200 jobs to the city."

The proposed 130,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor market, a project spearheaded by Grand Action, the group behind development of the Van Andel Arena over a decade ago, could occupy some 3.5 acres bounded by Wealthy St. SW (north), Ionia Avenue SW (east), Logan St. SW (south) and US-131 (west), on the former Sonneveldt Produce Company site. The land, now owned by the City of Grand Rapids, will be leased to a corporate entity for 99 years upon development of the market.

"I think the important thing is that we've worked through public and private partnerships on this development, and it's only with the state and local governments that this project is possible," says Wood. "The next step is for the private funding to come through, and Grand Action is working to raise those funds."

If funding comes through, the market could be open in time for the 2013 season.
For more details on the market's plans, click here.

Source: Kara Wood, Economic Development Director, City of Grand Rapids
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Related Articles
Proposed $30M downtown Grand Rapids market far from sealed and delivered, but moving forward

Tiger Studio interactive design company expands from Zeeland, opens shop in Grand Rapids' Heartside

Zeeland-based Tiger Studio is doing so much work for Grand Rapids clients the owner has opened a new satellite base in Heartside at 38 Commerce. The studio is one of the first tenants in the new liner-building development that replaced an aging and outdated structure on the corner of Commerce Avenue SW and Weston St.

Tiger Studio, headquartered at 201 W. Washington, Zeeland, creates interactive technology, industrial design and designs mobile apps for iPad, iPhone and other technology, interaction for consumer products, and works extensively with the medical community.

"In Zeeland, we're in an old restored factory, which is a cool space," says Luciano Hernandez, owner. "But we like 38 because it's the complete opposite. It's modern and simple, and it reflects the kind of work we're doing in the digital age."

Hernandez says the 1,000-square-foot space is open with modular furniture that can be configured for four or five people to collaborate or to accommodate a client meeting. Large windows overlooking Commerce Avenue provide natural daylight and a view of the activity on the street.

"This space is an expansion of what we're doing now and who we're serving," Hernandez says. "We wanted a place in Grand Rapids to meet with clients, a space where we could look around and see who our neighbors are and collaborate with them. We do a lot of work in the medical device arena and want to be part of that vibrant, growing community."

Studio employees will split their time between the Grand Rapids and Zeeland offices, says Hernandez. Grand Rapids office hours will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon. through Fri.

Source: Luciano Hernandez, Tiger Studio
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Growing Cinematic Arts college a picture perfect fit for former UICA space in downtown Grand Rapids

Leaders of the Compass College of Cinematic Arts say that its student population has tripled and with that growth comes the need for more space and a location central to Grand Rapids' downtown. On Dec. 8, the college cut a filmstrip "ribbon" to mark the opening of its new location at 41 Sheldon Blvd. SE, the former home of the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts.

The college, previously at Fifth St. NW and Seward Avenue, is excited to have a space with a dedicated film theater already in place, says Admissions Director Tom Lowe.

"Our new location has a sound stage and a 175-seat theater as options for students to be able to create and show their films," Lowe says. "Our school is a media arts training college where students learn to be directors, writers, screenwriters, animators and do jobs behind the camera. They're not just confined to [creating for] the big screen, but for anything today that would be video-centric."

The college has 50 students this year, ranging in age from recent high school graduates to adults in their forties. Lowe says the school, formerly called Compass Film Academy, gained accreditation in 2010. Successful completion of its 60-credit-hour course gains students a bachelor of arts in motion picture arts and sciences.

The school shares the main level with the offices of ArtPrize, and also occupies the entire lower level. Three classrooms, a computer lab, plus student and faculty lounges round out the facility.

Lowe says students have had a hand in several successful commercial projects including 30 Minutes or Less, a movie shot in Grand Rapids; Avatar; CSI Miami; Fast and Furious; Marmaduke; and a Disney remake of Return to Oz, in production now.

Source: Tom Lowe, Compass College of Cinematic Arts
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Clark Communications, Media Place Partners join growing community on Grand Rapids' S. Division

Inside the new digs of Clark Communications and Media Place Partners, warm-hued woods, aged brick walls and natural daylight streaming through glass curtain walls greet visitors. An old industrial wood and metal staircase leads from 131 S. Division Ave. (Grand Rapids) down to the lower level space, where the rear entry opens to a lobby facing an alley on the east.

"It's kind of a different set-up," says Clark Communications owner Craig Clark with a smile, motioning to both entries.

Clark and Dave Kettler, owner of Media Place Partners, moved their shops from separate locations on Monroe Center to the 1,900-square-foot space so both firms could have a room for growth and collaboration.

"Media Place Partners continues to grow and I wanted more room to do so," Kettler says. "I see this area as an up-and-coming part of town and found a very nice space here that fits our needs while not breaking the bank."

Between the two firms, eight employees will occupy the space -- three from Clark Communications and five from Media Place Partners. All the furniture is mobile, and some of it does double-duty, like the metal shelves with white-board backs -- the white-board side forms a wall of the conference area, the shelving side forms a storage wall in Clark's office.

"I have felt a real pull to the Heartside neighborhood," Clark says. "I've always enjoyed the eclectic, creative, collaborative energy. I also have a heart for the Heartside individuals we see walking up and down the street. I see the struggle on their faces. Behind that, there are real people."

Clark plans to foster his desire to help others by contributing 10 percent of Clark Communications' revenue to nearby nonprofits Mel Trotter Ministries, Degagé Ministries, Heartside Ministry and Guiding Light Mission to help individuals who have, or who want to, start their own businesses.

"For example, Guiding Light has men going in and out of there. Some are ready to reemerge. Do they have an entrepreneurial spirit, can we help them with that?" Clark says. "Right now, we're trying to identify those people and develop relationships and see what comes from that."

Source: Craig Clark, Clark Communications; Dave Kettler, Media Place Partners
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

New Grand River Cigar introduces cigar lounge to Grand Rapids

With its leather chairs, a walk-in humidor and hundreds of cigars, Grand River Cigar could be West Michigan's first classic cigar lounge. With an eye to creating an atmosphere where cigar enthusiasts can relax and enjoy a good smoke, owners Robin and Tina Day and Charlie Rossi hope to give cigar enthusiasts a unique experience in one of the few public places where smoking is legal.

"Charlie and I used to hang out and have a drink and a cigar and talk about our woes," says Robin Day. "When the law changed and you couldn't smoke in public, we decided to open our own cigar store."

Day has spent the past 25 years working for retail giants Lowe's, Michael's and Jo-Ann Fabrics, but says this is his first foray as an entrepreneur.

The focal point of the shop (131 S. Division Avenue, Grand Rapids) is the walk-in humidor -- a 16-ft. wide by 8.5-ft. deep by 9-ft. tall state-of-the-art cigar vault -- which sports an all-mahogany exterior case and a Spanish cedar interior. Day says the special cedar not only absorbs excess moisture, but releases it into the humidor when needed to keep the cigars perfect.

"We have 20 different cigar brands coming in, including Arturo Fuente, Ashton, Avo, Camacho, Montecristo, Gurkha and H. Upmann," says Day. "Most of the cigars we carry are hand rolled. The differences between them are like the differences between wines -- each cigar has a different flavor based on the climate and soil where the tobacco is grown."

Folks can enjoy a soft drink or coffee, catch a television show, peruse a periodical or tap into the worldwide web while at the shop, or simply listen to the selection of jazz from the '30s, '40s and '50s compiled by Vertigo Music, located next door.

Cigar aficionados can also rent a cigar locker where they can store their cigars in a climate-controlled environment.

Store hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Mon. - Sat.

Source: Robin Day, Grand River Cigar
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
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