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Home décor items on display at i.candy artwork. Opposite page, hanging out at The Sparrows.


Welcome to Wealthy
The once neglected street is buzzing, thanks to new business owners and residents.

By Abby Heugel
Photography 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 paramount.”

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 a 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 Saprrows

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 exactly where I wanted to live and what I wanted for a neighborhood bookstore.”

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 business district.

“Our business has been located here for seven years, and my wife and I live here, as well,” Bazzani 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 garden décor.

“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 to 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.” 

Dave 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 pieces,” Childs 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.

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