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Development in Heartside - Part II: The Business Perspective

The Heartside neighborhood has been growing out of a period of urban decay. This piece is the second of a three-part series in which Michael and I explore what Heartside residents believe are obstacle
Alcove Dwelling

Alcove Dwelling

Underwriting support from:

A collaboration between Nick Manes and Michael Tuffelmire

The Heartside neighborhood has been growing out of a period of urban decay. This piece is the second of a three-part series in which Michael and I explore what Heartside residents believe are obstacles that keep the neighborhood from being a vibrant business district. Part one focused on the homeless perspective and can be read here.


Dan Koert is the owner of Commute Bicycle Shop located at 120 S. Division. Dan lives in an apartment in the back of his store. Commute has been open for eight months and fits in well with many of the other smaller, hip businesses that have been opening over the last few years along Division.

Dan runs into three major issues conducting business in Heartside. The first is an issue that plagues many area business owners. Due to the predominant architectural style in the neighborhood, many store fronts have sunken doors known as alcoves. Alcove dwelling is often left unchecked in the neighborhood. Individuals will sleep, defecate and use narcotics in plain view of the police.

Dan explained that All City Kicks, a business across the street, had such a difficult problem with alcove dwelling that they changed their store front. Dan does not want to have to change the historic architecture of the building.

Dan is also solicited for money at least once a day. Another issue he deals with is that potential patrons are intimidated by the sight of dealers and homeless people loitering in front of his shop.

Dan believes that in order for the Heartside Neighborhood to succeed and flourish as a vibrant shopping district, something has to be done about the social services.

Heather McGartland owns Imagination Creation, located next to Commute at 120 S. Division. Like Dan, Heather lives in her shop as well.

In Heather's opinion, the homeless are not the problem; drugs and prostitution are playing a major disservice to the neighborhood.

Heather believes the crime rate in Heartside is exaggerated. She pointed out that a majority of the crimes in Heartside are petty crimes such as burglary, property destruction and simple assaults. Major crimes have occurred but are not common.

Heather enjoys the neighborhood and the people in it. Her business exists because the rent is low due to the social services in the area. “I would not want to be anywhere else,” she said.

Heather is a champion for coexistence between residents and businesses in Heartside. Although many of the social services groups act with good intentions, she believes they serve as havens for drug dealers and predators. These individuals cozy up to those who are desperate but well-intentioned and truly benefit from social services.

Herm Baker has been the manager of Vertigo Music at 129 S. Division for the last seven years. Herm believes that having so many of the shelters in such close vicinity has helped keep his rent low and allowed his business to stay open even though his landlord has threatened to raise the rent in the past.

Herm has coexisted fairly well with most of the shelter patrons. “I give a lot of respect and get it back,” he explained. However, he does believe that as the redevelopment of South Division continues, eventually someone will begin to buy out the missions.


Brothers Dave and Paul Reinert opened Rockwell's, a casual sports bar, and Republic, a more upscale restaraunt, at 45 S. Division about two years ago.

Barb Spiegelberg has been the marketing director there for the last two months but has been a customer since the business first opened. Barb said the restaurants offer valet service and internal security “to make our customers feel safer,” but said they have not felt many effects from neighborhood patrons. She also cited an increased police presence in the area as something that makes their guests feel safer.

Barb did say she would eventually like to see the homeless shelters gone from the area because it would mean they have fulfilled their purpose and "homelessness is reduced."

Sam Cummings is one of the managing partners at CWD Real Estate. His firm has been responsible for much of the redevelopment of the Arena District over the last 15 years, particularly along Ionia Street. “Downtown Grand Rapids is the entertainment capital of West Michigan,” he said and added that there is “98% occupancy for rentals in the area but there is no more significant new construction."

Sam thinks there are two major demographics fueling the urban redevelopment right now: “the millennials who grew up in suburbs and the empty nesters who evacuated city life.”

Managers like Herm at Vertigo had voiced some concerns about how larger, more upscale businesses coming into the area could have negative consequences on their own businesses. Cummings addressed this issue simply by saying, “small business has a choice to be helped by [bigger business] or be overrun.”


Among these business owners, there is an overall sentiment that there are too many social services in the area. The business owners and the patrons both seem to feel this to various extents. Small business owners also seem to feel that they might be slowly pushed out of Heartside as well.

Our first piece examined the homeless perspective and can be read here.
Our next piece will present the opinions of an administrator at a Heartside area shelter.

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It's nice to see input from sources directly affected by the situation here. Good job, guys!

 i enjoyed the discussion today about the series at the Rapidian Press Pit. keep up the good work guys!

Nick and Michael,

It was good to meet you both at this past week's press pit and learn more about your stories. I came here and checked them both out. Great topic! Keep up the fantastic work.

Suzanna LaCroix