The Next Front Road: How Villages From Kingsley To Elk Rapids Are Invigorating Their Downtowns
Retail stores and restaurants on Front Street may draw visitors to downtown Traverse City from across the area, but other villages and townships are working to create their own bustling downtown neighborhoods – an effort that has become more urgent in the wake of the pandemic Has.
The Kingsley Downtown Development Authority (DDA) plans to start a new series of events this summer to drive traffic to Kingsley Market – the farmers’ market in the villages – while introducing downtown businesses. Night in Kingsley is from 5pm to 8pm on July 21st and August 18th (farmers market starts at 2pm) and includes the farmers market and local business stalls, food stalls from local restaurants and youth groups, plus music and dance entertainment, a car show and activities for children, including storytelling and programming from the Kingsley Branch Library. A “slow roll” at the end of each evening will encourage participants to slowly drive through Kingsley to experience highlighted “hidden gems” of the village center.
“The goal of this event is to bring awareness to everything Kingsley has to offer, including businesses, parks, food and community spirit,” said Jena Van Wagner, who manages marketing for the Kingsley DDA. “The goal for this summer is to create a truly down-to-earth, hometown-centric, family-friendly event.”
Dan Hawkins, manager of Kingsley Village, says the DDA and a group of community leaders who meet monthly for a networking event called Kingsley Business Coffee have been instrumental in generating new ideas for better promoting the downtown village to develop. Business Coffee “brings together everything that makes a small town work: the faith community, the school principal, the business owners by having a monthly get-together where everyone interacts and has synergy,” says Hawkins. The community has partnered on projects that range from embellishing with the DDA at the M-113 gate to Kingsley to hanging banners on street lamps in honor of 2020 high school graduates who graduated during the pandemic.
“Our focus was on creating the buzz around Kingsley,” says Hawkins. “Sometimes bedroom communities can get sleepy, but the coffee group helps wake things up and the DDA helps do the same. We’re looking at what we can do better, what we can’t, and how we can approve our curb complaint ? “
Van Wagner and Hawkins see Night Out in Kingsley as a way for villagers to slowly re-enter events and community gatherings this summer, and offer a midweek alternative that doesn’t compete with other regional festivals or weekend gatherings. “We’ll still have COVID safety logs, but it kind of comes out of the cave and gets to know each other again while it fosters the vitality of downtown,” Hawkins says. He notes that numerous new stores have opened in Kingsley to support residents, even during the pandemic – from flower shops and resale stores to restaurants and professional services like an optician and an upcoming preschool expansion.
“When I first got here in 2017, there were about eight empty shop windows and no place to have a cup of coffee before an interview,” says Hawkins. “Now anyone looking to open a business in Kingsley is going to tell you, there is no space. We’re getting creative and talking about possible re-uses of buildings.” Not only does Hawkins attract downtown tenants, but it also focuses on governance issues that help foster a more vibrant core. This ranges from a clearer definition of the boundaries of the inner city, to securing infrastructure subsidies, to revising ordinances to make them more business-friendly, for example to relax about signage and parking restrictions.
Van Wagner adds that there are still a few items on the DDA’s “wish list” for downtown Kingsley. “You still can’t get a cup of coffee before an interview,” she chuckles. “We want a breakfast spot, a simple regular bar, a laundromat. We’d love a brewery; we’ve been calling that for years. There are still plenty of opportunities for growth … we have a good section of people who live here and have the money to spend on site. “
Kingsley isn’t the only small town in the area focused on revitalizing the downtown area. A newly formed group called the Downtown Elk Rapids Association is working to plan events and promote businesses in downtown Elk Rapids. Independently of the DDA – the branch of government in the village’s inner city – the association grew to almost 300 business and citizen members in the first few weeks after it was founded at the end of winter, according to representative Shaun Quinn.
“This arose out of a recognized need to help each other out as we navigate through the pandemic, reopening in a safe way, and giving people a chance to get out of our beautiful little town and enjoy it,” Quinn says. A first weekend event in early March – a scavenger hunt for the Lord of the Rings in which participants were sent to various companies and which ended with a film screening at the Elk Rapids Theater – generated “record sales” at dealers, including one of the best weekends in March Times and according to the association the busiest weekend since October. Other events are planned for the coming weeks, including a Hoppin ‘Down the Bunny Trail event on April 3rd for the Easter weekend, Earth Day activities on April 24th, Kentucky Derby Day on May 1st, shopping specials for Mother’s Day May 7th-8th; and A spring-summer event for parks and recreation on May 22nd, aimed at connecting the business corridors of River and Ames Streets.
In Kalkaska, the village DDA has launched a new website at ExploreKalkaska.com, which lists accommodation, dining, shopping and recreation in Kalkaska as well as information on local service shops, a new community calendar and updates on village projects and news . “The website offers residents, visitors and business owners a new and improved way to explore Kalkaska,” said the DDA. As in Kingsley and Elk Rapids, those responsible at Kalkaska are also increasing their presence on social media to highlight local companies, promote local specials and exchange community updates almost daily.
In the meantime, Fife Lake Township is also trying to revamp its community branding. Community leaders have launched a competition for local artists to create a new logo “that better identifies our office and community,” according to an announcement from Fife Lake. The new logo will be used on the community’s website, social media, business cards, posters, souvenirs, and other branded locations. Submissions will be accepted until April 15th. The winner will receive a cash prize of US $ 200.