Hastings Profiled In This Week’s West Michigan Stories

Posted at 8:40 PM, Feb 05, 2013
and last updated 2013-06-25 11:08:29-04

HASTINGS, Mich. — In the first of what will become a series of profiles and highlights from several different cities across West Michigan, we begin in Hastings. Located in central Barry County, Hastings is the county seat with the courthouse in the middle of town. Its population is around  7, 500, and boasts a richness in both community spirit and personal service.

There are two things that caught our attention about Hastings immediately. One, the revitalization of Jefferson Street in downtown (a favorite with business owners and city officials). And two, the Baums…a couple that has been giving back to the community for years.

Like many small towns, Hastings has business owners that have been in the same location for many years. For example, the pharmacist hasn’t moved for 40 years and he still hand delivers prescriptions. In order to help revitalize Jefferson Street, business owners and merchants meet on a regular basis and come up with ideas on how to enhance the area, sometimes by creating events. One of those events began in June 2012 and is similar to ArtPrize in Grand Rapids. It’s an outside exhibit of 23 different sculptures that have been placed around the city through May 2013. Get a preview of the tour here.

The downtown business team also plants flowers every spring and they’ve created something called the Al Fresco Suites. The Suites are a completely renovated building after fire destroyed the original structure a few years ago. It is upscale modern available space that offers business owners (perhaps small, young entrepreneurs) the chance to develop a business by renting a suite instead of an entire building. The idea makes it affordable for brick and mortar businesses to keep start-up costs to a minimum as they build a customer base. The suites also offer fully custom decorated rooms for rent as an alternative to area hotels. They include granite countertops, designer furnishings, a fireplace, kitchenettes, and other small extras decorated with the closest attention of meticulous detail.

People with a vision can do wonders for a city or town, especially if they operate a thriving third generation fiberglass business.  Larry and Earlene Baum are Hastings philanthropists that have always given back to their community. Their first major project was to tear down the YMCA and build everything from scratch. They donated funds to build a dialysis center for Pennock Hospital, and were instrumental in funding a restoration school for “at risk” kids at the Gilmore Car Museum. Their proudest moment since they became residents in 1945 was construction of a new field house and football field for kids. Mr. Baum says “that really brought this community together.”

Along with the new place to play, the Baums donated enough money to make sure no student has to pay to play sports in a time when school athletics are feeling the financial crunch. Because of the importance of sports in Mr. Baum’s life at an early age, he feels very strong that each and every student should be given the chance to play sports without money being a factor.

It’s clear the Baums have been instrumental in revitalizing Hastings and making great things happen for residents. Their philanthropic gifts, visions, and ideas can certainly be compared to similar names of Meijer, DeVos, and Van Andel. The Barry Community Foundation has more than 20 million dollars in assests (an amount almost unheard of), and has 13 different non-profit partners housed in a histoical 1846 building. The foundation was also instrumental in building a new library with zero tax dollars, and have focused heavily on education, arts, and culture.

Author Norman Crampton named Hastings as one of the “100 best small towns in America.” Click here for Hastings events and more information and city website, and click here for more history and background information. And don’t forget to visit the old Walldorff building built in 1866. It was once a furniture store, but has since been turned in to a brew pub. Find their website here.

Watch the other video of our visit to Hastings by clicking HERE.