Marking one year, Downtown Market vendors and customers remain upbeat

Posted at 5:53 PM, Sep 01, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-01 20:07:15-04

 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Marking a major milestone this Labor Day weekend, the Downtown Market in Grand Rapids celebrated one year since opening to some serious fanfare in 2013.

The $30 million venue on downtown's south end at 435 Ionia Ave. SW opened to more than 30,000 visitors last Labor Day weekend.

While a few vendors have come and gone already in the past year, some critics are pointing to a large, unoccupied space in the market planned for a farm-to-table type restaurant or brewpub as a sign things haven't quite lived up to expectations. Promised last year, plans to fill the space still haven't materialized.

But Brian Burch, spokesperson for the market says they remain 'very optimistic' and have been in talks with several potential chefs and restaurant owners about moving into the space.

"We're hoping to have something to announce within the next few months," Burch said over the phone Monday, admitting the challenge to fill the space is a result of market officials being extremely picky about choosing a tenant.

"It'd be easy to put a chain in, but it's much harder to find a farm-to-table type place which is what we're aiming for," he said. "We've been very deliberate in finding the right fit for a place that plans to use the market for what we intended; emphasizing fresh and local."

Officials for the market haven't been willing to share specifics on the financial condition of the market but several vendors FOX 17 spoke with said business in the past year has exceeded expectations in many cases.

“I think we were just really excited to be a part of something new," said Kate Leeder, co-owner of Aperitivo, a wine and cheese vendor that opened with the market in 2013.

Leeder says despite stalled efforts to secure a large restaurant tenant, she's been pleasantly surprised with how the market has performed and how people have reacted to it.

“People seem to think that we’re floundering and we’re really happy we’re here and we’re happy to have the customers who love us," she said.

“We were very hopeful and we’ve been kind of thrilled by the success and even just the little things like new customers who come everyday and who then come back... it’s been a wonderful surprise.”

Leeder says her wine bar in particular is performing much stronger than she expected with revenue split almost evenly between that and her retail. Her unique offerings are something she says has been key to Aperitivo's sustained success.

“We have things that you can’t find at other places in West Michigan," Leeder said. "There are very few places in West Michigan who sell what we sell and that helps, you know it’s nice to be a destination spot.”

Customers like Creshon White from Kalamzoo, visiting the market for the first time Monday, seem to agree with Leeder's assessment.

“So far, I’m loving it," she said having just bought some brie from Aperitivo.

“This is way better (than a grocery store), someone actually knows the product, where it’s coming from and how to actually use it so you can enhance the flavors, it’s perfect.”

White said she appreciated the interaction customers could have with vendors and knowing there's an emphasis on fresh, local products in something that appealed to her too.

“I just found brie from Benton Harbor, so I’m really impressed, had no idea Benton Harbor produced brie, so I’m excited," she said.

To celebrate the market's one year anniversary, several of the vendors are planning to offer "birthday bites" specials with discounts on food and other items on Sept. 6. Participating vendors include:

  • Love’s - Birthday Cake Ice Cream - $1 off
  • Tacos El Cunado - free chips and guacamole with any purchase
  • Rak Thai - $1 Asian Street Food Bites
  • Malamiah - Chocolate and Vanilla Cake Smoothies
  • Thornburg - Free 2 oz. honey with purchase of any 3 preserves

Keep up with FOX 17’s Josh Sidorowicz by emailing him at or following him on Twitter.