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Despite recent closures, downtown Grand Rapids positioned to 'thrive' in 2022

Posted at 6:54 PM, Dec 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-30 18:54:18-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A recent report says more businesses closed in downtown Grand Rapids in 2019 than the following two years despite closures and restrictions brought on by the pandemic.

It’s a reality different from the one so many people think to be true. In December two popular attractions in the city’s center, The B.O.B. and Osteria Rossa, announced their plans to close.

However, in an interview with FOX 17 on Thursday, Richard App, the city’s retail retention and attraction specialist, offered a simpler answer for why restaurants and shops may close at the end of the year.

Instead of blaming COVID-19, App said taxes could explain the decisions. He explained if an establishment stays open for even just one day in 2022, they would still be liable for things like personal property taxes.

Heading into 2022, App says the city’s pandemic recovery is in a good position.

“We’re being very intentional with the businesses that are coming downtown, and I think it’s going to make for a better shopping, dining and walking experience for our downtown,” said App.

A COVID-19 recovery report issued by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. in December found 32 businesses opened in the immediate downtown area this past year, compared to just 21 in 2020.

In that same time frame pre-pandemic, 46 shops started up. Businesses opened 1.5 times faster than they closed.

The report went on to say in 2019, 23 businesses closed, which is higher than the 19 shut down in 2020 and 15 in 2021.

Stores fill 79 percent of ground floor storefronts, which App called “pretty great.”

“Although we’ve definitely lost some good businesses over the last year and a half, two years, what’s really exciting is to see the existing restaurants that I’ve talked to, in just the last three days, have reported really positive holiday experiences,” said App. “Our soft good retailers are also talking about better numbers than they’ve had since 2018.”

James Berg, managing partner of Essence Restaurant Group, says he believes in the city’s recovery.

“Downtown Grand Rapids is ready to grow and thrive,” said Berg.

The pandemic “devastated” Essence’s three restaurants, but Berg says things have somewhat returned to normal.

Their restaurants are still struggling to hire people, so they recently increased pay and benefits packages.

In February, Berg says they intend to reopen Grove, which has been closed since the pandemic’s start.

“Business is — it’s mean,” said Berg. “It’s like you gotta fight and you gotta do it with your values and you win on a daily basis.”

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