Businesses open satellites in downtown center

 Incubator nurtures start-up enterprises

By Lynn Moore
The Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, Mich. (AP) — When Chantella Bentsen moved to Muskegon, she planned to operate her yarn shop from her home. That was before she saw the Century Club Shops.

Sharing space in the downtown boutique shopping center and business incubator has helped her get her fledgling business going. And she doesn’t have to make room in her new home for her merchandise or the knitting classes she holds regularly, according to The Muskegon Chronicle.

“I’ve had people compliment me on being in a small space because I have a better chance of surviving the economy,” said Bentsen, who recently opened her Apple Valley Yarn West shop.

That’s the idea behind the Century Club Shops. The Century Club nurtures start-ups like newcomer Glo’s Repurpose on Purpose, which transforms mirrors into works of art.

The Century Club also is providing a chance for established businesses to test the downtown market. LeFleur Flower Shoppe and Maggie’s Gourmet Food & Gifts are the most recent businesses to establish shops at the Century Club.

“To have an extension of an established business adds to the stability of the collection of shops there,” said developer Gary Post, who owns the Century Club building.

Post is determined to help rebuild Muskegon’s downtown to its former glory. He understands the challenges that remain, but also celebrates the victories already achieved. Those include Unruly Brewing and Drip Drop Drink, both start-up companies that recently opened in Post’s Russell Block building next door to the Century Club.

The Century Club Ballroom, located on the building’s top floor, has proven wildly successful in attracting weddings and other events to its elegant loft-like space that features hardwood floors, brick walls, chandeliers and large windows with views of Muskegon Lake. More than 60 events are booked there this year, and more than 15 are already scheduled for next year, Post said.

He said he’s excited about an upcoming announcement about the use of the Century Club’s bottom floor. But he remains realistic about the ground-floor Century Club Shops, where there’s still plenty of retail space available.

“The retail piece is, admittedly, still a work in progress,” Post said.

Post is convinced that people want to support the downtown district — they just need reasons to visit it. The opening of the new Muskegon Farmer’s Market will provide “huge” exposure to downtown businesses, he said.

It was at the Farmer’s Market where Cindy Moyer and her sister, Diana McConnell, got their start selling gourmet teas.

“People asked, ‘After summer, where can we get your tea?’” Moyer said.

And so the sisters moved their BananaDog Teas into the Century Club a year and a half ago. They share a bright space at the front of the building with McDonald’s Candies, which is another established business trying a downtown satellite location.

Sharing Century Club space also is working well for Bentsen’s yarn shop and Emma Jean Hardiman’s Emmaj’s Lady Bug Shop. Hardiman, who sells items she sews and crochets, said she had been starting to look around for a yarn wholesaler when Bentsen walked in looking for space for her Apple Valley Yarn.

“I love all the new yarn, all the new texture,” Hardiman said, looking around at Bentsen’s colorful stock.

Bentsen spent years managing the Apple Valley Yarn Company store in Midland (there’s also a store in Clare). When her husband got a job in Muskegon, she and the Apple Valley Yarn owner agreed to partner on a Muskegon location, Bentsen said.

Bentsen has a phased business plan that includes buying out her partner and moving into her own store, possibly in downtown. She knows she is filling a niche in Muskegon with her hand-dyed yarns and Turkish wool. But she also knows she can’t grow too fast. That’s where the Century Club Shops fills her needs.

Deb Moon sees the Century Club Shops as a chance to test the downtown market for a florist. Fresh and silk flowers and gift items from Moon’s LeFleur Flower Shoppe fill the main corridor at the Century Club.

“For reaching new people and new marketing, it’s a very affordable opportunity,” Moon said.

It’s a bit of a homecoming for LeFleur, which was on West Western Avenue downtown before it moved to its present location on Grand Haven Road. That was before Moon bought the business 15 years ago.

Moon said she’s “drawn” downtown by the historic buildings and believes that through her Century Club location she can reach customers who have never been to her Grand Haven Road store. That includes couples scoping out the Century Club ballroom for a wedding reception site.

“I think the traffic will increase with all the things that are happening downtown,” Moon said. “I look forward to being a part of that.”


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