What do you do when you have businesses wanting to come to downtown Charlotte and set up shop–but no place to put them? This challenge is exactly the situation that downtown Charlotte is facing this spring. There are no available storefronts, which seems like a good thing, but it also somewhat limits the growth of downtown Charlotte.
Charlotte Rising Executive Director Lisa Barna has accumulated a growing list of entrepreneurs that would like to open a business in the downtown business district, she said. Five years ago, when Charlotte Rising started as part of the Michigan Main Street program, this was not the case. There were 14 vacant buildings downtown. It was a fight to get people to come into town, said Barna.
But that’s changed. The storefronts are full.
“There are certainly buildings and spaces downtown that are not currently occupied by an open business, but in most of those cases it’s because they are under renovation and there are plans for their future use. I wouldn’t call that vacant, or occupied, frankly, more of a transitional state,” said Bryan Myrkle, Community Development Director for the City of Charlotte.
“There is, of course, a ton of vacant space on the upper floors of many buildings downtown. We have worked over the years to find uses for those second and third floors, usually as residential rental units; but there may be certain first-floor office uses that could reasonably move upstairs and create space for more retail downtown,” added Myrkle.
“What I can say with certainty is that it is very difficult right now to find space available for retail business in downtown Charlotte, and while that can be a problem, it is a problem most communities would like to have.”
Downtown Charlotte was probably at its lowest point in about 2014. There was a high vacancy rate and a lot of concern amongst the business community. There was a local ‘economic summit’ convened that summer to address the situation and that brought a renewed community focus to downtown. Then in 2015 Charlotte was chosen as a Project Rising Tide community, which led directly to the creation of CharlotteRising, which has spurred new activity, new events, and new investments. Project Rising Tide also made it possible to secure additional funding for the Beach Market redevelopment, and paid for the extensive research and documentation necessary to get Downtown Charlotte listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There was also the effort by local businesses and other private donors to buy the old Carriage Cleaners site and donate it to the city for the creation of Timepiece Park. “Approximately half the expense of developing the pocket park was paid by grants and donations, which is unique among all the projects I have ever worked on. The pandemic notwithstanding, this has been an incredible 5-year run for downtown Charlotte, and we hope this momentum will continue into the future.” Myrkle added.
“It’s taken five years to get to this point,” Barna said. “And we want to give Charlotte entrepreneurs the best chance to succeed.”
The goal of Charlotte Rising is to cultivate a vibrant, enduring downtown Charlotte. The community-driven organization is locally funded; their annual $200,000 budget is covered by private donors who want to see Charlotte prosper and grow; 89% of their annual budget comes from private donations. There are no membership or dues to pay but your business must be within the ten square blocks that Charlotte Rising serves. Charlotte Rising is geared towards the economic development of the city and can fund infrastructure, art projects, and grants.
One method that will be instituted to try to create new space downtown are occupancy grants offered by Charlotte Rising to those willing to subdivide their storefront space in half, move to the front to the back of the store, or to alter their upstairs space to allow another business to move into the building. These grants are for $5,000 and applications will be available starting July 1, 2021, to building owners.
“I hope we see people moving and shifting,” Barna said.
It’s not as simple as just asking a service-type business to just move upstairs and let the retail stores be downstairs for the convenience of walk-in customers, Barna explained. Most of the downtown buildings with second and third floors have not developed them. Many are lacking electricity, heat, adequate flooring, and more. These are expensive fixes and may need $100,000 or more to make the space usable. There used to be available from the State of Michigan for improvements like this, she explained, but right now those funds are being used for COVID relief.
Barna, as executive director of Charlotte Rising, refuses to take credit for the success of the downtown business area. The ideas for the revitalization of the downtown come from volunteers, she said. The Economic Vitality team came up with the plan for the $5000 grants, she said. She is the one who makes sure things get done and is charged with reporting their progress to the State. “We are the conduit for change,” she explained.
“If we invest locally, we will see changes,” Barna said, commenting on the $200,000 invested annually into the business district in the last five years which has resulted in this growth and development. For more information about the grants or about Charlotte Rising, call 989-217-1950 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can visit their website at charlotterising.com.
Some stores when you walk inside have a special ambiance and feel charming and cozy. They inspire you to look around and try to absorb everything. That is the feeling upon entering Jamie Kita’s store, Seasonal Inspirations, a gift shop in downtown Olivet. It’s full of delightful and unique handmade items, and there is something for almost every season and holiday available.
Kita is a talented person, both in her artwork, which she sells in the store, and the way she displays the items she sells. There are no metal shelves with products lined up in straight rows. You will find her products arranged more like you might arrange them in your home, on unique furniture pieces, ladders, a pergola, or rustic cupboards and drawers. Texture, color, and design all play an important role in Seasonal Inspirations.
It’s like “Pinterest in a store,” some might say. Her unique taste and artistic talent aren’t limited by style or season. Farmhouse-style and spring items, in whites and soft neutrals, are some of her featured product styles available now, along with primitive, country, and rustic. She also enjoys re-purposing items, using items in a new, perhaps unexpected way. “I like to be functional and practical, but still have it look good,” she explained.
Kita knows her community. She serves as president of the Olivet Chamber of Commerce. She graduated from Olivet High School, and much of her family lives in the area. She’s had her store since September 2015, and before that had a shop at home in their pole barn. The store, located at 102 Washington Street, used to be Olivet Pharmacy. When she heard the building was available, she decided she wanted to give it a shot, even though she’s not usually much of a risk-taker, she said.
Initially, she rented out booth space to other crafters, but now is selling mostly her own products and some items for resale. She estimates sixty percent of her products she has made herself; the rest are things she has purchased for re-sale, like candles, cards, t-shirts, dip mixes, and more.
“I like to dabble in a lot of crafts,” Kita said. Kita is very handy with tools, including more advanced skills such as welding and woodworking. Her husband, Jeff, helps a lot, she said, despite being very busy with his own work.
“Crafting is a great stress relief,” she said. She has a workspace in her shop for herself, plus space to share with others who want to create. The Gathering Room, where workshops are held, is spacious and inviting. Kita hopes to be able to offer more workshops in the future. She has offered needle felting, wreaths, and spring door decor recently. She also offers Community Time, free crafting drop-in times to for those who enjoy the social aspects of crafting with a friend.
“I want to inspire others,” Kita said, “Anything I learn I like to share with others. It’s more about the relationships we form here. I’m discovering ‘me’ and what I really want to do here, too.”
“Each year my sales have increased, which I’m thankful for,” Kita said. “I had a phenomenal fall, despite COVID. The community here is so tight-knit and supportive.”
To contact Seasonal Inspirations, call 269-223-2790. The store is closed on Mondays but is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m., and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.
Visit their website at seasonal-inspirations.com or on Facebook at seasonalinspirationsgiftshop. You can also email Jamie at seasonal-inspirations.com.
The Bellevue Boys Varsity Basketball Team opened the season with a resounding 57-24 win over the Waldron Spartans who entered the game having already played two games and owned a 2-0 record. The Broncos were led by senior guard Kenny Bartha who scored a team high 15 points, captured six rebounds, and handed out four assists. His running mate at the other guard, Braylon Robbins chipped in with 13 points and three assists. Senior forward Nick Hayward led the team in rebounds with ten, while David Payne and Dawson Wing each collected seven rebounds. All 11 players on the Broncos roster played and scored.
It was a nice win for the Broncos who had their season cut short last year the day before they were to have played in the district final championship game. If the Broncos had won the district game it would have been the ninth consecutive district championship for the Broncos. The Broncos finished last season with a 20-2 record, which was their fourth consecutive 20 win season.
The Broncos next play on Friday evening at 7:30pm, when they entertain Battle Creek St Phillip in an SCAA league game.
Submitted by Coach Joe Costello
On July 4, 1894, the hands of the clock at the top of the Eaton County Courthouse showed 6 p.m., and then almost immediately stopped as flames burned around it. The clock was huge; six feet in diameter, and was atop the tallest building in the city. The courthouse stands 111 feet from the ground to the top of the nine-foot-tall Lady of Justice.
A massive fire on that date devastated the courthouse. Newspaper accounts regarding the cause of the fire didn’t agree. Some felt that it was caused by the painters who were using torches to remove old paint from the building. Others denied that, saying that the area where the fire started hadn’t even been touched by the painters yet and attributed it to spontaneous combustion.
Being a holiday, the members of the Charlotte Fire Department were at a picnic in Eaton Rapids. They heard about the fire, and both departments responded. To get back to Charlotte quickly, they took the train from Eaton Rapids to Charlotte.
Mayor Merritt, county officials, and many of Charlotte’s lawyers, and other volunteers did what they could to get important documents out of the burning building and to extinguish the fire. The chief of the Wichita, Kansas fire department was in the city visiting relatives and offered his assistance.
The Charlotte Fire Department had a Silsby Steamer fire engine which used wood and coal to heat the brass boiler which produced 125 pounds of pressure and could shoot water up to 100 feet. By the time they arrived at the scene, however, the fire was out of control. The fire cistern was drained of water in an hour and the streams of water were too weak to reach the building’s eaves.
It was decided that it would be a good idea for someone to go up on the roof to dump water on the fire, a dangerous proposal. W.P. Engel, an electric light plant employee, offered to go up on the roof, as did Clarence Horn, one of the painters. Just as fire chief Donovan started up the ladder, though, the crowd started yelling for them all to come down as they could see flames burning through the roof.
The dome was ablaze and the 6000-pound bell on the roof of the building crashed through the roof and thundered into the basement.
Luckily, no one was injured in the fire and no important documents were lost as they were stored in fireproof vaults in the building or had been carried out of the building by volunteers. The building suffered considerable damage with much water damage on the ground floor. Temporary roofs were installed so that County business could continue.
The event was so monumental that the Charlotte Tribune newspaper printed a special “fire edition” that day to detail the event. “Eaton County’s Beautiful Court House Laid Low by Fire Fiend,” the headline read.
The Livingston County Press appraised the fire at $40,000 in damages and with only $15,000 in insurance. They wrote that only the exterior walls remained standing, but photos taken by George Fowler show that the interior walls remained.
After the fire, plans were made to restore the courthouse as near to the original as possible at a cost of $23,500.
Money wasn’t budgeted to replace the clock and bell, so the citizens of Charlotte raised the funds to purchase them. The original clock was replaced with an electric model, and the old bell was melted down to form a new one. Electric wiring was installed in the courthouse and the building was strengthened with fireproof material. The original bell clapper is in the Courthouse Square Museum.
“The Lady of Justice is original and did survive the fire,” Julie Kimmer, manager of the Courthouse Square Museum, said. “The back of her head has a dent, but she was reinstalled. The Smithsonian did a survey of these figures a few years ago and recorded her as an early original.”
The courthouse, built in 1885, was considered the jewel of the city. In its application for the National Register of Historic Buildings it was written, “It’s been recognized by architects and historians as a unique example of classical architecture by and attuned to midwestern America, halfway between the frontier and the twentieth century.” It received its official National Register status in 1971, the same year the county wanted to tear it down…but that’s another story!
The building cost over $70,000 to build, double what was budgeted. There was no bond, and no indebtedness, as the amount needed to build the courthouse was raised by a three-year tax upon property owners.
If you have an idea for an interesting, and true, historical story from anywhere in Eaton County that you would like to see in The County Journal, contact Deb Malewski at email@example.com.
Welcome your K9 Roscoe. We can’t thank you enough for the overwhelming response. It was wonderful. Roscoe was submitted by multiple people and was liked by Deputy Studley as well. “Roscoe” is also a name of an Anderson Co. (SC) Sheriff K9 recently killed in the line of duty. So we felt it was fitting to honor their dog. Studley and Roscoe will start training in October and be on the road as a team soon. The dog and training are being paid for by grant funds. The team will be trained in explosives and tracking.
It’s been very tough to be a teacher, a school administer, or a student since the pandemic hit. Which makes being recognized for your special efforts at developing strong relationships with your students and their families even more special.
This is exactly what happened recently at Potterville Elementary School. The school was selected as a finalist National Showcase School through Capturing Kids’ Hearts, a program used in the school that focuses on building strong relationships that lead to success within school and beyond.
Only 339 schools were selected as finalists from the thousands of schools across the nation that use the Capturing Kids’ Hearts program, and only ten districts in Michigan share this accomplishment. The nominations were based on a survey and from the school’s performance data. The final awardees, who will be deemed “National Showcase Schools,” will be announced in April.
“This is only the second year we have used the Capturing Kids’ Hearts program,” said Potterville School Superintendent Kevin Robydek, “and it represents the dedication seen from the teachers, the staff, and the administration of Potterville Elementary.”
“Capturing Kids’ Hearts is one of the key components used at Potterville to help the district to continually work towards maintaining a positive learning environment for students and staff,” explained Robydek.
“The program establishes a framework to help set up relationships between adults and youth, and helps those involved to deal with conflict,” explained Patrick O’Rourke, principal of Potterville Elementary School.
“Students are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors and succeed academically when they feel connected to school,” according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). “Research has shown that young people who feel connected to their school are less likely to engage in many risk behaviors, including early sexual initiation, alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use, and violence and gang involvement.”
“It’s an awesome program and it really shows what teachers and staff do to support our kids where they need it most,” O’Rourke explained. “It’s heavily focused on relationships and bringing out the best in people.”
There are five components to the Capturing Kids’ Hearts program, O’Rourke explained. They are encouraged to engage (students are personally greeted each morning), explore (an opportunity to interact with others and share what’s going well in their life), communicate (engage in a dialogue between teacher and student), empower (teach students to self-manage and problem solve) and launch—closing each day with a positive thought, with a goal of providing hope for the future.
Each classroom has a social contract that all the students sign, he added; a list of words that establish guidelines and expectations for how students and teachers will treat each other. Words like “effort,” and “active listening” are on the list, with no put-downs. The contract helps build relationships and helps the students hold each other responsible.
“The award shows that our staff’s work has not gone unnoticed and is a testament to how they stepped up to support our kids,” said O’Rourke. “I’ve seen staff go to students’ homes to help with their computer or to set up interventions. They’ve truly gone above and beyond.”
“The Capturing Kids’ Hearts program was a huge part of us being able to support our staff and students through the COVID-19 event,” O’Rourke said. “We have each other’s backs, and all were willing to help. It made a big difference in being able to cope with COVID-19, and made it all just a little bit easier.”
The 20-21 school year started in full remote. Schedule changes were made over the year. Now, starting April 19, all students who are coming to school face-to-face will attend Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, with Wednesday as a virtual day.
For more information about Potterville Schools or the Capturing Kid’s Hearts program, call the school at 517-645-4705.
Norma Cole of Eaton Rapids is a very accomplished artist. Originally from Jackson, she lived in Rives Junction for a while, and then in Eaton Rapids. For 17 years she worked at the Eaton Rapids Medical Clinic.
She started painting when her children were young, as something to keep her mind stimulated. She mostly taught herself and took just a few classes from other artists. Her preferred medium is oil, and she paints on a variety of surfaces, including framed canvas, wood, saw blades, stones, cupboard doors, and even the doors of her own home. Cole has been painting for about 25 years.
But Cole has recently expanded her creative drive even more and has authored a children’s book titled “Sharing is Caring.” The book was published by Wood Journey Publishing, a small, independently owned company in Marshall. The book is geared for children between five and seven years of age.
Cole has illustrated other books before, including one with the late Jean Kline, but this is the first time she has done both the authoring and illustrating of a book. “Sharing is Caring” took her about a year to write and have published, she said. She just received her first copies about a week ago.
She lovingly dedicated the book to her four children. She also has six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
The book is in full color, and her artwork graces every page. Cole excels at painting animals, especially deer and other wildlife, foxes, dogs, horses and exotic animals. A variety of animals “star” in the book, including the mythical unicorn, so her talent for animal portraits is well-illustrated.
“It was inspired by the way the world is right now, and all the negative things that are going on,” she explained. “There is so much racist stuff going on; it was very upsetting.”
“The book addresses a common societal problem; people can be so mean to each other, and if the people look ‘different’ in any way, it makes it even worse,” Cole explained.
“I hope parents and grandparents will buy the book to read to their children and encourage them to be kinder and more tolerant of people that don’t look like them,” Cole said.
The characters in the book are based on real-life friends of Cole; her friend Matt and his young daughter, Aubrey. The story takes place in Cole’s own backyard near her lake. Aubrey comes upon some unicorns that have been teased and bullied by the other animals for looking different. The forest wolf decided that he needed to do something about it, so he howled and called all the forest animals together to talk about their bad behavior towards the unicorns.
You can see, and purchase, some of her paintings at Rottenbucher’s Pharmacy and Gifts, Hastay’s Greenhouse, and Linda’s Salon. Copies of her book are also at these locations.
“I’m not in it for the money,” Cole explained, “but to hopefully help improve how people treat each other.” You can contact Norma Cole at 517-857-3627.