- Associated Press - Monday, March 10, 2014

LINDEN, Mich. (AP) - A youthful resurgence of downtown business owners makes Linden Mayor David Lossing believe the future could be bright for downtown Linden.

“We’ve got some great people coming in and getting involved,” he told The Flint Journal (https://bit.ly/1do3Pqf ).

Within the last year, the Bridge Street Exchange, Gavin Smith Photography, the Ice Cream Garage and The Downtown Sporting Goods Co. all opened doors for retail business downtown.

Lossing said he hopes the growth leads to the redevelopment of the Union Block property, which has sat empty since a 2007 fire.

The fire destroyed the Broad Street Grille, the Serendipity day spa, loft apartments and a law office.

The city attempted to purchase the land in 2012, but an environmental study revealed the presence of petroleum-related contamination in the ground and the city terminated a purchase agreement for it.

The property was purchased in 2008 by LaFontaine Automotive Group, the group continues to own it.

The new businesses springing up all surround Union Block.

“It’s nice to see this type of serious investment by local entrepreneurs,” Lossing said. “Ideally, it will lead to the redevelopment of the old Union Block.”

Tom Diegel, owner of The Downtown Sporting Goods Co. said the decision to open the business was based on his love for the area and his passion for baseball.

“I carry a high-end selection of baseball and softball gear,” he said. “It’s a good situation and a great spot to open up at.”

After creating uniforms out of his home for several years, the work became too much to keep at his house. He opened up the business in December after working to renovate the store since August.

“The business got to the point where I needed to have a storefront,” he said.

Just down the street, Kevin Begola opened the Bridge Street Exchange to add to an already successful business venture.

Online, Begola already owns Titanium Buzz, which creates specialty men’s wedding bands. But with the Bridge Street Exchange, he can sell rings in store, online and added men’s clothing, boots and shaving equipment.

“I’ve been doing wedding rings for about nine years,” he said. “It was time for us to land in a spot and have the public more welcome.”

Although he opened in November, he’s still working to find what products will draw customers in.

“It’s going to be a work in progress for a while,” he said.

Meanwhile, Gavin Smith is the Detroit Lions team photographer and moved his studio and office after having an office in Grand Blanc and in Fenton.

There is an opportunity for growth for the community, he said, but he’s uncertain about staying, citing some frustrations in the slowness to change.

Smith added he loves the community and area, but he thinks some are slow to change, which can be frustrating.

Some older business owners and residents haven’t been as keen to see the changes downtown, which can be frustrating.

Some older business owners and residents haven’t been as keen to see the changes downtown, which can be frustrating, he said.

“I’m not 100 percent sure (about staying),” he said. “This community has a lot of growing pains right now.”

Despite each business being slightly different than what many think to be a “stereotypical downtown business,” each agreed that there is a period of change going on downtown.

Michael Rogers, vice president of communications for the Small Business Association of Michigan, said many downtowns have moved away from the traditional businesses like a hardware, pharmacies or jewelry stores and Begola agrees.

“Linden’s at a point where a lot of younger businessmen and women are coming in and I think we want to do something different,” Begola said.

Rogers said it’s more and more common for communities to try a lure new types of business ventures.

“Every smart downtown developer in the state is working really hard to creatively lure business to their downtown,” he said. “Any region, county or township is really anchored by a downtown area.”

Shoppers are drawn to walkable areas, which makes a downtown the perfect place for different businesses to open up, Rogers said.

“Instead of shopping online at Amazon, they can go shop downtown to find something unique or interesting,” he said.

Kristy Cantleberry shops in downtown Linden a few times a month and said it’s exciting to see young entrepreneurs offering specialty-type stores in the area.

“To have young blood and new things opening down there is definitely helping,” she said. “The other businesses help drive business to each other.”


Information from: The Flint Journal, https://www.mlive.com/flint

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