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Downtown Birmingham's First Thursdays offer nighttime shopping

Birmingham's business development officials have been studying shoppers and retail trends for many months now, trying to figure out how to improve on downtown Birmingham as a shopping and free-time destination.

One question asked: When do you want to shop? The answer: evenings, after work or school.

That's when many downtown shops are closed. So in the interest of finding out if nighttime shopping will actually generate traffic, about 45 downtown stores will stay open until 9 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month, says John Heiney, director of Birmingham's Principal Shopping District.

The response will show if a mostly daytime downtown -- other than restaurants and movies -- will fly.

First Thursdays will run through September during the summer months, when strolling store to store at night is more likely. There will be a theme each month along with sales and special events and activities in stores and around downtown to promote First Thursdays.

Birmingham's Principal Shopping District, which is made up of downtown businesses and employs a retail consultant to keep downtown thriving, is hosting the event and "wants to get shoppers thinking about shopping in the evening," Heiney says.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: John Heiney, director, Birmingham Principal Shopping District

Grove Street to get $1.1M makeover in downtown Farmington

Construction started this week on a project to turn a beat up, outdated main street in downtown Farmington into a boulevard streetscape of greenery, decorative lighting and stamped walkways.

The $1.1-million Grove Street Reconstruction Project will also add parking to downtown and make over a tired strip retail center as well as connect it to a major pedestrian crosswalk that will lead to another shopping center.

Water mains will also be replaced and a plaza space with seating will be part of the new downtown layout.

The goal of city officials and the Downtown Development Authority is to make downtown more attractive, walkable, and busy as well as match it to a streetscape already redone. The plans call for turning a swath of pavement into a boulevard separated by a center island with angled parking along parts of it.

Mayor Tom Buck says the project is as much about attracting families to downtown as it is attracting small businesses and boosting the local economy.

The project will completely remove and replace Grove Street from Grand River to Main Street. The work was delayed in 2009 due to the costs. It is expected to be completed in two phases over a 10-week period and ready to use sometime in July.

Writer: Kim North  Shine
Source: Annette Knowles, executive director, Farmington Downtown Development Authority

New dance school goes back to basics in downtown Rochester

A former professional dancer and classically-trained dance teacher is opening a studio this month in downtown Rochester with hopes of replacing the competitive, reality TV twist of some dance studios with one that's focused on classical education and performance.

Cindy Raffel, 27, will bring her experience as a dancer and choreographer with companies around the country and as a certified K-12 dance instructor to her 2nd Street Studio of Dance. It will open with a ribbon-cutting on May 17th, with three days of free classes that day through the 19th. By July, classes for ballet, tap, jazz, modern dance and hip hop and other forms of dance will begins.

The studio at 100 E. 2nd Street is 5,600 square feet of space with three dance studios and classes for children and adults.

She plans to keep prices low, partly by eliminating the competitive dance aspect that can come with so many costs. Classes themselves will be affordable, she says.

Raffel, who's danced with ballet and theater companies in places such as Virginia, where she is from, and Florida, where she was with the Tampa Ballet, moved to Michigan in September after her husband, Tom, received a tenure-track position at Oakland University. They bought their home in Rochester and really dug downtown, she says. They loved Rochester and after hearing about the vacant RARA building -- Rochester Avon Recreation Authority -- she decided to open the studio she's dreamed about for years.

"Obviously with dance I started as a kid and I always wanted to have a dance studio…As an elementary schooler I was making up a show, picking out a costumes and showing my parents my choreography," she says. "It was always in the back of mind because I didn't know how far my professional career would go. When we decided to move here, we bought a house really quickly. I thought, this is going to be where we're settling down. I should for it. Lo and behold there was this vacant building waiting for me.

The studio "is literally steps away from Main Street," she says. "For me it's a great location only because it is a great area…but for all that's going on. You can walk out the door and be at a parade. Amazingly enough the house that we bought in August is exactly halfway between the university and the studio."

Before finding a place to open, she had been researching what was missing in the local dance scene.

"It's kind of hard as an outsider looking in…The dance world is so much word of mouth," she says, "But I think people are looking for something kind of different. something that's not competitive…I want dance to be a fun, happy experience. I want it to be enjoyable for everyone, including the parents."

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Cindy Raffel, owner/instructor, 2nd Street Studio of Dance

Painting With a Twist expands in Ferndale

Painting With a Twist, where customers are encouraged to BYOB and pick up a brush to learn from artists how to paint, is expanding, moving into a new space in downtown Ferndale.

The move down the road on 9 Mile will almost double the space for Painting With a Twist Ferndale, which is a franchise of Corks n Canvas.

The new 3,000-square-foot space is being renovated inside the former Dollar Castle on 9 Mile. Dollar Castle closed in October and is being divided for three tenants. Modern Natural Baby is moving is moving into 5,000 square feet of the building, adding to its inventory and building parts of the business it previously didn't have the space to do.

At Painting With A Twist Ferndale, birthday parties are celebrated, charity events are held, and girls' nights out are common, as are outings for artists just wanting to paint.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Chris Hughes, Ferndale Downtown Development Authority

Craft Beer Expo in Lake Orion a shout out to Michigan's craft beer industry

A metro Detroit distributor of craft beers and other alcoholic beverages is hosting a Craft Beer Expo May 15 as a celebration of American Craft Beer Week and Michigan's standing as a state that's home to accomplished craft brewers.

The hope is to make the expo an annual event. Host Power Distributors, an Orion Township company that employs over 200 people, will feature beers from 17 breweries, including six from Michigan, as well as a strolling dinner and raffles at the expo, which runs from 6 - 9 p.m. at Canterbury Village in Lake Orion.

“Craft beer is exploding in popularity,” says Gary Thompson, chief operating officer of Powers Distributing. “Michigan is the fifth-largest craft beer state in the country. Our breweries are experiencing fantastic development and the state offers an amazing selection of both local and national beers to craft beer drinkers. To celebrate this, we created a local beer event. American Craft Beer Week seemed to be the perfect time to invite the public to learn more about this 4,000-year-old beverage and how wonderfully it pairs with cuisine.”

The expo also has a philanthropic angle with $5 of each $15 ticket purchased going to Rock STAR Warriors, a Michigan nonprofit that helps Michigan veterans find work and land careers. The STAR in the name stands for Sustainable Talent And Retention.

The breweries represented at the expo: Cheboygan Brewing Company, Dragonmead Brewing Company, Kuhnhenn Brewing Company, North Peak Brewing Company, Saugatuck Brewing Company, Uncle John's Cider, Oskar Blues Brewery, Blue Moon Brewing Company, Tenth & Blake Beer Company, Samuel Adams – The Boston Beer Company, Magic Hat Brewing Company, Vermont Hard Cider Company (Woodchuck), Brooklyn Brewery, Boulder Beer Company, Tommyknocker Brewing Company, Spoetzl Brewery (Shiner), and Anchor Brewing Company.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Jim Miller, publicist, Franco Public Relations Group; and Gary Thompson, COO, Powers Distributing

Oakland County opens business center for entrepreneurs

Oakland County is trying to make starting a business or taking it to the next level easier for entrepreneurs by offering free, walk-in business counseling.

The One Stop Shop Business Center at the Oakland County Executive Office building, 2100 Pontiac Lake Road, in Waterford will open May 9 and offer regular walk-in hours after that. The hours for May 9 are 9:30-noon and 1:30-4:30. The business center is on the first floor of Building 41W.

“We usually operate on an appointment-only basis but many entrepreneurs walk into our One Stop Shop with questions on how to get started with their business idea,” says Greg Doyle, supervisor of the One Stop Shop Business Center. “By designating special walk-in days, we hope to reach more entrepreneurs and help them understand their next steps as well as present the resources we can make available to them. Our aim is to get them started quickly in a way that makes the most sense to their unique situation.”

Counselors at the business center can answer specific questions, suggest planning tools and give direction on where to go to solve problems or achieve goals. All sessions are confidential. The counselors have expertise in business development, community planning, financing and market research.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Greg Doyle, supervisor, One Stop Shop Business Center

Macomb Children's Hands-On Museum moves forward

With architectural plans drawn up and the first round of fundraising done, the Macomb Children's Hands-On Museum is closer to opening its doors.

The target date for opening what would be Macomb County's first children's museum -- and a metro Detroit region tourist attraction -- is early 2015, in Mount Clemens.

The project was announced in 2010 and has the support of benefactors Gebran and Suzanne Anton, who donated a two-story downtown building with a rooftop garden and parking.

During a fundraising phase that lasted a little more than a year, nearly $60,000 was raised, almost $20,000 more than the target. As much as $14 million will be needed to build and open it.

Virginia Beach Architects iN Design completed a proposed design. The project leader is William Greaves, who brings a record of designing children's museums and creative art centers around the U.S.

"As Macomb County looks to educate its children, attract and retain an educated workforce, and promote travel and tourism," says Monika Rittner, a board member for the proposed museum, "the establishment of the Macomb Children’s Hands-On Museum is a must for the region to remain competitive in the 21st century."

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Arthur Mullen, spokesperson, and Monika Rittner, board member, Macomb Children's Hands-On Museum

Bozeman Watch Company coming to downtown Birmingham

The Bozeman Watch Company's speciality, limited edition watches and accessories will soon fill a downtown Birmingham store, importing a Michigan native's high-end goods from the Montana and Wyoming showrooms where they're now sold.

Its handmade time pieces are known for their rugged styling -- the B1 Hellcat, Smokejumper GMT and Sidewinder are a few styles that convey manly man adventure. The company is also known for its hand-tooled leather luggage and handbags.

Christopher Wardle, a former Michigan resident started the company in Montana and is expanding from three stores in Bozeman and Whitefish, Montana and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

The Birmingham store opens May 1 on Pierce Street in the spot formerly occupied by Stacy Leuliette home accessories, says Ed Nakfoor, spokesman for the Birmingham Principal Shopping District.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Ed Nakfoor, spokesman, Birmingham Principal Shopping District

Oakland County adds fresh foods market to downtown Pontiac

An effort to increase Pontiac residents' access to fresh, healthy foods is spreading in Oakland County with the opening of a third goverment-run market.

The newest market will operate one day a week on Tuesdays and sell fresh fruits and vegetables at a low cost.

The markets are a project of the Healthy Pontiac We Can! Coalition and the Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency.

Two other markets sell on Fridays and Saturdays, and all three share recipes for meals using fresh foods, lead cooking demonstrations and offer free samples.

"This market is a part of Oakland County's strategy to improve the quality of life of our residents through healthier lifestyles," says Kathy Forzley, Oakland County Health Division manager and health officer. "Consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables decreases the risk of many chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and some cancers."

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Kathy Forzley, Oakland County Health Division

Local 212 spotlights local foods options in downtown Royal Oak

The menu at a new restaurant in Royal Oak is striving to show that what it serves can come from close to home and not from a box.

Local 212 -- the 212 comes from its address on Fifth Avenue in downtown Royal Oak -- opened just over a week ago and the reception to the shrimp from Okemos (there's a farm there), the Northern Michigan boar, Michigan chestnuts on a baby spinach salad and grilled cheese on Detroit Avalon bread has been hearty.

When the Royal Oak Farmers Market opens veggies will come from there and other farmers. All the sausage and bacon is made in house at Local 212 and the slider patties are ground in the kitchen too.

The meats served at Local 212 come from local farmers through Sparrow's Market in Ann Arbor. Local 212 also serves beer and wine, many made locally and around the state, as well as from places around the world.

While there are plenty of ingredients not from Michigan, none are processed.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Jenna Goudrea, general manager, Local 212

500-plus student housing complex coming to OU

Oakland University broke ground today on a $30-million student housing complex that is expected to open by August 2014 and sleep more than 500 students, a development that will further the school's move away from commuter-based to full-time campus life experience.

The freshmen and sophomore living spaces will come with a cafe, meeting rooms and study areas as well as be home to OU's Honors College.

"By investing in our students' academic and campus experience with projects like the new housing complex, we are creating a total campus community," OU president Gary Russi says, "a community that our students will remember as their home and their foundation for success."

The complex, which will be built to LEED energy efficiency standards, is the most significant of several developments changing the Auburn Hills campus, which has seen a 37-percent increase in enrollment during the last 15 years and an increasing demand for on-campus housing.

Also this week, ground will be broken for construction of a 151-foot carillon tower that's being paid for by longtime benefactors of the school, Hugh and Nancy Elliott.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: David Groves, spokesperson, Oakland University and OU president Gary Russi

Downtown Rochester wins 2013 National Main Street award

Downtown Rochester is one of three cities in America to be named a Great American Main Street.

The 2013 Great American Main Street Award given by the National Trust For Historic Preservation recognized the Oakland County city for its success at preserving history while promoting economic revitalization and a strong relationship with the community. The announcement of the award, which was given in New Orleans April 11, described the Trust's reasoning for picking Rochester out of hundreds of historic Main Streets across the country.

"The Rochester DDA has succeeded in transforming a mill town that had fallen on hard times into a thriving suburb of Detroit built around a strong sense of place and community. A robust mix of public events, creative use of social media and a broad spectrum of volunteer involvement has attracted a loyal following to downtown Rochester," it says. "The DDA's Big Bright Light Show, for example draws 1 million visitors each holiday season to enjoy 1.5 million lights-lighting up merchants' cash registers in the process"

Other winners were H Street Main Street in Washington, D.C. and Ocean Springs Main Street in Mississippi.

In picking Rochester, Valecia Crisafulli, acting director at the National Main Street Center, says, "The Rochester DDA is a true innovator in marketing and small business assistance, and has the vibrant downtown to prove it. At a time when many municipalities are losing population, Rochester has experienced a 20-percent increase in population. With a 4-percent vacancy rate downtown and 132 new businesses since adopting the Main Street Approach, the DDA can take great pride in creating an inviting place for people to live, shop and open businesses."

Kristi Trevarrow, executive director of the Rochester Downtown Development Authority, says it goes without saying that it's an honor and recognition of much hard work and devotion from volunteers, business owners and city and county officials.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Kristi Trevarrow, executive director, Rochester Downtown Development Authority and Erica Steward, spokesperson, National Trust For Historic Preservation

Metro Detroit towns, groups get grants for tree plantings

About 15 metro Detroit cities, schools and community groups are sharing in tree-planting grants awarded by DTE and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

A total of 34 grants were awarded statewide. The amount of grants totaled $75,610 and will lead to the planting of more than 1,000 trees. Locally, communities such as Lincoln Park, Warren, Grosse Pointe Park and Pleasant Ridge will plant trees in the fall and spring.

Schools such as Commerce Elementary in Oakland County and Romeo Community Schools in Macomb County, as well as community groups such as the International Wildlife Refuge, Jefferson East Business Association and Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education, all in Wayne County, are also receiving grants.

The program is intended to increase the number of proper tree species and encourage properly planted trees and to also help reverse the loss of tree canopy in urban areas.

In the 15 years since the Michigan program began more than 20 million trees have been planted throughout the state, according to the DNR.

“The trees planted through this program will help to improve public areas in communities throughout the state,” said Kevin Sayers, coordinator of the DNR’s Urban Forestry Program. “This program also helps raise awareness about the importance of planting the right tree in the right location to avoid utility and tree conflicts.”

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Scott Simons, DTE Energy and Madhu Oberoi, executive director, Lincoln Park Downtown Development Authority

Stefana Boutique opening in downtown Northville

The owner of the new Stefana Boutique in downtown Northville is basing her business on offering something different than mall-based stores, selling at prices that won't induce buyers' remorse and in stocking styles that are age-appropriate but still with it.

Stephanie Fermanis Stojanovski opened the boutique at 122 W. Main Street this week and is excited to be selling clothing, jewelry and other accessories she picked up at Fashion Week in Las Vegas.

"I have clothes from New York, California, sunglasses from Texas," she says. "There things that you won't find in just any store."

She chose Northville, where she moved to 13 years ago, simply because she loves the city.

"This is a really beautiful location on Main Street. There's a lot of traffic and and the historic downtown is very beautiful, very quaint," she says.

She also says Northville's events such as First Fridays, where galleries and shops stay open later and bring more visitors downtown, are expected to be good for business and good for getting to know customers, something she's already seeing as the best part of being a business owner.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Stephanie Fermanis Stojanovski, owner, Stefana Boutique

Francesca's boutique to open in downtown Birmingham

Francesca's, a women's clothing store chain with differently-themed stores around the country, will open its first on-the-street, Main Street location in Michigan in downtown Birmingham.

Francesca's is expected to open by mid-April at 115 S. Woodward Avenue and become the fifth store in metro Detroit and the 10th in Michigan. All of the others are in shopping centers and malls.

Houston-based Francesca's is moving into a spot previously occupied by Ann Taylor Loft and will bring a very different approach than the Loft with its all-the-same-style stores.

At Francesca's, store managers are given creative control over store design, giving each store its own identity. One thing that carries through to all stores is a unique, "treasure hunt" feel created by offering only a few pieces of the same merchandise. Francesca's is known for an always changing, trendy, mostly affordable selection of clothing and accessories

Birmingham's Principal Shopping District recruiters are seeking out companies such as Francesca's as part of a push to attract younger shoppers to the city, says PSD spokesperson Ed Nakfoor.

"Recruiting a retailer like Francesca’s is part of the PSD tenant recruitment strategy of targeting fashion merchants reaching a younger demographic," he says. "The average age of the PSD core shopper was 39 in 2012 compared to 41 in 2006."

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Ed Nakfoor, spokesperson, Birmingham Principal Shopping District
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