Challenging, uncertain, and unprecedented are a few words to describe 2020. During this challenging year, thank you for supporting our downtown community. Whether you shopped local, volunteered with a downtown nonprofit, ordered take-out from a downtown restaurant, stocked up on gift cards from your favorite shops, utilized curbside pick up, or made an effort to check in on your neighbors and pass along an encouraging word or two, our community would not have made it through the year without you.
Despite the year’s challenges, our mission has remained the same: to make our downtown a vibrant, thriving place. Some of our activities may have changed from what we had originally planned for this year, but we have continued to lead projects, programs, and events that promote our downtown district and help ensure that our businesses can look forward to the next year. This blog post is a review of some of the happenings and activities that took place in Downtown Alpena over the past year. You can view the Alpena DDA’s full 2020 Annual Report here.
- New businesses joined the Downtown Alpena community. In 2020, the following businesses either opened or re-located into the downtown district:
- Parallel 45 Books & Gifts (106 N. Second Ave.) Locally-owned independent bookstore.
- Two Bit Arcade (125 N. Second Ave) 80’s themed arcade with a restaurant and theater that is available for private parties, sells video game merchandise, video games, gaming systems and clothes.
- Huron Pines (122 W. Chisholm St) Nonprofit organization established in 1973 to protect, restore and conserve Michigan’s natural resources.
- Ashney Properties Down by the Bay (135 W. Chisholm St) Real estate office that offers real estate sales, property management, marketing, leasing and more.
- HeartMind Center (213 W. Chisholm St) A refuge for developing meditation, mindfulness, and movement skills with the intent to benefit all beings.
- A1 Case Management (112 W. Chisholm St) Providing mental health services for individuals such as therapy, case management, autism services, and working with families for problem behaviors in children.
- Your Girl Friday (110 W. Chisholm St) Commercial, residential, vacation rental turnovers, property management, pet sitting, personal assistant and non profit Cleaning For A Reason organization.
- Red Brick Tap & Barrel (109 River St) Upscale bar food meets bourbon & beer focusing on a big city experience mixed with small town hospitality.
- Cobbygoose (150 N. State St) Cobbygoose is a Paint Your Own Pottery and Canvas Painting studio. Offering ceramic, canvas and wood painting.
- Freier’s Pizzeria (104 N. Second Ave) Freier’s is a authentic Italian pizzeria & Italian Bistro. Traditional hand tossed pizza crust, fresh & locale ingredients.
- Gift Smart (133 E. Chisholm St) Retail store offering custom gifts and more.
2. Two new murals were painted downtown through Fresh Waves. Fresh Waves, a public art project to add vibrant one-of-a-kind artwork to the downtown district led by the DDA, kicked off in 2019. As part of its second year, two new murals were painted: Wave Journey by Mark Piotrowski on the side of Salon 125 & Together Again by Britt Flood on Thunder Bay Theatre’s Warehouse. Learn more about Fresh Waves here.
3. Downtown got new trees and new bike racks. This summer, twenty-three new flowering crab trees were planted throughout the district in areas that previously had trees that were removed. The tree planting was done by Prattscape in partnership with the DDA and through the City of Alpena’s Tree Planting Program. Two new bike racks by local artist Jake Idema were also created and will be placed in front of the Antique Mall on North Second Ave. and in Culligan Plaza next summer.
4. The DDA launched new videos to promote downtown. In 2019, the DDA worked with Irving Entertainment to create seasonal promotional videos that highlight Downtown Alpena. This year, the DDA promoted the fall & winter videos as part of its marketing and created a Welcome Back video that aired during the summer. You can view the videos on Downtown Alpena’s Youtube channel here.
5. New winter banners were hung that featured local artwork. In early 2020, a call was held for local artists to submit artwork to be featured on seasonal banners that are hung on the tall lampposts throughout the downtown. The DDA Design Committee selected four pieces to be featured by artists (from left to right): Brooke Stevens, Derek Bromund, Makayla Grochowski, and Sandra Neumann.
6. The community rallied around local businesses. This spring, a group of local citizens led by Jennifer Calery and representatives of Alpena area non-profits saw businesses hurting and created All in for Alpena, a campaign to raise funds to be distributed as small business grants. The campaign raised $45,865 from 150 donors which was awarded as grants to 32 small businesses. The DDA also matched grant awards by 50% to 13 downtown businesses that received grants through the program.
7. Over $55,000 will also go into downtown businesses through the Downtown Dollars program. Downtown Dollars are multi-merchant gift certificates sold by the DDA that can be used at any participating downtown business, store, restaurant, salon, or office. This fall, the DDA led a promotion to issue bonus dollars to purchases until $5,000 of bonus dollars were issued. In 2020, over $55,000 of Downtown Dollars were sold that will go right back into downtown businesses.
8. New events were held. Even though many annual events had to be cancelled this year, from Sunrise Suds Tap Takeover to the Bolenz Jewelry Holiday Parade, downtown businesses and organizations continued to adapt their events and programming to be held safely. Drive-through fundraisers, take-home art kits, virtual shopping nights, virtual cooking tutorials– downtown stayed creative to continue engaging with our community.
9. Work continued on downtown buildings. If you’ve driven or worked downtown lately, you may have noticed work happening on various buildings downtown, including the Royal Knight Cinema building, Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library, and Red Brick Tap & Barrel, which opened this year.
Thank you to everyone who helped our downtown get through this year, and all of our partners that continue to make downtown what it is. Our business owners who have shown resiliency. Our non-profits who work to support our community and provide essential services. Our property owners who continue to invest in our district. Our City Department of Public Works who keep our downtown clean and beautiful. This year has shown we are all stronger together.
In 2021, we will continue to promote and create positive physical, economic and aesthetic changes to the downtown district. From flower baskets to murals to business support programming to parking to events to marketing, we are excited to continue making the downtown district a beautiful, vibrant, artsy, and thriving place, and we can’t wait to see what new opportunities this year holds.
We hope to see you downtown soon!
Anne Gentry is Executive Director of the Alpena Downtown Development Authority whose mission it is to implement positive physical, aesthetic, and economic changes in the downtown.