By Gari Voss
Though 2021 was not the best of times for any community, the City of Allegan can reflect back on a year of rising from the COVID pandemic to discover some bright spots. A trifecta of Allegan business leaders graciously took time to reflect back then project forward.
When asked about accomplishments and/or activities that had a positive impact on the City in 2021, Craig VanMelle, a life-long Alleganite and previous city Mayor, pointed out, “Due to Covid, most successful activities were accomplished with outdoor events.”
While golf courses and ski areas reached seasonal peaks in participation, the Friday and Saturday night music offerings on the Riverfront drew audience members from Allegan and beyond. People wanted to mix with people, and they felt safest at outdoor offerings.
“The Allegan County Fair and the monthly Allegan Antique Market experienced some record breaking attendance figures,” VanMelle cited.
Ben Otis, a business leader who has chosen to make Allegan home, added, “I think events that allow residents and visitors alike to experience a sense of community have been a huge benefit to Allegan over the last year. So much that was put on hold in 2020 was brought back. These included opportunities such as Rollin’ on the River, Good Times at the Gazebo, the Allegan County Fair, the July 3rd Jubilee, Festive Fridays, the Riverfront NYE Celebration, and new ideas like the Fork in the Road food truck nights that all served as a fantastic reminder of how great Allegan is when folks get a chance to come out and see what the city has to offer.”
Adding to the reflections, business leader Mark Heather believed, “After the setbacks of Covid in 2020, Allegan rebounded in many positive ways. The continuation of the opening of our Regent Theater, concerts down at the Riverfront and Festive Friday activities brought people into town from our area and beyond. Plus, our social district has proven to be well appreciated by many with little or no public issues.”
When guests are invited for a visit, they expect to have something in which to participate. The arrival of well-received new businesses along Allegan’s main streets became the reason for many visitors to accept the invitation. Along with the more established local businesses, additional specialty shops added high quality bridal and clothing in addition to health care alternatives, soaps and plants.
Food and drink establishments came to the foreground with the establishment of the Allegan Social District. Visitors to Downtown could enjoy high quality steak dinners, specialty sandwiches and hot drinks, and nutritional shakes, along with breakfast and lunch comfort food.
“There were more people walking the sidewalks and shopping locally as people stayed away from the larger shopping centers,” VanMelle noticed.
“It has been wonderful to see all of the new businesses that have opened in Allegan in the last year,” Otis chimed in. “The Chamber of Commerce had so many ribbon cuttings that local businesses chose to come together to hold street fair style parties which served as a means of supporting and celebrating one another. I love seeing the community shine like that.”
Heather summarized, “The city has experienced the purchase of buildings with new businesses coming to be a part of our community, and the general overall feeling we hear from people is that Allegan is going in the right direction.”
Another bright star in 2020 was the initiative taken by individuals and/or small groups that expanded the social offerings of the City. Minnie’s Restaurant decided to sponsor the Antique Car gatherings on the first Friday of the summer months, Tantrick’s Brewing invited one and all to their new location celebration, Ben Otis and his team challenged other businesses to race chairs along the Riverfront, and Dan Chilla sponsored an Antique Car Drive Thru at Corky’s. Individuals taking ownership of community events that go beyond City offerings built the enthusiasm of residents and visitors alike.
But… a community cannot sit on its laurels of the past. That means looking forward and designing a plan for future success. An overall look at 2022 from VanMelle included, “We need to continue to develop the new downtown Streetscape to beautify it. There are hopes to fill the main street storefronts with new businesses while we work to keep our local businesses thriving by shopping locally. The music on the riverfront should continue to make Downtown a destination.”
To expand these thoughts, Otis added, “The additional businesses that are slated to open in 2022 will continue to help drive people into Allegan to see what it has to offer. The Streetscape projects which are planned will also help to make Downtown Allegan more accessible and more appealing for future use. I continually hear residents stating that they wish we had a bakery in the downtown area, and a few more dining options would certainly be a welcome addition. We are definitely moving toward exciting things in Allegan.”
Heather agreed and expanded upon those goals, “Supporting new developments in our Downtown, like the hotel possibility, the Streetscape, getting better communication out to the public about our area and what we have planned or scheduled, developing our bike trail and parks more to attract more participation from both locals and outside the area people, and developing a better way to support our local businesses by buying local first to assist them in keeping their doors open will be keys to the future of Allegan.”
VanMelle, Otis and Heather not only live in Allegan, but understand that the housing issue must be addressed. New downtown property owners have been busy renovating the upper stories of their buildings to create lofts and apartments. These are snatched up as soon as they are ready for occupancy, but there is not enough housing for new residents.
“We need to identify land to develop more housing to support the growth within the city,” VanMelle stated.
Otis believed, “The demand for housing in the area remains very high and bringing more apartments online for use will be a big help in community growth.”
Allegan can be proud of their Downtown Development that has brought people to the city to visit and/or take up residence. As 2021 comes to a close, there should be a moment to acknowledge successes. With that there are special thanks to be given to the new business owners and operators, and those who have promoted special events not only to raise money for nonprofit organizations but just to have fun.
A well-deserved thank you would go to newly retired Director Tim Perrigo who has led the Allegan Area Chamber of Commerce, encouraged new business owners and promoted numerous Ribbon Cuttings not only in 2021 but in previous years.
Congratulations on 2021, and as the City and its residents move into 2022 with many tasks already on the planning table, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” (Nelson Mandela)