Traverse City News and Events

Downtown Traverse City Announces New Campaign, Eyes Reopening And Beyond

By Craig Manning | April 20, 2020

The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) today is launching a new campaign to support Downtown Traverse City businesses and help community members in need. The campaign, dubbed the “Buy Local, Give Local Fund,” will utilize money from grants and donations to purchase products from downtown businesses and donate them to Munson Healthcare, Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS), Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center, and Goodwill Inn.

According to DDA CEO Jean Derenzy, the Buy Local, Give Local Fund is starting out with $7,200, thanks to an Urgent Needs Fund grant from the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation and a $2,200 donation from Ed Roth of Roth Shirts, raised through the “Faith Over Fear” t-shirt campaign. The DDA is also seeking community donations through an online Patronicity crowdfunding effort, which launches today and runs through April 30.

Derenzy says the goal is to initiate direct spending at downtown businesses while also helping local children, families, frontline medical workers, and COVID-19 patients and patient families. The DDA has reached out to downtown businesses to identify what they have available in terms of inventory, food, and gift card offerings. The DDA will then use the money raised through Buy Local, Give Local to purchase a range of merchandise directly from downtown businesses and deliver it to the partner organizations. Kids at TCAPS, Goodwill Inn, and the Children’s Advocacy Center will receive things like art supplies, books, and puzzles, while frontline Munson workers will get gift cards, movie passes, sweet treats, and other items to provide comfort and say thanks. The DDA will also collaborate with Munson to create care packages for patients and families.

“Downtown, the businesses have been closed for many weeks,” Derenzy says. “We are trying to get cash in the hands of our businesses to help them keep their doors closed for now, so that they are able to open again when it's time. And then there are children, families, and frontline workers in our community that are in need of comfort, as well as just basic needs. So, there’s need from our small businesses and there’s need throughout the community, and this program helps both.”

The Buy Local, Give Local Fund is just one strategy the DDA is using to support its businesses and help them look ahead to a reopening of Downtown Traverse City. In mid-March, Derenzy convened a team of local business owners, lawyers, bankers, insurance professionals, and HR experts to serve as a volunteer “Recovery Team” for the downtown area. The group meets with downtown business owners via Zoom to provide advice on everything from CARES Act stimulus options to strategies for handling operating expenses. The DDA has also applied for a range of loans and grants – which Derenzy says would be utilized to help businesses cover expenses until they can open again – and has communicated with downtown landlords to encourage more lenient policies for rent collection.

Bill Golden, who owns Golden Shoes and serves as a member of the Recovery Team, has been advising constant communication as a key to help small businesses get through this difficult time.

“One of the things that we've talked about on the Recovery Team, with the people who reached out to us, is that it's important to make sure you talk to your landlords, talk to your suppliers, talk to your sales reps and the companies you deal with,” Golden says. “This is the time of year that most retailers get in their spring and summer product. I would say 90 percent of the spring product that I have received, the companies are offering extra time [to pay invoices] – anywhere from 30 to 90 days. They've been very good, because they know we're not open. But you've got to have communication. You can't just not pay somebody. And make sure you're talking to your employees, because they are part of the downtown family too.”

The DDA is also collaborating with Traverse Connect to plan the ultimate reopening of the local economy. Derenzy expects that social distancing will be a major focus, which could involve advising businesses on how to rearrange their stores or restaurants to create more space, closing parts of Front Street to allow for more spread-out pedestrian traffic, and more. Warren Call, president and CEO of Traverse Connect, says his organization recently sent detailed survey responses from 165 northern Michigan businesses – many of them downtown – to the State Senate’s “return to work” task force. Those responses, which outline the specific needs, challenges, and questions local businesses have as they eye resuming regular operations, will help ensure that Traverse City has a seat at the table for planning the economic restart.

While Call acknowledges that Downtown TC might look different in the future, he believes that preserving the corridor is possible – and that doing so could help Traverse City “accelerate” out of the pandemic and its economic effects faster than other areas.

“From a standpoint of economic development, making sure that Front Street survives is absolutely critical,” Call tells The Ticker. “The restaurants, the bars, the specialty shops, the hardware stores, the other mom-and-pop shops: they create jobs and they lend a unique character to the city. The loss of that character on Front Street would be irreparable, and not just for the people who directly depend on those places for their livelihood, but for the city, the community, and the region as a whole. Downtown Traverse City is a destination for people from across the region and across the world. The character of Front Street is a decisive competitive advantage for us already, and it's going to be an even more decisive competitive advantage as we get things restarted.”

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