GRAND RAPIDS — When Richard App started his role as retail retention and attraction specialist at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce in January 2020, Gazelle Sports was on his list of retailers he hoped to bring downtown.
The running and active lifestyle specialty store has since opened its sixth retail location at 52 Monroe Center St. NW, the former location of a bridal store.
Local officials hope the new Gazelle Sports store will usher in more retailers in the restaurant-heavy downtown while also bolstering existing businesses.
“(Gazelle Sports) is an industry leader and trusted in their field,” App said. “What I would hope this shows to other retailers is if a company like Gazelle trusts coming to downtown Grand Rapids, this bolsters attracting others to open here.”
Gazelle Sports hosted a soft opening on April 30 so the store could serve as an expo for the She Runs races on May 1 throughout downtown Grand Rapids. A grand opening for the 3,600-square-foot storefront is scheduled for May 6.
“We were asked to come to the table and have a conversation through efforts with Richard App and Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.,” Gazelle Sports CEO Jen Brummitt told MiBiz. “We were really able to put a package together to take out some of the risk. We are one of the slightly bigger retailers coming to downtown Grand Rapids, so it certainly is different from other markets we’re in. We’re excited to be part of what retail could look like in downtown Grand Rapids.”
Gazelle has a discounted three-year lease on its downtown storefront with Rockford Construction Co. Inc. As well, the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority awarded Gazelle a $67,000 grant to lure the retailer downtown.
Founded in 1985 in Kalamazoo, Gazelle has additional stores in Holland, Northville and Birmingham as well as at 3930 28th St. SE in Kentwood.
“We really believe in downtowns, and we think downtowns give so much life to a city and we feel really honored to be part of the downtown community and know there are many folks running and walking in the downtown community,” Brummitt said. “We can’t wait to be a part of it.”
The downtown storefront also allows Gazelle Sports’ run/walk community in Grand Rapids to more easily plan weekly runs and walks and host meetups to start and end with different downtown businesses, Brummitt said.
“As a community partner, we love engaging with other businesses in fun ways,” Brummitt said. “We’re excited to work with more retailers downtown together and align on things like the hours we’re open. We’re excited to be part of what retail could look like downtown.”
Neighboring business owners Kayla and Alex Benda — who own Oh, Hello Paper and Gifts and Courage and Soar — were glad to see an established retailer like Gazelle open next door to their downtown retail stores.
“(Gazelle) investing in downtown shows other large companies that there is value downtown,” Alex Benda said. “They’ll also be hosting races and events, so it will bring together the community and a different crowd that maybe hasn’t been here before. We have created a really great sense of community here, and with Gazelle I think we’re going to see them be more of that for people downtown.”
Any retail coming downtown is a “monster bonus” for the city, which currently lacks a sizable, walkable retail corridor, said Mark Ansara, managing principal at Advantage Commercial Real Estate Services LLC.
Downtown Grand Rapids lacks ample available first-floor space that is large enough to house major retail names while the downtown demographic includes a wide range of household incomes, Ansara said.
Despite most retailers continuing to struggle with maintaining staffing levels, real estate demand is still high in every sector of retail. Advantage Commercial Real Estate’s first quarter market trend report for 2022 forecasts more demand in West Michigan for retail and restaurant space this year.
“Normally we see a lot of boutiques and dress shops, so to have Gazelle is a great addition,” Ansara said. “I totally believe they could be a catalyst for other retailers.”
Several other businesses also have recently opened or are in the process of opening downtown, including Monsoon Vietnamese Cuisine, Courage and Soar, The Aroma Labs and Periwinkle Fog.
“In a time when companies like Gazelle aren’t necessarily expanding, they have made an investment in our downtown because they want to be a part of what we’re doing,” App said.
The pandemic accelerated the already rising trend of people turning to the internet for their shopping, but Brummitt still believes in the value of shopping in person.
“Having that ability to build a connection in a brick and mortar experience and give back to that neighborhood is really important,” Brummitt said. “After the last two years, some people have shifted more of their shopping online, but I think we are all craving human connection and interaction, and that’s our point of differentiation. Our staff is the thing that makes the biggest difference for us, they are knowledgeable, kind and a trusted running friend.”
Most employees for the downtown store will come from Gazelle’s Kentwood location as six team members wanted to work downtown, Brummitt said. They are looking to hire more people to accommodate the new location. The 28th Street location will have a few more vendors and wider selection of products than downtown, which will be more running and walking focused, Brummitt said.
“We are honored to be able to be part of the downtown community,” Brummitt said. “We’re looking forward to getting to know our neighbors.”