Jack’s Liquor Store was never a beautiful building, even before it closed down and stood empty for more than 10 years. It was a dingy, generic convenience store on a corner. In May 2010, 33-year-old Grand Rapids resident Barry Van Dyke and two siblings bought it anyway.
The store sits on the border of the Uptown and Eastown neighborhoods in Grand Rapids. Eastown has been known as a diverse, vibrant business district and the Van Dyke’s wanted to capitalize on the energy and traffic. They plan to open a brewery in the space soon, Harmony Brewery. But converting the formerly empty building has not been easy.
The Van Dykes came into the project with redevelopment experience. Together, with their father, they own a local property management company called Bear Manor. They’ve bought, fixed up, and rented or sold 13 residential and three commercial properties in Grand Rapids, mostly in the Uptown neighborhood.
These 16 buildings are just a dent in the at least 1,078 buildings the city of Grand Rapids has documented as abandoned. Barry Van Dyke isn’t surprised there are so many. He says the thing most people don’t realize about renovating empty places is how long it takes.
“It’s a really slow process if you want to do it right, if you really want to return these buildings to what they once were,” he said.
He felt a lot of pride in helping turn an empty building into something better. But, until now, it has been bittersweet to hand over the keys to business owners using the space.
“My brother and my sister dong all the sweaty work to bring these places back into useability, and then we would have a post-partum type of moment where we had to step back and watch these projects take on a life of their own.”
The Van Dykes decided they wanted to try to start a business in one of their buildings too. Several years ago and developed a business plan to turn their hobby of brewing beer into a real business, but they shelved it until they found a space. When they came across Jack’s Liquor Store, Van Dyke says they had a hard time getting a loan to finance the project. Their old bank wouldn’t give them a loan.
“We went to literally every bank in the region with our business plan and we were turned away everywhere,” said Van Dyke. “We had always been a great customer we had never made a late payment, our properties were good, we had a great reputation.”
When the housing market was booming, Bear Manor would buy a building at a low cost and rehab it themselves. After the renovation the property would be worth more, so Bear Manor could take out another line of equity on the new value of the building-and use that loan to finance their next project.
When the recession hit and property values declined across the board, this business model didn’t work anymore. At their last stop before hanging up the project, United Bank, they were able to get a loan at a small, local bank where Van Dyke said, “reputation mattered.”
Together, the Van Dykes are borrowing around $250,000 with the help of the Small Business Administration and financing the rest of the approximately $300,000 project themselves. To keep costs down they are doing most of the work themselves. They are also using recycled materials they had in storage, including an old gymnasium floor from Western Michigan University.
Van Dyke says that there are still a lot of abandoned properties in Grand Rapids, but this is changing.
“Over the last three or four years there has been a huge boom of people re-occupying buildings and putting work into them, said Van Dyke. “It’s great to be a part of that in Grand Rapids. I think the general public sees that, and they are just bending over backwards to be supportive.” Van Dyke hopes that supports translates into customers when Harmony Brewery opens in the next few weeks.