HOLLAND — The downtown business landscape has shifted dramatically from its pre-pandemic layout, but how much has really changed?
In February 2019, The Sentinel conducted a survey of 93 businesses in the downtown area for an article on Sunday operations. Those businesses included ground floor restaurants and retailers between Pine Avenue and Columbia Avenue; Seventh Street and Ninth Street.
This week, The Sentinel returned to those businesses to analyze changes pre-pandemic and post-pandemic, including closures, relocations, name changes and openings. Perhaps the most surprising find was, of the businesses surveyed in 2019, more than 19 percent — or nearly one in five — are gone.
“It’s no secret the pandemic has affected small businesses everywhere in the country,” said downtown Holland marketing coordinator Kara de Alvare. “Holland wasn’t immune from that. Every time a small business decides to close a store downtown, whether it’s due to the economy or retirement, we’re always sad to see a business close.”
Two of those businesses, including Muriel’s Intimate Apparel and Pincushn’s, changed their name and ownership, but retained the same concept. Others, like Superior Sport Store and Teerman’s, meant the end of decades-long family businesses. Teerman’s announced its upcoming closure last week.
Significant gains in storefronts
In total, the new study included 109 storefronts, a 16-storefront gain over February 2019. That gain is explained, in part, by nine businesses in new developments along Eighth Street.
The rest come from storefronts that were vacant at the time of the original survey — including the spaces now holding Tweed Baby Outfitters, Glad Rags and Mayberry & Co. — and storefronts that have divided their space to include more than one business. That’s happened at Ferris Coffee, which made room for Big Fish Outlet, and Thomas A. Davis Jeweler, which made room for Holland Clock Co.
The same will also take place at Teerman’s. Half of the space will become Dutch Village Downtown, and the other half will be put up for lease.
Even more gains are expected when developments like The River Place are complete.
Quickly filling vacancies
The 109 storefronts include four vacancies — the former location of Crust 54, a new development at 17 E. Eighth St., the former Superior Sport Store and half of Teerman’s.
On average, vacancies between 2019 and 2021 were filled within six months, though some businesses remained nonoperational for long stretches of time due to pandemic barriers.
In many cases, new developments or soon-to-be-available storefronts were spoken for before the space was ready for occupancy. Canterbury Cottage had been closed for just two weeks when Out of the Box opened in its former storefront, and The Poppy Peach announced it had secured space in a new development weeks before construction was complete.
“We often hear Holland is the place to shop and dine,” said Linda Hart, executive director of the Holland Area Visitors Bureau. “So, it’s encouraging to see downtown continue to grow, develop and thrive — and a testament to downtown and the community when new merchants can replace the ones we lost.”
While the area saw significant losses during the pandemic, more than 25 new restaurants and retailers have opened, or announced an opening, in downtown Holland since February 2019.
“We’re having our busiest summer, perhaps ever, in downtown Holland,” de Alvare said. “We’re super grateful for the support of our local community and all of the visitors that are here. We’re excited to see that, where businesses have closed their doors, new businesses are moving in very quickly. That’s been the case for, it seems like, forever.”
Focus remains largely on local
During its survey, The Sentinel divided businesses into four categories: eateries, clothing and apparel, specialty shops and services like salons.
In total, downtown Holland lost five eateries between February 2019 and July 2021, but gained 10 — a net gain of five. By far, this category has seen the largest increase, particularly in new developments along Eighth Street.
Specialty shops have seen the most losses, as well as the most gains. These stores are most often locally or family-owned, with the fewest number of employees among the categories. Losses include Superior Sport Store, Teerman’s, Karla’s Place, Home & Company and West Michigan Bike and Fitness.
But many of these stores retain influence or locations in the community. The storefront that once held Home & Company remains under the same ownership, and much of the same product is available at Jean Marie’s. Decadent Dogs has a storefront in South Haven, and West Michigan Bike and Fitness relocated to Chicago Drive. The family behind Teerman’s will continue to operate as landlords.
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While it’s true that chain companies like White House Black Market and Francesca’s have seen less turnover downtown, neither company has performed well (on a national scale) over the past two years. Francesca’s filed for bankruptcy in 2020, and White House Black Market’s parent company announced hundreds of closures in 2019.
Onalee’s and Postcards from Paradise replaced national companies that recently filed for bankruptcy on Eighth Street. Each business is locally owned, earning downtown Holland more slots for small business.
Shifts by the block
As more businesses settle into new developments between River Avenue and Pine Avenue along Eighth Street, retailers and eateries on River Avenue are enjoying more foot traffic than past summers.
Seven of 28 notable business changes — or one in four — between February 2019 and July 2021 happened on River Avenue.
That number is topped only by the section of Eighth Street between Central Avenue and College Avenue, which saw 14 notable changes. In fact, more than 35 percent of storefronts on that block have seen turnover in the past two years.
The blocks directly east and west of that section have remained largely the same, with only one and two notable changes respectively.
Despite the changes, downtown Holland is thriving, de Alvare said.
“Holland continues to be a place where people want to do business and want to open their business, and that’s a testament to what we have.”