Michigan Pantry: A New Legacy

For 24 years, Shaker Messenger was a staple in the Holland community. Its owner, Diana Van Kolken, was one of the first people in the area to make a conscious effort to support local businesses in Holland. Her enthusiasm for the community was contagious, and though she passed away in October, her ideas about supporting local producers have caught on. A large part of her mission remains intact thanks to Robin Nash, owner of the new Michigan Pantry.

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Michigan Pantry, which replaced Shaker Messenger in November, specializes in Michigan made food and gifts.

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Diana and Robin first met as neighboring business owners in downtown Holland. When Robin decided to close her scrapbooking store, Diana invited her to join the Shaker Messenger team.

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“She just said ‘Come on over,’” said Robin.

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For eight years, Robin worked for Diana. At first, she helped out with payroll and bookkeeping, but her responsibilities increased as the years went on and Diana’s health issues progressed.

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“Little by little, I started doing more and more,” said Robin. “I got a good understanding of how she ran the business.”

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As a result of their time together, Michigan Pantry resembles Shaker Messenger in some ways. But it was important to both Diana and Robin that the new store be just that: new.

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“The store was her identity, her whole life. There couldn’t be another Shaker Messenger,” Robin said.

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They talked about the changes to be made once Robin took over. The important things included focusing more on food and incorporating “Michigan” into the name, as supporting local food producers and artists is an important part of Diana’s legacy.

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“We talked about what she wished for the store going forward. Expanding on the food section seemed like the most natural direction. More than anything, she was excited for the changes.”

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THE HOLLAND COMMUNITY

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Despite having only been open a few months, Michigan Pantry can already feel the support of the West Michigan community.

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“The people we meet are incredible. Our customers want to support local businesses. We feel a strong sense of loyalty from them,” said Robin.

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People feel good shopping at Michigan Pantry because they know that all of the food and gifts were made right here in Michigan.

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Robin shared the reasons why she personally likes to shop at local businesses. “The people who own businesses here are just like me—they have a family and kids. I know that by shopping there I am helping them make their living.”

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By supporting those who own small businesses in the community, people get the opportunity to make an impact on the local economy and, in turn, they get to have stores like Michigan Pantry that care about the community. Not only is Michigan Pantry dedicated to the promotion of Michigan made products, it is also concerned with the good of those right on the Lakeshore. For the local business owners here, it is easy to see why working together is one of the best perks of the job.

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“It’s all about building relationships,” said Robin. “We are a community, all trying to help in our own little ways.”

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Robin especially enjoys being among local business owners in downtown Holland.

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“We love to promote each other downtown. I know the people, and that makes a big difference,” she said.

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MOVING FORWARD

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As Michigan Pantry continues to grow its own roots in the Holland community, plans to expand their offerings are already in motion. Looking around the Michigan Pantry store on South River Avenue in Holland, the space is full of jams, candies, coffee, bread, tea, and more. But Robin hopes to add even more food to her shelves and get more local artists involved in the store.

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“We have plans to expand the food lines. We also want to bring in more local artists—that’s our goal right now. We know there are people out there we just need to find them,” she said.

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Spring is always an exciting time in Holland, with important events like Tulip Time bringing lots of people to the city. Robin hopes that the new season will introduce her new business to people all around the West Michigan community.

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“We’re proud to show off all the cool things Michigan has to offer,” she said. “We want to spread that love to others.”

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This story was originally published in the Spring issue of Urban St. ShoreWest.

Once Upon a Time in a Bookstore

Once upon a time, I was the owner of an independent bookstore. It had been a life-long dream and though I had three boys that were still very young, the opportunity arose and well…you know what they say. It turned out to be one of the best times of my life, eight years of living and breathing books. As someone who grew up immersing her face in the bindings of old books and breathing deeply, owning a bookstore was its own special nirvana.  Placing a key in the door at Tree House Books every morning, inhaling that particular scent of pulp, walking through the quiet store, turning on lights, scanning the landscape of shelves upon shelves stuffed with words; it never got old. I can still get pretty nostalgic about the whole thing.

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I received many gifts while operating the bookstore. Getting to know the people who lived in my community by name, knowing what their favorite books were, getting to know their kids and grandkids. Sharing stories about marriages, travels, successes, illnesses, death. The bookstore was a connector, a place where boundaries receded and stories were told, laughter abounded, tears shed. Kids ran wild, poets spoke, authors resonated. We laughed at Chet the chinchilla’s weekly escape, Icarus the lovebird’s constant demand for attention, and our bunnies’ prodigious mess.  We bemoaned the salt water fish tank that cost an arm & a leg to keep running but watching kids press their nose against the glass yelling, “Nemo! Mommy, it’s Nemo” kept me paying that bill.

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I also got to know my fellow business owners well. I saw passion and dedication in each of their stories. Showing up to open their store in the dead of winter, getting through the tough months, celebrating the busy times and complaining about the bad ones.

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In 2006, a group of those business owners and myself started the Lakeshore Independent Business Alliance (LIBA). It was tough economic times and there was a national movement afoot. Buy Local campaigns were sprouting up around the country and a few of us thought the Holland area was ripe for the message. We believed in the specialness of our community and knew that we needed to keep these moms & pops, these small local businesses, open during this downturn. We wanted to spread the word that shopping local kept money in the community and kept your neighbors in business. It was a message about community and supporting the hard working people who live next door to you, who chose to follow dreams and do the hard work of being an independent business owner. No access to corporate funds for marketing. No national purse strings. These people go to church here, shop here, eat here. They donate dollars and merchandise to countless fundraisers. In essence they were the lifeblood, the beating heart. I knew this because I worked among them and saw their dedication firsthand.

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Lakeshore Independent Business Alliance (LIBA) grew over the years to 120 businesses along the lakeshore and the message took root. I have now transitioned from owning a bookstore to supporting and advocating for those business owners whom I admire and respect. When LIBA merged with Local First last year, I became the Lakeshore Membership Coordinator. Working for Local First allows me to continue to work in my community and build relationships with the passionate people who bring color and variety to our world.  In a sense, I am still back in that bookstore, talking to people about their dreams and sharing in their excitement. For me, there is no better job.

Spirit Dreams

Imagine, if you will, life 20 years ago.

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The year was 1994.

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Super Nintendo. Overalls. Boyz II Men on the radio.

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And over in Eastown, Jaye Van Lenten and Jackie Bess were just getting started with their store with a conscience, Spirit Dreams.

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Just as I’m sure you have changed in the past twenty years (though if you’re still listening to Boyz II Men, more power to you), Grand Rapids has also moved forward in time.

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For Jaye Van Lenten, this forward progress has been a very good thing. Specializing in unique products and resources for all aspects of the self, Spirit Dreams was on the cutting edge of holistic health and wellness in West Michigan.

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Jaye reminded me that 20 years ago, things like massages and yoga—where physical health is combined with mental and spiritual health—were not nearly as common as they are today.

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“Oh yeah,” I said, as if I did know this at some point, though I was only 2 years old in ’94 and yoga was about the only thing I was capable of.

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So I had to take Jaye for her word when she told me about the progression of awareness and spiritual diversity that she has witnessed over her years as a business owner in Grand Rapids.

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“A lot has evolved over the last 20 years. We have definitely seen a change in attitude and growth of awareness about holistic health and spiritual diversity, and it’s been great to be a part of.”

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But listen up consumers, because it’s time for the hard truth: it’s not all about you.

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The owners of Spirit Dreams are concerned with not only the complete health of their patrons, but also their suppliers, their city, and our earth.

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Their commitment to being “the store with a conscience” results in supporting artists directly through featuring local artists and working with fair trade organizations for their international products. It also means recycling and being conscious of the ethical implications of all their business decisions.

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So what does the future hold for Spirit Dreams?

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The year is 2014.

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Hot yoga. Infinity scarves. One Direction on the radio (but we all know II is better than 1D. Just sayin’).

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And over in Eastown, Jaye and Jackie are continuing to enrich the lives of their customers and their producers. If Jaye has anything to say about it, the next 20 years will probably look like the last 20, but completely different: basically, continuing to help change hearts and minds in Grand Rapids.

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“20 years is a tremendous milestone for us. Hopefully we can continue to do what we do and continue to love it.”

What is a B Corp?

Recently someone started talking to me about B Corps.

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“Oh yeah,” I said. “I know what those are.”

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(True confession: I had no idea what those are.)

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Thankfully, I have the internet to help me out.

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Thankfully, you have me to summarize all the things I found out.

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So here it is: “B Corp” is short for “benefit corporation,” which is a designation given to companies that are focused on environmental and social change in addition to monetary profits.

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Standards for achieving this legal status are challenging and require a conscious effort on the behalf of the business owners to work for the betterment of society. B Corps are certified by B Lab, a nonprofit organization that believes in unifying companies around the world with their goal of making high ethical standards for business practices the new norm. You can think of B Corp certification like Fair Trade certification is to coffee.

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You can also watch a super entertaining video describing B Corps here.nnnn

 

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So now that you know what a B Corp is, finding out that Gazelle Sports recently achieved B Corp status is way more exciting.

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DID YOU HEAR THAT?! GAZELLE SPORTS IS A B CORP!

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(Appropriate excitement level reached.)

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Gazelle Sports co-founder Chris Lampen-Cromwell talked with the Grand Rapids Urban Innovation Exchange about how this whole thing began.
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n“I went to one of the presentations and was like ‘wow, this is significant,’” Lampen-Crowell said. “It started my thought process. We really want to be a business that makes a difference to our employees, but also to our community. With that in mind, [the B Impact Assessment] was a true measure we could take and really see where we were at. It was more about measuring ourselves to determine what we could do to become a better company.”

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For those familiar with the Gazelle, such a designation is no surprise, given their commitment to their customers and community. Lisa Rose Starner weighed in on the achievement of her favorite running store.
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n“Gazelle has not only a strong following in the running community, but they are leaders in our local business environment,” Starner said. “I want to support business that is mindful and transparent with their business model and is thoughtfully structured to not only be a financially viable business, but invest in their employees and give back to their community in meaningful ways.”

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We love B Corps for many of the same reasons we love local businesses: they inherently care about the people and communities they serve. They strive to reduce environmental impact. They are interested in the triple bottom line.

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So we celebrate with the two West Michigan businesses that are also B Corps: the recently-certified Gazelle Sports and the longstanding Cascade Engineering.

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We also want to equip more local businesses to be able to measure and strive for sustainability in their business practices—focusing on profits, people, and the planet.

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Read more about Gazelle and B Corps here.

Keeping Up With The Cosbys

Do you remember that episode of The Cosby Show when Cliff gets a juicer?

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He was all excited about his state of the art, stainless steel, life-altering new contraption, but Clair merely rolls her eyes and wonders how long it will be before the juicer will end up in Cliff’s “appliance graveyard” underneath the kitchen counter.

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Luckily for us, Anissa Eddie of Malamiah Juice Bar had a different reaction when her husband Jermale did the same thing.

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It all started in 2012 when a friend introduced Jermale to the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. The film chronicles the health and weight loss journey of Joe Cross, a morbidly obese man who starting juicing and vastly improved his health as a result. Inspired and amazed, Jermale did research and began juicing at home.

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Soon the passion was a family affair, and it was Anissa who initially came up the idea of opening up a juice bar in Grand Rapids.

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“We started talking about juicing with some close friends and realized that pursuing better health was not a hard sell,” said Anissa. After having a friend lose a large amount of weight through a juice diet, it hit them that this passion of theirs could be “life-changing.”

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And the name? The Eddies have two sons, Malachi (age 4) and Nehemiah (age 1), which if put together makes “Malamiah,” the most obvious option when naming a juice bar (Neheachi doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as nicely).

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“Malachi thinks he owns the place—like, the whole market. He jumps up on the stools and talks to the customers,” said Anissa. “Then at home he plays pretend juice bar, with Legos instead of fruit.”

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Considering the Eddies’ lack of business background, the fact that they have more than Legos and toy blenders to work with is still a constant source of gratefulness. Anissa credits her husband’s energy and optimism in pushing Malamiah past the dream phase and into the very real Downtown Market.

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“He just kept saying, ‘We can do this, we’ll learn as we go,’” said Anissa.

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While the Eddies are still learning themselves, many of their big picture goals are focused on teaching and making a difference in the Grand Rapids community.

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“We built our whole mission statement around the idea of holistic community wellness,” said Anissa. “On a basic level that means making fresh, healthy, delicious beverages for people.”

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But making your new favorite Island Vacation smoothie is just the beginning for the Eddies. Beyond the market counter, they have begun to hold community education events centered on the benefits of juicing and getting enough fruits and vegetables.

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Specifically, the Eddies are targeting communities of color to increase awareness and address health disparities.

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“Many people in the African-American community struggle with diabetes, high cholesterol, and access to healthy food,” said Anissa. “We are humbled and excited to bring information to people of color as business owners of color.”

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The final tier of Malamiah’s mission is youth employment. The Eddies are interested in giving teens a positive work experience they will prepare them for life beyond high school.

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“We hope to model basic work skills—helping them understand what things like customer service, reliability and punctuality look like in the working world, so that they can take it with them into their careers.”

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All of these pieces of the Malamiah puzzle make one thing clear: the Eddies are here to stay. While some might think that juicing is just a fad, Anissa is confident that it is a trend with staying power.

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“There is an important difference between fads and trends. Trends develop roots in society. They create layers and grow over time, becoming a sustainable part of the culture. This is where the mindset is moving.”

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By the end of the episode of The Cosby Show, Rudy has made a huge mess with the juicer and Cliff is labeled as an accomplice in her delinquency. He is sentenced to five years of appliance probation.

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Let’s hope Malachi and Nehemiah run a clean shop so that the juices keep flowing.

Welcome!

Local First is about community. We’re about community members supporting community businesses. We’re about stories – the stories that shape us, the stories that have become memories of the time your parents took you to Pooh’s Corner every Saturday during the summer, the stories that made our businesses who they are.

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We want to share those stories in this blog. We want to give a platform to community issues and how local businesses are helping be a part of the solution.  We want to get to the heart of what we really do in a way that we haven’t been able to do before. Delve into topics like – what is sustainability and what does it look like in local businesses? Why do we talk about it? Why is it important? What is a B Corporation and how can you as a consumer or a business owner engage with B Corps? What is a sustainable local food system and how is West Michigan exemplifying this in really cool ways?

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Part of our mission is to encourage joyful community life. That means this blog is for you. We want to talk about the latest new businesses and our longstanding community pillars that impact you and your neighborhood. We want to tell your story. If you want to be featured on our blog or be a guest blogger, please send your ideas to samantha@localfirst.com for consideration.