BATTLE CREEK — With classic cars lining the streets of Capital Avenue Southwest on a sunny Friday evening, the Old Lakeview neighborhood suddenly transformed into a flurry of activity.
Hundreds walked the streets to admire the diverse array of vehicles occupying the roadway as part of the 17th annual Consumers Professional Credit Union “Cruise-In,” perhaps the largest event in a neighborhood that’s experienced its fair share of ups and downs through the years.
Vacant storefronts are visible amidst a mixture of national chains and small, independent businesses, but there’s reason to believe those empty buildings could be filled in future years.
One longtime anchor is already showing signs of life.
When Elisha Hodge stepped inside the vacant Lakeview Hardware building and heard the creak of the hardwood floor, she suddenly began to see it all.
Plumeria Botanical Boutique, an all-service flower shop Hodge launched with her mother Sandy Hart in 2015, belonged here, she thought, and what better timing.
“We’ve had to turn away business because we just don’t have the space,” Hodge said of her existing 1,400-square-foot shop about four miles away at 1364 W. Michigan Ave. in Urbandale. “We can’t do as many weddings as I’d like to do, we stopped doing classes in-house because I don’t have the space to have people in.”
Recognizing the potential of the building and the neighborhood, Hodge and her partner Bryan Mayes took the leap, purchasing the former hardware store at 660 Capital Ave. S.W. in June with plans to breathe new life into the space and make it Plumeria’s second location.
MORE: Facelift intended to revive Lakeview business district
The couple plan to invest at least $750,000 to renovate the building and have received a tax break from the city in the form of an obsolete property rehabilitation exemption certificate, which will essentially “freeze” property taxes at the same rate for a period of 12 years.
“We hope that the Old Lakeview area will start to build back up again,” Hodge said. “This used to be and could be a very viable part of the city, all the way to (Goguac Lake) and all the way downtown. … I hope (this) will maybe spark some more interest and investors in the area.”
A catalyst for future development
John Hart believes Old Lakeview is ripe with opportunity.
The neighborhood, which includes both sides of Capital Avenue Southwest between Territorial Road and Columbia Avenue, has about a dozen buildings that desperately need to be rehabilitated, the director of the Battle Creek Small Business Development Office explained Friday.
“Once they’re rehabbed, they will (attract tenants),” Hart said. “We have plenty of people in town looking to locate their small businesses in districts just like (Old Lakeview). It’s a very vibrant district, it’s got great traffic count, it’s located between downtown and (Lakeview Square Mall), right in the middle. There’s lots of neighbors in that area, it’s got a strong identity.”
It is estimated that Capital Avenue Southwest carries more than 13,000 vehicles daily.
Hart acknowledged he shows vacant storefronts near the intersection of Capital Ave. S.W. and Territorial Road to interested developers about six to seven times each year, but it’s often difficult to secure a buyer given the immense cost for renovations.
“It’s not a $100,000 proposition, it’s a $500,000 to $700,000 to $1 million proposition to take buildings that large and get them back in shape to where they can take tenants on,” Hart said. “Tenants have to have those spaces (fixed up) or it becomes a brand-damaging kind of location.
“It takes a lot to go into it but certainly Plumeria believes that it can be done there and they are going to help make that change,” Hart continued. “Just their presence alone, and certainly their huge level of investment, is going to make a difference.”
One of more than 4,500 independently-owned franchises of True Value Co., Lakeview Hardware had deep roots in the Lakeview business district for nearly nine decades.
Charles Parrott started Parrott Hardware at 639 Capital Ave. S.W. in 1933 and built the current two-story brick building several lots over in 1938. It later became Snyder-Meacham Hardware (Jay Snyder and Raymond Meacham) in 1940, and then Lakeview Hardware Supply after Harry Wagner and Frank B. Nash purchased it in 1946. Boyd Redner took over in 1977, when his daughter Kerrie, and Craig Walters began working there as teenagers.
Kerrie Redner and Walters, her brother-in-law, took ownership of the business in 1999. They had sought a buyer willing to continue operating it as a home improvement business before ultimately deciding to close in September 2021.
MORE: Lakeview Hardware, a staple Battle Creek business, is closing
Renovations are currently underway at the site as contractors have begun tuck-pointing the brick exterior. The installation of new windows and doors will soon follow, Mayes explained Thursday.
Multiple buildings on the western portion of the property will be torn down and converted into green space, Mayes added, opening up the possibility for outdoor events.
Inside, upgrades will include new plumbing, new walls and new fixtures, among other improvements. Work is tentatively slated to be complete by mid-2023.
“There is a ton of opportunity in this neighborhood and there’s a lot of great anchors already, we’ve got some banks, we’ve got a grocery store, it’s walkable, it’s got all of the ingredients,” Mayes said of the area. “I think that this area is ripe for a refresh and it’s going to be one of the up and coming neighborhoods.
“It’s an amazing blessing for us to be in the position to be able to do this,” he continued. “We hope to be able to set the example, like, ‘Hey, you can do this here, you can spend the time and make it nice and do it right and be viable and the community will support it.'”
Hart believes the renovation of the Lakeview Hardware building into Plumeria’s second location will serve a catalyst for future development in the area.
“If the building wasn’t rehabbed and wasn’t occupied and sat there for a few more years, then that’s going to bring the neighborhood and the district down. But the fact that it’s being reinvested in is a sign that there’s value in the district,” Hart said. “It’s huge.”
The next critical step, according to Hart, will be to renovate the vacant storefronts near the intersection of Territorial Road and Capital Avenue S.W. The Small Business Development Office and other community partners are routinely working with property owners to obtain grants for improvements as well as secure buyers and tenants for the spaces.
“Once that’s done, people will have faith and believe in the marketability and value of that district and then it will self-heal itself,” Hart said. “The market follows investment.”
‘Spreading love through flowers’
Burned out from 20 years in the commercial banking industry, Hodge decided it was time for a change in 2015.
At the urging of her mother, she put her Grand Blanc home on the market and left it up to fate. The house sold within a week, and soon Hodge found herself back in her hometown of Battle Creek.
Four months later, she bought Country Bouquet and reopened it as Plumeria.
The career change wasn’t completely out of left field. Hodge graduated from Central Michigan University with a degree in art, and her mother was a florist.
Seven years later, Plumeria now supports eight additional employees and has outgrown its space in Urbandale, with Hodge renting outdoor storage, cooling trucks and tents to function during holidays and large orders for events.
Hodge and Mayes initially drafted up plans to build an addition onto the shop in Urbandale, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to go back to the drawing board as construction costs soared.
Hodge subsequently turned down offers to open a second location in Richland and Marshall as she wanted to remain in Battle Creek.
Then, she toured Lakeview Hardware.
“I went in there and I saw the floors and the tall ceilings and I was like, ‘OK, this kind of feels like a space we could make happen,'” Hodge said. “It felt like we could do this.”
Once renovations are complete, the 8,472-square-foot building will allow Plumeria to accommodate the growing number of wedding and event requests as well as continue its contributions to local community organizations, nonprofits, sports teams and charities.
Moreover, it will allow Hodge to continue her mission of “spreading love through flowers.”
“I think this is just another way for us to do our part,” Hodge said of the redevelopment. “Any way that we can improve our community, that’s just kind of been our goal.”
Contact reporter Greyson Steele at email@example.com or 269-501-5661. Follow him on Twitter: G_SteeleBC