Couch: Looking for a savior for downtown Lansing? Look in the mirror
“Less than half.”
That’s the line that really worried me — from a sentence in a letter by House Biggby Managing Partner Jeff McAlvey to customers, taped to the door, explaining why the beloved coffee shop on West Ottawa Street was closing its doors. The letter said they’re “selling less than half of the beverages” they did before the pandemic, back when legislative staff and state workers were in their downtown offices five days a week.
Even a bumbling sports columnist knows that’s not sustainable. And if the House Biggby can’t survive, there are others in peril, too.
I have lots of grand ideas and dreams for downtown Lansing — some of them realistic (let’s get on with replacing City Hall with a hotel with a rooftop restaurant and bar), others less so (how about Michigan State moves James Madison College west by 3 miles?). Everyone I know who cares about Lansing has ideas — about downtown housing, hospitality, entertainment, parking, etc. Ideas aren’t the issue.
The problem is that many of us — looking in the mirror here — talk a good game, but don’t actually live it.
I love this city. I’ll defend it and promote it relentlessly. I grew up here a mile from downtown. Live in the same neighborhood today. Dad worked for the legislature (and frequented the House Biggby). Mom taught at Lansing Community College. I attended church at St. Paul’s across from the Capitol. These days, the Lansing State Journal offices are in the historic Knapp’s Centre. I do a podcast several times a week in a studio a block away.
I’ve had one meal in the last two months downtown. Bought a few coffees, a shirt and tie at Kositchek’s. That’s it. That’s B.S. Entirely unacceptable for someone in my shoes. Unacceptable for someone who will be upset and blame suburbanites if another cherished downtown establishment goes under.
I’m sure I’m not alone.
Having a vibrant downtown Lansing is going to take vision and resources and more residents — and ideally more five-day-a-week workers. And it’s going to take changing habits. That can’t begin later. We can’t wait for some big idea to take hold. There might not be much left by then. And if downtown becomes a place restaurants and bars and other businesses can’t make work — a place that no one wants to be — there’s probably no coming back from it.
I’m not calling on your charity. While downtown could use more places that pull us in — some place that’s your first thought to take out-of-town guests, a place with a view of our greatest attribute, the Capitol Building, more places open late and on weekends — downtown does not lack for quality.