Author: Becca

7 ways your West Michigan business can make miracles this Christmas

Child looking into present box

Election Day may be in November, but it’s in December that the really important voting takes place inside Quinn & Tuite’s Irish Pub. All month long, patrons of the Grand Rapids bar cast votes for one of their fellow regulars to receive tongue-in-cheek recognition as “Customer of the Year” on a big board hanging on the wall.

People can vote as often as they’d like, with a catch: Each vote costs 10 cents. At the end of the month, Quinn & Tuite’s donates all of the money to the Santa Claus Girls – a charity that the bar has supported annually for the past 35 years.

Santa Claus Girls business flyer

To help your restaurant or bar get involved in West Michigan’s 111-year holiday tradition, the Santa Claus Girls will supply customizable coupons.

“It’s pretty much a family down here, so everybody likes to rag on everybody,” said Rick Schall, co-owner of the bar at 1535 Plainfield Ave. NE. “It makes it fun for everybody.”

Whether through cash donations or in-kind contributions of toys and clothing, businesses all across West Michigan rally behind the Santa Claus Girls each year. Not just office employees and manufacturing workers, but bars and restaurants join the cause, too.

Last year’s Santa Claus Girls donation from Quinn & Tuite’s tallied $918.70. That’s over 9,000 votes – more than double the number cast at the polls in the most recent city election!

Just a few miles north off Plainfield at Bud & Stanley’s Pub & Grub, customers took a different fundraising approach last Christmas season. The bar emailed special coupons to regulars, and every coupon brought back in triggered a $10 donation from Bud & Stanley’s to the Santa Claus Girls. The total contribution amounted to $1,200!

Raising money for the Santa Claus Girls can be a great way for restaurants to support the community while benefitting a worthy charity that customers care about. How will your favorite watering hole join the cause this Christmas season?

Here are some other creative ways that businesses donate or raise money so the Santa Claus Girls can make sure no child in Kent County ages 6 months to 12 years goes without a gift at Christmas:

  • Knoll Inc. is in its sixth year of offering 23,000 square feet of space for the charity’s workshop, the spot where thousands of toys are stored and wrapped by volunteers before delivery day. The company also covers the costs for Wi-Fi, electricity, heat and trash removal, all would-be expenses that allow more gifts to go to more children.
  • Mark-Maker Co., Inc. last year donated $1,400 to the Santa Claus Girls. child opening doorThe money came from employees tossing spare change into a bucket. (Plus, next to the bucket is a box of irresistible snacks and candy for sale.) When the tradition began in 2002, Mark-Maker collected $50. The donations have grown through the years, adding up to thousands of dollars that have helped buy gifts for hundreds of Kent County kids.
  • Instead of buying Christmas gifts for their bosses, team members at Betz Industries and Betz Pattern donated money to the Santa Claus Girls. Last year’s donation of $2,632 was enough to purchase gifts for more than 100 children!
  • Many businesses hold holiday parties with employees and their families. The party at Purity Cylinder Gases, Inc. incorporates auctions and raffles to benefit the Santa Claus Girls, with the company matching the amount of money raised. Last year’s tally: $23,447!
  • At Walker Tool & Die, each year the employees team with the company’s customers and suppliers to gather a wide range of gift items that then are given to the Santa Claus Girls for distribution to children around Kent County. Check out the stash of gifts from last Christmas!

 

Going all the way back to 1908, the Santa Claus Girls has gathered, wrapped and delivered presents for children in Kent County who otherwise wouldn’t get anything for Christmas. The all-volunteer organization sponsored by The Grand Rapids Press delivered gifts to 13,105 children from 5,142 families last year. Each child receives a toy, book, warm hat, gloves or mittens, a sweatshirt or pajamas and candy.

For every child who receives a gift, there is a giver who makes it possible. That’s the essence of the Christmas spirit. Yet, what the Santa Claus Girls do doesn’t happen everywhere in the world. It is West Michigan’s heritage. Our legacy. Your opportunity.

The Santa Claus Girls aims to raise $200,000 in individual, business and community donations to make miracles for thousands more children this Christmas. Every donation helps, big or small. Can your business give $25? Or $2,500? How about $25,000? The Christmas spirit knows no bounds.

The Santa Claus Girls are run entirely by volunteers, with nary an elf on the payroll. That means more than 98 cents of every dollar donated goes directly to gifts for children. Please help meet the need by making a generous contribution here, or by calling The Grand Rapids Press at 616-254-2099.

To Register a family to receive gifts, please call 616-967-7335 or visit www.santaclausgirls.org/submit

To Volunteer to drive by emailing drivers@santaclausgirls.org

Spotlight on: Muskegon Lumberjacks

Muskegon Lumberjacks hockey game

‘One big party,’ how $1.7M in arena renovations changed this hockey experience

When the capacity crowd at Mercy Health Arena (formerly L.C. Walker Arena) celebrates a Muskegon Lumberjacks goal by yelling “You got Jacked,” it’s a fun taunt at the opposing goalie.

But it’s equally appropriate as a measure of excitement felt by the thousands of fans providing a home-ice advantage for Michigan’s only United States Hockey League team.

With a $1.7 million renovation and elite hockey talent – the Lumberjacks have had 18 NHL draft picks and 51 players earn college scholarships in just the last 5 years – the hockey and the social experience has changed from preconceived perceptions, said Mike McCall, the Lumberjacks president.

“Our number one goal is to make sure we created something for everyone,” McCall said. “When you come into this building, there’s a wow factor, there’s a vibe and there’s a sense of fun. We’re grateful to have the opportunity to present that night in and night out.

“(The renovation) is helping to revive the downtown. The Muskegon area is growing. The vibe in the whole community is improving. There’s a new sense of pride and we want to be one of those helping lead that.”

The project was unveiled in late 2018, and this will be the first full season for fans to experience the team’s 30 home dates that stretch into April. The upgrades include a new and improved concourse area, suite boxes, club and lodge seating, and the creation of a party platform that includes a beer garden, bar and an open-air and supervised kids’ zone.

The new concourse design keeps fans in the arena rather than leaving the seating area and into a closed off hallway. The work brings concessions to the inside and is transformative.

“The great thing about this openness that we created in the arena is that it’s really created a social environment. People can walk around, and they can see the game, they can see their friends, they can see their kids. It’s really one big party.

“You can grab a beer or a hot dog and still watch the game. You are right on top of the action. There’s no better place to watch a hockey game.”

Attendance was up 20 percent last year despite a reduction in the number of seats, McCall said, and that shows people are responding to the changes.

The USHL took notice too, honoring the Lumberjacks with the 2019 Organization of the Year award.

“Our goal is to win it again this year and the next year,” McCall said. “We want to continue to be the best team in this league.”

The Lumberjacks, who feature players ages 16 to 20 on the development track to major college or professional hockey, are a community experience and attribute, McCall said. With the majority of the team’s games on Friday or Saturday nights, the setting is ideal for families, business or group outings or getting friends together.

“Coming to a Lumberjacks game is a release,” he said. “You’re going to yell, you’re going to scream, and you’re going cheer. You’re going to see people you know, have some drinks and have a great time.”

That is exactly the atmosphere that Andrea Sponaas has witnessed.

“If there’s one thing that’s been consistent, it’s been the jaw-drop (from people) as soon as they walk in,” said Sponaas, the vice president of corporate partnerships for the team. “You can tell the people who have not been here since the renovations. It’s awestruck. It’s ‘Oh, my gosh, this is fantastic.’”

Lumberjacks games are safe, clean, affordable and convenient, Sponaas said, and the team’s leaders want to keep the momentum going.

“We’re making sure we’re bringing in new fans and exposing them to how great this league is and exposing them to the atmosphere that we’ve built,” said Sponaas, who was with the team 10 years ago when it launched in Muskegon.

“The Muskegon Lumberjacks of today are an entirely different experience. If folks haven’t been to the game, seen the arena changes, I think they’re really missing out.”

On the hockey side, Lumberjacks Head Coach Mike Hamilton said fans can expect 100 percent effort and an exciting, active style of play. The USHL is the highest level of junior hockey in the country, he said. Prospects come from around the world to play in the league. The players have moved away from their homes – in some cases their countries – to pursue their dreams.

“Everyone who plays youth hockey, this is their goal,” he said. “Every night they’re being evaluated, not just by us, but if you look around there are NHL scouts, there are colleges scouting.

“They make a huge commitment just to be here and develop into the best hockey players they can be, but they recognize that they’re here to be part of the community. Muskegon is invested in them and their actions on and off the ice reflect on Muskegon. We win together.”

Visit the Lumberjacks website to find the team’s schedule and learn more about Muskegon’s team.

Celebrate Beer Week in Michigan’s No. 1 region for craft brewing

Most of the beer brewed in the Traverse City area isn’t available in stores, so you have to go there to check it out. But that’s half the fun of finding a new favorite, right?

With rolling hills traversing the 45th parallel between the insulating waters of Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay, the pinkie finger of Michigan is a natural site for thriving vineyards that dot the countryside.

But wine isn’t the only libation specialty in the Traverse City area. It’s also home to a growing collection of craft breweries, from the Leelanau Peninsula Traverse City Beer Weeksouth along the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and inland to the heart of Traverse City itself.

Leelanau, Benzie and Grand Traverse counties all rank among the top five in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula for number of breweries per capita. Plus, neighboring Antrim County, home of Short’s Brewing in Bellaire, produces the most beer per capita of any county in Michigan.

While you can find great craft brews all over the state, the Traverse City area has emerged as a must-visit destination for beer lovers. And fall is a great time to experience the flavors of northern Michigan craft beer, especially during Traverse City Beer Week, Nov. 8-15.

“Beer Week is a really cool time of year where it’s transitioning from fall to winter and you get to be outside still and really experience an Up North feel, and the breweries just enhance that,” said Troy Daily, a beer entrepreneur who partners with the area’s burgeoning beer scene to run events and services including Paddle for Pints, TC Brew Bus, TC Cycle Pub, TC Ale Trail and the Kayak, Bike & Brew.

“It creates a winning combination.”

RELATED: Top 10 things to do this fall in northern Michigan

The Traverse City area is home to 20 microbreweries including Short’s Brewing, which is the largest microbrewer in Michigan. (Only Bell’s Brewing in Kalamazoo and Founders Brewing in Grand Rapids produce more beer, so much that they no longer qualify as microbrewers.)

The region also features Right Brain Brewery in Traverse City and Stormcloud Brewing in Frankfort, both among the 50 largest microbrewers in the state. There’s also Mitten Brewing in Northport, Hop Lot Brewing in Suttons Bay, Lake Ann Brewing in Lake Ann and North Peak Brewing, Monkey Fist Brewing and Mackinaw Brewing in Traverse City. The list goes on.

You can try to visit them all this fall or check a few off your list during an upcoming weekend. Traverse City Beer Week offers a great opportunity to get a broad sampling.

“Beer Week really showcases that Traverse City is a beer destination with a lot of good breweries, not just one,” Daily said. “A lot of the breweries up here aren’t in distribution, so you have to come here in order to get their beer.”

Traverse City Beer Week features several events. Here’s the full schedule, with several highlights:

  • 6th Annual TC Ale Trail IPA Challenge – Who brews the best IPA in Traverse City? This blind taste test from 5:30-10 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, at The Little Fleet will decide. The competition will be judged by 200 beer lovers, and you could be one of them!
  • TCBW Kick Off Pub Crawl – Get Traverse City Beer Week off to a fast start from 6-10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8, by visiting a bunch of breweries right off the bat in downtown Traverse City. Walk your way from one brewery to the next and earn an official Pub Crawl t-shirt by visiting at
    Traverse City Beerd Run

    Photo courtesy of The Great Beerd Run

    least six of the participating locations.

  • 6th Annual Great Beerd Run 5K – Grow a beard (or tie one on) and enjoy on-course beer tastings during an untimed fun run 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa. After the race there will be live music and a Best Beard Costume.
  • 2019 Flapjack & Flannel Festival – Wear your flannels and enjoy more than 30 beers from a dozen Traverse City breweries paired with live music, games and, of course, pancakes! Each ticket is good for a couple drinks, one pancake and live music from local bands from noon to 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, at The Little Fleet.

 

When you go visit any of the Traverse City area’s breweries, go ahead and make a weekend out of it. Or sneak away in the middle of the week to enjoy the beauty of a northern Michigan fall before winter comes.

From scenic drives and roadside markets to incredible trails for hiking and biking, the Traverse City area has tons to do this time of year. Several places to stay are offering special Beer Week lodging packages with discounted rates, and they include a Traverse City logoed fanny pack stuffed with coupons, a Brew Tour Guide and package of pretzels to go with your beer.

Come taste for yourself why the Traverse City area is Michigan’s No. 1 region for craft brewing!

Traverse City Kayaking

Fall is full of opportunities for outdoor recreation in the Traverse City area. Mix in the region’s growing craft beer scene and you have the ingredients for ‘a winning combination’ you don’t want to miss.

Michigan’s beautiful fall: 6 ways to make the most of it in Ludington

fall in ludington, mi

Any time of year, the stretch of Lakeshore Drive north of downtown Ludington that winds along the shore of Hamlin Lake is a gorgeous drive. This time of year, it’s absolutely striking.

In fact, it’s one of the most scenic driving routes in the state for fall color, according to the County Road Association of Michigan.

Yet, it might not even be one of the top three fall color routes in Ludington.

fall cycling in ludington, mi

That’s because just a few minutes away in Ludington State Park are 20 miles of hiking trails through a forest ablaze with leaves of red, yellow and orange. At the Hamlin Lake Beach area of the state park, a four-mile canoe trail flows through lily pads along the tree-lined shore. And just a few minutes back toward town, in Cartier Park, there’s a single-track mountain bike trail that courses through the woods with views of Lincoln Lake.

Each of those routes offers a truly unique way to experience the bounty and beauty of Michigan’s fall color. And each one is better than the last.

The extraordinary mix of fall color and outdoor adventure is a big reason Michigan is one of the country’s Top 5 States to Visit in the Fall. And in no place is that combination more accessible than in Ludington, where you can take in fall colors by car, kayak, bike or hike – and still have time for dinner in town and a walk on the beach to soak in what makes perhaps the season’s best fall colors, a Lake Michigan sunset.

“Ludington offers a quintessential ‘Up North’ experience that is magical in the fall, whether enjoying it from your car on a color drive, your bicycle on a trail or your canoe on a river,” said Brandy Miller, executive director of the Ludington Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“Ludington and Mason County deliver the perfect combination of unspoiled natural resources and unrivaled outdoor recreation with quaint, small-town charm.”

Come see for yourself what makes Ludington so special in the fall. Here are six ways to experience the season like never before:

off road cycling in ludington, mi

Lost Lake-Island Trail Loop – Of the 20 miles of hiking trails in Ludington State Park, the two-mile Lost Lake-Island Trail Loop that follows the western shore of Hamlin Lake and traverses a scenic boardwalk is a sure bet for a feast of fall color. It’s a favorite of Ludington-based photographers Todd and Brad Reed, who always make time for this trail in October to scope out the perfect fall photo op.

Cartier Park Mountain Bike Trail – There are picturesque bike paths and trails in Ludington State Park, including a gravel road out to the iconic black-and-white-striped Big Sable Point lighthouse right on Lake Michigan. But the four-mile single-track dirt mountain biking trail in the city’s Cartier Park on Lincoln Lake may be the best place to go on two wheels. It’s safe for beginners and intermediate bikers, yet offers the option of a more challenging stretch for experienced riders. The trail in Cartier Park also connects through brief street rides and Memorial Tree Park Trail to the Ludington School Forest, making for about 10 miles of urban single-track in all.fishing in ludington, mi

Hamlin Lake Canoe Trail – Hamlin Lake is one of the larger inland lakes in Michigan, yet the four-mile canoe trail along the west shore of the lake feels more like a river as you paddle through lily pads and reeds on a trip that can last one to three hours, depending on the wind. Ludington also is home to the magnificent Pere Marquette River, with many opportunities to put in a kayak or canoe for a water-level perspective on the stunning fall colors – and many chances to see wildlife.

Steelhead fishing – Speaking of the Pere Marquette River, there’s no better place to be this time of year for fishing. Not only is Ludington the top salmon port on Lake Michigan, but it’s also home to 40 inland lakes and 2,000 miles of trout streams. The Pere Marquette is a designated national scenic river that flows for 66 miles with legendary steelhead runs each fall. Come on over in your own boat or hire a charter captain to show you the ropes.

Mason County Agricultural TrailIf you don’t fancy fish, then how about fruit?

apple picking ludington, mi

Christofferson Farms is one of several U-pick orchards and farms in the Ludington area where you can spend a couple hours taking part in the bounty of Michigan’s annual harvest. If you’re more into maple syrup, then check out Kistlercrest Farms. And if you like jam, be sure to visit the Jam Farm and try some of the 30-plus varieties of homemade fruit spreads from Ludington’s own “Jam Lady.” Those are just a few of the stops you can make along Ludington’s Agricultural Trail this fall.

Halloween Fun – Although it’s called the Haunted Village, the family-friendly trick-or-treating event at Historic White Pine Village isn’t really spooky. But there is a lot of costumes and candy! Ditto for the Haunted Hayride at Cartier Park Campground, which features apple cider, wagon rides and a scary movie. The October calendar of events in Ludington also includes the Spooky Slow Roll bike ride, downtown trick-or-treating and a West Shore Community College Theater presentation of “Frankenstein.” Plan your weekend around one or more of these unique events.

However you choose to experience fall in Ludington, be sure to take advantage of seasonal lodging specials. Many places to stay including hotels and B&Bs are offering half-off a second night’s stay Sunday through Thursday in October.

 

Project 1 by ArtPrize: Ideas to explore, experience and personalize your public art discovery

Project 1 logo

Walking across the city’s iconic Blue Bridge, the sounds jumping from the speakers installed by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer are mind-bending at first. Mixed messages looping as visitors traverse the Grand River are intensified by more than 400 flashing lights that overload the senses.

Slow down and the realization comes that the Voice Bridge installation at Project 1 by ArtPrize is simply bringing part of the cacophony, and also the fleeting nature, of urban life to the forefront.

Lozano-Hemmer invites visitors to record a short voice message into intercoms at either end of the bridge and then follow it down the path. The messages weave and bump into earlier voices until they disappear and are replaced by others.

Is it a metaphor for life’s ephemeral nature? Or something else?

That’s what Project 1: Crossed Lines wants you to think about and determine on your own.

The evolution of ArtPrize to Project 1: Crossed Lines has allowed organizers to deepen the significance of art by creating a theme that serves as an inspiration for the pieces while also examining critical issues. Crossed Lines looks at how boundaries, both visible and invisible, affect a sense of belonging that can unite or divide the city.

Kevin Buist, artistic director of ArtPrize, says the lines contribute to or detract from people’s sense of belonging.

“Some of these lines are clear: neighborhoods, wards, roads, and rivers,” Buist wrote in his essay launching Project 1. “Other lines are harder to see: the legacy of redlining and other discriminatory housing practices; the way perceptions of safety map onto city space; the limitations imposed by the built environment on persons with disabilities; the shifting implicit borders that come with cycles of urban decay, development, and gentrification; and more.”

With time running out to experience the first-ever Project 1 – the public art exhibition ends Oct. 27 – it’s time to take stock of the installations that are available and how to explore the public art that has transformed Grand Rapids, and potentially the people who experience it.

Voice-Bridge-by-Rafael-Lozano-HemmerLozano-Hemmer’s use of the bridge provides the first opportunity at introspection. Bridges by their nature create connections and cross lines, in this case from the downtown to the west side of Grand Rapids. He uses proprietary interactive technology to create harmony but also what could be viewed as a disconnect because there is not a cohesive message.

Project 1’s questions to consider as you examine Voice Bridge:

  • Why does the invitation to participate generate belonging, community and ownership?
  • Why do you think the artist chose this location for his work?
  • What is the bridge connecting and what does it represent?
  • How does Voice Bridge address ideas about physical access, power and belonging in the city?

Kaleidoscopic

Amanda Browder’s textile installations are the only element featured at all three of Kaleidoscope, Project 1 by ArtprizetheProject 1 locations, downtown over skywalks, draping the community center at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, and at the Tanglefoot building.

She engages the community by wrapping areas where people move through daily life and where they congregate. Volunteers sewed donated fabric for weeks to create the intricate, colorful designs that change the appearance of otherwise drab cityscapes. From different angles – consider walking through the skywalk links and then observe them from the outside – the installations have varying perspectives.

Project 1’s questions to consider as you examine Kaleidoscopic:

  • Do you think the colors and variety of the fabric are important in the artwork?
  • Do you have clothes, flags or fabric that represents a community you belong to? How would you feel if that fabric was in the installation?
  • How has this work transformed the building it occupies?

The Oracle of the Soulmates

Heather Hart created submerged rooftops, complete with shingles and dormer windows, that look like they were dropped from the sky. The rooftops refer to home, stability or shelter. Hart speaks about the rooftops as thresholds between public and private space. Combined with family and oral histories, and activated by performance, her work explores the power these thresholds have in our lives.

Installed in Rosa Park Circle downtown and in Martin Luther King Jr. Park on the city’s Project 1 by Artprize, rooftopsSoutheast Side, the pieces can foster conversations about housing, hopes and dreams and the often unequal playing fields various socio-economic and demographic groups experience while trying to achieve stability.

Project 1’s questions to consider as you examine The Oracle of the Soulmates:

  • How does this work showcase the community it is in?
  • How does it create a space for storytelling?
  • What space do you experience storytelling in your community?
  • If this sculpture was in your neighborhood, what stories, songs or performances do you think would be shared from the rooftops?

The Boom and the Bust

The 25-foot sculpture created by Olalekan Jeyifous rises from the ground at the corner of Louis Street and Monroe Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids. The installation

The Boom and Bust, Project 1 by Artprize

referencing the balance of urban life, growth sought for vibrant cityscapes but an economic boom that often leads to individual displacement. Jeyifous researched the recent history of housing in Grand Rapids. By combining references to skyscrapers and single-family houses, he shows how the energy that continues to transform Grand Rapids has far-reaching impact and implications.

The piece is comprised of three sections, a base resembling a single home, a middle that features a steel lattice supporting an array of small homes, and a top that resembles a skyscraper.

Project 1’s questions to consider as you examine The Boom and the Bust:

  • How does this sculpture reflect the Grand Rapids community and families that live here?
  • Why do you think the artist chose the city’s downtown for this work?
  • If it was hard for you to find a place to live in a community, would you still feel welcomed?

Critical Infrastructure

With the site-specific architectural installation at the landmark Tanglefoot Building, a Critical Infrastructure, Project 1 by Artprizeformer industrial flypaper manufacturing site now repurposed to house artists’ studios, Paul Amenta and Ted Lott transform a private space into a fully accessible public space through a series of ramps and landings. In collaboration with DisArt, an arts and culture organization that focuses on creating public art events that cultivate and communicate a disabled culture, the environment addresses accessibility in both form and function. The work creates a stage for action and expression.

Project 1’s questions to consider as you examine Critical Infrastructure:

  • How has this installation transformed the space it occupies?
  • How does the piece advocate for the disabled community?
  • Why are performance, storytelling and community engagement important elements to this work?

As Buist sums up in his essay defining Project 1, the art is organized around the idea of belonging and how individuals react or interpret that feeling.

“Belonging is a state of being, so these artworks are places to be, not just things to look at and think about,” he wrote. “It’s our hope that Project 1 does much more than communicate an idea; we hope it can alter and reorganize the city, breach borders, cross paths, blur boundaries, and point toward a future city where we all belong.”

Learn more about Project 1 by visiting the art exhibition’s website.

Son succeeds father as CEO of nation’s largest state retail association

Bill Hallan, James P. Hallan, Gov. James Blanchard, Janet Blanchard

Already two decades ago, Bill Hallan was helping merchants all across Michigan. He spent a summer in college going from store to store, installing or reprogramming standalone credit card terminals that would dial out over a telephone line.

The job often would take about a half hour, and Hallan would pass the time talking to shop owners about the values of the Michigan Retailers Association (MRA) and thanking them for being members.

“It really gave me the opportunity to see the business from the ground up,” he said. “It was great to see the members in their shops and provide a valuable service to them.”

Turns out that was good preparation because Hallan, now 37, is helping Michigan retailers with credit card processing and much more now that he has taken over as the MRA’s new president and CEO.

But his training for the role actually began even earlier, as a child. After all, the longtime MRA executive that he’s succeeding is James P. Hallan, his father.

James Hallan had been CEO of the MRA since 2008, and his recent retirement concluded his tenure that dates back to 1985 when Bill was just a toddler. As a result, Bill Hallan literally grew up around retailers. He met MRA board members and staff during his childhood and, as he got older, started picking his dad’s brain about things happening at work.

After going to school at Denison University in Ohio and graduating magna cum laude from the University of Toledo College of Law, Bill Hallan worked as a litigator. Then, he joined the MRA in 2011 as vice president and general counsel and has worked alongside his dad since then.

“I’ve basically grown up with Michigan Retailers in my life, for my entire life, so I hold it close to my heart,” Bill Hallan said. “My dad’s been a role model to me, and to watch him handle his role here as CEO with such integrity, and to grow the association to new heights through his vision, has been a great learning experience for me.

“It’s an incredible honor to follow his lead.”

RELATED: Jim Hallan: MRA’s President and CEO reflects on his 34-year career

MRA Mascot

Keep an eye out for the Buy Nearby Guy when you’re out shopping at local Michigan retailers. ‘The local retailers are the ones who support the community pancake breakfast, the spaghetti dinner, the local sports team. They give jobs to our neighbors,’ Bill Hallan said. ‘It’s good for all of us to buy nearby because we all want that vibrant downtown, that sense of community.”

The MRA was organized in 1940, long before either Bill or James Hallan became leaders. It was created to be an advocate and trusted resource for the retail industry in Michigan, and that mission continues today as the MRA has grown into the largest state retail association in the entire country with more than 5,000 members representing over 15,000 stores and Web sites.

Of course, the ways the MRA supports Michigan retailers has changed through the years. For example, the MRA in 1969 became the first non-bank Independent Sales Organization (ISO) to offer credit card services. Today, the MRA processes about $1.4 billion in credit card transactions each year in all 50 states.

The MRA also provides members with insurance options including health, dental and workers’ compensation. Its staff runs educational seminars and workshops, and does legislative advocacy on issues such as Main Street Fairness.

Plus, the MRA promotes shopping local through its Buy Nearby campaign that includes an annual statewide celebration of Michigan retailing. This year’s Buy Nearby Weekend is Oct. 4-6.

Basically, the MRA is a “one-stop shop” for Michigan retailers to find support that keeps the industry – and the communities in our state – strong.

“As a small retailer you’re out there by yourself, so being part of a larger group gives you a huge voice to speak from,” said Rick Melahn, a longtime MRA member who owned a store in downtown Saugatuck and now is retail manager at Impression 5 Science Center in Lansing, which features a large toy store.

“When you’re out there as a consumer you do have a lot of options today. But I think the bottom line is that the MRA helps to support that idea of keeping your dollars in the Keep your money in the mitten info boxcommunity, and that’s what Buy Nearby is all about. You’re helping support the shop owners to stay in that community and be a vital part of that community.”

The retail industry changed significantly on James Hallan’s watch, with the emergence of big-box stores and the rise of online retailing. Then there was the Great Recession through the end of the last decade that hit Michigan particularly hard.

As James Hallan would often say, “the only constant is change.” In response, the MRA has been nimble through the years and proactively met the needs of members by helping retailers all over Michigan adapt to changing trends, new technology, digital marketing and more.

Now, as Bill Hallan takes charge, “his challenge will be the challenge that I faced: the changing retail and regulatory environment,” says his dad. Yet, the mission remains the same – to help Michigan’s retailers thrive, so that the communities in our state can prosper.

“If we’re always thinking local first, then we’re always benefitting Michigan before we’re benefitting out-of-state retailers that aren’t invested here,” Bill Hallan said.

“I love when my kids are playing on a sports team and I see on the back of their jersey all the sponsors from local shops. My family frequents those shops on a regular basis because I know they’re invested in our town, they’re invested in Michigan and they will be invested in our future.”