Local First celebrates a vibrant local business community


Photo by Brittany Beezhold

Exposed, raw wooden ceilings stretched out wide, restored wooden floors with the character of an old familiar face, a raised pond of Koi fish varying in brilliant orange hues. Stepping through the double doors of the Goei Center, warm earth tones, delicious smells and lively chatter greeted guests. At 5 p.m., business owners, brewers, bakers, chefs and farmers gathered with the guests in the Goei Center’s airy spaces.

While the eclectic tunes from the live band The Wealthy Orphans flowed through the room, guests mingled and tasted the food and drink generously provided by Bistro Bella Vita, Connie’s Cakes, Grand Rapids Cheesecake Company, Lubbers Family Farm, MadCap Coffee Company, San Chez Bistro, The Starving Artist, Trillium Haven and Twisted Rooster.

From delicate cheeses and chutney or heavenly gourmet macaroni cheese to decadent miniature cupcakes to Founder’s pale ale or Lake Effect Blend brewed MadCap coffee to honey soy glazed tofu and root vegetables, the sampling of Grand Rapids’ finest local food sponsors delighted attenders and sparked conversations on the topics of sustainability.

At 6:30 p.m., guests gathered and sat in anticipation for the opening remarks, the 2013 State of the Local address and the LocalMotion Awards presentation. Local First Board member Chris Lampen-Crowell started the evening with great enthusiasm.

“There is a buzz going around west Michigan. A local buzz,” Lampen-Crowell said. “And that buzz is Grand Rapids. This place matters.”

Lampen-Crowell described the growth of Local First. Starting with only a small handful of members, Local First has grown into a force of 600 members, all passionately pursuing the support of local food, sounds and products.

Following Lampen-Crowell’s opening remarks, Elissa Hillary, the Executive Director of Local First, came to the podium to deliver an analysis of the progress made in 2012.

“We’re here to celebrate our community. We’re here to celebrate each other. And we’re here especially to celebrate some really amazing businesses and individuals,” Hillary said.

“We come together once a year at this annual meeting to report to you our members, our community, our stakeholders what we’re doing. And share this past year’s efforts and the ways that we’re helping build our collective dream together and to imagine what can be.”

“So we know some things about local businesses. I’m preaching to the choir here,” Hillary said with a smile. “We know that locally owned businesses create good jobs. Local businesses create revitalized business districts.”

“This is Cherry Street. In the last ten years, Cherry Street has gone from a place that had fences around that maybe no one wanted to walk past to the most hopping place in town. It’s incredible.”

Hillary also recalled a story of a team member who expressed the joys of thinking locally.

“I now feel like when I go do what would normally be transactions, these everyday things that we all have to do, I now have a relationship with the person behind the counter,” Hillary said. “I feel like I’m part of the community. It makes me happy to be in a place where I can think local first.”

After reviewing 2012 at a glance (including the Balle Conference, the 9th Annual Local First Street Party, the Eat Local Challenge and the Holiday Campaign), Hillary reviewed the aspects of involvement within the Local First community. With a drastic increase in media coverage and successful online presence, Hillary emphasized how local businesses form the art of making things possible.

Craig Clark and Emily Loeks, both Local First board members, followed Hillary’s 2013 Local First Address with the anticipated announcement of LocalMotion awards.

With over 100 nominations, the awards committee dedicated time and effort in considering the winners of the six awards. Awards were presented to the following winners:

LINC Community Revitalization — The Change Agent Award.
Founder’s Brewery —  The Best Longstanding Business Award.
Brewery Vivant — Best Up and Coming Business Award.
Christine Helms-Maletic — The Mover and Shaker Award.
Jaye Van Lenten — The Guy Bazzani Local Legacy Award.

A representative for each award came forward and was presented with a black and white photograph by Jonathan Stoner Photography and Frames Unlimited.

The evening concluded with gratitude to the sponsors of the event, the Local First Staff, the Goei Center and the supporters of the vibrant local business community of Grand Rapids.