Tag Archives: Grand Rapids

West Michigan & The Hardware Store – Take a Walk Down the Aisle

Hardware StoreMaybe you only visit your small local one, or perhaps you prefer the big box one, whichever type of hardware store you choose you’d be able to find an interesting array of West Michigan made products. With West Michigan’s manufacturing footprint, it is only logical that there are many local businesses that are filling the shelves at hardware stores. So lets take a nice virtual trip through a hardware store and see what we can find.

Usually the most brightly lit part of the store is the paint section. Although this company isn’t actually selling consumers anything, they have quite the presence at the paint counter. X-Rite is a company that produces color measurement equipment and software. They manufacture paint matching equipment called spectrophotometers (spectro), allowing hardware stores and paint stores to match the color of anything a consumer brings in, giving you a can of paint in the exact same color of your sample. So next time you are at a paint counter take a look around and see if you can spot the spectro.

Now, the one thing that you always need MITmore of and never have enough of are tools. Hardware stores are the perfect spot to add to your collection or get that one tool you just need to finish your project. Luckily Michigan Industrial Tools based in Grand Rapids produces over 2,000 different types of tools under 3 sub brands  – Tekton, Maxcraft, and Workshop. I will also have to say that I am quite the fan of their logo with how they still worked in an “I” and a “T” in the “M”, very subtle but well done.

Another company with a lot of sub-brands is National Nail Corporation in Wyoming. Although they do offer numerous nails, the company is really staking themselves on the following two sub-brands – CAMO Fasteners and Stinger Cap Systems. The CAMO Fasteners system is a way to screw down lumber decking without having the screws showing, a hidden screw system (the video showcases it quite nicely.) Stinger Caps is a new way of attaching insulation wrap on new construction which seems a lot easier than a nail hammer.

Since we just got done talking about decks and hidden fastening systems, we might as well go to the lumber yard. Universal Forest Products based in Grand Rapids, produces lumber for decking, and almost every other use, in additUniversal-Forest-Products-Inc.ion to a wide range of other wood based products. If you have any more questions you might as well spend some time playing around in their little city program here.

hexarmor-logoPerhaps these two should go hand in hand. We have Grand Rapids based Hexarmor who produces gloves, armbands, and other apparel for personal protection against cuts, punctures, and other injuries. Their technology is a competitor of Kevlar and they have been getting into similar industries, and their focus is on protecting people. Klever Innovations located in Grand Haven developed a new type of box cutter called the Klever Cutter. This box cutter was created in response to 9/11 because the traditional box cutter being used as a weapon. The group that founded Klever Cutter set up to create a product that would open boxes, but would not cut the anyone, or damage the goods inside the box. So with the Klever Cutter you wouldn’t need a pair of Hexarmor gloves now would you?

Shuffling over to the home improvement area, we have some redundancy with the following two products Quick Door Hanger and EZ-Hang, (though if I had been “klever” I would have worked both of these companies into my last post). Both these products allow for quick, easy and plumb door installations. Quick Door Hanger is produced by Express Products located in Grandville. The EZ-Hang door is based in Hesperia. Express Products also produces the Fix-A-Kink product that helps fixed kinked hoses. It seems that they have found quite the niche with home improvement products for consumers.

Alright logograbber75we made it through the store, now its time to checkout. But even the checkout aisle has a few impulse items for us to look at. Especially in the fall and winter season you will be seeing many displays for hand warmers like Grabber (not at all fond of the name) based in Grand Rapids. There is an extensive write up in Rapid Growth about how they are more than just hand warmers and how the company got started.

Lastly, who couldn’t use a pair of new shades, that is where Global Vision of Byron Center comes in. They are a wholesaler of sunglasses, safety glasses, and goggles which are perfect for the hardware store. Interesting side note, apparently both Global Vision and Grabbers have the same marketing person – Matt Pickel. Someone needs to update their website.

We finally got out of the store, except now we have a cart full of stuff that we didn’t come in here to buy. Oh well that is how it usually works anyways.  So what did I miss? Do we need to go to the home and garden section next?

Gone But Not Forgotten Part 3

Well enough of the history lesson, lets focus on the present.  Right now West Michigan area has a small amount of minor league teams:

Grand Rapids
– West Michigan Whitecaps – Baseball
– Grand Rapids Griffins – Hockey

Muskegon
– Muskegon Lumberjacks – Hockey

Kalamazoo
– Kalamazoo K-Wings – Hockey

That isn’t much, especially considering that Grand Rapids was once known as “The Nation’s premiere minor-league destination” during the 1990’s, according to Grand Rapids Press sports writer David Mayo.  Consider that in 2011 Grand Rapids was ranked as 178th on the Sports Business Journal’s list of the Top Minor League Market.  Back in 2005 Grand Rapids was listed as high as 25th, though losing the Grand Rapids Rampage was a large cause for the drop. Even more shockingly is that back in 1997 Grand Rapids was ranked as one of the top ten markets with sufficient capacity for a potential expansion NBA team by the American City Business Journal.

So what happened West Michigan?  Why have so many teams failed, especially after becoming a premiere minor league destination.  It’s obvious that hockey is king in Michigan, and with the Grand Rapids Griffins winning the 2013 Turner Cup, I can only see them getting more popular in the region. In addition being an affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, greatly helps legitimatize the Griffins and helps Red Wing fans in this region have a stronger tie to the Red Wings.  Some of the other hockey teams in the also have some affiliation, like the Kalamazoo K-Wings are like a AA affiliate to the Chicago Wolves (AAA) who are then an affiliate of the Vancuver Canucks (a NHL Hockey Team).  Whereas the Muskegon Lumberjacks are just located in a type of player development league without any professional team affiliation.

But what about the national pastime of baseball?  Baseball has  had a particularly long and sad history in Grand Rapids until 1994 when the Whitecaps finally starting playing.  The Whitecaps seem to be doing well in West Michigan, and one potential cause for this could also be that they are a minor league affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. This is a genius idea of both the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers to base at least one of their minor league teams on the west side of the state, instead of having the team in some far away state.  It’s a great way to build up fan support, and give people a connection to the professional team on the other side of the state.

One of my theories on why many minor league teams did not last in the region has to do with West Michigan’s love affair with high school sports. As a transplant to this region I was absolutely shocked, and dumbfounded by the attention that high school sports garnered, in the media, in the community, and in everything.  It blew my mind that high school sports got any attention on regional news broadcasts, and front page treatment on sports sections in the newspapers, and even their own tv shows after the evening news.  Even after living in the region for over 8 years I am still surprised by the attention high school sports get. Now granted I may change my tune in 10 years if my children start playing competitive sports in High School, but for right now I am sticking with my original convictions.  Thinking about high school sports, I find that they would be competing for the same time and money that minor league sports would from potential fans/consumers.  Attendance to high school sporting events, require admission fees, food vendor sales, same evening time-slots, especially on weekends.  So minor league teams have to compete against normal time and money commitments of fans, but also against even more convenient sports entertainment from the local high school teams.

I most likely guilty as anyone for not supporting the teams that we do have.  I can probably count on my hands how many games I have been too since moving to West Michigan, and to date I have only seen the Holland Blast, West Michigan Whitecaps, and Grand Rapids Griffins play.  Though it would be nice to have a nice constant presence of some other teams like in basketball or soccer… you know to give me and the family options on a Friday night…at least until the kids are in high school.

Any other thoughts on theories on the lack of success of minor league sports in West Michigan? Let me know.

Part III in our series on defunct sports teams in West Michigan –
Click here for Part I
Click here for Part II

Gone But Not Forgotten – Part 2

Part II in our series on defunct sports teams in West Michigan – Click here for Part I ,

Hockey

Finally we will start talking about the sport that is near many West Michiganders hearts… hockey.  Michigan is a hockey mad state, and the West Side is no different.  Looking through the list of defunct teams you see a great number of them were hockey clubs.  It also wouldn’t surprise anyone that one of the two remaining minor league sports teams left Grand Rapids is a hockey team, the Griffins.

One of the oldest hockey teams that I could find in the area wasn’t in Grand Muskegon RedsRapids but in Muskegon.  The Muskegon Reds played from 1935 to 1938 in the Michigan Ontario Hockey League.  They played in the Mart Auditorium along with another team the Muskegon Sailors (who started in 1938).  Another interesting note is that the Chicago Blackhawks used The Mart as their preseason training facility.

Grand Rapids would get its team, the Rockets, in 1949 and they would go until 1956Rockets playing in The Stadium Arena, which is now known as the DeltaPlex. The Rockets left Grand Rapids in 1956 and moved to Huntington, West Virginia ( a hockey hotbed) and became the Hornets.

Zephyr Gas Can60_35One of the longest tenured teams in West Michigan was located in Muskegon.  The Muskegon Zephyrs started in 1960 and different variations of this team existed until 1992 (those they did change names quite frequently).  Zephyrs were owned by Jerry Delise, and they got their name from sponsor Zephyr Oil Co. of North Muskegon.  They even won the IHL championship in 1962. For the 1965-1966 season the Zephyrs renamed themselves and became the Mohawks.  They Muskegon_Mohawks_(IHL)_logoremained the Mohawks until 1984-1985 season when the team was sold to a new ownership group for $1, and then they became the Lumberjacks who played until 1992, before moving to Cleveland. But that was not last of the Lumberjacks in Muskegon, oh no… the Lumberjacks never die and rise again harder and stronger. The name was re-used twice.  The 1st time the Muskegon Fury took the name after the Lumberjacks left town, but they eventually relocated as well, moving to Evansville for the 2010-2011 season.  This Lumberjack vacancy was soon filled because Rochester Mustangs moved to Muskegon and became the new Lumberjacks who are still currently playing in the new USHL (a reincarnation of the past league).  No wonder it took me so long to write this post, its quite confusing with the teams coming and going, and keeping the same name, crazy ole Lumberjacks.

Grand Rapids BladesOne of the unfortunate realities of many of these teams is that they often only play for one season and then they disband or relocate.  Such was the case with the Grand Rapids Blades who played for the 1976-1977 season, and even won the USHL championship, then they ceased to exist.  Ready for a rabbit hole?  Ok in more recent history there was another Blades team, but this time located in Kansas City and they belonged in the IHL from 1990 to 2001.  Tying this back to West Michigan, guess who owned the Kansas City Blades, that’s right The Ledger favorite family… the DeVos’.  They purchased the team in 1996, the family also owned the Grand Rapids Griffins and the Orlando Solar Bears as well.  The wikipedia article on the Blades states that the DeVos family rather quickly became the fans enemies, with a series of changes they made, and how they attempted to move the Blades to Oklahoma City.

Give A Hoot!

Give A Hoot!

For all the teams that were born in Grand Rapids, and then migrated elsewhere, the Grand Rapids Owls were one club that did the opposite.  They started out as the Dayton Owls and they moved to Grand Rapids mid-season in 1977.  They lasted until 1980, when they disbanded the club due to financial reasons, and not being able to get a new stadium to play in.  The redundantly named Stadium Arena (now known as the DeltaPlex) was their home ice stadium, they missed out on the Van Andel arena by 16 years. Though Grand Rapids did miss some infamy by a couple of months, because one of the Owls players, Raymond William (Wild Willie) Trognitz was permanently suspended from the IHL, when during a brawl against the Port Huron Flags, Trognitz took his stick and struck it against a Flags player’s head, putting that player in the hospital.  The reason Grand Rapids escaped the infamy, because the team was still the Dayton Owls the time.

ggrizz2- jerseyShortly after the Owls closed up shop, the Grand Rapids Grizzlies took to the ice from 1980 to 1982 for the Continental Hockey League (not to be confused with the Russian version.

Then finally in 1996, the Van Andel Arena was built, and shortly there after Dave Van Andel and Dan DeVos formed West Michigan Hockey, Inc. which was able to bring the Griffins into town.  They effectively solved the problem of a lack of a stadium in Grand Rapids, which brought an end to the Owls.

Then there is roller hockey.  Apparently West Michigan had its own league eloquently named Michigan Elite Roller Hockey League.  In 2001 this league merged with the National Roller Hockey League (love cached websites!)  West Michigan was littered with the following roller hockey teams: Grandville Gators, Grand Rapids RiverFrogs, Kalamazoo Jones Soda (blatant copyright infringement), and Muskegon Comets.  Looks like there might have also been a Lansing Wild Cocks team, and the Kalamazoo team may have changed its name to the Warriors.

Soccer

Perhaps unsurprisingly it’s been tough to dig up much information on soccer in West Michigan.  Grand Rapids had a team called the Explosion and Kalamazoo had a couple of teams one indoor team called the Kangaroos and an outdoor team called the Kingdom.

Well time to come clean, I am stretching this series into a three part-er.  So in the next installment I will be exploring some reasons why so many of these teams have come and gone in West Michigan.

Once again feel free to share any stories you have about these teams, or any pictures or anything else.

Part II in our series on defunct sports teams in West Michigan
Click here for Part I
Click here for Part III

Gone But Not Forgotten – Defunct Sports Teams of West Michigan – Part 1

Part I in our series on defunct sports teams in West Michigan – Click here for Part II

A blending of passions always yields some interesting results.  And recently I started blending two of my passions – sports and history.  Makes perfect sense right?  Fatigued with the high school sports (which after 7 years the local fanaticism, and hype still baffles me), and not really feeling the Griffins and Whitecaps, I started looking for something else.  Some how I stumbled into the world of defunct pro/semi-pro teams that once were.  Trust me there is a lot.  Many of these teams only competed for a year or two, and then they either moved to a different city, closed up shop, or their league folded.  Learning more about these teams and their history has been fascinating.  These teams covered the gamut of sports from baseball, football, basketball, soccer, and hockey.  Not only were these teams located in Grand Rapids, but there have been many teams that had homes in the smaller cities in West Michigan like Holland, and Muskegon.

It’s amazing how you start researching one aspect of this sports world and it starts unraveling more and more, such as the teams they played against, their leagues, and if your lucky you might also find photos of players, of the team, logos and if your lucky the stories.
Take for instance the Holland Oilers, which was a basketball team that played for two seasons in the Midwest Professional Basketball League in 1962-63 to 1963-1964 and even won the championship in 62-63 season.  The Oilers also had the first ever high school player drafted ever by the NBA, play for them as well.  The player’s name was Reggie Harding, and his fascinating, yet quite sad and tragic story can be read in full here.  Another interesting connection is that the Holland Oilers were coached angtacker1d co-owned by Gene Schrotenboer, and Gene also coached and co-owned the Grand Rapids Tackers, another Midwest Professional Basketball League team.  I have no idea how you can coach two different teams in the same league but yeah it was the 60’s, I guess anything can happen.  It’s difficult to find a lot info on the Tackers, but you can read more in the book “Thin Ice: Coming of Age in Grand Rapids” where a whole chapter is devoted to the team, check out the excerpt here.

Basketball in West Michigan also has a much more recent history as well – teams Grand Rapids Mackerslike the Grand Rapids Mackers turned Grand Rapids Hoops, turned West Michigan Mayhem.  Does anyone else remember the team travel bus of the Mayhem? I have fond memories of that bus rolling down the highway with its huge gaudy “wave” looking mascot guy emblazoned on the side.  It always resulted in a few double-takes.  What I find fascinating is GrandRapidsHoops8994the amount of success that the Hoops had when they started, and what happened to lead them to disband in 2003.  All mentions of the Hoops in local media state that the Hoops were quite successful early on in their career both with their playing and with attendance MichiganMayhemand fan support, so what happened?  How come they left town and ultimately disbanded?  I will be exploring this topic and writing down my thoughts on it in a future installment of this series.  That’s right Part 1 and 2 or maybe even 3.

More recently within the past 5 years Holland Blast, and Grand Rapids Flight  came into existence and just as quickly they left, Holland in 2007, and Grand Rapids in 2008.  The Flight also have the distinction of having the world’s tallest athlete on their roster with Sun Mingming.  Anyone see any games of the Flight with Sun Mingming playing? Here is an image below.  Living in Holland we did end up supporting the Blast.  It was a nice activity in the city and we attended a handful of games, and even got a T-shirt from the Blast.  Recently I just found out that Holland is home now to another basketball team, the Holland Dream though their season just ended a couple weeks ago. Hopefully, I will catch them next year, if they are still around.

So that was a little trip down in basketball history, how about we talk about our national past time – baseball.  Luckily, the West Michigan Whitecaps provide a nice little section on their website about the baseball history in this region. Baseball was played in Grand Rapids as early as 1882, and throughout the years many teams came and went and here are some of the notable names that were left behind:

  • Furniture Makers
  • Rustlers
  • Gold Bugs
  • Ganzeloids
  • Braves
  • Black Sox
  • Bissell Sweepers
  • Bill-Eds
  • Billberts
  • Billbobs
  • Bob-o-Links
  • Dodger Colts
  • Chicks
  • Orphans
  • Tigers
  • Cabinet Makers
  • Sullivans
  • Raiders
  • Jets
  • Joshers
  • Shamrocks
  • Wolverines
  • Champs
  • Raiders
  • Colts
  • Boers
  • Homoners
  • Grads
  • Rippers

The Jets dropping some bombs!

Those are some wild names, especially all the “Bill” & “Bob” names, not to mention the early corporate sponsorship with Bissell, and their product tie with the “sweeper” name.  As you could image it is hard to focus on all these teams so let’s pick out a couple of interesting ones to look at further.  For instance, the Grand Rapids Black Sox, featured future Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige who played for the team.  The owner of the Black Sox formed the team and tried to get them to join the Negro Leagues in 1953.  The Grand Rapids Chicks were a all girls baseball team that moved from Milwaukee to play in Grand Rapids from 1945 to 1954 in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. They were quite successful making the playoffs every single year that they were in Grand Rapids until the league folded. The Grand Rapids Historical Commission did a nice write-up on the Chicks.

The Chicks of course provide a great tie-in to my alma mater, University of Illinois at Chicago – UIC who in their earlier days were known as the Chikas (which was a Native American tribe) before they changed their name to the Flames (better).  Another baseball team playing in that same decade, was the Grand Rapids was the Jets.  They played in the Central League from 1948 to 1951, and played at Bigelow Field in Wyoming, who you can see in the above image doing some long toss.

Ottawa County Times Baseball Team picture

I guess they could have also played for the “Cot”s

Digging further back into the archives we can look at some teams in Holland that were operating back in the 1890’s – The Ottawa County Times, which sounds more like a newspaper than a baseball squad, but as we can see from the Grand Rapids names from this era of baseball anything goes.  Some other baseball teams that played in

Holland were the Internationals, Wooden Shoes

Who played domestically

The Holland Internationals – Who played domestically

(of course), and Flying Dutchmen (naturally).  With all this history of baseball in Holland, there is some basis for trying to bring back a minor league team to Holland.  It seems like there were a large number of teams all over West Michigan playing baseball. I am trying to learn more about them and plan to do so with this book “Baseball Fever: Early Baseball in Michigan

One other baseball note I wanted to see if I could get some follow-up on is the West Michigan Whitecaps “Turn Back the Clock” days they have done in the past. Per their website they did the following games where they honored these past teams and wore their uniforms:

  • 1899 Furnituremakers
  • 1903 Orphans
  • 1921 Joshers
  • 1922 Billbobs
  • 1948 Black Sox
  • 1950 Jets
  • Holland Flying Dutchmen
  • Ludington Mariners

So if you have attended any of these games or have photos of the players in the jerseys, I would love to hear from you or see the photos.

Football was also quite prevalent.  In the 1940’s there was the Michigan Independent Football League, which featured the Holland Hurricanes, and the Grand Rapids All-Stars. Holland Hurricanes Football Programs Some other teams found on the a game program, I dug out for the Hurricanes were the Ionia Independents, Highland Park Bears.  Around that time there was also a Southern Michigan Football League for which there is a nice little write up about the Bay City team, and some of the other teams in that league.

In much more recent years, there was the Michigan Football League, which has somehow been miraculously preserved with this fine website on the league and its teams   at http://www.semiprofootball.org/mfl.htm. I wish all these leagues had such a detailed website available about them.  You can read up more on the Grand Rapids Crush (which could have very well been the soda), and other MFL teams, like the Huskies.  I love the progression of the Holland Huskies though, they started out as the Hamilton Huskies in 94, then in 95 they moved to Holland to become the Holland Huskies, then in 1999 they moved to Grand Rapids and became the Michigan Huskies.  For me it just strikes me as odd that a team would start out in Hamilton of all cities.  Another team located in the city was the Grand Rapids Thunder, which was founded in 2003, but no longer seems to be in existence.

Well I think that is enough for now, next post we will take a closer look at hockey and touch upon soccer, and look into why minor league teams succeed or fail in West Michigan.

So did I interest you?  Do you have anything to share?  Have you been to any games, do you have any photos or additional information about these teams or any other teams that I didn’t mention?  Please share – post them in the comments or shot me an email at ledgerwm @ gmail.com.  I am extremely interested in learning more so anything you got, let me know. Let’s do a better job of preserving and sharing this piece of local sports history, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Part I in our series on defunct sports teams in West Michigan – Click here for Part II

Generic… err Private Label Manufacturing in West Michigan

As discussed in a past post, West Michigan with its rich Dutch heritage has a reputation of being cheap. One thing that exemplifies the perception of cheap is the store brands or private labels products you can purchase in stores right along side the name brand products. You know the Meijer peanut butter, Spartan Stores frozen broccoli, or Walgreen’s toothbrushes. Almost every store has a complete offering of products with their store brand emblazoned on the product, and it is generally cheaper than the name brand version sitting right next to it. Well it shouldn’t surprise anyone that West Michigan is home to a number of these private label manufacturers making a wide array of products to sell to consumers with a store brand name on the packaging. Here is a list I have compiled, so lets get rolling!

Cheeze Kurls – But not only do they make Cheeze Kurls, but they also make balls, puffs, pops, fries, nuggets, pieces, among other delicious products. So while you might see their own brand on the shelves but most likely some of the store brands you purchase have been produced by Cheeze Kurls. Per this article 85% of their business is private label – some of the noted customers are Meijer, Spartan, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, CVS, and Rite-Aid.  Cheeze Kurls is located in the Walker area nearby Meijer.  Check out MiBiz’s piece on the company for an extremely thorough look at the company and on the snack food.

Quincy Street Inc.  – Is a private label meat (pork)  processor located in Holland on Quincy Street!  They definitely get extra points for originality in naming their company.

Request Foods – Surprisingly we have already covered Request Foods and how their company name was inspired by the DeVos’ Windquest boat.  I just don’t know about Holland companies and the way they go about naming their companies.  To recap Request Foods specializes in frozen entrees and provides private labeling, just look the picture and imagine your private label here.

Festida Foods –  Staying with the snack food theme, Grand Rapids is also home to Festida Foods, a private label manufacturer of tortilla chips and corn chips – what exactly is a corn chip and how is it different from a tortilla chip?  Earlier this  year they moved from Cedar Springs to a facility in Grand Rapids to meet their recent growth.

Artesian Distillers – Yes private label vodka, whisky, gin, or rum is now available, thanks to Grand Rapids based Artesian Distillers.  Based on their website they say they are working on opening up a tasting room in Rockford.  It’s a husband and wife team that started the operation.  I can’t wait to see my Meijer brand Vodka, or Spartan Rum.

Magnum Coffee Roastery – This one I found purely on dumb luck.  For some reason I was driving through Nunica (I know right), and smelled coffee in the air and saw this large building on the side of the road.  This lead me to do some more research on Magnum Coffee Roastery, and by research I just looked up their website.  Well they too offer private label brands.

Down Inc – Is a 50 year company based in Grand Rapids that produces down filled comforters and pillows for private labels.  In an interesting move Down Inc. actually named some of their customers in this Grand Rapids Press article – like Crate & Barrel, Room & Board, and how they supply JW Marriott and the Amway Grand Hotels (kudos to the hotels for buying local).  In a wise business decision of vertical integration – Down Inc is owned by Maple Leaf Farms – the largest producer of duck meat in the US.  So now we know where all those duck feathers come from, what a perfect idea… it almost makes too much sense.

Ranir – Oral care from West Michigan. Yes, Ranir in Grand Rapids is a leading private label manufacturer of oral care products – ranging from tooth brushes, to floss, whitening products to other assorted mouth related products.

Perrigo – One of the best known companies in the region is Perrigo based in Allegan.  They are the world’s largest manufacturer of OTC pharmaceutical products for the store brand markets.  As a company they have been broadening their product offerings with recent acquisitions of baby formula, and pet care brand Sergeant’s.  If you can be sure to check out their factory store in downtown Allegan so you can see all the store brands for yourself, side by side.  Here is an image from their historical medicinal display from within the store.

Pretty interesting list, and potentially mind blowing.  Especially if you were one of those people who always prefers Meijer cheese curls snacks over Spartan brand, you might be eating the exact same snack, or using the exact same toothbrush or whatever.  So any other private label manufacturers out that you are aware of?  Please share them with me in the comments section.

Hey! What’s Growing On?

As I am sure everyone knows Start Garden started today.  Start Garden is the next big thing from Rick DeVos and Pomegranate Studios, where people can submit ideas for a chance receive $5,000 in an initial investment.  Each week, 2 ideas will be chosen and given $5,000 and then the winners will be required to come back in 60-90 days and present where they are at with their winning idea for opportunity to get additional funding, in the amount of $20,000.  Ideas that are progressing well and have potential to become viable businesses can in theory receive up to $500,000 dollars from Start Garden.  The fund is backed up $15 million commitment from the DeVos family, so there is plenty of opportunities for many ideas to get a lot of investment dollars.  Throughout the process, ideas receiving funding will be able to get some resources and mentoring from Start Garden to help their idea move ahead.  The public gets to be involved in the process as well by choosing one of the weekly winners and public events will be held to present the progress of previous winners.

Some things I like about Start Garden:

  • Accountability.  Unlike the 5×5 Nights winners, who are not required to update anyone on their progress or what they have done with money that they won, Start Garden requires winners to come back in 60-90 days and update everyone on their progress.  Not to mention that great minds think alike, here is my tweet to 5×5 Night (Pomegranate Studio) on January 24, 2012 and their response.  I asked them if they followed-up with winners on their progress or what they were up to, and 5×5 responded that they didn’t..  I was always curious if there was an mechanism in place besides one own morals which prevent someone from coming up with a fake idea (charity/or good cause) and win the competition and just take the $5,000 and run.  Granted it would be a lot of work for someone to do all that but I am sure there must have been at least some hucksters who submitted ideas with this premise.  Plus people what to know what happens next, its like a cliffhanger and people want to see a resolution or at least the next chapter.  Start Garden did a great thing by adding in this extra step.
  • Helping ideas get off the ground, and giving them money
  • General philanthropy of the DeVos family
  • Getting exposure to some new, great, and interesting ideas (it could potentially give me more fodder for my blog)
  • And this great quote form Mlive “Backed by his wealthy family, [Rick] DeVos…” Wow way to empower all the troll commentators to like to spout negatives about the DeVos family.

Some things I don’t like:

  • All the garden talk.  I know its part of the name, and it helps complete the narrative, but look at this quote from Rick DeVos: ““Start Garden creates the field and brings the water. We ask the people to bring their ideas and plant them. And we ask existing businesses in our region to become the farmers. Because we believe the soil is fertile for business here and we can be the best place for somebody to have an idea and run with it”
  • Never did they really say what is going to happen to 5×5 Night, though by looking at the website, it does say “Site Closed Temporarily closed. Check out our new project Start Garden.”  None of the stories I read mentioned it, even the official press release never states what is going to happen to 5×5.
  • The logo should be green or brown instead of yellow… you know garden, things growing, greenery and soil.

Start Garden, cool idea, that I will be curiously following, and I am especially looking forward for the 60-90 day recaps which I think is the best part.  What are your thoughts?

It’s SPREADING…Beer Spill in West Michigan!

I’m overwhelmed… not just writing timely posts on this blog. I’m overwhelmed with beer, i.e. there are too many Michigan microbreweries. It’s like someone opened up a microbrewery and poured it all over West Michigan. But why? Does Michigan really have favorable beer laws?

Who else remembers the days when we only had to worry about the big three in West Michigan Microbrews – Bell’s from Kalamazoo, Founders from Grand Rapids, and New Holland from Holland. That was it. Now it feels like when I am drinking one of those I am drinking…GASP… a Macrobrew, e.g. Budweiser, Miller.

So lets focus on all the West Michigan Microbreweries (we will stick to West Michigan so I don’t go crazy, and I will draw an arbitrary line down the middle of Michigan), there have been attempts to do this in the past and they just haven’t quite gotten all of them or just did not have the space for it all.

Here are some of the most recent examples:

So let’s start the full comprehensive list, of currently open breweries in the area:

Grand Rapids

  • Founders Brewing Company – By the way whats up with all the other “Founders” businesses – Founders Bank & Trust, Founders Wine Cellar. Some facts, Founders was founded in 1997, and they expanding big time.
  • Schmohz Brewing – Where scantily clad ladies adorn almost all the bottles. Where they used to have a horrible looking website with the white checkered background and choppy navigation. Glad they got a new one.
  • The B.O.B. – Has its own brewing facilities at the restaurant and entertainment complex, where they serve their various microbrews.
  • Hideout Brewing – This brewery was modeled after the pre-prohibition breweries, and the interior decor has been modeled after prohibition area photos to give the brewery that feel.
  • Brewery Vivant – Despite having a rooster on the logo, Vivant doesn’t mean Rooster in French. This brewery was founded by Jason Spaulding, one of the co-founders of New Holland Brewery, after he sold his interest in 2008.
  • Jaden James Brewery – One of the breweries that grew out of an existing winery. Jaden James is located at Cascade Winery in Grand Rapids.
  • HopCat – One of the purported best beer bars in the world, with a massive beer selection, they have start to expand their offerings by brewing their own beer. I can see why they have a pretty massive beer list.
  • Harmony Brewing Company – One of the newest additions to the GR beer scene, they just opened Feb. 1st by 3 siblings. They also own Bear Manor Properties, that own a number of rental buildings in the the Uptown area of Grand Rapids.
  • The Mitten Brewing Company – The baseball themed brewery, and as a baseball fan I am extremely intrigued by this one, though I am surprised that their logo doesn’t feature any baseball theme in it… maybe make the mitten look more like a mitt. Just a thought. Also they have the unusual distinction of having some brand confusion, with the likes of Big Mitten Brewing Company in Plymouth (though they may not be around anymore, website is down), and Mitten Brew a beer blog,
  • Grand Rapids Brewing Company – (FB Link)
    Who Likes Blinding Contrast?

    This was an original brewery in Grand Rapids, started in1893 that ended during the prohibition. The brand and the beer names were bought and brought back in 1993, where they operated a brewery and restaurant on 28th Street. The business was sold a couple of times, and was finally shuttered in June 2011. In September 2011, Mark Sellers owner of Hopcat, and plenty of other bars in Grand Rapids (all under the BarFly properties name), purchased the assets of the brewery and all the brand names, and plans to reopen the brewery somewhere in downtown Grand Rapids, but he is not ready to say where yet. ok the location is on Ionia & Fulton. Additionally there was a recent announcement that the GRBC will be an organic brewery,which if successful would be the first organic brewery in Michigan. It’s a good way to stand out in a crowded field.

  • Rockford Brewing Company – Brewery opened up on Dec. 20, 2012.  Here is a little background on the brewery.
  • Perrin Brewing CompanyNow Open. I took some more time to read about Perrin and how it got started.  It is a peculiar tale, of Randy Perrin, founder of a screen-printing/apparel company, aptly named Perrin Resort Apparel.  He is a board member now, and he gave back the company to his employees through an employee stock ownership program.  At some point Perrin decided he wanted to open a brewery.  The mlive story mentions how Perrin is a Bud Light drinker, and how he doesn’t like “strong, hoppy beers”, which I find somewhat odd, that a person who isn’t a craft beer fan has this interest in opening up a craft brewery (most of which focus and feature “strong, hoppy beers”). Though Perrin did state that he wanted his brewery to have craft beers that appeal to the craft beer enthusiasts, but also have some beers that appeal to the “domestic light beer” drinkers like himself.  I guess that whole angle could explain why they decided to go so large with their initial operation, 20,000 barrels. Their current system has the capacity to be the fourth largest brewery in West Michigan, behind Bells, Founders, New Holland.  That is pretty impressive to be that large already immediately when you open.  Most of the other breweries have done gradual expansions to get to their current size.  More details about Perrin can be found  here,  here, and here. Early on, they also had some are branding identity issues.  The one on the left was the first logo they put out there with their initial announcement, and the logo on the right is what they have settled on.

  • Osgood Brewing in Grandville – The brewery desert between Grand Rapids and Hudsonville, just got an oasis in Grandville with Osgood. Husband/wife team are starting the brewery and they named it after the first tavern owner in Grandville, Hiram Osgood (Being a history nerd, I do enjoy this connection). They also make a nice case for their Grandville location on their blog. Which is interesting because just last month I drove through this stretch of Grandville, and though it was pretty cool. It was nice to see that Grandville actually had a personality beyond the massive commercial district off of Rivertown/44th Street.Osgood
  • Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery & Supply in Ada – Per Mlive, Ada will be having a brewery and a home brewer supply store in one. Now open.
  • Cranker’s Restaurant & Brewery – In Cutlerville, they re-furbished Coney Island restaurant into restaurant and brewery, based on their Big Rapids brewery.

Kalamazoo Area

  • Paw Paw Brewing Company – In Paw Paw, and they do in fact have a paw print in their logo. Well more like a hop with some claws attached. This brewery was founded by two brothers-in-law, it also mentions how they were able to ask questions and learn from some of the other microbreweries in the state.
  • Bell’s Brewery – The grandfather of Michigan microbrews opened up in 1985, look at what its spawned, at least according to some people in the industry – according to hopcatgr in the BeerAdvocate.com cache version of their forum, he offered this insight ” One, Larry Bell is a visionary but I think he’s also a tough guy to work for (sorry Larry) so a number of people learned there and then went off to start their own thing. That got the ball rolling”. More on this near the end of the post.
  • Olde Pennisula BrewPub – This restaurant and brewpub is located in downtown Kalamazoo.
  • Arcadia Brewing Company – In Battle Creek, prides itself on crafting British-Style ales, and was founded in 1996. They are moving to a downtown Kalamazoo location in summer of 2013. This will become their primary product facility and will also feature a brewpub. They will retain a presence in Battle Creek as well. I was also surprised The owner’s name… Tim Surprise (just had to work that in there.)
  • Dark Horse Brewing Company – In Marshall, Dark Horse has an interesting backstory, the founder Aaron Morse opened up a brewpub, which failed, but he tried again by opening up a brewery which has become pretty successful, undergoing a $700,000 expansion in 2011. It also states that they are looking at adding on distillery, bakery, creamery, and candy shop, which might be taking diversification a little too far.
  • Bravo Restaurant & Cafe – in Kalamazoo, on the website it states that they are the only restaurant in Kalamazoo that brews its own beer, but what about Bilbo’s and Olde Pennisula? Or maybe a restaurant classification is different than a pizza place, and brew-pub.
  • Boatyard Brewing Company – in Kalamazoo. Beer fever strikes again in West Michigan, the name seems to fit better for a lakeshore town though.
  • Bilbo’s Pizza – Not only does Middle Earth serve pizza, but it also brews its own beer… no word on the pipeweed. The microbrews are only available at their Stadium Drive location in Kalamazoo.
  • Latitude 42 – Portage. SW Michigan Dinning did a write up, and looks like they have a kids play area.
  • Kissell Brewing Company – Galesburg. Website is quite confusing.
  • Tibbs Brewing Company – Kalamazoo. This nano brewery is now open in Kalamazoo as of 12/6/2013.
  • Gonzo’s BiggDogg Brewing – in Kalamazoo. Not a big fan of the name but who I am I to judge. This blog seems to keep pretty close tabs on the development of the brewery though which is now open.

Lakeshore

  • Odd Side Ales – in Grand Haven. They have a nice story, a former accountant laid off, starts a brewery with wife. It is also known as one of the smallest breweries in the country, so you will often find a rotating unique beers available in limited quantities.
  • Old Boys’ Brewhouse – in Spring Lake, is a brewpub place, which was inspired by a dog named Brutus, though affectionately called Old Boy. They are also looking to expand per this recent article in mlive.
  • New Holland Brewing – In Holland, this is another old timer who got started in 1997. It was co-founded by two individuals, one of whom is running Brewery Vivant, read more about that in this old Ledger post.
  • Our Brewing Company – Now open in downtown Holland! They seem to be doing well because they keep running out of beer. This will be a nanobrewery (still waiting for someone to use the term “itty-bittybrewery” instead of micro or nano), meaning that they will have limited production batches of beer.
  • Saugatuck Brewing Company – in Saugatuck… or actually it’s in Douglas… the name is pure lies, just like the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
  • The Round Barn Brewery – in Baroda. One of the few cross-over winery/breweries like Jaden James in Grand Rapids.
  • The Livery – in Benton Harbor, surprisingly the only microbrewery in the Benton Harbor/St. Joe area. Named after the over 100 year old building in which the brewery now resides which was once called the “Palace Livery”. More from mlive.
  • Jamesport Brewing Company – is a brewpub located in Ludington. Mlive’s take.
  • Greenbush Brewing Company– in Sawyer, They have a unique tie to Chicago, mainly through their distributor, but they have gotten lots of press out of Chicago as witnessed on their press page. One of the co-owners is from Chicago, so that could explain that connection, but still pretty impressive for brewery opened for less than a year to already have that distribution in place.
  • Big Lake Brewing – Holland Township. The location will be in the 144th, Riley, and Butternut area right next to Thai Palace & near Peppinos (I have to agree with the location not being ideal as one of the commenters noted). Three engineers are starting the brewery which will also be a winery as well (note another combo to add to my list). Here is the initial small blurb on the bottom of the Holland Sentinel article.  Enjoyed this past reference about  their opening – please pay special attention to the idiots commenting – requiring Discover Holland to reply back 3 times on the location of this brewery.
  • Stormcloud Brewery – Frankfort.  Well this one qualifies as either Lakeshore or up north, because Frankfort fits both.  Thanks to a Redditer for this submission.
  • Tapistry Brewing Co. – in Bridgman. Now open.
  • Clay Avenue Brewing – Muskegon

Other

  • Michigan Beer Cellar – in Sparta, maybe they should have called it Michigan Beer Seller !!!!!! (this post is wearing on me)
  • Waldorf Brewpub – in Hastings
  • Middle Villa Inn & Microbrewery – in Middleville. They are very found of their water, per the website its the best ingredient in their beer, and Middleville has the best water in Michigan. Next post I will rate the water on tap throughout the state.
  • Patchwork Brewery – in Decatur. Not only does Patchwork describe the curtains, the renovation process of the building, or the bar (which is really cool), but also the website (I kid, it’s fine). If you want to learn more about the renovation process and curtains read this. This brewery is a woman owned and brewed, which just prompted me to create another column in my spreadsheet – woman owned.
  • Dewey Cannon Winery & Brewery – in Three Oaks, here are some of their beers.
  • White Flame Brewing Company – in Hudsonville, this has to be a Kenny Powers fan right? Nah its just based on the owner/brewer’s last name of White, and his wife’s nickname… boring… why wouldn’t someone name a brewery after their favorite TV show. I mean Bilbo’s Pizza did it with a book. Note if I ever open a brewery it will be named after some reference in “A Song of Ice and Fire” maybe something with Crows.
  • Pike 51 Brewery – Another one in Hudsonville, this one flew under the radar and I just found out about it in Late May 2012 with this mlive article. The brewery is within the existing Hudsonville Winery which opened in 2008, and both businesses are co-owned by two friends.
  • Harpers Brewpub – East Lansing
  • Eaglemonk Pub & Brewery – Lansing.  Thanks to Reddit again for this on.
  • Cranker’s Brewery- in Big Rapids
  • Blue Cow – Big Rapids as well. Their logo says they are a brewpub but there isn’t much else on the website to support that. Though according to this Big Rapids Brewing Company is at the Blue Cow Restaurant.
  • Old Mill Brewpub – in Plainwell.  Interesting and ironic history note, is that the location of this brewpub, the Sunshine Flour mill was once owned by a leading prohibitionist who helped pass that law in Michigan John Eesley. Here is an mlive story.

Up North

Breweries in the Pipeline
So since we have come up with 38 breweries that are currently open and serving beers, we now we are going to look at the rest of the breweries “brewing” in the area. There will be 12 more.

Grand Rapids Area

Allegan County

  • Barking Cat Brewery – Eh not to thrilled with the name, but I do like cats. It’s also one of the only breweries that does not have a location/city confirmed, they are looking to open in 2013. More info here.

Lakeshore

Kalamazoo

Up North

Other

So why is there such an abundance of microbreweries in Michigan ( we are only focusing on the West side of the state)? Typing this question into google did not yield many results, but I did come across someone asking this same question in an old forum post on BeerAdvocate.com. You are best skipping to the bottom of of the page and work your way up (stupid commentators contributing nothing early on, much like you guys 🙂 ). Some theories that were thrown out were the following:

  • Water quality ( especially in Middleville)
  • Cheap Real Estate
  • Buy Local Movement/Pride in the State
  • Farming conditions and climate for growing barley and wheat

But look at the last comment, its from hopcatgr, which I presume is Mark Sellers owner of Hopcat in Grand Rapids ( I could be wrong though). But he states the following:

“There are several factors. One, Larry Bell is a visionary but I think he’s also a tough guy to work for (sorry Larry) so a number of people learned there and then went off to start their own thing. That got the ball rolling.
Two, we’re allowed by law to distribute beer and still have a retail taproom (in Georgia and some other states, if you distribute you can’t have a taproom). Without a retail taproom it’s much harder to make a profit as a new brewery. So the law is on our side here.
Three, there’s no ABV (editor: Alcohol By Volume) cap like there is in Utah and some other states. We are free to make whatever beer we want.
Four, there’s a lot of space, real estate is cheap. For a brewery, you need a lot of low-cost space. That’s why there are very few breweries in NYC despite high population density and affluent customer base, while there are quite a few in Grand Rapids, MI.
And five…most important…the number of breweries/brewpubs PER CAPITA in Michigan is actually lower than several other states.”

So since those comments are coming from an actual brewer I would think that those are some good, honest reasons for the rise in microbreweries in Michigan. The most surprising one was the mentoring by Larry Bell of Bell’s Brewery, and how many people have left to start there own. Anyone have information on what breweries were started by Bell’s Brewery disciples? Also the retail taproom concept makes sense because almost all the breweries listed in this article either are running a brewpub, or selling their beers in other ways. So almost all of the microbreweries are taking advantage of having a retail taproom, and they are able to position themselves better in the market and become a destination for consumers. Which leads me to my next point about location. I was shocked at the number of breweries in Traverse City, which had 10 breweries currently and a few more planned. That is the same amount as Grand Rapids, a city with 774,160 residents in the metropolitan area, compared to 143,372 in the area around Traverse City. I definitely see some opportunities with a brewery in St. Joseph (which has nothing), or even New Buffalo, which are both big tourist cities at least in the summer. These are both some nice lakeshore cities. Another thought would be opening up a brewery in the casino towns, you know give people another reason to visit instead of just gambling, like drinking.

If I was skilled at graphic design, I would create an infographic on all the breweries, but I can’t so instead I created a spreadsheet. For example there are 9 breweries that an animal reference either in name, or that display an animal in their logo. There are 6 breweries that are named after the location they are based in (though the Saugatuck Brewing Company is debatable since it it actually located in the Douglas). Then there are 16 breweries that have a name that references either Michigan or a landmark in Michigan. Then there are 3 breweries that make reference to pop culture. Finally, and most importantly out of the 58 currently operating breweries, I have had tried 30 of them. Want to know what other zany categories these breweries fall into? Then download my spreadsheet “TheLedgerBeerList“, it’s pretty great.

I think it’s time for The Ledger West Michigan Microbrewery Crawl 2012 2013! How many of these can we hit in a day, and who has a big bus we can use? Anyone? Remember I have only tried 30, and many more to go especially when the new ones open up.

R.I.P. Micro Breweries

So did I miss anything, and more columns for my spreadsheet. Any more interesting facts about the breweries mentioned above?