While a lot of towns in mid and Northern Michigan are floundering under the heavy weight of a bad economy, Clare seems to be flourishing. Yes, you read it right. I wrote flourishing. As we speak virtually every retail building in downtown Clare is rented. When was the last time one could say that?
I’ve made it my mission this spring and summer to tour as many northern Michigan towns as possible. Quite frankly it’s depressing. So many vacant buildings dot the downtown landscapes. Once proud and vital downtowns have been reduced to insignificance by a poor business climate and the proliferation of the big box stores.
I truly believe Walmart and the many offshoots have ruined many downtowns. For reasons beyond my comprehension people prefer the poor customer service and lack of ambiance of a Walmart over family-owned downtown stores.
Clare has fought that battle and won. They’ve been able to retain a healthy downtown retail environment despite the big box stores being a fifteen minute ride away. Now with the economy slowly coming back, Clare’s downtown continues to get stronger.
We all know about the purchase of the Mill End that was completed a few months ago. Essentially a downtown anchor for many decades the vast vacant building is being remodeled. When finished a coffee shop and a couple other businesses will occupy the space.
At the other main intersection, a trio of businesspeople are remodeling Maxwell Flowers to add a microbrewery. That project has been going on for some time, and when completed should be a terrific addition to the downtown.
Back to the other side of town, the vacant building that housed Clare Fitness, and then Image Quest, was recently purchased and another microbrewery is planned. The new owners plan to be up and running within the next couple of months.
Just below us at McEwan and Fourth St., Don Chiodo and Wells Fargo have opened Central Michigan Investment Services in the last 45 days. To make room, the Chamber of Commerce had to move to City Hall, until their new offices at the renovated Depot will be finished.
Further down the road two businesspeople are remodeling part of the old ford dealership, North Country. The inside of the log constructed office is absolutely gorgeous. Expect to see dozens of vehicles for sale in the lot very soon.
Like it or not, Cops and Doughnuts, and their success, have had a lot to do with downtown’s revitalization. Their marketing skills have made downtown Clare and “must see” stopover for thousands of people yearly who are headed up north. Busloads and van loads of travelers stop downtown weekly to check out the bakery as well as other downtown businesses.
It’s a phenomena like none other, and smart businesspeople know, it will only grow in time. The Cops and Doughnuts brand, and downtown businesses who are along for the ride, will prosper- particularly the restaurants, micro brewerys, coffee shops and gift stores. To add further impetus, Cops and Doughnuts expects to have their own reality show soon. Filming for a pilot has already taken place.
If and when that happens, more tourists will flock to Clare. The cops, the doughnuts, and some people in Clare, will become well-known to their TV audience. You think downtown is crowded now? A reality show will bring thousands more.
Another attraction once complete, will be the old train depot. Although many towns have remodeled train depots, I suspect this project will be special. Certainly it will preserve many things historical, but it will also house several offices. Locals, and out-of-towners alike will want to take tours. There is a certain fascination for trains and depots, and Clare’s will certainly appeal to a large segment of the population.
It’s an understatement to say the economy in Clare is looking up. It’s doing much better, and frankly, I can’t wait to experience Clare a couple of years from now.