Do Art Hops Help Businesses In Kalamazoo Neighborhoods?

Aug 29, 2017

Musician Brian Laliberte busks during the downtown Kalamazoo Art Hop
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

Three years ago, the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo decided to expand the monthly art hops outside of downtown.

“I think there was a desire to showcase the artists in their neighborhood but I think overall it was a desire to showcase the artists that are in Kalamazoo. I think they knew Art Hop was an economic driver. They saw the crowds they wanted to be part of it," says Beth McCann, deputy director of the Arts Council. 


According to the Arts Council, Art Hop brings $2.46 million into the local economy every year. But most of the art hop stops are downtown - is Art Hop was boosting neighborhood businesses too?

While there’s no hard data on this, WMUK quickly found out that how well a businesses does during Art Hop really depends on the neighborhood and the type of business.

Art Hop In Edison

Howard’s Party Store is on Portage Street in the Edison neighborhood. Though many of the stores in Washington Square moved in after the Kalamazoo County Land Bank started revitalizing the district, this one has been around since 1958. Owner Vik Bawa says he’s noticed art hop attendees buy more expensive items:

“We haven’t seen much of an increase in sales but more toward high dollar amount wine sales and beer, craft beer sales have gone up which is a good thing for us. We get exposed to different communities - a lot of people come for Art Hop in the area,” he says.

Reggie Kaur is the co-owner of Pho On The Block, which has only been open for four art hops. Kaur says the Art Hop has helped spread the word about the new business.

“They take menus home, they share with their friends, they talk about it and then they come back with their family and friends,” she says. 

Art Hop In Oakwood

While the neighborhood hops have been good to Edison, they haven’t made much of a difference for Oakwood businesses.

Mary Grace owns Happy Our Art, which does drink and canvas events on Whites Road. She helped bring art hop to Oakwood Plaza. Grace says at first art hop at the plaza was very successful. That was when those businesses did their own advertising.

“But the energy waned as the effort got increasingly more difficult to provide and we feel that there was initially some novelty to coming to Oakwood that wasn’t sustained,” she says.

Grace says not all of the businesses wanted to participate either.

“The smaller restaurants who don’t have large seating capacity and didn’t really have any difficulty filling that seating capacity on the weekends. So they weren’t seeing the benefit for the outlay of effort,” she says.

Art Hop In Vine

As for the Vine neighborhood, it seems businesses that are open later manage to catch the Art Hop crowd. Jane Gulliver owns J-Bird Vintage on Vine Street. She says people tend to drop by after visiting downtown.

“Normally I close at 6 p.m. and those nights I’m open till usually 8:30 p.m. to even 10 p.m., 10:30 p.m. sometimes. And then - so that’s helpful - and then to me even more importantly it brings in new people and new customers,” says Gulliver.

For the past four years, Retro Vintage has sat at the corner of Forest Street and Westnedge. Originally the store was downtown and stayed there for many years. Thom Clarke co-owns Retro. He says the Vine neighborhood isn’t as bustling during art hop - only about four stores participate.

“Certainly not like it was downtown, but people just have a good time and see the art. And if we make a few extra sales that’s great and it usually happens, yes,” says Clarke. 

Beth McCann says it’s important to remember that Art Hop isn’t just about making sales. She says it’s also about community and place-making.

“So while everyone’s register doesn’t ring the same way on an Art Hop, they get a benefit in a different way. They may see a new customer, they may meet somebody new who becomes a customer,” says McCann.

The next Kalamazoo Art Hop is next Friday, September 8th