By: Stan SuleAPwski

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. –  ArtPrize is a time for people from all over the world to come to downtown Grand Rapids and appreciate international artists in this world-renowned competition.

During the ArtPrize competition, downtown Grand Rapids businesses offer up a prize of their own: a warm welcome, great customer service, and a chance for visitors to try out something new.  For two weeks, local businesses in the downtown area have a chance to lure visitors in with delicious desserts, the chance to cruise the town on a new bicycle, or just offer an exciting environment to grab a drink with friends.

ArtPrize helps these businesses by increasing traffic through their shops, as well as providing exposure for shops that don’t have a large budget for advertising. The competition exposes these businesses to approximately 400,000 visitors from around the world, and that means a massive increase in attention.

“It’s been packed,” said Hannah Royce, an employee at downtown’s Rita Girls Boutique Bakery, located at 40 Monroe Center. “Just a constant flow of people. And sometimes it’s like a big wave, but we’ve ended up staying open extra hours, and we’re all taking on extra shifts. Just lots and lots of people here.”

Rita Girls Boutique Bakery is a tiny bakery surrounded by many other stores in the Monroe Center, an indoor mall located in downtown Grand Rapids. With one small display case of desserts and a couple tables cramped by the door, it’s pretty close quarters for customers and employees alike. But the smell of fresh baked goods can’t help but get the attention of passersby.

The bakery does catering for some of the local events happening in Grand Rapids during the contest, and that produces  most of the profits for the bakery. During an average day the bakery gets approximately two to three customers an hour, but during ArtPrize that is a very different story.

“In a rush, it could be thirty or forty people an hour. It’s cool,” said Royce, as she placed another tray of red velvet cupcakes into the display case. “So many people just come wandering through looking for a snack. Some want directions, and just end up getting something. It just really works out.”

ArtPrize has also helped out smaller businesses by providing something more than money; it provides exposure to what could potentially be new clientele.

Nate Phelps, the owner of Central District Cyclery, located at 52 Monroe Center, is using ArtPrize as a means to get his company’s name out to the public. The bicycle shop has only been open since March 2012, and it’s looking to get as much attention possible.

Last year, Central District Cyclery wasn’t a venue for ArtPrize, but seeing the massive increase of visitors in Grand Rapids during the competition, Phelps wanted to get in on the action.

“We’re definitely seeing some really good foot traffic,” said Phelps. “Because of that, we’re getting really great exposure.”

The increased attention has brought in more customers looking for bicycle rentals, as well as people looking to buy. More people have become aware of the Tuesday night bike ride the shop hosts in order to get more people biking in the community.

Although Phelps appreciates how much attention his business is getting, by the end of the competition, he and his staff are ready to recharge their batteries. With their work ethic, it’s no secret why the company’s motto is “fiercely independent, remarkably devoted.”

“It’s just myself and two employees and we work for three weeks straight,” said Phelps, eager to get back to a full shop of avid cyclists. “The money is coming in but by the end of it, everyone is pretty exhausted.”

Josh Dombrowski, an employee at Mojo’s Dueling Piano Bar, located at 180 Monroe Ave., said the exposure they’ve gotten from ArtPrize has affected the establishment in a very positive way.

“I don’t want to say things have been rowdier, just busier,” said Dombrowski, as he welcomed another group of people into the bar, almost shouting to be heard over the piano music blaring from within. “The biggest thing I’ve noticed is that we’re getting people from all across everywhere; Alaska, Washington, Texas. We’re definitely bringing in larger crowds from out of state, which is good for the place.”


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