Friday, April 30, 2010
Manistee: Beaches, boutiques and bumming around in this port city
MANISTEE — Imagine Manistee -- a place where boutiques and the beautiful beaches of Lake Michigan are within walking distance of one another. Street musicians wander the sidewalks every Saturday in the summer. A farmers market sets up shop near a marina.
A barrier-free river walk takes people on a waterfront tour of the downtown shopping district. And every building in sight — from a combination wine shop and art gallery to an inn built as a bank in 1891 — is on the National Register of Historic Places.
“There’s a ‘hidden gem’ mentality to this place,” said Travis Alden, director of the Manistee Main Street and Downtown Development Authority.
Downtown Manistee is both quaint and lively during the summer.
Once known as the “Victorian Port City,” Manistee was a booming part of Michigan’s lumber era in the late 1800s, claiming more millionaires per capita than any other place in the state.
In recent years, the city of 6,500 year-round residents is better known for its splendid fishing; unparalleled access to inland lakes, rivers and the Big Lake; and, of course, the Little River Casino Resort just five miles down the road on U.S. 31.
“We’re glad the casino’s here. It brings people to this county that might not otherwise come,” Alden said, “but there’s more to Manistee than fishing and the casino.”
There’s River Street: Manistee’s main downtown corridor that stretches from U.S. 31 to the shores of Lake Michigan. It’s enjoying a renaissance of its own, a revitalization that’s drawing not just tourists, but people who are learning to see their hometown through new eyes.
“I love being an ambassador for Manistee,” said Jennie Marie Naffie, editor and publisher of the Women’s LifeStyle Northshore magazine that has a circulation from Muskegon north to Manistee. “As a kid, I think I took it for granted.”
Now a resident of Muskegon, Naffie returns to her hometown of Manistee regularly on business.
While there, she makes a point of shopping at its cluster of women-owned and operated businesses, including The Ideal Kitchen, Surroundings Candle Factory & Fine Cigars and Moving Spirit-Lloyd Henry’s Great Wine and Great Art — all on the same block on the west end of River Street.
“There’s a local touch to downtown that you don’t see other places. There’s no ‘big box store’ feel to the downtown. It’s just really special,” Naffie said.
Draw for business
That’s what drew Shelley Doyen to River Street to open Ideal Kitchen, a full-service gourmet kitchen shop, four years ago.
“I fell in love with downtown, all the unique shops ... all the possibilities,” Doyen said.
Few shops are more unique than her next-door neighbor, Surroundings Candle Factory & Fine Cigars, with its walk-in humidor and smoking lounge where people who enjoy cigars will be still able to indulge in a fine smoke even after the May 1 no-smoking law goes into effect in Michigan.
“Well, we’ve got something you’re not going to see everywhere,” said Karen Carlson, who owns the store with her husband, Oscar Carlson.
Just like at Moving Spirit, a one-of-a-kind business that is a wine shop and an art gallery that sells the work of local artists. But the true star is the building itself with its original zinc ceiling and other historical elements from the 1800s, said store manager Theresa Burke. Burke said the family atmosphere is another reason to visit the area.
While mom shops, the kids can enjoy themselves on the beaches of Lake Michigan — just a few minutes away on foot, less than that by bike or car. Dad can fish, dock a boat at the marina, enjoy a cool one at any number of pubs along the way, some of which have outdoor decks overlooking the Manistee River and river walk.
“We like to think of this as our own ‘Magnificent Mile,’” said Alden.
“If you go west on River Street from U.S. 31 to the beach, you have shops, restaurants, art galleries, a marina, the river walk, two historical museums, recreational parks and boat launches. There’s just so much in a compact area.”
The Ramsdell Inn, built as a bank in 1891 and renovated into an inn in 2003, anchors one of the most spectacular corners on River Street. The inn takes full advantage of its historic splendor, including turning an ancient bank vault into a gift shop.
“It literally takes you back in time,” said manager Julie Feliczak. “It’s a little piece of history ... that doesn’t have that franchise feel to it.”
T.J.’s Pub, which offers libations and food, shares space in the same building as the inn. Visitors walk downstairs to the pub, which occupies what was once Manistee’s first drugstore.
There’s history around every corner in Manistee. The celebrated Ramsdell Theater, where actor James Earl Jones got his professional acting start, is just a couple blocks away on Maple Street.
The North Pier Lighthouse acts as sentinel on the other end of town. The Manistee County Historical Museum can’t be contained to one site. It has its main “branch” on River Street, as well as the Water Works Museum near the waterfront.
But the city’s downtown isn’t stuck in the past.
This summer, four new shops will open on River Street just in time for tourist season that swells Manistee to twice its year-round size: The Bookstore; a meat market/deli/party store named River Street Stockyard and Spirits; The Glenwood with foods from the popular restaurant by the same name in Onekama; and finally an antiques-home furnishings store on the corner of River Street and U.S. 31.
Add to that a new Mexican restaurant, La Familia, and the established Boathouse Grille that overlooks the river and river walk.
The big draw
But it’s the water — Lake Michigan and the Manistee River especially — that brings so many people to the city’s confines.
“In Manistee, there’s constant and immediate access to water,” Alden said. “On your way home from work or shopping, you can make an impromptu stop at the beach.
“I know people who always have their fishing gear in their vehicles ... that’s just how it is in Manistee.”
And if that’s not enough, a band shell on the river walk is home to free concerts every Thursday night from June through August; the Manistee National Forest Festival is celebrated the first week in July; and The Port City Street Fair runs the first weekend after Labor Day in September.
Information: Go to visitmanistee.com or manisteedowntown.com.
Call Manistee County Convention and Visitors Bureau at (231) 398-9355 or (877) 626-4783; Manistee Chamber of Commerce at (231) 723-2575; or Manistee Main Street and Downtown Development Authority at (231) 398-3262. Events, attractions, festivals, maps and other information are all provided on those websites.
Water, water everywhere: Manistee is one of the busiest shipping and recreational ports on Lake Michigan. Watch 700-foot-long Great Lakes freighters navigate the narrow Manistee River Channel. During summer, Great Lakes cruise ships frequently visit. Maritime history buffs will enjoy visiting the S.S. City of Milwaukee, a historic car ferry ship and museum berthed on Manistee Lake.
Side trip: Little River Casino Resort is five miles northeast of downtown on U.S. 31, near the juncture of M-22. Info: littlerivercasino.com, (888) 568-2244 or (231) 723-1535.
Manistee: Beaches, boutiques and bumming around in this port city
BY SUSAN HARRISON WOLFFIS
Article found in the Grand Rapids Press
For more information on purchasing a home in Manistee contact the Andrea Crossman Group