New in Town

Middle Village welcomes five new businesses to yearlong accelerator program


Amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and early 2021, leadership at Downtown Lansing Inc. began discussing ways to reverse the negative impacts of business closures and decreased commerce on the local economy. The effort yielded Middle Village, a retail accelerator program emphasizing women- and minority-owned businesses. 

“We were trying to build a program that would not only help us fill the vacancies in the short term but also create a feeder system so that we would never find ourselves in that spot again,” Julie Reinhardt, DLI’s director of downtown community development, said. “We thought the best way to do it was to create an accelerator program that would help businesses that were already going to open stores by lowering the barriers to entry and giving them business education opportunities.” 

Sponsored by Lake Trust Credit Union, the Middle Village program has selected a cohort of six small businesses to participate each year since 2021. However, with Middle Village’s move last month from its original location at 112 S. Washington Square to a 2,000-square-foot space on the first floor of the historic Atrium Building, this year’s cohort was kept to five businesses. 

“We’ve limited ourselves to five because we're now able to give each storefront its own fantastic window frontage, which we know will help them with sales,” Reinhardt said.  

The new cohort, which celebrated its collective grand opening last Thursday (May 2), includes clothing and accessory stores Black Rose Designs, Sedona Wanderlust, Hoddy Collective and CocoBella Boutique and artisan jewelry and pottery shop Ornamaloo. 

Reinhardt said the first Middle Village class was more or less “recruited,” but DLI began keeping waiting lists in the program’s second year. Women and minority ownership are DLI’s primary criteria for choosing businesses, but “business readiness” and “group cohesiveness” are also important factors.  

The goal is for all the businesses to establish independent storefronts after they “graduate” from Middle Village.  

“The marketing dollars in the program help them earn capital, build their brand and grow their customer base. The idea is that, when the year is up, they can take what they’ve learned and accumulated and expand into their own brick-and-mortar space,” Reinhardt said.  

Many program alums have done just that. 

“One hundred percent of the participants that have graduated from the program are still in business,” Reinhardt said, adding that the ones that haven’t opened a storefront in Lansing have “either opened other places or taken their business to wholesalers or online shops.” 

Reinhardt said Middle Village's success has led other organizations like DLI across the state to ask for help developing their own accelerator programs.  

It’s also led to the creation of a similar program in Lansing for restaurants, the Macotta Club, a multi-vendor food hall expected to open in Knapp’s Centre this winter. 

“The food hall environment is a really attractive concept right now. Customers like lots of variety, and the restaurants get a lower cost of entry because their spaces are smaller and shared,” Reinhardt said.  


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