Small shopping is gaining momentum in the retail world in the township of Fort Gratiot

Over the past two years, buying trends have changed massively. More than ever, consumers have turned to shopping online, leaving malls and plazas vacant with many stores.

A phrase you’ve probably heard, even more recently over the past couple of years, is the notion of supporting local and spending local. Shopping at small businesses versus large national chain stores is a phenomenon that now happens more than once or twice a year. Small Business Saturday, a national holiday, was created by American Express in 2010, following the Great Recession, to promote small businesses.

American Express estimates that of every dollar spent in a small business, 67 cents stays in the local community. In an effort to help spur businesses and entrepreneurs in their own backyard, Birchwood Mall is welcoming locally owned “mom and pop” shops to lease retail space in the Fort Gratiot Mall. Township.

Sharon Wilton, Director of Community Development for the Charter Township of Fort Gratiot, works as a zoning administrator, plans events, assists investors with property searches, site plans for large projects and works with businesses to help find resources.

Wilton says ownership of Birchwood Mall changed in February 2021, when Kohan Retail Investment Group (KRIG) purchased the mall. KRIG owns and revitalizes shopping malls, envisioning a new future for shopping malls. They believe indoor spaces like these can become a hybrid of entertainment, food and retail, offering different types of venues including galas, exhibitions, concerts, arcades and mini golf at home in shopping malls.

“This new company that bought the mall bought several others that were in decline like ours,” she says. “They’re really focused on allowing individual communities to make decisions about who they rent space to.”

For Fort Gratiot Township, that means they actively seek out rentals to local business owners, entrepreneurs and start-ups, and are able to offer affordable rental prices, says Wilton.

“Since the opening of the mall, there are 13 new businesses there, and four or five more are about to sign a contract,” she says. “There’s been a lot of expansion.”

Lois Potts, General Manager (CEO) of Birchwood Mall, has held various positions at the mall over the past 25 years. She attributes the mall’s recent takeover to the way KRIG operates.

“They allow the general manager to manage their property independently,” Potts says. “They understand that what works for one property won’t necessarily work for another.”

“It’s so rewarding to see businesses thrive and provide them with opportunities they may not have had in recent years,” says Lois Potts, general manager of Birchwood Mall in Fort Gratiot Township.

Potts’ vision for Birchwood Mall is to create a gathering place for family and friends, providing food and entertainment for all ages.

“It’s not something that will happen overnight, but with the continued support of the community, I see it happening later,” she says. “While online shopping is convenient, I think one of the takeaways from COVID is that we still need that social interaction, and I would love to see Birchwood become that place again to make that happen.”

By attracting more local businesses and providing some entrepreneurs with their very first brick-and-mortar, Potts hopes to show support for what she calls “the backbone of our community.”

“It’s so gratifying to see businesses thrive and provide them with opportunities that they may not have had in recent years,” she says. “The community has been extremely supportive and has done its part to help these new businesses succeed. The family atmosphere created among the local tenants within the mall has been inspiring. They support each other and do what they can to help each other succeed.

Ensuring businesses are successful is important to both Fort Gratiot Township and the mall, so the process of securing business retail spaces is very convenient. Wilton says the mall frequently refers potential tenants to the township to ensure their business idea is licensed in a commercial property.

Small business entrepreneur Kyle McCalmon owns Thumb Coast CBD, a tenant of Birchwood Mall in Fort Gratiot Township.

Kyle McCalmon is the owner of Thumb Coast CBD, a family business and pioneer in the hemp/CBD industry in Michigan. After opening their first store in St. Clair in 2020, they looked to expand to another location, leasing space in the mall in November 2021. McCalmon says his company is passionate about helping people.

“We provide a CBD product that helps so many people in so many ways, including those with sleep issues, inflammation, pain, or arthritis,” he says. “We pride ourselves on educating people about the benefits of CBD and cannabis so they can live happier, healthier, more productive lives and all without the negative side effects inherent in pharmaceuticals.”

McCalmon says he appreciates when people support local businesses, including Thumb Coast CBD.

“When you support a small business, you support your neighbors, your friends and your community,” he says. “You provide jobs to people in your community and you invest in your community. »

Wilton says that before the pandemic, the mall was seeing an increase in vacant space, but COVID-19 has actually boosted local shopping again. Wilton considers the change in spending to be vital.

Birchwood Mall is located at 4350 24th Ave. in Fort Gratiot Township, Michigan.

“People shop online, but there are a lot of people who really want that local experience of walking into a store, touching something, trying it on, and holding it in their hands,” she says.

Despite the difficult period, local entrepreneurs have also sought to take advantage of the mall’s opportunities. Wilton says many new stores have opened during the pandemic.

“It’s important because it allows the entrepreneur to see their dream come true,” she says. “Maybe they had the idea from the start, but they couldn’t afford to rent a space. This allows them to be able to do this and provide their products to the community.

Local shopping isn’t limited to the mall either, says Wilton.

“Shopping hasn’t really diminished in our township during COVID,” she says. “We saw an increase because people were at home, people were renovating. We have consistently obtained building permits or site plans for major projects. We continued to stay “business as usual” for the most part as far as this goes. »

To find out more about what Birchwood Mall has to offer, visit

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