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Downtown Cheboygan sees surge in business growth, development

News Photo by Cheboygan Downtowm Development Authority The Cheboygan Downtown Development Authority set up for the city’s local business expo June 10.

Empty storefronts were not uncommon to see in Downtown Cheboygan, but that’s quickly changing.

During the pandemic, one downtown Cheboygan business closed, others received record sales and ten new ones have opened. That’s far more than the 1-3 new businesses that open in an average year.

Katie Duczkowsi is the interim director for the Cheboygan Downtown Development Authority.

She said there are many reasons for the surge of development in Cheboygan — including tourists that stayed in town to work remotely, the city’s participation in the Michigan Main Street program and heightened support within the community.

“Cheboygan has always been a really strong community in that we support each other, so I think that’s just really coming to light in this time,” Duczkowski said. “When we’re going through tough times, people in our community support each other.”

Duczkowsi said development has been “incredible,” with few available storefronts remaining.

Christine King owns Hive North, a new mead and cider hall in downtown Cheboygan. She opened the business last September in the midst of the pandemic.

King said recent growth wouldn’t have been possible without the existing and established businesses, and Hive North was just part of a “tipping point” in Cheboygan’s economic development.

“I have always thought that Cheboygan had all of the natural resources and resources to be a really cool community of its own – not like Petoskey or Harbor Springs – but just Cheboygan,” King said. “It has its own kind of vibe and community, and I think it’s really exciting to be a part of (the rebound) because I’ve always believed in it.”

King said that in the 30 years she’s lived in Cheboygan, she’s never seen the town as it is right now.

Likewise, Duczkowsi said the progress has brought newfound excitement to the city.

“Many people have remarked in the community that they haven’t seen this type of momentum in years,” she said. “It’s really exciting because people can see the momentum. They can see all the buildings being renovated and new businesses opening, and I think it’s kind of contagious in a way.”

According to the Michigan Main Street program, Cheboygan’s specific strategies included engaging with downtown arts and recreation, investing in a variety of businesses, increasing its social media presence and creating a more family-friendly environment with a “vibrancy microgrant.”

From October 2019 to September 2020, downtown Cheboygan has received over $1 million in private investments, five facade and building renovations and 1,500 volunteer hours toward downtown improvements.

Leigh Young is a Main Street Specialist for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, which helps towns like Cheboygan revitalize their downtowns. She said she’s seen many communities mobilize and rebound from the pandemic.

“Anytime a community rallies together that surge becomes apparent, and it also becomes contagious,” Young said. “Businesses and property owners will see their neighbors making improvements and want to do that together because they know that there’s this overarching goal, and that the community has a vision for their future.”

This story is part of the Michigan News Group internship. A collaboration between WCMU and eight newspapers, including the Alpena News. Read more at TheAlpenaNews.com and wcmu.org/alpenanews.

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