Written by John Face
City Watch NEWS
December 25, 2021
As Jenny Risner-Wade sat sipping her morning coffee I made a quick look around her shop. It was homey with the smell of chocolate filling my senses with joy. I was here today to talk to her about a recent grant she qualified for through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). On December 16 she found out that her business Yellow Bird Chocolate Shop, will receive up to $25,000 that is to be used for her business as upgrades for chocolate manufacturing and to the building.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer said in the official press release “The Match on Main grants are helping us put small businesses first and build on the 145,000 jobs we added last year by continuing to invest in our communities and main streets across the state.” She went on to say, “I am so grateful to our hardworking, innovative small business owners who form the backbone of our economy, create jobs, and help countless local communities thrive. We will continue investing in them as we usher in a new era of economic prosperity for Michigan.”
Jennys’ shop opened for business in September of 2020, which was in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. She spoke of the challenges, but most she said, “were welcomed ones.” She was happy with her location which is across the street from the Children’s Museum and Auto supply store. She smiled describing how the business owners’ wave and nod at each other when they pass store fronts. Her love of downtown is obvious and that is why the grant is so special as it is helping build and support small businesses like her.
Her location, specifically the building she is in according to local archives has a long history where most of its tenants were women. She said, “a Mrs. Babcock operated a milenery hat shop here in 1890.” The building has hosted many shops operated by women. Her address is 306 South Superior, right beside the Michigan Secretary of State office. Their website is https://www.yellowbirdchocolateshop.com/
I asked about her “art wall” located on the front side of her checkout area. She said that happened quite by accident as a way to keep young visitors busy while parents shopped. The picture below was drawn by a young lady who was here from Tennessee visiting her dad. He is working on the Solar panel projects in the area, and they had just finished at the museum when they came across the street for a visit. She jokingly said the parents stand in the museum staring at that big yellow sign (on the front of the building) and come in here for some “be a kid in a candy store time.”
Her retail area which is small compared to the size of the building is one of the improvements to be made. They will be taking out several walls (below scribbled on wall) to make the retail space what appears to be about double of what it is now. A walk back to the manufacturing area one could see why improvements were needed, it’s very small. She will be putting in larger everything as she says, “I will be able increase my output.” Her goal is to expand on her internet sales, commercial accounts and of course her retail sales.
Another thing that will happen with the expansion is her teaching classes. She hosts several tastings per year for small groups. The participants get information on how chocolate is made trying out combinations of chocolate with different foods and drink. She plans on holding several more by utilizing the small courtyard located just outside her back door. A small area big enough for a few tables and, well, chocolate.
Jenny did say that she appreciated the work of the Albion Economic Development Corporation (AEDC) did to help her filing for this grant money. She also encouraged other main street businesses to contact AEDC as this program gives out grants twice a year. “Main street is important, customers like coming in and knowing their shop keepers.” She reminded this writer how she got started. “I did pop up shops for four years and built a small but devoted clientele. Then I started to plan and here we are today.”
I asked when they would start work on the expansion. She said ordering equipment will take time for delivery, but not soon no matter how fast that is. “Valentine’s Day is only 8 weeks away. We have to start building up our inventory as it is a busy time of year.” Ahhhhhh, so goes the life of a chocolatier.
You can reach out to the Albion Economic Development Corporation for information on this and other economic help available to local businesses at:
1002 North Eaton Street
Phone number is 517-629-3926