When more businesses open in the Midland Street Business District, everyone benefits

Matt Nemode, owner of the former Mode’s Tavern at 108 Linn St., serves on the Midland Street Mangement Board. The board represents the business district, which extends from the Saginaw River to Sage Branch Library. It is bounded to the north and south by East John Street and East Vermont Street. The district is known for bars and eateries, but also is home to professional offices and retail businesses. In 2022 and 2023, the district gained several new businesses and saw ownership changes at long-time establishments.

QUESTION: Midland Street is changing. New owners are buying established businesses. New businesses are opening. A light bridge has debuted. What's next for the district?

ANSWER: It’s exciting to see so many new storefronts coming into the district on a regular basis. The daytime businesses have benefitted tremendously from the increased traffic created by H2O’s Waterside Grill opening and knocking their first few months out of the park!! With the old Lumber Barons at 804 E. Midland St. currently under new ownership, Sombrero’s Mexican Restaurant and the Arlington Hotel opening in the near future, that traffic will only increase. Lake Huron Credit Union is also set to open soon. It’s really great to see the district, end to end, being revitalized. This will all lead to more traffic and more wins for everyone.  

Q: Right or wrong, the Midland Street district has a reputation for evening and weekend rowdiness. What is being done to address public safety?

A: Police are patrolling regularly. Are they sitting in their cars on every corner? No. As we have seen in the post COVID world, staffing is an issue everywhere and that is no different with our local police. It also has to do with the customers that are being attracted to Midland Street. Security is not needed anywhere else in the city and there are areas that are much more populated. Establishments that are open after midnight should be properly staffed to handle any rowdiness as a group, not only in their establishments, but also in making sure there are paying customers in the district and moving those loitering. If additional policing is needed, then a plan should be constructed to fund the additional support. All in all, a group effort needs to be made to avoid those situations.

Q: The district is known for bars and restaurants. But there are many other businesses down there including Unclaimed Freight Ace Hardware Store, Wholesale Electric Supply, the Sage Branch Library, Veterans Gift and Thrift Shop, salons, and professional offices. How do these different types of businesses balance each other?

A: These are the businesses that make the district great during the daytime! Many of them had record years this year because of the increased traffic to the district and Midland Street staying open to that traffic. There is also LoLoBees Lounge, Major Skate, Studio D Hair Salon, Midland Street Books, Art Dept., the Lake Huron Credit Union, and many more that will continue to thrive and drive people to the district. In addition, the Rathskeller Food & Spirits, Brooklyn Boyz, and H20’s hosting Happy Hour Specials is creating the perfect complement to the retail success.

Q: For several years, restaurants and bars in the Midland Street Business District spilled out onto sidewalks and streets to serve people in a socially distant manner. This past summer, that was scaled back as the other businesses in the district raised concerns about parking and access. Is your perception that it worked better this summer? Have you started considering what might work in 2024?

A: Feet on the Street (FOS) and street closures work in some areas. Seeing what Third Street did this year was truly amazing. They planned, it was full every night of the week, and many days too. FOS was created to help with capacity restrictions due to COVID. Midland Street was a different place two and three years ago. There are so many more businesses in the district and that traffic is crucial to everyone, day and night. Third Street is not a major artery for traffic, nothing like the importance of Midland Street to traffic in and out of Veterans Park, especially with more events including the Bay City Music Festival and the Bass Fishing Tournaments moving to Veterans Park in 2024.

It’s a different world and creativity is needed for success in business. The goal of every business owner should be to get patrons to walk through their front door. That will create success year-round and an event here and there in the street should complement that plan, not keep the lights on for anyone. There are more bars opening in the district and that is great to see. They should all be working together to drive foot traffic from door to door as well as vehicle traffic. FOS also ends at 11:30 p.m., which has opened itself to many loiterers, non-customers that eventually just start problems. The car traffic is important late at night to keep things moving. It’s also a better opportunity for police cruisers to be visible.

Q: In 2023, your restaurant, Mode's Tavern, was destroyed in a fire. You've hinted on Facebook at plans to open again. Can you give us insight into your plans for Mode's?

A: One thing I’ve learned since the fire and in business is not to mention any plans before they are a sure thing. Our plan to build on a piece of property we own in the district fell through because our vision and aspirations didn’t line up with our pocketbook and how expensive it would be to build new in the current market situation.  We are actively looking for something, but it must be the right situation for us. We live on the West Side of town; we’d like to find something on our side of town to include Bangor Township. Commercial property values, combined with the investment needed to bring up to today’s standards, present a major challenge financially. For obvious reasons, we are not interested in renting again and the trajectory we were on already had us looking for a bigger space we can own. My wife, Jill, and I are firm believers that everything happens for a reason, and we are excited to see what is in store for our future. 

Q: Anything you’d like to add?

A: It is wonderful to see how far the Midland Street Management Board (MSMB) has come and the credibility it has received from City Hall. A board that has been pretty much non-existent has now become one that has a waiting list of those interested in joining. That really speaks to how far the district has come, which is very exciting.

With everything mentioned above, once the daytime and nighttime businesses decide to work together with the MSMB to create events EVERYONE in the district will benefit from,the district will see an incredible boost.  One unified vision will be the momentum needed to take the district to the next level of success.

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Read more articles by Kathy Roberts.

Kathy Roberts, a graduate of Central Michigan University, moved to Bay City in 1987 to start a career in the newspaper industry. She was a reporter and editor at the Bay City Times for 15 years before leaving to work at the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Covenant HealthCare, and Ohno Design. In 2019, she returned to her storytelling roots as the Managing Editor of Route Bay City. When she’s not editing or writing stories, you can find her reading books, knitting, or visiting the bars of Bay County. You can reach Kathy at editor@RouteBayCity.com