How a community is finding a new use for transit trolleys

Two aging Harbor Transit trolleys the city of Grand Haven recently sold to area residents are getting a new lease on life.

The buyers, who each purchased a trolley for $1,000, say it’s a way to expand their businesses, add jobs and fill a philanthropic need in this Lakeshore community.

For Laura and Chris Girard, owners of the Surf Shop in downtown Grand Haven, their green trolley has an extra special meaning: It was an integral part of their wedding when they were married in 1993.

“We took it from the church and did a tour of downtown,” recalls Chris. “I was executive chef of the Bil Mar at the time, so we took pictures on the deck and took the trolley to our reception.”

Mandy Anderson plans to turn this trolley into a food truck.

Gourmet hot dog, anyone?

Chris says they’ll spend around $20,000 to make repairs and retrofit the interior for its new use as a hybrid food truck/mini surf shop.

“We’ll do a gourmet-style hot dog of some kind — a grab-and-go deal — and have T-shirts and sunscreen and other gear for sale because, wherever we go, it will be a necessity,” says Chris.

Also on his radar is to make the trolley available to nonprofits and churches. “We also envision donating the trolley to whatever local organization is doing something, like Eagles or a local church may need it for a food pantry,” says Chris. “We envision using it for the winter along those lines.”

Mobile catering

Mandy Anderson — who owns and operates the Lake Effect Kitchen and its nonprofit arm, Eat Well Do Good, in Grand Haven with partner Aaron Johnson — hires people with disabilities. Anderson says she intends to invest $75,000 in her blue trolley, and then use it as a food truck for catering events in the warmer months, and maybe in the winter, as well. She plans to hire six part-time employees for the endeavor, including four with disabilities.

Mandy Anderson and Aaron Johnson of Eat Well Do Good.

“We are always looking for new avenues to create jobs, and having a food truck will allow us to increase the number of events we serve and hire more people,” says Anderson. “We’ve never owned a food truck before, so maybe we’ll use it in the winter at events such as parades and sell hot drinks. How we are able to retrofit it will tell us if we can operate it in the winter. We’re just in the beginning stages of drawing up plans.”

Support for local businesses

Jeremy Swiftney, executive director of the Grand Haven Main Street Downtown Development Authority, says the priority with the City Council when bids for the trolleys were submitted was to in some way help local businesses instead of selling the vehicles outside of Grand Haven.

“For somebody who grew up in Grand Haven, this would be great, being able to see that they (the trolleys) have a new life,” says Swiftney, “and that they would help to support businesses in Grand Haven.”

Like the Girards, Swiftney says he would have considered using one of the trolleys when he got married but there was one hitch when he got, well, hitched. “Had we not got married in the winter, we would have done it, too,” he says with a smile.


Read more articles by Paul R. Kopenkoskey.