Brewpub shifts focus during COVID with help from Lakeshore Advantage, MEDC

Tripelroot in downtown Zeeland has been a community gathering place since it first opened six years ago. As it did for so many businesses, COVID-19 changed everything.

Two Michigan Economic Development Corporation grant programs helped Tripelroot make the necessary changes to shift its business model, the Michigan Small Business Restart grant program and the Michigan Small Business Relief grant.

And Lakeshore Advantage helped Tripelroot through the grant process.

“If it wouldn’t have been for them, I wouldn’t have known I could apply for the second grant,” says Laura Gentry who co-owns Tripelroot with her husband, Nate. “They’ve always been a great resource. And I feel they’ve really been on top of things and helping small businesses.”

A ‘comfortable space’

The couple always envisioned the brewpub primarily as a “comfortable space where people can gather.”

The Tripelroot community table is intentionally oversized to encourage strangers to sit together. It was a way for neighbors to get to know each other, Gentry says. 

“My favorite part is just seeing people enjoy the space,” she says.

The COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions it brought on public gatherings made that difficult if not impossible.

Changing to survive

The market changed on a dime, so to survive, Tripelroot had to do the same.

The downtown Zeeland business, 146 E. Main Ave., still has in-person dining and live music (socially distanced). But now, they also have an artisan grocery; a quick lunch spot with fresh, prepackaged wraps, salads, sandwiches, and soups; and to-go beer and wine. They also have multiple partnerships with other West Michigan businesses such as Salt of the Earth, Crisp Country Acres, Michigan Craft Beef, Black Sheep Farm, Farmhaus Cider, Boar's Head, Country Winds Farm, and Fustini’s Oils and Vinegar.

"The need for increased safety, both from state regulations and customers’ reduced appetite for doing business in person, has altered traditional commerce and has caused local businesses to focus on their creativity to remain current," says Zeeland Marketing Director Abby deRoo. "It is crucial for these small shops to do what they can to stay top of mind, and it’s crucial for local customers to go out of their way to support local businesses."

Drip Coffee, which sits next door, didn’t have enough business in the afternoons to stay open, so Tripelroot now has a fresh carafe of Drip Coffee every afternoon to help out their neighbor.

“We’re doing what we can to help local businesses. We can support each other,” Gentry says.

Tripelroot is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. The downtown Zeeland business could add some Saturday hours during the holiday season, so patrons should check the website for the most up-to-date hours.

Reinventing the business

When the statewide shutdown mandated restaurants close, Gentry and her husband took the time to reinvent their business. They had to.

They started “Pastie Monday” to let people buy the meat pies frozen and cook them at home (something Tripelroot is working on making a permanent offering).

They created “Take Out Tuesday” with a pop-up Bavarian soft pretzel shop and a pop-up soup shop.

In June, with the relaxation of restrictions, they opened their doors again. They had room for three socially distanced tables.

“That was actually a pretty big struggle,” Gentry says. “People weren’t ready to go back out.”

The brewpub shut down again after a few weeks.

Funds for renovation 

To shore up struggling businesses, Lakeshore Advantage, in collaboration with the MEDC and regional partners, awarded $3.325 million to 428 small businesses and nonprofits in Allegan and Ottawa counties through the Michigan Small Business Restart grant program. 

The nonprofit economic development organization received 887 grant applications with a total monetary request of nearly $9.3 million. Grants awarded ranged from $4,000-$20,000. 

Significant renovations were possible at Tripelroot, in part, because of the MEDC grants.

New shelving and counter space, a new service area and Point of Sale software and hardware, as well as new coolers transformed the business.

“Small businesses affected by COVID-19 need financial resources, and this is a monetary tool we are able to provide through administering this grant and loan locally,” says Jennifer Owens, president, Lakeshore Advantage. “Outside of this program, we are in touch daily with businesses and polling them weekly to know what resources they need right now and our team is diligently making those connections to help.”

In Allegan and Ottawa counties, 68% of the total funding for small businesses, or $2.08 million, was awarded to women-, minority-, and veteran-owned small businesses.

Navigating new reality
Small businesses and nonprofits are the heartbeats of Michigan communities, and state assistance makes navigating the new reality of COVID-19 possible for thousands of them, Owens says.

“We knew we needed to do something to supplement the income, because we couldn’t pack out the place on Friday and Saturday nights anymore,” Gentry says.

There was no more happy hour with people working from home.

“When people worked from home and happy hour came up, they just went to the refrigerator,” Gentry says.

Now Tripelroot offers catered boxed lunches.

“If you stay stagnant,” Gentry says, “you’re not going to be relevant.”

Read more about efforts to help local businesses:

'Heal the Zeel' campaign rallies community support

Transparency and inclusiveness drive Restart Grant award process

Grants up to $20,000 available for small businesses impacted by COVID-19
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