Community. Belonging to one. Coming back to one. Enhancing one. These concepts collectively form one of the goals of the Midland Business Alliance’s MYPros that leads an annual crowdfunding campaign in support of local businesses.
According to Kevin LaDuke, Communications Officer with the Midland Area Community Foundation (MACF) and MYPros (Midland Young Professionals) crowdfunding subcommittee co-chair, the total impact of this crowdfund has eclipsed $150 thousand since it began in 2019.
MYPros check presentation to 3 Bridges Distillery
Community investments in Nor’East Outdoors and Three Bridges Distillery, recipients of the 2023 crowdfund, have been far reaching, and the enthusiasm of its owners about the Midland community is obvious.
John Levy, partner of Three Bridges says, “We love people who come here for those special occasions [like weddings]. When they could go anywhere, they choose us. It’s a great feeling being selected as the place.”
Stacie Scherman, owner of Nor’East says, “I gear my business for people who want an activity, not just to rent something . . . it’s about the experience. I’m selling trips, not just [renting] the equipment [kayaks].”
Stacier Scherman is the owner of Nor'East Outdoors
These places were selected from among 10 businesses after going through an extensive application process including a 90-second video pitch and interview, according to Marybeth Penkala, Director of Membership and Partner Engagement with the Midland Business Alliance and MYPros crowdfunding subcommittee co-chair. “Both businesses [Nor’East and Three Bridges] were wanting to work for it and helped each other hit the $10 thousand fundraising minimum” to get the additional money from the Foundation. “It was a group effort,” she says.
The application asks businesses to address what kind of community impact their respective projects will have and how they will create new energy or excitement in the community. To this end, Scherman purchased kayaks, paddles, children’s life vests, a cargo trailer and a third seat for one of her transport vans, allowing for larger groups.
She says prior to receiving the crowdfunding money the business was limited because it was difficult to accommodate a lot of people. “This summer I had my biggest one-time group ever of 35 people, and my biggest single day ever with 50. Last year, 30 people was my highest day.”
Customers enjoying the new outdoor furniture at Three Bridges Distillery in downtown Midland.
Levy says Three Bridges has doubled its seating capacity by adding outdoor amenities including couches, lounge furniture, swing chairs, a custom awning and an outdoor high-top bar. “We are up about 22% in sales due to this outdoor expansion over the summer of 2022. We’ve hired another person and were able to give another employee more hours.” Scherman has also expanded her workforce and has one driver in addition to herself and a high school student. “These two employees know everything from top to bottom,” she says.
LaDuke says that along with the $10 thousand each crowdfunding recipient must raise on its own, additional money [$10 thousand in past years and $20 thousand in 2023] comes from the Foundation’s earned interest through the MACF’s Impacting Investment Committee. It then is awarded to the Midland Business Alliance, a nonprofit organization, who in turn gives the money to the respective businesses. “It’s us investing funds locally instead of in the stock market,” he says. “It’s our community, so it’s our job to take care of it. We need to ask ourselves what is the draw for future generations? We need to ‘set the table’ to be a dynamic space for all.”
Pizza Baker was the first recipient of the MYPros crowdfunding in 2019.
LaDuke referenced the idea of a ‘third place’, an urban planning term he attributes to Grant Murschel, Director of Real Estate and Business at Space, Inc. ‘Third place’ refers to places where people spend time between home (first place) and work (second place). “It’s a dedicated place where you choose to spend your time,” he says, “places enhanced through MYPros crowdfunding campaigns.” Previous crowdfund winners are Pizza Baker - 2019, Aviator Cookie Company - 2021, Aster - 2022, and Grove Tea Lounge - 2022. No awards were given in 2020 due to COVID. “Third places are very important. They create environments to make the community more attractive,” Penkala says, but “I think Midland is an easy sell; there’s something for everyone.”
In addition to the kayak-related purchases, Scherman plans to expand Nor’East Outdoors into bicycle and cross-country ski experiences and has rented a storefront on McDonald St. around the corner from Littleforks Outfitters. Although this was not in the original plan, she will now have a retail presence with regular hours staffed by someone. “This will expand capacity where we will be able to serve more people,” she said. “It’s good to have a business be year-round.”
On the river with Nor'East Outdoors
She says the whole MYPros crowdfunding experience was incredible. It re-energized her and sparked enthusiasm for the future. “Now I’ve got to ‘show up’,” she says. I’m doing this not only for my business, but also for the community that believes in me. “I don’t want to let people down.”
Three Bridges Distillery opens up into the sidewalk seating area.
In addition to the outdoor furniture, Levy hopes to expand Three Bridges Distillery by adding outdoor fire pits and a covered, lighted canopy, both of which need approval from the city first. Plans are in the works with Molasses Smokehouse and Bar, similar to the partnership with Pizza Baker, and the distillery is now open on Sundays when they offer free chili with the purchase of a beverage.
“We also have 40-50 retail locations outside of here, furthering our exposure,” Levy says. “[That way] people can enjoy our stuff at home when they’re snowed in.” He says, “Every business must be a giver as well as a taker. It then comes back to you. MYPros continues to give and impact more people’s lives.”
LaDuke says he anticipates the crowdfunding initiative will continue in 2024 and looks forward to its return.