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Neighborhood Association invites residents, businesses to 'History of Heartside' event

Lend your perspective to the collective history of the charming and eclectic Heartside neighborhood at the History of Heartside Event November 8th.
The Harris Building (left), site of the History of Heartside event, can be seen in this 1928 photo of a street-widening project.

The Harris Building (left), site of the History of Heartside event, can be seen in this 1928 photo of a street-widening project.

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Join the conversation this Thursday!

The Neighborhood Association wants to hear your own stories and experiences and would love for you to join them on Thursday, November 8th from 5:30-7pm in the Harris Building at 111 Division Ave S for an evening of history sharing and community building. RSVP to the facebook event

The Neighborhood Association is growing and would like you to become involved in community decisions and organizational planning. Email Mallory Patterson and Alysha Lach White to get involved at [email protected], or simply attend the open potluck meetings that meet the third Tuesday of each month at 111 S. Division from 6:00-8:00 pm.

Thanks to Herm Baker for his perspective in writing this article. If you are in the market for some new music in the form of vinyl records, CD’s, or cassette tapes and want to support Herm Baker’s local business, go check out Vertigo Music at 129 Division Ave S.!


A crew from the street lighting dept. is shown installing a new light on the west side of Division just south of Fulton in 1928.

A crew from the street lighting dept. is shown installing a new light on the west side of Division just south of Fulton in 1928. /Grand Rapids Historical Commission

The can-do spirit of Neighborhood Association co-chairs Alysha Lach White (left) and Mallory Patterson (right) propels change!

The can-do spirit of Neighborhood Association co-chairs Alysha Lach White (left) and Mallory Patterson (right) propels change!

Neighborhood history is a collection of stories and memories from the past that captures the essence of a place and its people. By understanding a place’s history, we are able to learn from those who came before us, gaining perspective to inform the present. Although it is powerful when recorded well, history is flawed in the way it is gathered; the traditional practice of history-sharing sometimes forgets to include important voices, leaving a neighborhood’s story incomplete. This issue is especially important when it comes to Heartside, a community that is comprised of groups of people with a rich but often overlooked history. “We know Heartside is a neighborhood that is different than any other place in the city because it is home to and serves so many people,” said Mallory Patterson, Neighborhood Association co-chair. “Our residents have said they want to know more about black and brown-owned businesses, and about people’s personal experiences in the neighborhood.”

The newly organized Neighborhood Association has been taking shape over the past two years in Heartside. On the third Tuesday of each month, community members have been gathering to voice concerns and provide solutions to collective neighborhood issues. Neighborhood Association Co-Chairs Patterson and Alysha Lach White want to harness this energy of neighbors to construct an inclusive history of the neighborhood in their upcoming event. “The History of Heartside event will be instrumental in expanding the impact of the Neighborhood Association and further enhancing the already vibrant Heartside and Center City communities,” says Patterson. The event, which will be held in the evening on Thursday, Nov. 8th, is open to the public and will be held in a historic building in Heartside. Lach White emphasizes, “every resident and business owner in the neighborhood contributes to the history of the community and the more we can listen to each other and connect, the fuller our historical narratives will become!”

One of the longest-running business owners in Heartside, Herm Baker, who owns the vinyl record shop Vertigo Music, has been in the neighborhood for just over 18 years. He has seen the neighborhood change and develop throughout the years and offers valuable perspective and input on the history of Heartside. “When we came here all of the buildings were boarded up.” The biggest change that Baker has seen since moving Vertigo Music into Heartside is that buildings have gradually become occupied in the neighborhood over time. There is no longer an excessive amount of vacant space.  Baker adds, “What hasn’t changed is the ebb and flow of retail coming and going.” There is a pattern of businesses moving into Heartside and leaving after a relatively short amount of time. Baker’s advice to new businesses in Heartside is to commit to the neighborhood and engage with other local business owners via the Heartside Buisness Association.

Over his 18 years of business in Heartside, Baker has only ever been approached by one new business owner seeking a deeper understanding of the neighborhood and its opportunities for businesses. He values community, businesses that demonstrate consistency, and the need to understand the neighborhood’s dynamics. When asked about his hopes for the future of the neighborhood, Baker replied, “I’d like to see more retail open up. Retail that’s really committed. I would also like to see a larger, more engaging police presence on the block and blocks surrounding. I would really like to see that.”

Overall, Baker said he loves the “grittiness” of the neighborhood and of the city as a whole.  Heartside is a place where he feels at home and gets along with a lot of people. At Vertigo, Baker says, “we make a point to embrace everybody and treat everybody decently.  In return, we get a lot of respect back.”

Herm’s insight is just a sneak peek of what’s to come from the History of Heartside event. On November 8th from 5:30-7pm, the Neighborhood Association wants to give local residents the opportunity to share and collaborate with other community members at the Harris Building, 111 South Division. By creating spaces to learn from, empower, and share with each other, the Neighborhood Association's event answers the call for inclusive storytelling in Heartside.

This will be an interactive event where attendees will be able to explore the foundational history of Heartside and contribute to the body of knowledge about the neighborhood.  The Neighborhood Association will begin the event by presenting their known history and the second half of the event will be spent as an opportunity for residents from the past and present to share their own lived histories.

Information will be collected and recorded on the spot by the Neighborhood Association in hopes of creating a history that represents diverse voices and narratives. Your voice and experiences matter and deserve to be a part of the history we share as a community. Patterson says, “Together we are making sure as many voices as possible are included in our version of the history so that Heartside can continue to truly be a place for everyone.”

With a mission to improve the lives of people by creating quality affordable housing, providing essential support services and serving as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization, Dwelling Place serves families and people in 4 counties across West Michigan. Dwelling Place is powered by volunteers and numerous staff persons, guest writers create our Rapidian content. Special thanks to Rachel Mersereau, Dwelling Place intern from Hope College, for supporting the Neighborhood Association.

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