Creating a Complete Downtown

NaBloPoMo, Day 3.

How do you find the right mix of businesses for a small-town downtown? Communities and Main Street organizations grapple with finding new business to bring into their downtown. But the real magic? Finding the right types of businesses that can all compliment each other to create a complete downtown.

Downtown Boyne City
Storefronts, signs, and large sidewalks

While I was home at Christmas, I had a conversation with my Dad about what types of additional businesses could succeed in downtown Boyne City. My parents live in the northern Michigan community of Boyne City, the permanent home of 3,700 and a popular vacation spot. Over the course of our conversation, it occurred to me that Boyne City might just have a complete downtown.


Let’s look at the aesthetics of downtown Boyne City. Most, if not all, the historic buildings have been restored or are well maintained. Most commercial buildings feature large glass storefronts, recessed entries, hanging signs, and period appropriate lighting. Both sides of the street feature wide sidewalks, scattered trees and trash cans, and benches. The main street is two-ways with angled street parking.

Additionally, there are many other amenities within a block or two of the downtown – Lake Charlevoix, the marina, multiple parks, public restrooms, and public art. These items draw people to the downtown and create an environment where people want to stay to enjoy the space.

As an aside, most of photos I’ve featured were taken on Christmas Day, when there was no one in downtown Boyne City. I figured it was a great opportunity to get photos of the buildings without cars in the way.

Let’s look at a photo from the 4th of July:

A very busy downtown Boyne City on the 4th of July! Support your local downtown businesses!

A photo posted by Raina Regan (@raiosunshine) on



Downtown Boyne City is most famous for the Red Mesa, with mouth-watering Latin American cuisine. The Mesa brings in people from the entire region and often has a lengthy wait during the summer. Every community strives to have that “IT” draw — a business that can support and grow the entire downtown. Fortunately for Boyne City, the Red Mesa is that business and is complimented by Cafe Sante, a French restaurant owned and operated by the same company.

Beyond Red Mesa and Cafe Sante, there is an amazing variety of businesses in downtown Boyne City. There’s a local pharmacy, a high-end liquor store/provisions shop and cafe, bookstore/coffee shop, bike shop, two hardware stores, bakery, fudge shop, Radio Shack (independently owned and still in business), organic grocery, ice cream shop, home decor shop, diner, multiple tourist-focused clothiers, a chocolate shop, art gallery, Chinese restaurant, and American restaurant.

…and all of these businesses are within a handful of blocks. The question remains – what’s missing? That’s the conversation I had with my Dad and one I couldn’t answer. While Boyne City is primarily a tourism driven community, any successful business will need to cater to both winter and summer tourists, alongside permanent residents.


There aren’t many vacant buildings in downtown Boyne City. There are underutilized buildings and vacant second story spaces. However, there is one major opportunity: the Boyne Theater.

The marquee of the Boyne Theater, Boyne City, Michigan.

A photo posted by Raina Regan (@raiosunshine) on


A few summers ago I was given a chance to tour the vacant theater. One of those bonuses of being a preservationist: people randomly give you tours of buildings! There’s a strong desire to restore the Boyne Theater as a functioning performing arts space, but it is one of those large projects that can take years to unfold. When the Boyne Theater is repurposed, it will only build upon the great offerings downtown Boyne City has to offer.

Is Boyne City a complete downtown? I don’t know for sure, but it comes closer than any other community I know. What businesses do you think could succeed here? What is Boyne City missing?

boyne city 2
Water Street on Christmas Day


Add yours →

  1. I love this post, these thoughts, and this town! Wonderful post. And you make excellent points. What is it missing? I don’t know without being there. Is there a bank? I think it’s important for people to do errands. If all of the stores are filled and good, then as you mentioned, time to move up – to the second floors! Get people living in the downtown. That would make it complete. And get that theater up and running! Oh, also, does it stay open past 5pm/6pm? Can people go there are night and find something to do?

    • Yes, there is a bank! I thought so, but had to check. I knew I was missing a few things. There are a few apartments on the second floors of the commercial buildings, but not all of them. The one thing Boyne City needs — looking at the entire community — is affordable housing. There are lots of service jobs but not a lot of housing to support.

      Definitely things stay open past 5/6pm. That’s really the peak of the downtown — people either boat or ski during the day, then come downtown for dinner, nightlife, shopping, etc. They do that well! During the summer, the Main Street group has great live music on the street on Friday nights. It is a great atmosphere!

      It is a great place and I know you’d love northern Michigan for a visit!

      • I’ll add it to my list! Maybe summer? I’ve driven across the UP, but didn’t stop in too many places. Mackinac Island was, of course, glorious.

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