Walking south down Ionia Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids has been remarkably familiar for a while.
Grand Rapids Brewing Company. Buffalo Wild Wings. Hopcat.
All great places, but all familiar, offering familiar pub food, familiar beer, and familiar decor.
Three months ago, however, a new business entered the neighborhood and familiar is the last word used to describe it.
Open the door to Slate, 44 Ionia Ave SW Suite #2, and you are suddenly transported to somewhere far from West Michigan. Think Magnificent Mile in Chicago, Toronto, downtown Charleston, South Carolina, or wait for it, maybe, just maybe New York City. I know bold, lofty comparisons, but I have visited those epic shopping districts in my day and the store stacks up.
It’s tough and modern and edgy and chill and most notably, an escape, a breath of fresh air for men who want to make a lasting first impression, yet cringe when they think of settling for the mall – again.
In other words, exactly what Slate owner Stacy Mulder set out to create with her contractor.
I wanted a refined, masculine feel and they totally delivered. Seeing all the inventory in the space was so fun and was definitely a “pinch-me” type of moment.
Right away you notice the shiny floors. Wood displays hung on white walls. Rugs. Couch. Exposed duct work.
And, of course, Mulder, dressed to the T, sporting fancy shoes and a bright smile, ready to provide personalized service, you know, what you have to beg for anywhere else. Slate is the best of both worlds: big-city style mixed with a dash of small-city hospitality.
Why it’s about time
Don’t worry it’s not a suit store. It’s bursting at the seams with gear you can wear to the brewpub, The Lumineers concert, or Sunday brunch with the family.
We’re talking T-shirts, jeans, sweaters, hats and accessories. And not from brands your eyes glaze over when you read them. Express has its place, just not in Slate. What happens in Vegas, doesn’t always stay in Vegas, thankfully. That’s where Mulder discovered plenty of brands she couldn’t live without.
Zadig & Voltaire.
And that Grand Rapids hadn’t even lived with.
“My goal was to bring in brands that weren’t already in Grand Rapids,” she said.
Fashion-conscious men in West Michigan are searching for something different, according to Jenny Van Veen, an experienced retailer who owns Frances Jaye in downtown Holland, an independent store that offers stylish men’s and women’s clothing.
A lot of men who come into the store tell us that it’s hard to find unique and high quality men’s products in the area. I think they’re looking for clothes that are modern, comfortable, and cool but casual. We try to cultivate a collection that is trendy without being flashy, and has options for men who want the preppy look or guys with a more rustic style. We have some men’s clothes that could be worn in a job interview, and other styles that are perfect for a day on the beach or a hike in the woods.
Online reviews, which have already started to appear for Slate, seem to confirm the need and suggest Slate is succeeding at filling it.
“I’ve made several visits and attended the grand opening,” one Facebook review reads. “The staff goes above and beyond to help you out. The selection is perfect- there’s everything
How Slate was born
Like most great things, Slate didn’t happen overnight and it certainly didn’t result from a straight, easy path.
After high school, Mulder studied interiors, collaborative design and jewelry design at Kendall College in Grand Rapids. Those studies didn’t seem promising so she tried a more traditional approach, switching to a marketing major at Grand Valley State University.
I wasn’t a big fan of “real” school, so within the first few weeks I applied to FIDM (the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising) in downtown LA, got accepted and dropped the classes that wouldn’t transfer. I studied fashion merchandise marketing for about a year.
Then Mulder made another tough decision: she moved back home to Grand Rapids.
I was ready to just start working. I was able to do marketing for my dad (Snap Fitness franchisee). I definitely was ready to leave LA. I just needed to figure out what I wanted to do for a career long term besides just working for my dad.
Mulder chose to live downtown when she returned and noticed many men who worked or live downtown as well. Then a routine activity – walking her dog – sparked an interesting thought.
“It just dawned on me that we need a store specifically for men’s casual, everyday clothing,” she said. “I have always loved shopping so it seemed like it was totally up my alley.”
And her friends and family didn’t think she was crazy. In fact, they were supportive, just like they’ve always been, Mulder said.
Slate held its grand opening on Dec. 3. It was a big deal, with Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss in attendance. Bliss said she was encouraged by what she saw.
Slate is an important part of the continued growth of our city and a great addition to our local economy. As a community, we support the entrepreneurial spirit – and we thank Stacy for joining the growing list of small businesses that call Grand Rapids home and playing a key role in the vibrancy of our downtown.
Like her friends and family, the neighborhood businesses have also been supportive, enjoying the foot traffic the store is bringing to the area.
Moving ahead, Slate is focusing on its recently launched online store and hosting events, such as Sip & Shop, where men can come after hours and shop, at a discount, with refreshments.
Mulder is thankful for Slate, the opportunity, the next step, and the clarity she feels right now, right here.