GRAND RAPIDS — The Gutowskis, Walter Sr. and Walter Jr., walked off with the Gerald R. Helmholdt Grand Prize in the 12th edition of the Neighborhood Business Awards on Nov. 1. Then last Thursday, the Michigan Retailers Association honored the Gutowskis as the state’s small retailer of the year for their charitable contributions.
The Gutowskis own Swift Printing Co. at 400 Bridge St. NW, and they entered into a partnership with the Genesis Nonprofit Housing Corp. to turn the upper floors of two buildings they renovated for commercial use into residential units for disabled persons. The apartments opened earlier this year at the corner of Bridge and Mount Vernon. They also renovated a third building that now serves as a physical therapy clinic.
“I think they exemplify the best in the neighborhood business districts by not only doing a commercial rehab that is very nice, but also by providing the housing for the disabled,” said Sharon Evoy, executive director of the Neighborhood Business Specialist Program, which hosted the local awards.
“This is something more than just apartments and a business. There is something more going on there. There is a true partnership to not only provide this housing, but to improve the community,” she added.
Chairman and CEO Larry Meyer said the MRA honored the Gutowskis for their “wide-ranging community support.” He said they donate printing to nonprofits, spend one Sunday each month preparing lunches at a soup kitchen, coach youth sports, fund scholarships at local Catholic high schools and serve on the boards of several community organizations.
“As we kick off the season of giving, it’s a fitting time to recognize the retailers who display the spirit of generosity year-round. The Retailer of the Year awards honor the best of the best,” said Meyer.
Swift Printing has been in business for 46 years.
This year was the first time the annual neighborhood event honored an overall winner with an award named after the late mayor who championed small business in the city.
Evoy said the grand prize was named after Helmholdt because he was very active in the Burton Heights business district as owner and operator of a home decorating business before he was elected mayor. As mayor, she said he was largely responsible for creating the Neighborhood Business Alliance in 1988, which serves the city’s 19 business districts, and the specialist program in 1989, which provides technical and marketing assistance to those districts.
“He realized that for the city as a whole to be successful, it needed to have healthy neighborhood business districts. He knew that 20 years ago,” said Evoy.
“It’s real easy to focus on downtown and the suburbs, and it’s appropriate to do so. But there is also a need to focus on the neighborhood business districts, and he saw that long before anyone else was thinking about it,” she added.
The popular Helmholdt served two terms as mayor from 1984-1992. He was 64 years old when he died from cancer in December 1998. The Helmholdt decorating business closed in the fall of 1999, after a run of 69 years.
Other Neighborhood Business Award winners were:
- Best Façade: Kopper Top Restaurant at 638 Stocking NW
- Best Window Display: Blue Door Antiques at 946 East Fulton
- Best Interior Renovation: Steiner-Wolff Sales & Marketing at 525 Ottawa NW
- Best Exterior Renovation: Bazzani Associates Inc. at 940 East Fulton
- Best New Construction: Youth Commonwealth at 235 Straight NW
- Best Exterior Maintenance: De Vries Properties for Landmark Lofts at 801 Monroe NW
- Best Use Of Sign/Awning: Purple East at 250 Ionia SW
- Best Reuse of a Building: Dillenbeck’s Coffeehouse at 1059 West Fulton and Globe Apartments at 315 Commerce SW (tie)
- Best Promotional Event: Burton Heights Business Association at 2642 South Division
- Best Program: Grandville Avenue Arts Academy
Mayor John Logie presented the awards. Pioneer Construction Co. was the event’s lead patron and Verizon was its corporate patron. The ceremony was held in the Richard M. DeVos Center on the downtown campus of Grand Valley State University.
The Gutowskis received their MRA award at a luncheon held at the James B. Henry Center at Michigan State University in Lansing.