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Muskegon, Michigan – Western Avenue

Main Streets 2017: Michigan

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Beauty queens, drama queens … lumber queens? Believe it or not, downtown Muskegon was once known as the “Lumber Queen of the World.” In the late 1800s, it was home to nearly 50 sawmills, and produced lumber for much of the United States. But the 20th century brought trials and tribulations to this city, including a devastating 1946 fire that destroyed many businesses. Thanks to support from organizations such as Downtown Muskegon, the community has undergone a revitalization that could help it claim a new title: Renaissance City of Michigan.

Today, an estimated 38,000 people call this historic waterfront city their home. At the heart of it all is Western Avenue, the northern border of Muskegon’s Heritage District.

Start your trip on the eastern end of Western Avenue at the Muskegon Farmers Market, which moved to the downtown area a few years ago. Far from being your average farmers market, this is also home to cooking classes, lessons on the “Power of Produce,” and even a Halloween bash. It’s also the perfect place to pick up some fresh groceries before heading a few blocks down to Hackley Park for a picnic. The park was named after Muskegon’s largest philanthropist, Charles Hackley, and it hosts a variety of events during the year, from an art fair to the Taste of Muskegon.

Continue your trip down Western Avenue with a visit to one of the nearly two dozen restaurants and breweries that Muskegon has to offer, such as the Unruly Brewing Company. Muskegon knows its breweries — at one point, this was one of only two places in the United States where Ireland’s beloved Guinness stout was bottled. Hang around Western Avenue to grab a slice of delicious pizza from Rebel Pies, another local staple.

After an afternoon’s exploring, head to the center of Western Avenue to catch a show at the Frauenthal Center for Performing Arts, formerly known as the Michigan Theater. This theater’s extraordinary, Spanish-style architecture will leave you in awe. You’d never know that in 1929, it cost only $690,000 to build.

Cap off the day by heading down to the Muskegon Heritage Museum at the western end of the Heritage District. where visitors can explore nearly 10,000 square feet of exhibits showing Muskegon’s history, including a working steam engine from 1893. It’s one of the many ways this city is preserving its industrial roots as it looks towards the future.

All photos courtesy of Visit Muskegon – The Muskegon County Convention & Visitors Bureau
Muskegon, MI is home to 2016-17 LifeChanger Dan Beckman, as well as 2014-15 LifeChanger of the Year winner Julie Raynor.

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Ann Arbor, Michigan – East Liberty Street

Main Streets 2016: Michigan

If you’re a fan of higher education and top-level college sports, Ann Arbor belongs on your list of most desirable communities. East Liberty Street is a centerpiece of this quintessential college town.

Just a few blocks long, East Liberty leads to State Street, on which fronts the main campus of the University of Michigan, one of America’s premier state universities.  Along with its high-quality academics, U-M is a leading research university — and its Wolverines have captured more than 56 NCAA and other athletic championships.

Sports are big in Ann Arbor, but they’re far from everything people value about this city of 114,000. Ann Arbor has long been a hotbed for progressive politics, and in recent years, it has become more and more of a high-tech town, with companies drawn here by the university’s research assets and the quality of its graduates.

East Liberty Street is one of downtown’s most popular meeting places. Shopping highlights include Liberty Street Robot Supply and Repair (that’s right, robots) and Underground Sounds, where you can pore through a well-curated selection of music LPs and CDs. But East Liberty’s chief glory is the Michigan Theater, a beautifully restored venue that started life in 1928 as a vaudeville and movie palace and a “shrine to the arts.”

In later decades, dubious modernization covered over its historic features, and by 1979, the place was vacant. City leaders and theatre lovers formed a foundation and saved the Michigan, which today is an eye-catching centerpiece of Ann Arbor’s cultural and community life. It hosts a rich schedule of musical and theater events, and is home to the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra.

There’s more live entertainment on or near East Liberty. Since 1965, the Ark has been a popular venue for acoustic music; it’s just around the corner on South Main Street. The nearby Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase on South 4th Street has given a stage to hundreds of rising talents over the years, including Tim Allen, Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O’Donnell. Annual festivals bring even more energy to downtown: summertime highlights include the Ann Arbor Art Fair, the Book Festival, and the three-week Ann Arbor Summer Festival.

One thing that’s sure about downtown Ann Arbor. You can be almost anyone here; but it’s very hard to be bored.

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