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If East Hills is the center of the universe, the Blackport Building is the beacon in the middle. In a corner room, toddlers and their mothers sing and dance while the teacher coordinates the performance on her guitar. Toward the front of the building, a personal trainer observes as two of his clients’ jog on treadmills, looking out the large glass windows that give a perfect view of a snowy, yet still bustling Lake Drive. As I walk the connecting hallways, the smells of incense, tea leaves, and coffee beans from the coffee shop flood the building with a pleasant feeling; it’s warm and feels like home. The diverse patchwork of businesses compliment all the senses, sometimes simultaneously, creating an atmosphere that uniquely captures the essence of the entire neighborhood.
Beginning its life as the home of the Blackport Packing Company in 1937, this building has seen much change in the 80 years since it’s completion. As you walk through artifacts from lives past still stand, at times blending so perfectly with the newer improvements, you’d miss them if you weren’t looking. If you look closely beyond the back shelves inside Clothing Matters, you’ll see a large garage door from Blackport’s days as a loading dock. Large industrial doors still stand throughout, reminding visitors of the building’s storied past.
In addition to building around the original fixtures, Blackport tenants have also improved their places, building onto them to accommodate their needs. Ambrosia Theater, needing a dedicated performance space, now has a 49-seat theater on the second story to host events. The Yoga Studio, utilizing sound proofing done by a previous tenant, created a tranquil yoga space within the wood grained walls.
After Blackport Packing went out of business, the building spent the next 20 years in flux before Jerry Meyer, currently serving his 3rd year on Uptown’s Corridor Improvement District (CID Board and beginning his 47th year as an East Hills resident/property owner, was encouraged to buy the property and fix it up in 1999. It started with hosting shows for local bands, notably area favorites Midlife Crisis and Domestic Problems, evolving into a place with real storefronts. One of the longest building tenants, Global Infusion has called Blackport home since 2004. Since then, businesses have come and gone, but Meyer has ensured the “funky” vibe of the neighborhood has been preserved through the diversity of his tenants. He says he has the “most awesome tenants in the world” and vacancies are always filled by referrals. How does Jerry Meyer help keep Uptown funky? He has always offered affordable rent, helping all the passionate people inside Blackport build their dream businesses without worrying about how they will pay their end-of-the-month expenses in an increasingly competitive market.
Currently, the Blackport Building houses 17 small businesses on two floors, many of which have been there for years, ranging from wellness & health to fashion & the arts. The sheer diversity ensures there’s something for everyone at Blackport. Looking for a new outfit? Rock Paper Scissors and Clothing Matters have you covered. Arts in Motion Studio and Joyful Noise offer art classes for all ages and skill levels within several disciplines including painting, drawing, dancing, and music. At Full Strength Personal Training and The Yoga Studio, you can enrich your body and mind with the help of skilled trainers with years of knowledge in their fields. If something seems slightly off in your living room or dining room, The Red Lobby has interior design expertise to freshen up the look of your whole house. Perimeter Frames can help set off the art and family photos you’ve been meaning to display for months. Every business offers a complimentary function, each offering a distinctive service to the building.
One would be hard-pressed to find a better example of the evolution experienced throughout the Uptown area than the Blackport Building, and more difficult still, an example that keeps with the “Keep Uptown Funky” mentality shared by many area residents and business owners. The Blackport Building captures the entrepreneurial spirit that the Uptown neighborhood was founded on, as well as the idea of making the old new again instead of just tearing down the outdated and building the modern. As the neighborhood continues to evolve and change, we should all look to Blackport to remind us that sometimes evolution can be just as good, if not more creative, than renovation.
Interested in visiting the Blackport Building? Below we’ve listed contact information for all of the businesses within Blackport.
The Red Lobby
Joyful:Sounds Music Studio
Arts in Motion
SPARK of Life Studio
The Change Studio
A Sense of Flow Wellness Center
The Yoga Studio
Cedar Tree Birth & Wellness
Bellydance Grand Rapids
Rock Paper Scissors