West MI Business Owner Says Township Leaders Preventing Him From Growing Company

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GRAND RAPIDS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (May 6, 2014) – A West Michigan business owner contacted the ‘FOX 17 Problem Solvers’ after he said township leaders are preventing him from growing his company.

Ken Court has been selling fruits and groceries in West Michigan for more than two decades.  Two years ago, he had an eye on a strip mall on Plainfield Avenue in Grand Rapids Township.

“Plainfield has a lot of traffic there really isn’t a lot of competition up here,” said Court, the owner of Ken’s Fruit Market.  “I just thought it was a great spot and it needed a fruit market.”

He crudely mapped out what the location would look like.

“We just drew a line from here to there and said so we could use this space here,” he said.  “I even hoped that down the road we got big enough that I could take it out even further.  It included 7,000 square feet of outside sales area for plants, trees and shrubs.”

He took his drawing to the Grand Rapids Township board.

“The Township Planner said he looked it over and didn’t see any issues,” Court said.  “So I felt that I was good to go at that time.”

What he didn’t get was anything in writing.  The plans he thought were approved were actually against a township ordinance prohibiting outdoor sales.

FOX 17 asked, “Had you known that you couldn’t have had that outside space would you have ever located here?”

“No,” he said.

According to Township Supervisor Mike DeVries, Grand Rapids Township hasn’t allowed outdoor retail space since 1850 as a way of keeping pop-up vendors from setting up shop.

When the store opened two years ago, the township made an exception and honored Court’s verbal agreement for outdoor space.

Court said that was good for business, “The outside stuff is kind of like Christmas to us.”

Then he said the township told him to scale back, “They told me they didn’t like the fact that I left my greenhouse up all winter and they gave me an inch and I took a mile.”

DeVries, the Township Supervisor, refused an on-camera interview but told me by phone that the township actually created an outdoor sales ordinance for Ken’s Fruit Market.  That ordinance limited the outdoor space to just 3000 feet.  Court said that’s been cutting into his bottom line.

“We actually had it all ordered and I had guys hired to do that work everything,” said DeVries.  “I had to cut all my orders off because we didn’t have any place to put them.  I had to get rid of people that I hired.”

Court said the problem can be solved if the township would be willing to work with him and help utilize space that would otherwise remain empty.

“It’s just hard to have a discussion with somebody that doesn’t seem to want you here,” he said.  “I know the customers want us here because the sales prove it.”

DeVries said the city ordinance speaks for itself and the township won’t make laws to suit a specific business.

As for Ken Court, his lease at the Plainfield location is good for several more years but he isn’t sure if he’ll stay for the long-term.

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11 comments

  • maj1123

    This is ridiculous, Ken's is the only thing keeping that dying chunk of real estate alive. I travel from Sand lake to shop there specifically. Plainfield has been allowed to just fall apart. I can remember a time when D&W was back where the now vacant ITT building is and in the spring, they would have a greenhouse where we could purchase plants & flowers. So who in Plainfield township is getting a kickback from Lowe's to prevent this small business from doing what every other business in the area does this time of year.

  • Suzanne

    I agree. That parking lot is HUGE and there is more than enough ample space to allow Ken's to continue as always. I shop here to support local and this area needs this. Maybe an ordinance from the 1850's should be re-evaluated—-or a continued exception made for this business at least.

  • Laurie

    I find it interesting that the Township says there is an ordinance against outside retail sales, yet a farmers market sets up every Tuesday in the lot next to Plainfield Fire Dept all summer long. They also allow "pop up" vendors in the parking lots all along Plainfield for fireworks sales.
    I shop at Ken's all the time and am so grateful they choose to be in our neighborhood. They have a wonderfull selection of flowers in the spring and we should be able to buy local.
    If the township is going to enforce a 150+ year old ordinance, BE CONSISTANT or DROP IT from the books!

  • Joe

    Ken's Market is located in Grand Rapids Township, not Plainfield Township, as clearly noted in the story and the video clip.

    • Yup

      I smile at negative votes but truth is if you want new spot I will pay for you too move I think you could do much better if you have the support. We love your buisness some things need attention but the profile is there. I live in the township but if growth is what they don't want you should have options.

  • Tommy

    I've been acquainted for years with Ken in a professional and personal setting . If Ken says he will do something , he will . He has provided the area with a great service and shopping experience . He has also provided the shopping center with hub of business to the other shops in the center . Seems that what space he requires to better the location and provides additional employment to promote a wholesome addition to the area would truely be a no brainer . By not working with businesses to help them we are letting them know we don't want to grow and provide for our community.

  • Ruth

    Get with the program, Supervisor Mike DeVries. Why is new business discouraged in the township? Ken's Fruit Market is a valuable asset to the area, bringing in a lot of customers. And any expansion will provide more employment opportunities!! Expansion should be encouraged instead of restricted. And the ordinance (circa 1850) is from the dark ages. Really!! Get with the 21st century.

  • amazedhuman

    I would like one good, real reason for standing in the way of a much needed business like Ken's Fruit Market? The people running it are great. The store is wonderful. There is nothing, not one single thing that can be said detrimental about the business. So why get in the way of the expansion? The Plainfield corridor used to be a thriving place of business. Not anymore. The Plainfield township board has about run it into the ground – let's go way back to when they killed off the bus service to what was the North Kent Mall – with ridiculous rules, regulations and restrictions. Now we have the Grand Rapids Township obviously set on ruining something decent out here? There is no rhyme or reason for this. And frankly, fools with puffed up heads filled with too much power being obnoxious and bent on destruction of something good has gone quite far enough. We- the residents out this way who love this store-have had enough foolishness. How about trying some logic for a change when dealing with decent businesses that want to grow? There is no logic to standing in the way of this one. None at all!

  • Catherine Snow

    I love Ken's Market. This has been a blighted corner for years. The township needs to be flexible to allow for economic growth. Otherwise, VOTE THEM OUT!

  • Kevin w

    Grand Rapids township basically wants money. Build a permanent structure and everything would be good. By going that way they collect permit fess probably totaling a couple thousand and they get to tax it. They' re greedy for the tax dollars.