New Village retailers primed for June openings

TRAVERSE CITY – Enchanting spires thrust skyward in the distance, a glimpse of Traverse City's most treasured artifact buried in the rolling hills just west of U.S. 31.

The old northern Michigan Asylum is emerging as one of the nation's largest renovation projects led by visionary builder Ray Minervini.

The Minervini Team is carefully dusting off more than one million square feet of historic architecture at what is presently known as The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. Already thriving with an eclectic blend of shops, artisans and residents, the Village promises to mimic old world Europe.

"We're moving into a condo here," said team member ChristiaƤne (Christie) Minervini. "It's the European idea of the shopkeeper living above the shop. In essence that's what we're doing."

Business owners and residents are granted virtually tax-free status because The Village is in a Michigan Tax Free Renaissance Zone. In addition, buyers may qualify for historic tax credits that reward private investment in historic rehabilitation.

We spoke with several business owners who are part of this living example of urban renewal.

"Our goal is to have the best coffee drink in the country," said Jody Treter, co-founder of Higher Grounds Trading Co. based in Lake Leelanau.

The business is moving into Building 53, the old laundry building, at The Village.

According to Treter, patrons will be invited to free weekly "coffee cuppings" where they can experience new flavors and receive a history lesson at the coffee museum.

Nationally-renowned local photographer Gary Howe will fill a gallery depicting the supply chain of coffee from the harvest to your cup. Plans also include delivery service via bicycle and a biodiesel-converted ambulance.

"The Minervini group is constantly inspiring us to dream big," Jodi said. "I think that positive thinking is what will make this place successful."

Treter said to look for lots of events and festivals happening around the commons in late summer.

After your educational tour through the world of coffee, wander next door to the world of wine at Left Foot Charlie Winery.

"There are a few like us out West but it is fairly unusual for wineries to be located within the context of a city," said winery owner Bryan Ulbrich.

The urban winery will feature a tasting room designed around the winemaking facility so visitors can get a first hand look into the production process.

The winery does not own a grand chateau or palatial estate. Instead, Ulbrich will nourish relationships with the region's top grape growers and make wines that highlight their unique sites.

"I have discovered the grapes that love living in northern Michigan as much as we all do. They don't just survive here, they thrive here. I am very excited about being in town and having the opportunity to show the locals how aromatic and tasty northern Michigan can be."

Ulbrich plans to open June 29.

Underground Cheesecake is also making the move to the Commons from their popular Union Street location. Traverse City's hot spot for luscious desserts plans to open shop this fall near the winery and coffee house.

"We are very excited about our plans to become a part of the The Village. The Minervini's vision is extremely contagious," said Lori Dawson, managing partner.

Coffee, cheesecake, wine…what's missing? Bread of course. Gerard Grabowski and Jan Shireman's organic Pleasanton Brick Oven Bakery near Bear Lake is moving in as well. In preparation for the bakery, a massive bread oven has been constructed at Building 66, the former Fire Station.

"This is our 14th year in business. We're kind of like a teenager now-ready to bust out of home and head to the big city!" said Gerard Grabowski.

They use only Michigan grains.

"I give my money directly to the farmers. It makes no sense to buy baked bread from Kansas or Ohio," he said.

They'll have limited retail hours at first, focusing primarl y on wholesale.

Initially sparking local interest in the grand renovation was Trattoria Stella, a fine dining traditional Italian restaurant located in Building 50, which opened in 2004. Nineteenth century brick archways line the lower corridors of the Victorian-esque Building 50 and set the scene for a European marketplace.

Ray Minervini's vision of the "Mercato" is currently under development and quickly filling up with business. Now while patrons wait for a table at Stella they can purchase a flower for their date at Premier Floral Design who opened shop in the Mercato in April. Moving from Front Street, owners Barb Smiers and Pam DeVol are enjoying their new location.

"We absolutely love it here!We're picking up a lot of customers from Stella. It's wonderful," said DeVol.

They feature an assortment of floral arrangements, vases and other gifts.

Jeanette Veeder Designs, a dressmaking and alteration store, opened June 1 just down the hall. Veeder has built up a great reputation for her craft-specializing in bridesmaids gowns.

"Our family is very proud of what (Ray's) done, and I'm very happy to be a part of the adventure," said Veeder, Ray Minervini's sister. "I will be continuing with specialty dress alterations and eventually have hand-made clothing for sale."

Also planned for the Mercato is a second tasting room for spirits and dessert wines by Black Star Farms, and another location for the Silver Tree Deli of Suttons Bay.

"A lot of people come because of our wine selection and we have arguably the best soups in Leelanau County," said Bruce Vaughan, president of Silvertree Deli. "We're excited to move in. The vision is well on its way to coming to fruition. It's at a tipping point now… the first phase is complete and it's going to start to move really fast."

Gallery 50 was the first retail tenant in the development founded in 2004 by ChristiaƤne (Christie) Litt Minervini, moving in just after Stella. The gallery recently expanded from a small hallway near the restaurant to an area over 1,200 square feet stretching down the hallway of the Mercato.

Exhibits will rotate every month. The gallery store focuses on non-traditional and recycled art including "fordite" or "Detroit Agate," a paint material gathered from the Detroit River Rouge Plant.

The Minervini Group continues to set creative ideas into motion as The Village at Grand Traverse Commons evolves.

"It attracts a really aggressive, creative, progressive personality," said Christiaane Minervini. "We're all very excited. I'd imagine a year from now when we could do some kind of block party or open house."

Watch for news about an equestrian shop coming to the Village…

For more information on the development, go to