Buzz By the Bay • There Will Be Feet on Midland Street This Summer

Posted In: Culture, Community Profiles, News, Local,   From Issue 930   By: Jason Dean

26th May, 2022     0

Though it was not without a bit of controversy, Midland Street will be joining the other Bay City business district street sections that are opening their asphalt to foot traffic and open-air seating this summer. Feet on the Street is a local initiative designed to allow businesses to extend their service areas to sidewalks and streets to combat pandemic-related indoor capacity restrictions that became necessary post-pandemic.

The other previously approved areas, Center Avenue between Saginaw Street and Washington Avenue, Saginaw Street between 5th Street and Center Avenue, and 3rd Street east of N. Water Street to Saginaw Street, sailed easily through the approval process.

But Midland Street, due perhaps in part to its rowdy reputation (whether earned, exaggerated, or otherwise), was somehow not included in the equation. Even a tiny stretch of Linn Street between Mode’s Tavern and Samborn Entertainment just off Midland Street was approved for summer closure. 

One Midland Street business, Veterans Gift and Thrift Shop, was objecting to the Midland Street closure, on the grounds that the elimination of drive-by traffic and storefront parking would irreparably damage their business. While their dilemma is worthy of consideration, the business could adapt to weather this temporary, seasonal inconvenience.

In fact, when I stopped by the store to discuss the issue, the woman who answered the door was taking pictures of merchandise to post online as part of their marketing efforts – proof positive that there are options for navigating difficulties in our modern world. No matter what business you’re in, putting all your faith in one aspect of customer engagement is shortsighted.

After a customary six months of winter, Bay City residents – east and west side alike – are deserving of fully enjoying a paltry three months or so of hospitable outdoor weather. So, partly out of curiosity and partly out of civic responsibility, I attended the Bay City Commission meeting on May 2, where the vote did end up passing convincingly (7-1-1) in favor of allowing Midland Street the same privileges as the previously approved sections of town. 

Citizens and business owners from both sides of the issue presented their case, with passion and occasional rancor. While it’s a challenge for any business to deal with a temporary hardship, in this case the greater good is being served. A decision to the contrary would have seemed preferential to a minority business that is capable but resistant to adapting to a temporary inconvenience. And unlike arbitrary lockdowns, this is a seasonal designation, with an end date. 

With all the changes happening in the Midland Street Business District, 2022 will be an interesting summer. VNO Wine Warehouse and New Age Restaurant is under new management as longtime owners Greg and Peggy Kimbrue have turned over operations to Christopher C. LaRocque, who bought the building and business. 

LaRocque is working hard to ensure a smooth transition as he familiarizes himself with the operation. “I’m in here on the weekends now, shaking hands, getting to know everybody. [Greg] is handing over the responsibility to me, but he’s still gonna be here in the summer for the events that are already booked.” 

LaRocque confesses to being a little tired lately, as his days begin with opening the kitchen at VNO in the morning and don’t end until after 2 a.m. when he closes Duso’s Bar, which he has owned since 2019. “But that schedule is just temporary,” he predicts. “In a few months, I’ll be able to relax a little,” he adds hopefully.

As for the reputation of Midland Street as a post-apocalyptic incarnation of Hell’s Half Mile, LaRocque attributes much of the commotion to the viral nature of social media.

“Let’s say on a Friday night, 1,000 people come out and 998 of them are having a good time and two guys decide to get in a pushing match at the Westown or Duso’s,” he suggests. “We all have a pretty good staff now, we get ‘em out pretty quick. There’s very rarely an issue where somebody gets punched, we get ‘em out in the street. If this continues, [then] you have a bouncer involved. Now there’s four people with cellphones recording, there’s 10 people behind them watching and recording, so now it looks like a mob. Someone feels scared and they call the police. The Bay County Police Scanner page picks up ‘large street fight on Midland Street,’ They report it, 25 people share it, and thousands of people read it. So what originally was two guys pushing each other in the street is all of the sudden a mob fight and it’s shared all over the place. And this is where someone will chime in and say, ‘Oh, it’s Midland Street, someone’s probably gonna get shot.’ ”   

As for his eventual plans for realizing his vision for VNO, LaRocque says, “What I wanna do is bring some of this big-city aesthetic, something cool down here. Get things going a little earlier and targeting the 21- to 45-year-old demographic because, where do they go? They leave here and they don’t come back. I think they leave at 18 and they go to college and they just don’t come back.”

LaRocque says he wants to revamp the design of VNO, section by section, to reflect a centralizing theme. As he describes the vast potential of the cavernous space and his vision for it, it’s apparent he’s still figuring out the details, but as he peppers the conversation with Las Vegas, New Orleans, and other geographic inspirations, it’s clear that something ambitious, forward-thinking, and slightly exotic is in the cards. 

In addition to Midland Street live music programming at Brooklyn Boyz, Westown, Stables, and Mode’s Tavern, west side summer activities include the Labadie Rib Fest, happening in Veteran’s Memorial Park July 28-31, and Falling in Reverse with Papa Roach Aug. 6.

Bay City definitely can handle the excitement. 


Please login to comment



Current Issue


Don't have an account?