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Small Businesses As Third Places Experience Growth
 

The Green Door survives decades with commitment to regulars, great entertainment

While neighboring businesses suffered during the economic decline, Lansing's live entertainment bar, the Green Door didn't just survive; it grew. By never wavering in their commitment to the community while evolving their entertainment to reach new audiences, the Green Door has built a reputation as one of Lansing's best hangouts.

Before Green Door Bar & Grill was a neighborhood live entertainment bar, it was a neighborhood blues bar. Before that, it was a neighborhood restaurant. Though the business has grown and changed in a number of ways over its nearly 50 years in operation, the "neighborhood" bit has always been a part of the equation.

"I grew up here," says Jenny Costigan, general manager and part owner of the iconic Lansing location. "I started here when I was going to college, and a lot of customers have seen me grow up here."

Though she started as a waitress back in 1991, it was that sense of community that turned a temporary job into a career for her. In fact, it was one of the first things she noticed about the place. Though the bar was well known as a hot spot for live blues music, Costigan was immediately struck by the big heart of the Green Door during a Blues for Dystrophy fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

"We had musicians donate their time for ten, twelve hours a day," she says. "It touched my heart to see how many people cared to come in and donate their time, and a lot of those people didn't even know somebody with muscular dystrophy. They just wanted to help."

Costigan still holds the MDA fundraiser every year, and the spirit of giving and volunteerism has only grown. In fact, the bar frequently holds benefits for a variety of community causes, from raising money for injured police and fire employees to helping musicians pay medical bills.

"It's just about enjoying people and enjoying the the community," Constigan says. "If we can help, we'll open our doors to hold a benefit."

Green Door boasts itself to be the only place for live entertainment seven days a week in Lansing, so it's easy to imagine the atmosphere on an average night: bustling. Every Monday, the crowd favorite band, Steppin In It has patrons dancing to trombones, upright bass and the Hammond organ. Other nights, DJs, 80s-themed bands and comedians keep the room hopping.

What is most striking about this continual parade of raucous entertainers is the crowd they're playing to. While the live music regularly draws college students and young professionals, the Green Door is also always packed with neighborhood regulars, some of whom have been coming for decades.

"The community has evolved, but we're a very diverse place," Costigan says. "Every year we'll see a new crop of students, and then we'll see them turn into grad students. We have everyone from [Mayor] Virg Bernero to the guys from the neighborhood shooting pool in here."

Costigan should know. She lives in the neighborhood, so she has experienced just how reciprocal the relationship between the residents and the bar truly is. While the commercial strip along Michigan Ave. to which Green Door belongs has had a tough few years with businesses closing at a regular clip, the bar that has maintained such close ties with the neighborhood is still there. What's more, it's grown.

The Green Door began as just a small fine dining restaurant in the 1960s. In the 70s, however, the business grew under new ownership, tripling its footprint by expanding into adjoining storefronts and revamping its menu into bar and grill-style fare. The growth continued in the 1990s with a major renovation that expanded the kitchen and added new bathrooms.

"We didn't even have a cook," Costigan recalls of the bar before the renovation, when it was known as the Green Door Lounge. "It was just a little neighborhood bar with a small grill and a double fryer."

Continued demand as the neighborhood hot spot has driven Green Door to grow more than the menu. Over the past several years, the bar's identity as a blues bar has expanded to include the new genres of music and other types of live entertainment that keeps the clientele coming through the door.

"I started going with some upbeat, funky bands," Costigan says, "stuff people can dance to. You have to change with the times."

And for the future? Predictably, Costigan plans to stay true to her commitment to serving her dedicated community of patrons and growing to meet their needs. Right now, her eyes are on creating an outdoor patio.

"We're always looking and hoping to expand," she says, "Our volume of business has grown since 2004."

That's saying a lot, considering right-sizing and downgrading have been the buzzwords of the business world over the last decade. For the Green Door, finding success through tough times has been simple matter of giving back and maintaining a community space where residents and music lovers alike just want to hang out.

Small Businesses As Third Places Experience Growth
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Jenny Costigan
Green Door Bar & Grill, Co-Owner

With so many types of live entertainment rotating through the Green Door, what's most popular right now?
The 80s thing is very, very popular right now. That's working really well for us. Starfarm is one of the bands, and they really do put on a show. They wear Adidas jumpsuits and they really play the 80s part.

Who is an example of one of your longtime regulars and how long has that person been coming to the Green Door?
Alan Jerome has been here through all the changes. He comes in almost every Friday and has been coming in for at least 25 years. He's been here since I've been here.

Besides all the people coming through the door, how does the community express their appreciation for the Green Door?
For [the City Pulse's] Top of the Town we're up in the top three for best music venue and best hangout. The State News has something similar, and we won Best Dancing Venue. Of all the Lansing area venues they could pick, we thought that was great.

What's the secret to creating space where people want to hangout instead of just do their business and leave?
I honestly think it's the welcoming feeling when you walk in here. We welcome every walk of life. We try to create a relaxed, friendly atmosphere for everyone, whether you're coming in for the nightly music or just to talk to a friend. And I think it's important to help the community. That's what keeps our doors open.