Grand New: The Sparrows Coffee and Newsstand and Books & Mortar Expand to the West Side

There’s nothing like the smell of books and coffee in the morning…or afternoon..or any time.

Two local small businesses that have made quite a name for themselves in the East Hills neighborhood, are partnering and have expanded to the West Side of Grand Rapids.

The Sparrows Coffee and Newsstand has become quite a staple on Wealthy Street since it opened in 2007; one of the early pioneers in the 1000 block of Wealthy that is now home to a multitude of restaurants, bars, tech/design firms and unique retailers. It’s best known for its old creaky wooden floors, excellent coffee choices, and front windows that steam up in the cold months of winter.

Lori Slager-Wenzel, sole proprietor of Sparrows (the only woman-owned coffee shop in Grand Rapids) explains that with the advent of having three children in the last five years, there was a need to “…either take the coffee shop to the next level to help support the family, or get a day job, which didn’t sound very exciting.”

She identified the West Side and Bridge Street as a great expansion opportunity, but after one space on Bridge Street fell through, they landed on 442 Bridge Street, which had previously been occupied by a Renee Austin bridal shop, now located on Plainfield Avenue.

With tall tin ceilings, brick walls and a lot of room for expansion (actually more space than they needed), the opportunity and timing seemed to be perfect. While interviewing potential employees for the new location, Julia Lancer’s resume’ came across Lori’s desk. Julia moved to Grand Rapids from Northern California with 15 years of coffee roasting experience, and claims to hold the title as the only female coffee roaster in Grand Rapids. Don’t even try to suggest that there’s another!

Lori felt like it was a sign and hired her. As General Manager of Sparrows “West Side”, Julia hopes to make Sparrows a major coffee distributor throughout West Michigan and is on track to become partner in the business.

Many of The Sparrows coffee names have literary references. The Law of Cardamom is based on a Norwegian tale: “One shall not bother others, one shall be nice and kind, otherwise one may do as one pleases.”

Part of the retail space in the new Bridge Street location included a large section in the back of the shop that Lori did not anticipate being able to use in the short term. Slager-Wenzel and Jonathon Shotwell, one of the partners at Uptown-based Books & Mortar Bookshop,  talked in the past about partnering on a coffee shop and bookstore, and rekindled those partnership talks with this back space in mind. Hence, a new retail combination was born. Books and coffee? What’s not to love?!

Shotwell and his life and business partner Christopher Roe took over the back space this past week, with much more merchandise to come. We were struck by the immense ceilings, but with an intimate setting with low-strung lights that were installed by Roe and Shotwell. All in all, about 20 individuals volunteered to help get the businesses up and running; a true community effort.

Christopher Roe and Lori Slager-Wenzel

Though not “officially officially” open, both shops were open the day that we visited, and are welcoming customers. And although signage is not complete yet on the front, they are easy to find directly across from Sovengard and wedged between Head of the Pride and Butcher’s Union at 442 Bridge Street. If you need help with parking, check out our handy dandy parking guide.

Both shops are open 6:30 am until 6pm Monday – Friday and 8am – 6pm Saturday and Sunday.

By Jeff Hill and CJ Devries of GRNow.