Funding from the Biden administration’s Infrastructure law will “transform Kalamazoo’s downtown to be safer, more inviting, and more prosperous for local businesses,” writes local entrepreneur Kim Guess.

As a local small business owner, I support the new infrastructure project that will transform one-way roads into two-way roads in downtown Kalamazoo. Not only will it make our roads safer for pedestrians, but it’s going to help local businesses like mine to attract more customers and enhance our community.

After my husband passed from Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2019, I became a single mom overnight. I had to find a way to turn my pain into purpose to provide for our family. So I started a dance group fitness studio, called Guess Who’s Dancing. This was my first business, born from a major life event, to create a space for other women to feel empowered.

Soon enough, this brought about my next business venture—becoming a part-owner of the first Black-owned event venue space in downtown Kalamazoo, the Xperience. We achieved this feat with no funding, overcoming the odds that Black entrepreneurs often face.

Something business owners can’t overcome is the physical infrastructure of the communities we operate in. The roads that surround my business are in the city’s top 25 most dangerous roads, which is bad for business and the community.

The one-way roads often leave my clients struggling to navigate to our storefront, meaning we lose out on potential business. Our road lacks streetlights leaving many dark, unattended areas that create an unsafe feeling, another deterrent for potential customers. Last year, I witnessed an accident where a car hit a child crossing an intersection. It was scary because, as a mother, you can’t help but think about your own child. 

Thanks to funding from the Biden administration’s Infrastructure law, the Streets for All project will transform Kalamazoo’s downtown to be safer, more inviting, and more prosperous for local businesses. The project will change four streets from one-way to two-way streets, slowing traffic and increasing walkability. Once completed, it is projected to bring a $22 million public benefit to our community. 

We know that pedestrian-friendly streets help boost business to local storefronts. I’m eager to see how safer streets will draw in more pedestrians and encourage community gatherings, both of which would help Kalamazoo businesses thrive.

Downtown Kalamazoo has so much potential to host events that draw the community together and attract business. For example, at last year’s Black Arts Festival, while the Mall was closed to cars, the dangerous traffic on nearby South Street still posed a risk to festival goers. With safer, pedestrian-friendly streets, we can host more events that foster community and showcase the best that Kalamazoo has to offer.

Putting people before cars is the best thing we can do for our downtown community and economy. I’m glad our elected officials recognize the influence of infrastructure on small businesses. And with Governor Whitmer’s recent proclamation naming the week of April 30th Small Business Week, I am pleased to see state and federal officials supporting the small businesses that make our communities vibrant and strong.