New use for historic theater?

·3 min read

Jul. 24—With recent site plan approval from the city's Planning Commission, the east side's old Crescent Theater building may soon have a new occupant.

A nonprofit operation called Kenzie's BE Café is expected to open there by the end of the year.

The Crescent Theater was built at the corner of Ferry Street and Washington Avenue in 1928 during the end of the silent movie era. It could sit 570 people and included an enclosed "crying room" for parents and their fussy babies. This was the time when live music played by an organist accompanied the movies, and 25 cents could buy you a ticket.

However, the building's life as a movie theater was short lived, and by 1939 its doors were closed.

The building in Grand Haven's Washington Square district is still very much in use, but no longer resembles the place it had been back in the Depression era. Over the decades, it has been home to a variety of businesses that included an auto parts store, shoe repair shop, gymnastics/dance studio and martial arts school. It currently hosts two businesses: Garden House Floral and artist Maggie Bandstra's Annex gallery.

The idea for Kenzie's BE Café came from Bobbi Sabine and Erin Lyon, the owner of Jumpin' Java in downtown Grand Haven. The building is owned by Sabine and her husband.

Sabine said she was looking for business ideas that could fill the empty space at the old theater. One thing she said she didn't want to do was compete with some of the already existing businesses in the area.

That's when she decided on the idea of a coffee shop. She decided to call up Lyon, whom she didn't know at the time, to see if she'd be interested. Lyon agreed, but wanted to do something a bit different than what she was already doing at Jumpin' Java.

Lyon says she wants to make the café a place where people with disabilities could find meaningful work beyond busing tables or greeting people coming into a store. She envisions Kenzie's BE Café as a place where people with intellectual challenges work alongside others without disabilities.

"Everyone deserves that meaningful work — and whether that is a greeter, or a bagger, or whatever you're doing, you deserve to have meaningful work," Lyon said. "It is not always easy for a business to employ someone because they may need extra attention and care. You may not always have the man-hours and the staff to give that one-on-one with somebody."

Lyon is hoping her disabled employees can hone their job skills and then possibly leverage that into other types of work.

"Having grown up with a sister who was disabled, I'm especially pleased that this will engage members of our community who have challenges, and need job training and experience," Sabine said.

Lyon also has a personal reason for wanting to start the café. It is named for her niece, MacKenzie, who has cerebral palsy and is a board member for the nonprofit residential community Gracious Grounds.

The BE in the name is meant to emphasize the inclusivity of the business. Sabine says it is borrowing inspiration from another café, Brody's BE Café in Ada.

The layout of Kenzie's BE Café is being designed to be accessible for people with disabilities. Appliance and countertops will be at a level for them to be accessible to someone using a wheelchair.

Kenzie's will not have a kitchen, but Lyon said she will be partnering with Lake Effect Kitchen, where her employees will make the food for the café.

The Sabines plan to restore the front of the building to its original design, and add an entrance from Ferry Street to make the space more functional and accessible.

Lyon is crowdfunding to buy equipment for the café. You can donate money or buy needed items as a sponsor at: .

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