Community events and celebrations are a year-round thing in Michigan. Whether it’s the annual Michigan Elvisfest in Ypsilanti, the Charlevoix Apple Fest or the Christmas in Ida Parade and Festival, towns large and small put on parties that bring communities together, attract visitors and generate lots of local business.

For the past two years, the DTE Energy Foundation has sponsored more than 150 of these events statewide, including in the Village of Sparta, a rural community of 4,000 north of Grand Rapids. In Sparta, people are flocking to a seasonal series of downtown events as popular with locals as among visitors from far and wide.

“The DTE Energy Foundation was among our largest contributing partners last year and more importantly, they were the first at the table,” said Elizabeth Morse, director of the Sparta Chamber of Commerce and Sparta’s Downtown Development Authority. “Other businesses saw DTE was aboard and that helped us secure new partners. Last year was huge – it was a launching point. This has been a fabulous 18 months for us.”

The events in Sparta are not only a benefit to those looking for free entertainment but for local businesses as well.

In 2013, Chuck Brown bought Cellar Brewing Company, a local microbrewery, winery, distillery, and restaurant. He moved the business to downtown Sparta last year in March, just before the downtown events started taking off.

“I’ve seen our sales jump 20 to 100 percent resulting from these downtown events,” said Chuck Brown, owner of local microbrewery Cellar Brewing Company. “

Thomas Cheslek who also opened his business, Rockin Dogs Restaurant, in 2018 agrees.

“The summer events have boosted our business significantly,” said Cheslek. “The DDA and Chamber have done an incredible job keeping the community engaged. Every event they host draws our regulars and brings new faces coming to town.”

Some of Sparta’s more familiar faces are also seeing the impact these events have on the local economy. Phil Potter owns Sparta Variety, a downtown retailer, where he offers an eclectic collection of crafts, party goods, office supplies, and home décor items.

“The events in Sparta have been a tremendous boost,” he said. “The most important thing is people are finding Sparta and the lifetime value of those people coming back. We’re becoming a community that people love visiting.”

Lynette Dowler, president of the DTE Energy Foundation, notes that Sparta’s success is a great example of what the Foundation’s community grants are designed to do.  

“We love to see our support encouraging others to step forward, building participation and above all – generating local spending where those dollars have a terrific community impact.”