The longstanding issue is still up for debate in the city of South Haven: should a social district be established downtown?

What Is a Social District?

Southwest Michigan saw a rise in this new trend during the Covid-19 pandemic when indoor dining was restricted. Instead, locals were invited to enjoy their food and drinks, including alcohol, safely outdoors during the era of social-distancing.

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According to SouthwestMichigan.org,

Within these social districts, you can purchase food and alcoholic drinks from participating businesses and consume them in outdoor common areas. This means you can window shop, try multiple local creations and support local businesses recovering from the pandemic while you’re at it!

Essentially, you can roam the streets with a drink in your hand. See, the pandemic wasn't all bad!

Coming Soon?

The City of South Haven has been discussing the possibility of adding a social district since January 2021, but so far nothing has come to fruition. Now that the proposal is back on the table, southwest Michigan resident Zak Dickens has resumed talks in a local Facebook group asking,

I’d like to hear some opinions, and some HEALTHY debates on the subject of “SOCIAL DISTRICTS” in South Haven...should we do it here? My personal thoughts… we don’t have the resources, to enforce it...Let’s stop people from drowning before we add MORE alcohol To downtown. Your thoughts??

To be honest, it's a fair question and Zak has some valid concerns. This summer Lake Michigan saw some of the highest number of drownings on record and it seemed like the bulk of those took place in South Haven.

Judging from the responses Zak received, South Haven seems to be a city divided. Here's what locals had to say:

  • "How about a more welcoming and vibrant town. Compare it to Saugatuck, Holland, Grand Haven…more outdoor seating, more tourism, more revenue which brings in more taxes. I see a lot of benefits." - Brandyn Stern
  • "Sure… let’s invite 10,000 tourists to our small town every summer to get obnoxiously drunk on the streets of our beautiful quaint beach town…. It’s not like we don’t already have a problem with drownings…. Let’s add alcohol to the mix. Are people that desperate to drink they can’t sit in a bar? Really BAD idea." - Gretchen Rogers

Social Districts in Southwest Michigan

As someone who imbibes, I'm all for the social district. In fact, when I go to places that don't have them I'm a little perplexed. Speaking from experience, social distrcits are especially nice during times like ArtPrize in Grand Rapids or when you're window shopping in Saugatuck.

There are many communities across the Mitten who have taken advantage of social districts and chosen to keep them year round:

  • Kalamazoo
  • Allegan
  • Saugatuck
  • St. Joseph
  • Niles
  • Grand Rapids
  • Holland
  • Zeeland
  • Grand Haven
  • Spring Lake
  • and many more!

What do you think, would you like to see more social districts throughout Michigan?

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