REO Town – Community Spotlight

Posted on March 25, 2024 in Community Spotlight

REO Town, located at the confluence of Red Cedar River and Grand River in Lansing, Michigan, is a historic and vibrant neighborhood that holds a special place in the heart of the city. With its rich history, diverse community, and revitalization efforts, REO Town has become a hub of culture, entertainment, and commerce.


REO Town’s name is derived from the initials of Ransom Eli Olds, the founder of the REO Motor Car Company, which was one of the pioneering automobile manufacturers in the early 20th century. Olds established his company in Lansing, and its legacy is deeply intertwined with the neighborhood.

In the late 19th century, Lansing was already establishing itself as an industrial city, with manufacturing and milling activities along the Grand River. The city’s strategic location, with access to waterways and railroads, made it an attractive hub for various industries. The area grew around the manufacturing and industrial activities related to the automobile industry, playing a significant role in shaping Lansing’s development.

Ransom E. Olds, an innovative inventor and entrepreneur, founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in Lansing in 1897. He is often credited with producing the first mass-produced automobile, the Oldsmobile Curved Dash, which revolutionized transportation and manufacturing methods.

In 1904, Ransom Olds left his original company and established the REO Motor Car Company, which went on to become a significant player in the automobile industry. The company produced a range of vehicles, including trucks, buses, and passenger cars, contributing to Lansing’s status as a vital automotive manufacturing center.

As the automobile industry grew, the area around the REO Motor Car Company’s manufacturing facilities began to develop, giving rise to what would later become known as REO Town. The neighborhood provided housing and services for the workers who were instrumental in the production of REO vehicles.

The presence of the REO Motor Car Company had a profound impact on the local economy. It created thousands of jobs, attracting a diverse workforce to the Lansing area. The company’s success also boosted the city’s reputation as a center of innovation and industrial prowess.

Like many industrial cities, Lansing faced economic challenges as the automotive industry underwent changes and shifts. The decline of manufacturing in the mid-20th century led to a period of economic hardship for REO Town and surrounding neighborhoods.

In recent decades, REO Town has experienced a renaissance, driven by community-driven revitalization efforts. Historic preservation initiatives, local business growth, and a renewed interest in arts and culture have transformed the neighborhood into a dynamic and desirable destination.

Culture and Community

Over the years, REO Town developed a strong sense of community identity, with its residents and workers forming a close-knit social fabric. The neighborhood became a melting pot of cultures and backgrounds, as people from different regions and walks of life converged in pursuit of employment opportunities.

Today, REO Town exudes a unique blend of old-world charm and contemporary energy. The neighborhood is known for its close-knit community and diverse population. It’s not uncommon to find local residents, artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs collaborating to create a thriving cultural scene. The sense of community is palpable, with various events and gatherings fostering connections among neighbors.

Art and Entertainment

One of the standout features of REO Town is its commitment to the arts. The neighborhood boasts a number of art galleries, studios, and performance spaces. Local artists frequently exhibit their work here, contributing to the area’s creative atmosphere. Additionally, REO Town hosts various events throughout the year, such as art fairs, live music shows, and food festivals, attracting visitors from both within Lansing and beyond.

Some of the most popular annual events in REO town include:

  • REO Town Art Attack: An annual art fair featuring local artists and creators showcasing their work, including paintings, sculptures, ceramics, jewelry, and more.
  • REO Town Marketplace: A regular market event where local artisans and craftsmen gather to sell their handmade goods, providing a platform for the community to support local artists.
  • Lansing Beer Fest: A celebration of craft beer, featuring local and regional breweries offering tastings of their unique brews.
  • Art & Craft Beerfest: An assortment of music, film, fine art, and comedy, along with craft beer offerings from local microbreweries.

Revitalization and Development

In recent years, REO Town has undergone a revitalization process that has breathed new life into the neighborhood. Redevelopment efforts have focused on preserving the historical character of the area while accommodating modern businesses and amenities. This blend of the old and the new has created a unique environment that appeals to residents and visitors alike.

Historical preservation and mixed-use development efforts have been spearheaded by the active engagement of community members, local businesses, artists, and residents.

Local Businesses and Cuisine

The entrepreneurial spirit thrives in REO Town, with a range of local businesses contributing to its economic vitality. From cozy coffee shops and restaurants to innovative startups, the neighborhood offers a diverse array of options. Food enthusiasts can indulge in a variety of dining experiences, from farm-to-table restaurants to food trucks serving international cuisine. Some REO Town businesses worth checking out include:

  1. The Robin Theater: The Robin Theater is more than just a music venue. Hosting indie music acts, poetry readings, and unique events, this intimate space offers a monthly live advice show that lets attendees submit questions anonymously. The eclectic programming makes it a cultural hotspot in REO Town.
  2. MI Blue Owl Coffee: MI Blue Owl Coffee is a community-oriented coffee shop that goes beyond the basics. Offering unique coffee flavors with essential oils, nitro and cold brew options, it embraces local art and events, creating a welcoming and vibrant atmosphere.
  3. Saddleback Barbeque: Saddleback Barbeque offers a mouthwatering array of smoked meats and unique sauces, creating a culinary experience worth celebrating. With themed days like “Wu Tang Wing Wednesday” and “Burnt Ends Friday,” it’s a destination for flavor-packed barbeque delights.
  4. Just B Yoga: A donation-based yoga studio, providing a space for wellness and relaxation.
  5. REO Town Pub: A neighborhood bar with its own unique charm and atmosphere.
  6. REACH Studio Art Center: The REACH Studio Art Center plays a pivotal role in fostering community engagement through art. Connecting artists with local residents, it creates an environment where diverse groups come together to create and collaborate, contributing significantly to Lansing’s cultural landscape.
  7. Lansing Clothing Company: Offering stylish t-shirt designs that celebrate the #lovelansing spirit.
  8. The Record Lounge: The Record Lounge celebrates the resurgence of vinyl music, offering new and used records. It’s a haven for music enthusiasts, where you can not only purchase records but also engage in passionate conversations about music with the knowledgeable staff.
  9. REO Marketplace: A haven for thrift enthusiasts, offering a wide array of unique finds.
  10. Good Truckin Diner: The Good Truckin Diner is a breakfast haven, serving up delectable options all day long. From creative omelets like the “Sargeant Pepper” to delightful cereal milkshakes, it’s a go-to spot for comforting, flavorful meals.

Why do Tenants choose to locate their businesses in REO Town?

Tenants choose to locate their businesses in REO Town for a variety of reasons, each contributing to the neighborhood’s unique appeal and vibrant community. Here are some of the main factors that attract businesses to REO Town:

  1. Historic Charm and Identity: The neighborhood’s rich history and connection to the automotive industry create a unique and authentic atmosphere. Many businesses are drawn to the opportunity to be a part of a community with a strong sense of identity and heritage.
  2. Creative and Artistic Environment: REO Town’s emphasis on arts and culture appeals to businesses in the creative industries. The presence of art studios, galleries, and performance spaces fosters a dynamic and inspiring environment, making it an attractive location for artists, designers, and other creative professionals.
  3. Community Engagement: REO Town is known for its tight-knit and engaged community. Businesses that prioritize community involvement and local connections often see REO Town as an ideal location to establish a presence and build relationships with residents.
  4. Collaborative Opportunities: The neighborhood’s collaborative spirit and grassroots initiatives provide businesses with opportunities to collaborate with other local entrepreneurs, organizations, and artists. This collaborative ethos can lead to innovative partnerships and unique events.
  5. Adaptive Reuse and Historic Preservation: The revitalization of historic buildings in REO Town offers businesses the chance to operate in charming and repurposed spaces. This adds character to their establishments and aligns with sustainability and preservation values.
  6. Proximity to Downtown Lansing: REO Town’s strategic location near downtown Lansing provides businesses with convenient access to the city’s core while offering a distinct and separate atmosphere. This balance between proximity and distinctiveness is attractive to many entrepreneurs.
  7. Diverse Business Mix: The diverse range of businesses in REO Town, including cafes, boutiques, art studios, and entertainment venues, creates a dynamic and attractive environment. The presence of complementary businesses can drive foot traffic and cross-promotional opportunities.
  8. Events and Festivals: The neighborhood’s active event calendar, featuring art fairs, live music shows, food festivals, and more, provides businesses with exposure to a broad audience. Participating in or hosting events can help attract customers and enhance visibility.
  9. Supportive Community Organizations: REO Town benefits from the efforts of community organizations and associations that promote local businesses and events. These organizations provide resources, networking opportunities, and a platform for businesses to engage with the community.
  10. Entrepreneurial Spirit: The entrepreneurial mindset that defines REO Town encourages innovation and risk-taking. Businesses looking for an environment that supports new ideas and ventures often find REO Town to be an inspiring place to set up shop.

REO Town truly encapsulates the essence of a community that has embraced its past while embracing the future. Its history as an automotive hub, coupled with its present-day focus on arts, culture, and community, makes it a standout destination in Lansing. As visitors stroll through the streets, they can’t help but be captivated by the sense of history and creativity that permeates every corner of this charming neighborhood.

Image Attribution:

Dj1997, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons