Okemos: A Place to Call Home for Many Local Businesses

Founded in the early 1880s, Meridian Township became a trading point alongside the Red Cedar River. Today, surrounded by the campus of Michigan State University, plenty of businesses reside and flourish within the city limits of Okemos, the place they call home.

On Feb. 16, Meridian Township celebrated its 175th anniversary. Though the township includes over 904 acres of park land and Lake Lansing, many local and national companies have decided to plant their roots right in the middle of the beautifully maintained Okemos area.

Douglas Weaver began Douglas J Aveda Institutes and Salons in 1967 in East Lansing. His son, Scott Weaver spoke about the salon’s humble beginnings.

“He opened his first salon with a goal to provide a better opportunity for hairdressers and those looking to get into our industry,” Scott said. “He worked the chair full-time, growing the business. He’d get busy and add a hairdresser, they’d get busy, and they’d add another one. That was really his growth model and it just began to expand.”

A few years after Douglas J began, the owner moved his business to a residential house in Okemos. That’s where the salon sits today, alongside many purchased lots where expansion has taken place since the mid-seventies.

Though Douglas Weaver’s business motto was to take care of people, with the belief that they would come see him regardless of location, he quickly fell in love with the Okemos community. Scott spoke about his father’s fondness of the area.

“Community involvement was very strong right from the beginning,” Scott said. He recalls the Jerry Lewis Telethons as a young child, and how his father’s business would run a 24 hour cut-a-thon to donate money to the children’s cause.

“That was my earliest memory of being involved in the community and giving back,” Scott said. “That stayed very strong and true to the company, to this day.”

The busy salon sees about 250-300 guests per day at its original Okemos location, located at 4663 Ardmore Ave.; many of which are not directly from the Okemos area. Anyone who’s ever found a great hair stylist knows they can and will travel to keep the good hair days coming, by any means necessary. By attracting its clientele from around greater Lansing and beyond, Douglas J is helping to support the local economy. People who come to town for a haircut, may also stop for a beverage or have lunch at a local coffee shop or eatery.

Combined, Douglas J Aveda Institutes and Salons have nine locations across three different states. Yet the heart of the company remains local. “Okemos is where it all started and our mission and our desire is to stay within that community,” Scott said. “Specifically, we like those four corners there in Meridian Township, downtown Okemos.”

The brand is looking at a future development which is currently on hold as they look for partnerships and developers to help assist the Meridian Township expansion.

Another business that was born and raised in Okemos is the upscale Japanese faire sushi brand, Maru. The restaurant opened its doors eight years ago with owner Robert Song and Executive Chef Moon Yang.

Song spoke about the initial idea behind the business venture, a risky one given the economy’s state at the time.

“When my wife and I decided to start a restaurant in Okemos, that’s when the economy — especially the Michigan economy — was struggling badly due to the recession,” Song said. “My wife and I made a pact that if at all possible, we were going to buy Michigan products.”

Everything is bought local, caught fresh and even furnished locally by Grand Rapids furniture companies and equipment companies out of Walker, Mich.

“The national options are out there,” Song said, “but our focus was to help each other in Michigan.” Most recently, Maru expanded to downtown Detroit, in addition to their already successful locations in Grand Rapids, East Lansing, Midland, Kalamazoo and the original Okemos restaurant.

Being a resident and Michigan State University alum, Song’s business and his family call Okemos home. “Wherever I am for business or leisure, I take pride in it, I feel comfortable living in Okemos,” he said.

What’s next for the restauranteur is a second restaurant concept, called Ando, to be opened in Grand Rapids. And beyond that, Song is always scouting out locations and professional markets throughout Michigan and other out-of-state options.

Various associations have their headquarters in the area, including Michigan Dental Association, Michigan Nurses Association, Michigan Manufactured Housing Association, Michigan Floral Association, Michigan Public Transit Association and Michigan School and Orchestra Association.

Meridian Township also hosts Delta Dental, a major local area employer. Delta Dental has offices scattered nationally throughout Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio and Tennessee, providing health care for over 73 million Americans.

For a township that’s already aged 175 years, built upon the idea of a trading center along the river, Okemos’ future is forecasted to be a bright one for business growth.

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Sarah Spohn

Sarah Spohn

Sarah Spohn received her degree in Journalism from Lansing Community College. She’s a concert junkie; living and breathing in both the local and national music scene. She is proud to call Lansing her home, finding a new reason every day to be smitten with the mitten.

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