By MIKE NORTON After the 80s temperatures we had this weekend, I think it's safe to say that spring is definitely here -- and summer is just around the corner. The orchards are blooming all up and down the bay, there are songbirds in the trees, and my eagle-eyed daughter Elizabeth spotted some morels in the front yard. Another sign of spring is the opening of new stores in downtown Traverse City. And the most interesting in the crop is a joint venture by the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa, the Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel and the Leelanau Sands Casino & Lodge in the Radio Centre building at Park and Front. (You've got to love the name; it's just called "Grand Traverse Resort & Casinos-The Store.") But really, you might ask, what does a hotel or a casino have to sell that downtown shoppers would want to buy? Good question -- and the answer is simpler than you might expect. "It's about connecting with the community," said Resort marketing director Steve Timmer. "We're excited about what's going on in downtown Traverse City these days, and we want to be part of it. This is as much about us bringing our guests to downtown as it is about bringing people to the Resort. It goes both ways." To my mind, this is a really healthy development. In the old days, golf and ski resorts used to isolate themselves from nearby towns; I suppose with the idea that guests would spend all their money on site - in their shops, their restaurants, their nightclubs - if they couldn't get to town. More recently, though, many consumers have made it clear that they'd prefer not to be stuck in the boonies all the time. A couple of year ago, Shanty Creek Resorts began offering shuttle service to and from the village of Bellaire - an arrangement that has been very popular. Now the Grand Traverse Resort is taking the idea a step further by creating a sort of pied-a-terre of its own right in downtown -- a place where people can learn more about the resort and the casinos, buy a little logo gear and even participate in some fun activities. Highlights inside The Store include: Dylan's Candy Bar merchandise and candy, men's Resort branded golf apparel, spa products, a live cooking demonstration area for Aerie Restaurant, a wedding table display, and an area dedicated to the Casinos and native culture. In addition, The Store will carry a variety of Pure Michigan merchandise for sale. (In fact, it's the only store in Northern Michigan offering Pure Michigan gear.) The Store will be open all year round -- seven days a week this spring and summer. At various times, interactive classes and special activities will be offered inside, including makeup "touch-up" treatments from Spa Grand Traverse, chair massages from Spa Grand Traverse, golf clinics and tips, and cooking classes. Visitors will be able to make reservations for golf, spa, dining, and other activities from The Store, and complimentary shuttle service will be provided to and from the Resort and the Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel on a regular daily schedule. Got questions? There's even a nice lady running things as the Resort's official "downtown concierge." Her name is Gay Lynn Hedges, and you can reach her at ( 231) 534-6721.
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