New York City Has SoHo, Meet Boyne City's SoBo

Liz Glass, co-owner of Lake Street Market in Boyne City, had an idea: Give the Boyne City restaurants, galleries and retail shops in the southern section of Boyne City's downtown an identity by naming that part of town the SOBO District and it will attract visitors. Can a name really make a difference?  It has in Boyne City. Since Glass came up with the idea of the moniker for the artsy area on Lake Street called “SOBO,” Boyne City has attracted new business and is creating a strong sense of identity,

No doubt about it:  Boyne City as a whole seems to be on a roll.  Since suffering some initial losses and layoffs after the economic downturn, the city has experienced a surprising uptick: it has ushered in three new art studios, a deli, an outdoor adventure store, a new bookstore, and a new barbecue restaurant.   The first phase of a $12 million development called “One Water” with a restaurant, stores, a marina, condominium and hotel is scheduled to open on Memorial Day. The first annual SOBO Arts Festival will be held on June 25th and 26th.

Boyne City is considered one of the few towns in Northern Michigan that has not only survived the recession, but has thrived. And many believe the concept of the SOBO District has something to do with it. MyNorth talked with the woman who created the idea of SOBO and came up with the colorful logo: Liz Glass, co-owner of Lake Street Market.

MyNorth: So … how did SOBO come to be?

Liz Glass: Well, what happened was, last spring, the spring of  ‘09, two art galleries opened up in our section of town very close to each other. The first one was the Boyne Arts collective, and then, within a month, Tony Williams was in here saying they’d worked out a deal to fix up the Gamble’s building  — also along Lake Street  — which had been empty for decades, and put a working art studio in there. They called it Freshwater Studio.  And I said,  “Man it’s getting to be like SoHo down here! It’s all artsy and stuff!”  That night I realized that “SOHO” is an acronym for “south of Houston Street” in New York, and so we could do the same thing with the words “South Boyne”, so I just thought up  “SOBO.” And I told Chris, my partner at Lake Street Market, “You’re gonna think it’s stupid, but then in two weeks,”  I said,  “you’re gonna really like it.” And that’s exactly what happened. All I did was think of the word. I told Cindi Malin about it, at Cindi Franco’s Cool Stuff, a gift store across the street … and she ran with it.

MyNorth: This was all happening at a time when many other communities were having very difficult economic times.

Liz Glass: Yeah, and it took off really quickly! People got really in to it. There was already some artsy stuff going on down here. There was Cindi Franco’s, an artsy gift store. Sweet Grass Framing — they frame people’s art and have art work there, too. There’s our store, Lake Street Market, and 220, a new restaurant and bar with music had moved in on Lake Street. But there were still lots of empty storefronts on South Lake Street.  And at the time, there was so much emphasis and concentration on what was going on on Water street, which is considered Boyne City’s main thoroughfare downtown.  So when I first thought this up maybe there WAS a little bit of territorialism — you know, so this part of town could say  “we’re cool too!” But then it just became a fact. It’s just what’s going on here.  And it’s been embraced by the whole community.  In fact, people all over the rest of town are joking about coming up with new names about where they live or work.  They’ll describe where they live as NOBO (North Boyne) or WEBO (west Boyne).

MyNorth: I heard a UPS delivery person talking about it as if it were a real street address the other day. And now I’m hearing that some people are printing it on their business cards?

Liz Glass: One man, an attorney, somebody who’s been a customer for several years, he’s hung out his own shingle on a building here along Lake Street.  I saw him at a Business After Hours gathering a couple of months ago, and he said, “I’m thinking of putting SOBO as my address on my business card. Is that OK with you?”  I said “You’re  kidding! That would be awesome!” and so he brought in his business card the other day and there it was!

MyNorth: How did you come up with the design for SOBO’s logo?

Liz Glass: I started searching for what was the quintessential look of Soho. I couldn’t find anything really, but I found a shot of the subway sign in the area in Manhattan where Soho is. I thought “that’s cool … graphically cool.” And also the idea of anything close to a subway going through Boyne City made the idea even more tongue in cheek. (I have heard stories of some visitors to this area waiting for a bus by the sign however! It might be an urban legend…) And then I thought instead of “TRANSIT” I would put “TRANSITION” on the sign because this area is in transition… it’s taking the focus of Boyne City from empty storefronts to a very cool place to hang out. Then I added the different colored dots.

MyNorth: It started out as signs in storefront windows in the SOBO district, but now I have seen the logo in lots of places throughout the city. And almost everyone I know who lives in Boyne City has a SOBO hat these days.

Liz Glass: The fact that it spread rapidly is all Cindi at Cindi Franco’s. I did a speech on success stories in Boyne City at the annual chamber meeting, and I said,  “If I’m the –- quote unquote –  “mother of SOBO” Cindi is the wetnurse!”  She took the logo and put it in everybody’s window. And she’s the one who got the whole neighborhood excited about it.  It just took off. So then I took the design down to Dancing Threads which is now the Logo Pros and we got hats made. The hats are now being sold in four stores. I see the hats everywhere. I see them on people I don’t know and I think it’s great. And SOBO even has its own Facebook page!

MyNorth: Even though SOBO started as a kind of joke -– (why would a town of a little more three thousand five hundred people need a district like Soho … or a subway, for that matter?) –- business leaders and residents of Boyne City I’ve talked with credit the concept of SOBO with improving Boyne’s image and giving people who live and work here a new sense of pride. It must be gratifying for you …

Liz Glass:  It’s not mine. I don’t own it. It has a life of its own. It’s become kind of like … a state of mind! But yeah, it’s exciting. And at a time when NOTHING is happening in some spots in Northern Michigan –  or even UN-happening! –- I’m so glad there’s so much going on here. I’m glad there’s something here other than a pile of rubble. SOBO has really taken off. There’s an empty building across the street that some people are considering turning into a microbrewery … and they only want to open up the microbrewery in town if they can put it in SOBO. There’s the first annual SOBO Arts Festival in June. There are lots of cool people here of all different kinds of coolness. Boyne City is full of hardworking people and business people and artists and people of all kinds … it takes that kind of mix to be vibrant to provide an atmosphere so this kind of thing can take off. And SOBO has really come to represent the spirit of Boyne City. 

More Links to Fun in Boyne City, Charlevoix, Elk Rapids, Torch Lake and the Chain of Lakes Region!

Article Comments

  • Anonymous

    Common – are you serious? SoBo it’s freakin Boyne City.

    I bet everything is closed up after 9pm and when the tourists go home. Not even close to being hip or bohemian like SOHO – nice try.

  • Anonymous

    geeze, c’mon, lighten up on, it’s just kind of a cute little idea, nobody seriously thinks it’s like SoHo. Holy Toledo.

  • Anonymous

    Toledo – it’s the “cute litte ideas” that that make most of us in northern Michigan sick and tired of the same old crap. If we are to attract true artistic talent we need to have real galleries not store fronts with just water color light houses, and brightly colored bird houses. Bring on some real artists and maybe we’ll have something. Just sayin!

  • Anonymous

    From Merriam-Webster online:
    Main Entry: tongue in cheek
    Function: adverb
    Date: circa 1934
    : with insincerity, irony, or whimsical exaggeration

    I’d like to thank the author of the first and third comments for taking such an interest in SoBo. If you object to the name being a “cute little idea,” perhaps you can absorb Merriam-Webster’s definition of “tongue in cheek.” It more accurately describes our attitude in making comparisons between SoHo and SoBo. I’d also like to invite you come and look around. Let me know if you find any lighthouse watercolors or brightly colored birdhouses–or garden ornaments shaped like bloomers, or knick-knacks made out of seashells, or businesses that close after Labor Day–and I promise to have them removed immediately. I will admit that none of our galleries are hanging Kandinsky or Mapplethorpe. Oddly, there’s just not that much call for it up here. But “true artistic talent”…that is something not only to be “attracted,” but also nurtured. Because it occurs everywhere, not just in New York.

    Poor thing. I hope you’re having a better day today.