By Jan Worth-Nelson
A half-dozen board members of Woodside Church explored their new home Friday at 503 Garland Street that for ten years has housed Carriage Town Antiques and Hoffman’s Deli. The antique store is closed but Hoffman’s Deli is expected to move and reopen at another downtown location in October.
“We are on our way to who we are,” said Linda Angus, Woodside’s moderator and president of the board.
Last October the congregation sold its mid-century modern building on East Court Street in the College Cultural neighborhood for $610,000 to Mott Community College, and for the past five months has been meeting at the Court Street Village Nonprofit headquarters on East Street. While the price on the Garland Street property has not yet been made public, based on tax assessment information it would have had a value of about $60,000.
For now, the congregation will continue meeting at its temporary home on East Street while renovations are underway, the church’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Deborah Conrad, said.
Its history had early Carriage Town roots
The new location brings the congregation full circle geographically. Conrad said the church, still legally the First Baptist Church of Flint, organized in the 1830s. In its early years it met upstairs at the Cumings and Curren “Scotch Store” on N. Saginaw Street, one of the first commercial brick buildings in Flint.
She said in the 1870s, the church met at First and Lyons Streets in Carriage Town just blocks from the new location, on land donated by Flint pioneer Jacob Smith’s daughters. Later it moved to Second and Beach Streets, and in 1949 into the building on East Court where it stayed for nearly 70 years until the sale to MCC.
“Size-wise, the [East Court] building was not our thing anymore. But also the character of the building and the character of the congregation just were diverging,” said Conrad, who came to Woodside in 2014.
She said the building is “groovy, functional, well-located, and very inviting.” Financially, she said, “It makes life better than it was before…that was part of our point about moving out here.” The property has a patio/courtyard and encompasses four lots and a paved parking lot.
Angus said the congregation has about 120 members on the books, with about 40 to 50 attending Sunday services, even at the temporary East Street quarters.
As a press release issued by the congregation described it, the church’s new home, built in 1930, “has been mostly about cars: it first housed the Goodrich Silvertown Store, then later Goodrich Tire, then Sears Tire and Auto, and other auto care-related businesses.” An original raised wooden “bird’s nest” where Sears auto salesmen conducted business remains at one end of the central room.
The building was vacant for some years. Carriage Town Antiques owner Nick Hoffman bought it from the Land Bank in 2007.
“Nick Hoffman has done a tremendous job in his restoration of this building, and we are thrilled to be its stewards for a new generation,” Conrad said.
Part of the Carriage Town regeneration
Donald Harbin, a member of the Woodside board of directors and director of buildings and grounds, said “This is great. We’re still staying in the central part of the city, just continuing our mission, especially reaching out to people in the community.”
He said moving from a building with an architecturally significant Eero Saarinen design to a building with distinct Art Deco design touches is pleasing, along with the significance of what it means to still be in Flint. “The building is in great shape,” Harbin said. “We love being part of the inner city.”
Karen Eaton, board of directors member and a Woodside office volunteer, said “We’re delighted to have found this space. This is ideal. Everybody’s motivated to do things for the community, and the spirit is great.”
“Carriage Town is in its own sort of regeneration,” Conrad observed. “There is a lot of residential, a lot of need, the university near by, good traffic flow, a paved parking lot, three more lots.”
Now a member of the United Church of Christ, the Alliance of Baptists and the American Baptist Church, the congregation has been known as Woodside Church since it became interdenominational in the 1960s.
A history of community activism continues
Conrad pointed out the congregations “has had a long history of community involvement and social justice, dating to the days of the Underground Railroad.
“Long an interracial congregation, Woodside/First Baptist was also the first in the city to embrace the LGBTQ community publicly,” Conrad said. “Its ‘Flag of Humanity’ has been a fixture at rallies and marches for justice since the 1960s, including the march at Selma, Alabama, the early Flint marches for fair housing,” and more recently, marches for water, wages, immigration and racial and economic justice.
“Woodside is the best congregation I’ve ever met in my life,” Conrad said. “One of the reasons we found each other is because of our love and commitment to social action, social transformation, social renewal. Woodside is very involved in that.
“We are called to be in community, not just in the ways people think of church, generosity run amuck in some ways, but the church is called to be political–it’s supposed to be political. If you read the stories of Jesus seriously, you have to see that the church is supposed to be political. Woodside has embraced that. So we protest, we write, we preach, we sing, we pray, we sign petitions — all how we understand God’s vision of a better world and our role in that.
“So called permanent homes come and go,” she said. “This congregation is what I imagine the reign of God to look like. We are all kinds of people paying attention to how to make the world reflect God’s vision, and always willing to adapt to changing times.”
Hoffman’s Deli moving to new downtown spot
“There is no more Carriage Town Antique Store, period,” Nick Hoffman said as he showed the Woodside team around the space.
However, Hoffman’s Deli will stay open.
Heath Hoffman, oldest son of Nick Hoffman and the owner of Hoffman’s Deli, said the popular lunch spot is moving to a new location downtown to be announced to the public soon. He said the Woodside folk have been “”very kind” and are allowing the deli to stay until he’s finished the build-out in the new space. He predicted the deli would be able to move with only a three-day downtime and is aiming for October.
“This hasn’t hindered us at all,” Hoffman said. “We’re not leaving downtown–we’ll be only a few blocks away. Look for a bright new deli to come. Our new spot is bigger and better and we’ll be able to accommodate more and do more.”
Hoffman’s deli celebrated its tenth anniversary on the Crim weekend, he said.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.