The Ann Arbor Chronicle » Business it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Column: Soup’s Still On at Le Dog Sat, 17 May 2014 16:03:23 +0000 Mary Morgan I’ve been a Le Dog groupie since I moved to Ann Arbor 18 years ago. I couldn’t believe my luck: Just a couple of blocks from work, I could get some of the best soups on this planet, served from an odd red hut inexplicably called Le Dog.

Miki Wartha, Jules Van Dyck-Dobos, Le Dog, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Miki Wartha and Jules Van Dyck-Dobos at the Main Street Le Dog, which is expanding. (Photos by the writer.)

Over the years I’ve never eaten a hot dog there, but Jules Van Dyck-Dobos has become a friend. My habits, however – and my workplace – have shifted. More oriented now to the city’s west side, I view Le Dog’s Main Street location as my go-to spot for pozole, cassoulet, Marrakesh stew, peanut udon – and, of course, lobster bisque. If I don’t eat there once a week, something in my life has gone seriously awry.

I understand the eccentric charm of the East Liberty spot, which Jules refers to as his “baby.” That’s where it all began for him 35 years ago, and not much changed in the cramped, unheated, un-air-conditioned space since then. But when he told me earlier this year that he wasn’t re-opening there this season, and instead would focus on expanding the Main Street location, all I could say was: “Hooray!”

Le Dog’s less-known site has been open for 17 years in the old Kline’s department store building at 306 S. Main. Soups were made at the hut on Liberty then ferried over to Main Street, where his wife Ika has been in charge. Because the counter faces the inside lobby, waiting in line doesn’t involve shivering or getting soaked or breathing exhaust fumes or any of the downsides at the Liberty location.

Expanding on Main Street – in a building owned by local landlord Ed Shaffran – is also part of a succession plan, as Jules and Ika’s son, Miki Wartha, takes on more responsibility for the business. Jules turns 66 next month, and while he’s not retiring, he hopes to scale back a bit.

A few days ago, we talked about all of this, and a lot more, for an interview you can read below. I’m grateful that Jules carved out some time to serve up his thoughts – about his past, the reason he decided to keep his business small, the origin of the name “Le Dog” (it’s not what you might think), possible menu changes, his friendships with other local families, his hopes for the future.

In a column he wrote for Gastronomica a few years ago – now part of the “Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie” anthology – Jules acknowledged that his business on East Liberty had become an Ann Arbor landmark. That’s true, but not just because of the distinctive red facade. He’s built Le Dog into a special piece of this town that transcends its location – and this transition will bear that out.

Jules told me he’s happy with the changes taking place, but a little worried that regulars of the East Liberty spot won’t seek him out on Main Street. I hope my fellow soup aficionados will allay his fears. Le Dog at 306 S. Main is open weekdays from 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. You should go.

The column you wrote for Gastronomica touched a bit on Le Dog’s origin story. I’m hoping we can start by talking about that.

The origin story goes way before that – to Europe, probably, where I grew up. In Hungary. I was eight years old when we came to the States. My parents always wanted me to have a European education, so they sent me back to Europe when I was 14, on my own. They sent me to a Hungarian school, and during the summers I would go work at hotels. I couldn’t come home, because it was too expensive. It was mostly ships that would go back and forth between Europe and the States. Airplanes were a luxury and very expensive. I remember it took me 10 days the first time I went over by ship. It stopped at every location before we got to Europe. And I was a 14-year-old kid! Quite young, and I guess naive. But I grew up very fast in Europe.

My first job was at a very famous hotel in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. It has the highest mountain in Germany at its doorstep. This old grand hotel taught me everything about gastronomy. I started off as a bellboy and worked my way up to various things.

How’d you get that job?

My uncle pulled connections. He was living in München – Munich, in Germany – and Garmisch-Partenkirchen is about 60 miles south of München. He knew the proprietor, Mr. Bader. I remember him as if it were yesterday, and it’s 50 years ago. He invited me to come down for the summer months, when school let out, and I had a wonderful time. I was the only one in the hotel who spoke perfect English, so they took advantage of me to translate menus for “The Cookies” – a touring cooks’ group. They were always the best tippers, so I really got to know them quite well. Their bus would come and I’d be translating for everybody on the bus. As a student, every little bit helped.

Ika Van Dyck-Dobos, Le Dog, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

A photo of Ika posted on the wall next to Le Dog’s Main Street counter.

That’s when I had my first taste of good, classic cuisine. The chefs in those days were all classically trained, and I loved the food.

After graduating, the Vietnam War was still going on. I had to either wait for the draft to get me, or volunteer. I volunteered for the army, hoping that with my languages, I’d have a chance to go back to Europe – because Ika was waiting for me there. It was quite a surprise for me when it wasn’t Europe I was assigned to, but Alaska. I took Russian courses in Washington, D.C. to supplement Hungarian, German and English. I thought that with those four languages, I’d most likely be sent somewhere in Europe.

But the Bering Strait was heating up as far as military intelligence was concerned, so I spent two years in Anchorage. Ika and I grew apart – you know how it is. It’s all right to write letters back and forth for a year or two, but it tapers off. But there’s a good side to this story! Later on, we met again and are happily married.

After the army, I attended Michigan State University and studied hotel and restaurant management. In those days, after Cornell it was the second best hotel school in the country. I finished that under the G.I. bill, then went to work in various places on the east coast. I was a manager of the officers club at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, and at Hotel Hershey in Pennsylvania.

After that I landed a job at The Bakery, a restaurant in Chicago. It started when I was at the university, and I needed a job for the summer. Since Louis Szathmáry [chef and founder of The Bakery] is also Hungarian, I wrote him a nice letter in Hungarian saying I needed a job for the summer. He told me to come by and he’d see what they could do. So he put me behind the dishwasher for two weeks! I did that when I was a junior at the university.

Le Dog, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Le Dog’s original location on East Liberty, which is now closed.

Gradually, I worked my way up until I was general manager of The Bakery, within a very short period of time. But it was devastatingly difficult. We were serving 500 people a night, five courses. Working seven days a week like that, you get burned out. I got burned out after about a year and a half.

During one of my very brief vacations in 1979, I came home to Ann Arbor to visit my parents. They had a photography studio on the corner of Division and William – the Van Dyck-Dobos Studios. I think that was before your time – my father closed it in ’81.

I came home and my sister said, “Let’s take a walk around the block – I want to show you what’s new around here.” We walked around and I saw this little red place that was boarded up. It hadn’t been in operation for the past two or three years because the Clarks didn’t want to continue with Karamel Korn Kastle. And I thought – Boy! This would be a great place to start with hot dogs and lemonade. My sister said she had a perfect name for it: Le Dog. Lemonade and hot dogs! So that’s what we named it.

I gave 30 days notice in Chicago, and then came back here and started working as a hot dog vendor. We had a hot dog cart ready to go for campus, and we did that for about six months. Then winter came. And Michigan winters – as we know from the past winter – can be quite difficult. So I started cooking soups. And more soups. And roast duck, and pheasant under Styrofoam, and lobster bisque, and more classic dishes that people were surprised to find coming out of a little hole-in-the-wall. Because that’s all it is – a hole-in-the-wall. Just 200 square feet.

Le Dog, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Handmade signs are a signature of Le Dog.

And after 35 years, we’re doing the same thing here on Main Street – serving good soup. About 428 soups and counting.

What was the first soup you served?

You know, the first one I recall was a bean soup with ham. Here’s what happened. Mary Hunt, who used to be the owner of The Ann Arbor Observer, came in with her daughter, who was just two or three months old. She said, “I want to do an article on you guys, because I heard you just came from Chicago. Can I bring my little daughter?” She rocked her daughter in a stroller during the interview. She asked what I was cooking, and I said, “Bean soup with ham.” She said, “Wow – that smells good!” I remember that as if it were yesterday. It was 35 years ago. So that was my first soup.

As a business owner, what are some of the challenges you’ve faced over the years?

The most important thing is to have a good relationship with the person that owns the building. I’m extremely happy to have Ed Shaffran as our landlord here [at 306 S. Main]. We’re expanding about 370 square feet in the back here, and without Ed we could have never done that.

Ed has connections that I trust very much. He takes me by the hand and walks me through various aspects of getting permits from the city’s historic district commission, from the health department, from builders – every aspect of construction. There’s something about Ed, Ika and I – we have hit it off for 17 years. He’s very fair, and we are fair to him too. We don’t have any exorbitant demands. We could not have done this anywhere else on Main Street.

I think he [Shaffran] has a commitment to this community, and isn’t just looking for the absolute highest rent he can get.

Absolutely. And he takes care of his buildings. His buildings are spic and span. The cleanliness is the highest I’ve seen anywhere. He’ll take care of anything, even in the middle of the night. One of our faucets had a very minor leak, but he was on it within a half hour of when it happened, so there was no catastrophe. I don’t know how to say enough good things about him.

Lindsey Leyland, Jules Van Dyck-Dobos, Marolyn Valenzuela, Le Dog, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Lindsey Leyland, Jules Van Dyck-Dobos and Marolyn Valenzuela behind the counter of the Main Street Le Dog.

I also have a very good architect. It’s a very small addition we’re putting on, but David Esau [of Cornerstone Design] is doing a wonderful job. I’m a cook! I don’t know how to put together a plan for building something. We’re having a big window in the back. Nobody in the back alley has a window, and I asked David if it would be possible. He said, “Oh, I’ll work on it.” So we got it through the historic district commission to have a 2-foot by 3-foot window! I’m happy about that, because I don’t want to work in a dungeon where you don’t know if it’s raining or snowing or if the sun’s shining.

Will people be able to look inside, to watch you work?

I haven’t decided that. Sometimes when you’re cooking, you don’t want everyone to know your secrets! The Food Network called me several years ago and asked if they could film us. I said no, and they were a little taken aback. But that’s the way it is. I have my secrets.

In your Gastronomica column, you mentioned that in the past you’ve been approached about the possibility of franchising Le Dog. You’ve also had other opportunities to grow. I really respect your business model – running a small business to support your family and the lifestyle that you want. I think that’s undervalued, in our society that’s focused on growth as the metric of success. What motivated you to take the path you’ve chosen?

I’m glad you mentioned the word family, because that’s very important. It’s a totally different world than it was 100 years ago, when you’d have a small business that would be passed on to the next generation. In Ann Arbor, I can’t think of too many families that have done that. The Metzgers – John Metzger is very competent, and is a very dear friend of mine who’s doing a wonderful job. He’s fourth generation [at Metzger's restaurant], and that’s rare.

Le Dog, Le Soup, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Front entrance to 306 S. Main, where Le Dog = La Soup is located.

I went to school with Ken Weber, he was my classmate [at Michigan State University]. His son went to school with my son Miki. You can draw parallels – although of course we are a small ant compared to Weber’s. But the family on both sides is passing on the business from one generation to the next. Ken’s father just turned 100. I remember Michael [Weber] when he was playing with Miki at our house, and we asked if he was going to take over Weber’s. He’d say he didn’t know, because it was far in the future. And Miki would say the same thing. They expanded – I have not.

But I’m happy with the way things worked out. I can take vacations! I just came back from three weeks in Africa, where we toured the Cape. It was wonderful. Ika’s in Germany right now visiting her other grandkids, and she’s having great fun. You have to make room for yourself. I have worked long enough – sometimes days until 10 o’clock at night, when we served pheasant. I don’t want to do that anymore.

We have a little niche and that niche is called – I don’t know if you noticed – La Soup. It’s “Le Dog = La Soup.” This is our new name. I wish I could drop Le Dog – it’s confusing. People think that all we have is hot dogs. You’ll see in some of the comments on Yelp: Why are they called Le Dog when they concentrate on soups? Well, I can’t go back 35 years and change the name, but I can do it now.

Are you eventually going to drop Le Dog and just call it La Soup?

How would you feel about that?

I’d feel weird!

I think I’ll keep both.

That’s a good compromise. One of the other things that’s known about Le Dog is the sign that says “NO Coke, NO Pepsi, NO Pop or Soda. EVER!!” I’ve always assumed that just reflected your own preferences. Is there a story behind that?

The first year we were open for the art fair, Liberty Street was open, so we still had cars going past in front of the shop. The art fair used to be quite small compared to what it is now. This was in the early ’80s. But the second year, they shut down the street and we were supposed to get our delivery from Coke, but Coke said “Sorry, we can’t deliver to you.”

At that time, we had all this equipment from them and we served Coke. I said, “You can’t deliver for the art fair – our busiest week of the whole year? Well, then why don’t you take your equipment home with you.” And so I kicked them out, and put the sign up. It’s been that way ever since. It’s not an idiosyncrasy of mine.

You have a long memory! What about the ban on using cell phones?

We have a line. If you’re talking on your cell phone and you can’t give me your order, and I reach behind you and ask for the next person’s order, it might upset you. Maybe you’re a doctor or lawyer, and it’s an important call. But at least you’re prepared.

What’s something about Le Dog that might surprise even your regulars?

I don’t follow movements or hype. I’m not a locavore. I don’t follow fads. If you look at any foodie magazine, you find these chefs who are staring down at their food from two inches away, putting salt on the food. Don’t breathe on my food!

Le Dog, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

A photo of Miki’s daughter Lucia hangs on the wall next to a Lucia-sized Le Dog T-shirt.

I just came back from South Africa. We visited some of the most famous South African restaurants, and there are many of them. The European tourism trade is huge on the Cape. Some of them were really world-class restaurants, but they were preparing food with tweezers! Give me a break.

I want to serve food that people are going to eat. They’re not going to take pictures of it. How many times when you go to a restaurant nowadays, and before the person starts eating, they take pictures of their food to show their friends? It’s food! We’re not talking about something that will be on the front cover of Food & Wine. I want to serve good food that people will eat and enjoy, and not just look at or take pictures of.

Although I have to say, I’ve seen plenty of people posting photos of their Le Dog soup on Facebook.

<wry smile> I wonder how to respond to that. I thank them, because it’s an introduction for some people. I should be grateful.

One of the things I cherish is The Bakery Restaurant Cookbook by your mentor, Louis Szathmáry. You gave that to me right after we launched The Chronicle in 2008, and I haven’t prepared anything from it because I feel I need to really set aside time to do that. Also, I’m a little intimidated by some of the recipes. The roast suckling pig, for example! Can you talk a little about him, and what you learned from him?

Chef Szathmáry is a very interesting man. He’s done so many things – not only for gastronomy, but also for the whole Hungarian diaspora.

Louis Szathmary, Le Dog, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Cover of The Bakery Restaurant Cookbook by Louis Szathmáry.

He had one of the largest collections of Hungarian books in the world. Some of the old books that were burned by the Russians when they came in would have been totally lost without him. He was also a doctor of psychology. During the war, he was a spy for the Americans. He came over from Europe in ’52 and established The Bakery in the early ’60s. He was a multi-faceted individual.

He was also a very dear stepfather to me. He grabbed me under the arms and pushed me forward. He taught me 90% of what I know about cooking. In a few short months, when I was with him during the summers, I got more from him than from the university. He used to be one of the main chefs for Armour, and did the whole flight kitchens for Pan Am and TWA. I could go on and on – he was a genius in many respects.

The whole concept of changing classical cuisine started with him. He was the first one to use modern equipment in preparing many things in the kitchen, like tilting braziers, or steam-jacketed kettles, or flash freezing of certain food. When he worked for Armour, he developed the concept of freezing food to take it across country.

He ran The Bakery until 1989. It had a long life. It was the premier restaurant in Chicago during that time.

Do you share his philosophy of cooking – is that such a thing? Do you have a philosophy of cooking?

No, no. That would be putting it to such a lofty station. If your mother was a very good cook, would you say that it was a gift? Would it be an art? Or would it be just love for preparing something? It’s very hard to categorize – as with many things that are a little bit art, a little bit science. I don’t know where one stops and the other one starts.

Do you ever watch the shows on TV that feature chefs and cooking?

I don’t watch them. I watched one or two, because I was curious. But that was enough for me. First of all, it’s not real. Second of all, it’s hype – and I don’t like hype.

We do have a very time-oriented profession. When I open my window at 11:30, I should be ready. And so, 10 minutes before I open up, I am moving. Marolyn today called me Speedy Gonzales for a half hour before we open. And I thought: Is that good or is that bad? Or is that like the Tasmanian Wolf! So there are time constraints. But it’s a different clock than what you see on TV. When I start at 7 o’clock preparing some of the soups, I’m looking four or five hours down the road – not 30 minutes, because that’s all that a network will give you.

On the other hand, TV is entertainment. I might entertain good customers, but this is serious business. This is not a game for me. I would have grown tired of it if it had been a game for 35 years.

Do your days now resemble what they were like 35 years ago?

Yes, although you learn as you go along. There are certain things I don’t spend as much time on. I’ll be honest with you – I buy my potatoes already peeled. Gordon Food Service will provide me with peeled potatoes. It’s not because I’m lazy. As Chef Louis would say: Why should I do something that somebody else can do for me exactly the same way? Another thing he would say is: Why knock yourself out, if there are better ways to do it?

Le Dog, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Line at the Main Street Le Dog counter.

I don’t have to go to the market. I can call up the people at the market and they will deliver to me. It’s the exact same produce, as if I would spend 45 minutes at the market. I enjoy going to the market, and I see a lot of people who are customers of mine. They say: “Jules, what are you getting today?” So I take them to my favorite purveyors, introduce them – and it’s more of a social relationship. Believe me, in Ann Arbor, the farmers market is a social institution, and I enjoy that. But I don’t want to do that every Wednesday and Saturday.

What do you do when you’re not preparing for your business?

People ask me what I do when I go home, and they’re very surprised when I say that I go home and cook two hours for Ika and myself. Why not? I love what I do – why should I stop because I went home? Not every day, but many days.

What’s your favorite dish that’s not sold at Le Dog?

I do have many Hungarian dishes that I like very much. Szekely Gulyas is a very Hungarian dish of pork, potatoes and sauerkraut, of all things. I have it once a year at Le Dog. It’s goulash. We put an “h” on the end for English speakers.

Hungarian has 10 more letters in its alphabet than English – 36 letters. There are many combined letters – ly, ny, and sz, for example. Linguistically, it’s a very beautiful language. It’s very rare and unique. There’s no other language like Hungarian. We take pride in our literature.

Are there other Hungarians in Ann Arbor?

Yes, there’s quite a few. I try to meet as many of them as I can – especially the students. They miss their Hungarian cooking, so whenever I find a Hungarian post-doc student, I invite their family to dinner so they can feel at home.

If you stand in line sometimes, there are so many languages. Marolyn speaks Spanish to all the Spanish-speakers. Ika speaks German, I speak Hungarian and sometimes Russian. We’re actually quite multi-lingual.

I have that experience when I’m riding the bus, where there’s a broad cross-section of nationalities. A lot of that is because of the university, but not all.

Can you imagine Ann Arbor without the university? Can you imagine how much intellectual stimulation there is from the foreign influences we have in Ann Arbor? Incredible.

We haven’t talked much yet about Le Dog’s transition, and closing the Liberty spot. Have you been thinking about this for a while?

My wife Ika has been asking me to think about it for the past six months. One of the main reasons is that we were cooking down there, and bringing everything over here at 11 o’clock. That is very tiresome – whether it’s raining, or snowing, or traffic jams. It’s quite difficult to do.

Le Dog, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Le Dog’s former location on East Liberty was originally a garage built in 1936. Its distinctive design was from the Karamel Korn Kastle era, before Jules Van Dyck-Dobos opened his business in 1979.

Miki was the one who was usually driving back and forth, delivering things here, then taking back pans or whatever we needed. It got to be too tiresome.

The other thing is we don’t have air-conditioning there, and we don’t have heat there. We don’t have any amenities that you’d normally have in a modern kitchen. It used to be a garage for a Model A – that little place was constructed in 1936 for a garage. And we’ve been working out of that little place. Someone told me, “Jules, for a multiple murder, you would have had a bigger cell for a shorter time!” That’s exactly right.

But Le Dog on Liberty is my baby. From the very beginning, from its inception, I nourished it and watched it grow. I enjoyed every minute of it. The first two years were tough – financially, and I didn’t know what to expect. But it blossomed. That’s how good buds should be – they slowly open up. We’ve reached a point like the hibiscus up there [on Le Dog's counter, grown at Jules' home] – it’s open and now we have to say good-bye.

I don’t want to say good-bye, but I’m 66 years old. I want to step back just a little. I’m not quitting, though. Somebody asked me why I was closing. I’m not closing – I’m just expanding to Main Street. That’s my mentality. It’s not a negative, it’s a positive. I can have a good modern kitchen, with a good landlord, with a much easier way of doing things.

Le Dog, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

306 S. Main sign.

I might only come in three days a week, and let Miki and Ika do the rest. Miki has a two-and-a-half-year-old beautiful little daughter, and he deserves to spend some time with her. If we can do it, why not? I mean, how many people out there wish they could spend more time with their kids as they’re growing up?

When I’m 70 years old and Lucia is going to school, then he can take over another day. These are little steps you can do within the family. You can’t do it when you’re extended to two or three places. I’m very, very happy with the way things are.

It’ll stay that way for another four years. Then after that, maybe I’ll do some other work, I don’t know. I’d love to teach, but I think I’ll be too old at 70 to teach. As much as I can, I take classes at the university. I love history, I love literature. If I could be 20 again, I’d be a student forever. And as a senior, there are many courses that are reasonable or even free. The Saturday physics classes are wonderful! Sometimes over my head, but it’s still interesting.

How are you letting customers know about the expansion on Main Street?

The trouble is, a lot of people don’t know we’re on Main Street. People are saying “Le Dog is closing – where are we going to get our soups?” They’re surprised we have another Le Dog on Main Street. I don’t believe in advertising for us. For everyone else, it’s fine. But I have not spent a nickel on advertising for 35 years. And I didn’t need to – knock on wood.

Le Dog, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Sign on the East Liberty Le Dog, which is now closed.

Has your landlord at the Liberty location allowed you to put a notice up there?

I have the lease until the end of this month. I don’t think it can be used for much. It’s such an old structure. Since I was grandfathered in for such a long time, there would have to be major changes done in it.

Is that building in a historic district?

The green house, on the corner of Division and Liberty, is in an historic district – but not the white house that I’m next to. But it’s owned by the same person. I had been interested in acquiring the space [where Le Dog is located], but of course it cannot be separated. So I’m out of there.

Other than the changes we’ve already talked about for your Main Street Le Dog, are there any other plans in the works?

We might tweak our menu a little bit. I don’t know in what way. Let’s get situated first. But people are begging me to bring back certain items that have been missing from the menu for some time. You probably remember the Caesar salad?

I do!

Or, God forbid, chocolate shakes or strawberry shakes. People are waiting for that – old regulars.

Might you add items that haven’t been offered before?

I would like to give a definite yes, but I do not want to at this time. My hopes are one step at a time.

What’s the timeframe for this Main Street buildout?

I think we should be ready in two months at the latest. We have this area [the new restrooms in the lower level] built out already, and just need an inspector from the city to OK it. The space in the back [behind the current Le Dog kitchen] will be demolished starting next week. It should take six weeks at the latest.

And I don’t know if we’ll be open for the art fair! [Le Dog typically closes when the annual art fairs are in town.] That would be interesting, wouldn’t it? To have the new kitchen ready for art fair, and just for the hell of it, open for art fair? But I don’t think so. We’ll see.

Le Dog, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

There are seats where customers eat soup in the lower level at 306 S. Main.

Are there any plans to add tables in the lower level, for people to eat?

We’ve been here 17 years – it’s worked out fine. Don’t ruin something that’s not broken. My principle right now is K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple and Smart. It’s worked so far, and I’m happy about it.

Is there anything we haven’t talked about, that you’d like to add?

I just want to thank everybody in Ann Arbor who’ve been our very good patrons on Liberty Street. Main Street is just three and a half blocks away– it’s not far.

I’ve seen many, many changes over the years, especially in restaurants. Probably starting on Fourth all the way to State Street on Liberty – how many restaurants have gone in, from small to large? Even Knight’s is there now! Did you ever imagine that Knight’s would be coming downtown? And all of the Asian influences. Next to me on Liberty is a new place called Ginger Deli. I haven’t had the time to go there, but I really want to do that when Ika comes back, just to see what it’s like.

You know, people are moving. Ali [Ramlawi, owner of Jerusalem Garden] is moving just around the corner to a much larger place [from 307 S. Fifth to 314 E. Liberty, where Seva restaurant was formerly located]. You have Blimpy Burger moving back here [to 304 S. Ashley, next to Fleetwood Diner].

So the Old Guard is on the move! And what’s wrong with that?

Le Dog at 306 S. Main is open weekdays from 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.

Le Dog, lobster bisque, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

A personalized cup of lobster bisque.

Update: The staff at the Ann Arbor District Library dug through the archives of the (original) Ann Arbor News, which the library is digitizing, and provided some additional photos. Here are a few – you can view the rest at AADL’s Old News site.

Jules Van Dyck-Dobos, Ann Arbor News, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jules Van Dyck-Dobos in a 1984 photo by The Ann Arbor News.

Jules Van Dyck-Dobos, The Ann Arbor News, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jules Van Dyck-Dobos at Le Dog in 1984, from The Ann Arbor News archives.

Jules Van Dyck-Dobos, The Ann Arbor News, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jules Van Dyck-Dobos at Le Dog in a 1992 Ann Arbor News photo.

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Milestone: A Pitcher Worth 1,000 Words Thu, 02 Jan 2014 14:05:23 +0000 Dave Askins The monthly milestone column here at The Ann Arbor Chronicle provides a regular, systematic way to express our appreciation to readers and advertisers for their financial support. That support was strong enough to sustain the publication through its fifth year in operation. Thank you.

Pitcher passed at the Old Town Tavern on Jan. 1, 2014 for the annual Townes Van Zandt memorial show performed by Chris Buhalis – on the anniversary of Van Zandt s death, now 17 years ago. (Photo by the writer).

Pitcher passed at the Old Town Tavern on Jan. 1, 2014 for the annual Townes Van Zandt memorial show performed by Chris Buhalis – on the anniversary of Van Zandt’s death, now 17 years ago. (Photo by the writer.)

As we flip the calendar to a new year, the regular milestone column is also a chance to remind readers: To sustain itself, the business really does rely in part on “voluntary subscription” dollars.

The Chronicle’s continued ability to document local government and civic affairs depends on you and it depends on you now – not on someone else at some other time. So I’m asking you to think right now about using the online system or the old-fashioned check-in-an-envelope method to make a financial contribution to The Chronicle: Subscribe!

As a reminder, in case we don’t write a column about this in some given month, I’ve added a recurring monthly item to our event listings for the second day of every month: Time to Contribute Financially to The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

It’s worth pointing out that The Chronicle’s event listings are pretty extensive, and currently include somewhere around 15,000 local events. That’s made possible through the work of Jon Udell as part of his Elm City Project. Granted, 15,000 events might sound a bit overwhelming, but we have begun categorizing them into smaller mini-calendars that some readers might find easier to parse.

One of the regular events you’ll find listed in The Chronicle’s event calendar is live music every Sunday night at the Old Town Tavern. Customary at the Old Town, after the band has played its set, is for someone to carry around a pitcher to collect up money for the musicians. It’s somewhat like a secular version of passing the collection plate at a worship service in the Christian tradition.

When someone is holding the pitcher out in front of you, that’s the time you are called upon to act – not later.

So I’d like you to think of this month’s column as the Internet-equivalent of passing the pitcher for The Chronicle. Below the fold, I’m going to beat briefly (I promise) on this same drum. So if you’ve made a recent contribution, you should feel free to imagine that the pitcher has moved on to the next table.

If not, imagine you’re sitting in the equivalent of your Old Town Tavern. Someone is holding a pitcher out in front of you right now. Here’s a list of terrible reasons not to put money in that pitcher at the Old Town.

Why I Won’t Put Money in the Pitcher: 9 Terrible Reasons


  1. Where? I don’t see a pitcher.
  2. I put money in the pitcher last time. 
  3. The Old Town should be paying them, not me.
  4. It’s not like those musicians expect to make a living at this.
  5. The other people at my table already put money in the pitcher.
  6. I would put money in the pitcher if they had played songs I like.
  7. I don’t carry any cash around any more.
  8. If everyone gave a dollar, that guy would be making like $75 an hour! That’s crazy!
  9. If they had a CD for sale, I would buy that, but this would be like paying for nothing.
  10. I just can’t afford it.

The one possibly good reason is (10). The rest, I think, are just self-evidently dumb. Each one of those has an analog to making a financial contribution to The Chronicle.

As we get set to tackle 2014, thanks again to those of you who helped us get through 2013.

Dave Askins is editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. For the first four years of publication, a milestone column was published every month in The Chronicle. Now the column is only an occasional feature. When the milestone column does appear, it’s usually on the second day of the month – to mark the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch. It’s an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

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Milestone: Zooey, Ukes, Parades, Calendars Tue, 02 Jul 2013 16:10:16 +0000 Dave Askins In this monthly update, I will explain what Zooey Deschanel and Ann Arbor, Michigan have in common.

I’ll hazard a guess that some regular readers of The Chronicle’s local government news coverage might wonder: Who is Zooey Deschanel? OK. So here it goes. She’s that actress from New Girl – not the one who plays CeCe, but the one who plays Jess. Right. So Jess is the one who might wind up with Nick, but we don’t know for sure, but we’re still totally rooting for them to get together as a couple – because they’re both so, like, you know, quirky that nobody else would have them.

Calendar Listing for Ukelele Group

Extract of The Chronicle’s calendar listing for July 4, 2013. Other events between this “double entry” were digitally removed.

Ah, yes. New Girl is a TV sitcom, broadcast on FOX.

If that doesn’t give Ms. Deschanel enough cred for you to read any more of this column, try this: She gave a musical performance at Hill Auditorium last night, as part of the duo “She & Him.”

She was performing around the same time when regular readers of The Chronicle were following along with our live updates from the meeting of the Ann Arbor city council. [Spoiler alert: The council was all sorta Nick-and-Jess about their agenda last night, and postponed a bunch of stuff.]

Those city council meetings, by the way, are listed out on The Chronicle’s new-and-improved event listing display, along with myriad other happenings in Ann Arbor. I wrote about the basic technology behind that event listing earlier this year. If you’d like to add all your organization’s events to our listing all-in-one-go, it’s pretty easy.

The lead art for this column is made out of a screenshot taken from The Chronicle’s event listings. For calendar purists, this might be evidence that we are doing it wrong: The 4th of July parade is listed twice. Twice? That’s like making Jess and Nick go on a double date with CeCe and Schmidt, am I right?

Actually, I think that “double listing” illustrates perfectly why our approach to event listings is exactly right. 

Ukulele Group

The Ann Arbor Ukulele Group in the 2012 4th of July parade.

First, how did this “impure” double listing happen? Our listing draws from the iCalendar data feeds created by the organizations whose calendars we are aggregating. So it’s possible that more than one organization could list the same event. The display that Microsoft’s Jon Udell has crafted for us (as a part of the elmcity project) will actually coalesce identical events into a single item in the display.

But in the case of the Ann Arbor 4th of July parade, you can see that the Ann Arbor Jaycees and the Ukulele Group chose slightly different titles for the parade in their calendars: “Ann Arbor Jaycees 4th of July Parade” versus “Ann Arbor 4th of July Parade.” Shouldn’t we have a way of giving deference to the calendar maintained by the true event host – which is in this case the Ann Arbor Jaycees? I don’t think so.

For one thing, even though the Ann Arbor Jaycees are the actual host of the event, in their calendar they didn’t include specific time information. They’ve got it listed as an all-day event. For the Jaycees as an organization, it probably is an all day event. This other organization, called the Ann Arbor Ukulele Group, listed a specific time – so you know it’s a morning event. It’s slightly better than the information provided by the event host. The 9:30 a.m. time, however, is when the ukulele players are supposed to gather. It’s not the official parade start time, which is 10 a.m.

But here’s what I enjoy about the fact that the Ann Arbor Ukulele Group’s 4th of July parade event shows up in our listing: Because it’s there, we get a little preview of one of the parade entries. From that listing we get the idea: There’s gonna be ukes in the parade! It makes me want to go to the parade!

And when you click through from the event listing, you land on the ukulele group’s MeetUp page – which is the platform that automatically generates their iCalendar data feed. There you find their set list for the parade:

  1. “This Land Is Your Land”
  2. “When The Saints Go Marching In”
  3. “You’re A Grand Old Flag/Yankee Doodle Boy”
  4. “Ukes On The March”

One of the group’s organizers, Hilo Greg aka Greg Gattuso, responded to my emailed query by explaining that this year will mark the group’s fourth appearance in Ann Arbor’s parade. You can also download the music for the songs from their MeetUp page, and join them in marching in the parade.

And that brings me back around to Zooey Deschanel. She could, if she really wanted, march in Ann Arbor’s 4th of July parade with Hilo Greg and his friends. Not because she’s a pretty girl. But because she’s a pretty girl with a uke.

That’s just like Ann Arbor will be on July 4th this year: a pretty girl … with a parade of ukes.

Dave Askins is editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. For the first four years of publication, a milestone column was published every month in The Chronicle. Now the column is only an occasional feature. When the milestone column does appear, it’s on the second day of the month – to mark the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch. It’s an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

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Milestone: Relays Without Batons Thu, 02 May 2013 04:14:47 +0000 Dave Askins We’re roughly midway through The Chronicle’s fifth year. That means in September we’ll mark a half-decade of publication.

May Day Medley Columbus Indiana 1988

Commemorative May Day Medley mug.  (Columbus, Indiana 1988)

At that point, we will likely write a column with some reckoning of total words, or total number of public meetings covered, or some other statistical breakdown.

And even though we will say, “It’s a half decade,” those numbers will not mean we are half way there. Because there is where the finish line is. And in this race The Chronicle has been running, there is no finish line.

In that respect it is not like a marathon – when you know at the start that if you settle into a sustainable pace, you will eventually finish. But for a race that has no finish line, what does a sustainable pace even mean?

Here at The Chronicle, a sustainable pace means that the business is financially stable enough to cover the freelance writers, basic business expenses and the livelihoods of a full-time editor and publisher. But The Chronicle is not sustainable in an important sense. It requires a full-time effort from two people – and here I don’t mean 40 hours, or 60 hours, or even 80 hours a week. I mean basically every waking moment.

So The Chronicle is not sustainable in the sense that it’s a business that could be sold to someone else to carry on – unless that someone else were two people who are willing to run down a race course that offers a simple livelihood with few water stations and some occasional cheers.

To pound this running metaphor completely into the ground, The Chronicle is not sustainable in the sense that it could passed like a baton to the next runner in a relay. And that reminds me of a relay race I ran a quarter century ago in my hometown of Columbus, Indiana.

It was called the May Day Medley. 

The May Day Medley was a two-part relay – a bicycling leg followed by a running leg. My recollection is that the distances were fairly modest – a 10-mile bike ride followed by a 5K run. A high school buddy and I decided we’d form a team for the relay. Long story short, he was offered a job on the east coast and had to bail on the race. I entered the event knowing that when I pedaled into the transition area, there’d be no one there waiting to receive the sweatband that was supposed to serve as the relay baton. That is a very easy thing in theory.

In actual practice it’s sometimes hard to find your running shoes in a crowd. And drinking out of a water station cup while running is not as easy as you’d think.

My memory of the actual race is pretty hazy. It was warm and humid, as early May in southern Indiana can be. I lacked mental focus, because the following day, I had arranged a first date with the woman who eventually became my lovely bride. She’s publisher of The Chronicle.

But among the cheers from spectators, one guy stood out. He ventured that I needed to alter my stride: “Stop landing on your toes!” What he meant by that, I’m sure, is that I have a suboptimal foot-strike for distance running. It’s too far forward, and is more suited to sprinting. It was probably a fair coaching point.

But here’s a pro-tip for running spectators: During the race, just deliver what’s asked – a cheer of encouragement or a drink of water. You’re not actually helping that much by coaching, even if your coaching advice is sound. It would be only the oddball runner who might remember your advice anyway, much less write it down 25 years later for everyone else to remember.

In the same way, I find that some Ann Arborites are enthusiastic roadside coaches – when it comes to the race The Chronicle is running. They’ll offer sound advice, like: faster turnaround for meeting reports would make The Chronicle better; Ann Arbor Public Schools need more coverage beyond just board meeting reports; we shouldn’t have dropped coverage of University of Michigan regents meetings; high school sports would give people a reason to visit the website; The Chronicle should cover crime and spot news; a weather almanac feature would be great; more opinion columns would be welcome.

It’s not that I necessarily disagree with any of that advice. It’s just that advice alone doesn’t pay the bills.

And ultimately, that advice is not what we need most in order to make this enterprise sustainable for the longer run. Right now, as we’re running down the road, what we need from a greater number of Ann Arborites is a simple cheer, or a drink of water – in the form of regular voluntary subscription dollars.

To those of you who’ve already been staffing the metaphorical water station – as advertisers and voluntary subscribers – we thank you. You’ve helped us cover the distance so far, and we couldn’t have done it without you.

Dave Askins is editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. For the first four years of publication, a milestone column was published every month in The Chronicle. Now the column is only an occasional feature. When the milestone column does appear, it’s on the second day of the month – to mark the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch. It’s an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

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Column: Literati’s “Moment on the Page” Sat, 20 Apr 2013 19:54:59 +0000 Domenica Trevor In the depths, it is tough to have faith that all things must pass.

I have been cobbling together a living since July 2009, when New York-based Advance Publications shut down Ann Arbor’s daily newspaper. It was a trauma, pure and simple, for me and for many of my colleagues. After almost 20 years at The News and 30 years as a newspaperwoman, my “career” was dead and the newspaper industry eventually would be, too – at least as we knew it. Some really bleak months followed for all of us.

Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor business, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

A crowd showed up for Literati’s first event on Friday evening, April 5. The new downtown bookstore is located at Washington and Fourth Avenue.

One of the ways I pay the mortgage now is with earnings from my freelance editing business. One of my clients was the Michigan Theater, which in 2011 hired me to edit a history of the theater. The manuscript’s author, Henry Aldridge, recently retired from the faculty of Eastern Michigan University; in the 1970s he rallied the community to rescue the Michigan from the wrecking ball and for decades has been one of the theater’s organists.

Over a number of months Henry and I would meet at Biggby Coffee on East Liberty Street and, chapter by chapter, shape his story of how a movie palace built for silent films in the 1920s weathered dramatic shifts in the film industry and the damage done to downtown America by postwar suburban sprawl, to ultimately stand firm as an Ann Arbor cultural landmark. It is an inspiring tale.

After one of our sessions we stood together outside Biggby and glumly beheld the dead sidewalk in front of the newly vacated Borders flagship store – a community institution that the community could not save. The ironies did not escape us.

The loss was especially personal for Henry; the bankruptcy had thrown a young friend of his out of a job she adored. Shannon Alden was a 14-year veteran of Borders with a passion for children’s literature. Henry was prodding her to find another way to use her gifts for connecting with people and sharing her delight in books. He urged me to contact her if only to offer some moral support; both of us had taken a hard blow to our sense of purpose because of a revolution in the economics of reading. Newspapers, bookstores – the Internet was killing them both.

So it is not a little ironic that months of blogging and Facebooking kept us up to date on the city’s much-anticipated new downtown bookstore before Literati officially opened its doors at 124 E. Washington St. on Easter Sunday.

From Blog to Bricks-and-Mortar

Literati Bookstore has come into being thanks to a huge commitment from Hilary Lowe and Michael Gustafson, partners in life and business. It was exciting to see good things start to happen in the space formerly occupied by Rick Snyder’s local campaign headquarters (cue the speculation about karma). I popped in a few times this winter – one day to discover the shelves had gone up, another to observe a woman with a paint roller risking her life atop a ladder placed just so on the stairs leading to the lower level. I met Lowe and Gustafson in the flesh on an afternoon in mid-March. It was a landmark day, too – the scanning of books had commenced!

From a short distance, I spied a stack of copies of “King Leopold’s Ghost” by Adam Hochschild, a really good book about some really awful history. It was then that I got that oh-my-god-it’s-really-happening jolt – an admittedly weird response to the rape of the Belgian Congo. Lowe talked about the 100-some job applications they’d received, with Borders and Shaman Drum alumni heavily represented. She was gratified to have had such a deep pool of available talent from which to choose a staff of a half-dozen or so “book ninjas.” And she (accurately) forecast an end-of-month soft opening.

Out of town for Easter, I paid my first visit to Literati the following Wednesday. The sun shone, but a sharp wind bit at my cheeks and bare hands that April morning as I made my way up Washington Street. I knew what I was looking for: “The Yellow Birds” by Kevin Powers and “Nothing Gold Can Stay: Stories” by Ron Rash. What I found as well was a beautiful space, with quirky vintage tables, chalk-on-blackboard signs and lots of natural light through windows that open on both Washington Street and Fourth Avenue.

Literati Bookstore, Hilary Lowe, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Literati co-owner Hilary Lowe.

Right off the bat I snagged a copy of “The Ancient Murrelet” fresh out of the box – Lowe was unpacking copies of poet Keith Taylor’s new chapbook in advance of his reading at the end of the week. I browsed the fiction, poetry and periodicals filling two long walls on the street level. Downstairs is dim and cozy – that morning a quartet of readers sat around a table, their heads bent … over books, not iPhones! At least a half-dozen customers were checking out the long wall of biography, history and political science and small sections for art, travel, health, gardening, photography and more. Lowe credits Peter Roumanis, an owner of the new Vellum restaurant on Main Street, for guidance in curating the exceptional cookbook selection.

Back upstairs, I resumed my search for “The Yellow Birds” – the author’s name had momentarily fled my head. I glanced around for some help and there, shelving books in the nook devoted to kid lit, was none other than Shannon Alden, one of the select Literati book ninjas! Up until that moment we were merely warm acquaintances; now we threw our arms around each other.

She located “The Yellow Birds.” The Rash collection was on the shelf, right where it belonged. “I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats” – on display near the register – was the perfect housewarming gift for Elvis, my stepdaughter’s kitty, from my own cats Lily and Clementina. Lowe identifies herself as a “crazy cat lady” but you’d know it anyway from a casual look at her shelves. (“Crafting With Cat Hair”? Thursday’s my birthday, friends.)

Shannon handled my purchases. “Of course, you’re going to be a frequent buyer,” she said, signing me up. Another customer was leaving with a big bag of books and some parting advice: “Stay open late during SummerFest; unbelievable crowds.” Then she eyed Shannon: “I remember you!” Another Borders alum, it turned out.

So there we were, in our new downtown bookstore: Shannon back to selling books and me back to buying them. After nearly four years of pinching pennies, I was in the position to spend $77.26 that morning, and another fifty bucks the night of Taylor’s reading. If you don’t think that’s a big deal, then lucky, lucky you. Now get your fortunate self down to Literati today and match it. And then do it next month, and the month after that.


I guess it’s not surprising that this last selection in Taylor’s new book of poems resonated:

In the Hard Months

Oh, I wish I could believe
in February that the blood root
will really bloom – for its short moment,
until its petals will be knocked
off by a cold rain – in March,
or that the cone flowers will turn
to seed in September so the finches
can pick them apart in one last
frenzy of summer, or that the poem
will come again, confident
and supple in its moment on the page.

Lowe and Gustafson report that they got lots of generous advice from local book lovers and booksellers, including Taylor – “one of the very first people we met with when we first told some people we were planning on opening a bookstore downtown,” they blogged. “Since then, he’s been incredibly supportive.”

But back in the summer of 2011, he wasn’t optimistic about the future of bookselling in Ann Arbor. Talking in the wake of Borders’ demise, Taylor said he wasn’t sure the local “book culture” was robust enough to support a new independent bookstore and fill the void left by the closures of Borders and of Shaman Drum, in 2009.

Keith Taylor, poet, Literati Bookstore, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Poet Keith Taylor signs copies of his new chapbook, “The Ancient Murrelet,” at his April 5 reading at Literati Bookstore.

What would it take to make a go of it? For starters, he said, “idealism, a lot of 80-hour work weeks, a willingness to be constantly present.” Obviously, Lowe and Gustafson bring all that in abundance. But Literati’s owners are doubtlessly bringing a lot of debt, which brings us to the big issue: They’ve got to make the rent. Even if Faramarz Farahanchi might be the “landlord willing to rent space for less than the going rate” – for Taylor, that’s the bottom line – Literati has to sell a lot of books, every day.

Seasons change by themselves, provided we stay out of the way. Other welcome arrivals need help. Taylor’s poems have their moment on the page because he has a gift – and because he holds up his end of the bargain and takes to pen and paper with some regularity. The Michigan Theater still stands because Henry Aldridge and others like him knew its glorious worth and worked hard and smart to save it. I’ve got money to buy books again not only because of an indecent amount of luck, but because, most days, I show up at my desk.

I ran into Jill Peek, editor and publisher of “The Ancient Murrelet,” in the big crowd for Taylor’s reading on April 5. She observed that Lowe and Gustafson have not only taken a huge financial gamble, but they’re devoting some of the most crucial years of their professional lives to the experiment. A few days later we continued the conversation. “I hope I wasn’t too preachy with my remarks about risk,” she wrote in an email, “but I often feel that in this town, those with UM or institutional affiliations do not necessarily see that what’s new and lively often requires risk-taking. That’s my observation from growing up in what became Silicon Valley.”

Precious time and lots of money – the owners of Literati Bookstore are investing both and we have an obligation to do more than sing their praises for it. They are not going to succeed just because we’re deliriously happy that they are finally here – that Ann Arbor once again has a place downtown where we can go to readings and hold book club meetings and browse while we’re waiting for a table to open or the movie at the Michigan to start. That’s all great, but unless lots of people spend money there, often, it will not survive.

Being an engaged and beloved member of the community is simply not enough.

About the writer: Domenica Trevor lives in Ann Arbor – her columns are published periodically in The Ann Arbor Chronicle. The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to support our columnists and other contributors. If you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.

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Milestone: Monthly Reminders Sat, 02 Feb 2013 14:57:19 +0000 Dave Askins The Chronicle’s milestone column was originally conceived as a monthly feature – an opportunity for either the editor or the publisher to relay housekeeping news to readers, or offer opinions on topics related to media and journalism. It was also conceived as a monthly reminder to readers that actual human beings who live among them are reporting, writing and editing this publication.

Blue overlay reminder notice

Screenshot of blue overlay reminder notice. After it’s been closed – by clicking the “close button” in the upper righthand of the overlay – it should not appear again as a reader continues to navigate through The Chronicle’s site.

The monthly milestone column was also a vehicle for reminding readers that it takes regular financial contributions from readers like them to sustain this publication. As we look to transition this from a monthly to an occasional column, we’d like to maintain a monthly schedule of reminders to folks: If you perceive a benefit from The Chronicle to yourself and the broader community, then please consider contributing financial support so that benefit can be sustained.

So, to maintain a regular monthly reminder, especially in those months when we don’t publish a milestone column, we’re trying out a blue overlay – which should have appeared on your screen if you visited the website today (Feb. 2, 2013). In some ways, it’s an awful and ostentatious way to greet Chronicle readers. But to make it go away, just click in the upper righthand corner on the “close button.” It shouldn’t appear again for the duration of your visit.

Of course, instead of clicking on that “close button,” we’d prefer you clicked on the SUBSCRIBE link. Or failing that, we’re hoping that the blue overlay might remind you to review your check register for the last time you wrote out a check to The Chronicle.

And of course, if you’re already sending your regular financial support to The Chronicle, we’d like you to interpret that blue overlay as a thank-you. We hope it will encourage you to mention to your friends, co-workers and acquaintances that you voluntarily subscribe to The Chronicle, and suggest they do the same.

Dave Askins is editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. For the first four years of publication, a milestone column was published every month in The Chronicle. Now the column is only an occasional feature. When the milestone column does appear, it’s on the second day of the month – to mark the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch. It’s an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

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Milestone: Flipping Your Calendar to 2013 Wed, 02 Jan 2013 06:39:51 +0000 Dave Askins The start of a new year is a plenty good excuse to talk about calendars – or event listings.

Screenshot of excerpt from Chronicle event listings

Screenshot showing an excerpt from The Chronicle event listings.

Ordinarily, I would be inclined to bore you to death by discussing Internet standards, syndication, multiple-data entry problems, connections to authoritative sources, the myriad ways I am smarter than our pet cat, and how all this should cause us to grumble and make very serious faces as we lament the future of journalism.

But I figure I have a whole year to do that.

For now, I’d like you to consider this: The Chronicle’s calendar listings currently include 4,217 events.

That’s because we’ve embraced an approach to event listings based on the idea that: (1) event hosts are in command of the most accurate information about their events; and (2) event hosts should be able to just maintain their own calendars, and expect their event information to show up all over the Internet, without doing one bit of extra data entry for any publication. 

Those 4,217 events come from 256 different online calendars – which event hosts are maintaining for themselves, not especially just for us. Our event listings pull events from those calendars automatically, updating to reflect any added or altered events in the host’s calendar. The whole thing is made possible by Jon Udell’s elmcity project, which aims in part to demonstrate the power of Microsoft’s Windows Azure computing cloud.

If you’re a host of regular events in the Ann Arbor area, chances are good that The Chronicle is already displaying your events – because you’re using a friendly piece of software – like Hotmail Calendar, or Google Calendar, or because you’re using Facebook, Eventful, Meetup, or Eventbrite to publicize your events.

For example, our event listings know when Sava’s $5 cheeseburgers are on sale, when the open mic takes place at Oz Music, when the deadline is for winter city taxes, and when Dr. Snowflake is giving his workshop (please bring scissors for cutting your own paper).

Want to check if yours is one of the 256 calendars we’re already displaying? Review the calendar list. If you don’t see your calendar on the list, and you think it ought to be there, get in touch [] and I’ll talk you through some of the basics.

We’ve been working to assemble this version of the event listings for a few months now. But it’s still a rough draft in several ways.

One way it’s rough is that I’ve only made a first pass at categorizing feeds – and the categories need refinement. For example, there’s a category for “exhibits” and one for “exhibitions.” Those need to be coalesced into a single category.

Ideally we’d like the categorization of events to work off the consensus preference of different event hosts. For example, I’ve assigned the category “famfun” to the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum events and to Leslie Science and Nature Center events. Leaders of those organizations are in a better position to gauge whether that’s an apt label, and if it actually applies to all of their events or only some.

Work on the taxonomy of the categories is one of the projects that we’re hoping a student at the University of Michigan’s School of Information might be willing to tackle in the context of the school’s practical engagement program.

Another way the event listings are a rough draft is the page design. It currently reflects a fairly large gob of text that’s a challenge to parse visually. So we’ve tasked Ross Johnson of 3.7 Designs in Ann Arbor to style up the listings, giving them more of a Chronicle look and feel.

But here’s the thing about the work that Ross does. Like the freelance writers and artists, accountants, lawyers, server technicians, and the rest of the folks who perform mission critical tasks for The Chronicle, professional web designers have to be compensated in actual cash money.

And that’s where voluntary subscribers come in. To those of you who contributed last year, I’d like to say thank you. I hope that The Chronicle earns your support again this year. To those of you who’ve had intentions of providing voluntary financial support – but have been waiting for the right moment – I hope 2013 is a good year to start.

Dave Askins is editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. For the first four years of publication, a milestone column was published every month in The Chronicle. Now the column is only an occasional feature. When the milestone column does appear, it’s on the second day of the month – to mark the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch. It’s an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

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Column: Book Fare Sat, 08 Sep 2012 13:05:26 +0000 Domenica Trevor The Kerrytown BookFest’s Community Book Award, which honors local contributions to publishing and book arts, will go to Tom and Cindy Hollander when the festival returns for its 10th year on Sunday at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market.

Cindy and Tom Hollander

Cindy and Tom Hollander. (Photo by M. Morgan)

Chief among those contributions is Hollander’s School of Book & Paper Arts, which for almost 20 years has offered workshops, classes and studio space for book artists (my husband among them) and drawn students and teachers from around the country to Ann Arbor. So there is more than a touch of irony in the timing of Sunday’s award: When the 11th annual BookFest rolls around, the school will be no more.

I talked to Tom and Cindy earlier this week about their decision to close the school at the end of the spring 2013 term. In response to what they describe as diminishing enrollment, they say they are stepping away from one branch of a business that has expanded dramatically from the tiny shop on the second floor of Kerrytown Market & Shops in 1991. Today, the main floor of Hollander’s offers a lavish collection of fine papers and stationery, desk sets, decorative boxes and gifts along with bookbinding supplies; Hollander’s Kitchen Store is upstairs.

“When we opened our store,” Cindy said, “I can say I never heard the word ‘book art.’” But by 1994, she and Tom were teaching workshops and by 2002, they were using the lower level of their Kerrytown space for the Hollander’s School of Book & Paper Arts. Tom gives some credit for that expansion to local book artist Barbara Brown, who in the mid-1990s was leading occasional workshops at Hollander’s while also attending summer sessions at the American Academy of Bookbinding in Telluride, Colo.

“She’d come back after taking these classes,” Tom said, “and she really talked it up” – eventually persuading him to check things out for himself. “I’d been around the next level [of book arts] for long enough that I got interested in more than just business – I was ready for something different,” he said. “I wanted to go to the next level myself.”

Tom Hollander went to Telluride; what followed was a partnership with the academy that brought prestigious AAB faculty to Hollander’s from 2002 to 2006 and national recognition for the expanding Hollander’s operation. The store’s rich inventory of bookbinding papers and supplies deepened, the school’s schedule of classes and roster of instructors expanded and enrollment continued to grow. The Hollanders also were among the original organizers of the BookFest, and served on the board for eight years.

But the past couple years have brought some changes to the home front for the Hollanders. They visited their daughter – and grandson Oliver – in Alabama this past Labor Day weekend; that’s a 13-hour drive each way. Their son lives in Washington, D.C.

Their business has seen some changes, too – specifically, they say, a drop in enrollment at the school. While popular teachers are still filling certain paper arts and bookbinding workshops, Tom said, overall student numbers are down and “classes are falling off.”

The school “was a lot of work for me to oversee,” he said. “It always came back to me. And if you’re going to do it, do it right,” he said. “It’s our baby; our name is on it.” And while most of the book arts schools around the country are nonprofits, “we’re not.”

Cindy, whose primary responsibility is running the store, said it flatly: “The full schedule has been a drain.”

The school has drawn customers to the store and its online operation, and Tom acknowledged that the likelihood of a hit to sales of bookbinding papers and supplies was “a consideration” in the decision to close. At the same time, they’ve decided to add art supplies to their inventory – the closing of Michigan Book and Supply earlier this year left local art students without a downtown bricks-and-mortar source for everything from paint to mat board. And they have their hands full with the kitchen store on the third floor – cooking classes will continue.

“We’re not going anywhere anytime soon,” Tom said.

Sign above the entrance to Hollanders School of Book & Paper Arts

Sign above the entrance to Hollanders School of Book & Paper Arts at Kerrytown Market & Shops, 410 N. Fourth Ave. in Ann Arbor.

Since they announced that the spring term would be the last for the school, Cindy said, “there’s been a spike in enrollment.” She and Tom, together and separately, will teach several of the more than two dozen classes being offered in the current fall term.

“We haven’t ruled out offering occasional classes” after next spring, Cindy said, “but not a schedule of classes.” And Tom said he isn’t sure what will happen to the lower-level space and its impressive collection of antique book presses, page cutters, etching presses and letterpress equipment.

With “the right person, the right circumstances, we can still be involved,” Tom said, “but at a less intense level.”

“I’d love to get to the point where we could make things again,” Cindy said. “Maybe we can take some classes.”

Barbara Brown confirmed that Tom Hollander has approached her about offering classes or operating a studio – but in a new location. She said she has had some serious discussions recently with a number of local book artists about what might come after the Hollander’s school closes its doors. A definite path forward hasn’t been mapped, she said: “We really haven’t had time to sort it out.”

But, she said, “Ann Arbor isn’t done with books yet.”

Evidence of that will be on display from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the BookFest. Along with exhibitors that include book dealers, local publishers and printers, and paper and book artists, more than 30 writers will be on hand to talk about their work in panel discussions and presentations throughout the day. (Full disclosure: as he has since 2003, my husband, Alvey Jones, will have a booth at the BookFest.)

“Poetry as It Lives and Breathes,” scheduled for noon in the main tent, looks to cover many of the creative bases: Moderator Keith Taylor and a group of poets will read and discuss their work and a souvenir booklet of their poems will be available – along with the opportunity to create a binding for it.

About the writer: Domenica Trevor lives in Ann Arbor – her columns are published periodically in The Ann Arbor Chronicle. The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to support our columnists and other contributors. If you’re already supporting The Chronicle, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.

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Milestone: Celebrating Our Community Thu, 02 Aug 2012 18:11:27 +0000 Mary Morgan As The Chronicle approaches its fourth anniversary, it’s time to continue a new tradition that we began last year – the annual Bezonki awards.

Bezonki Award

One of six Bezonki awards created by local artist Alvey Jones for The Chronicle. (Photos by Barbara Tozier.)

A year ago, we looked for a way to recognize some of the many people who make this community special. The Chronicle’s inaugural Bezonki awards were given to an amazing, eclectic group – and this year’s recipients were equally inspiring: Roger Rayle; the digital archives team at the Ann Arbor District Library – Andrew MacLaren, Amy Cantu, Debbie Gallagher, and Jacki Sasaki; Anna Ercoli Schnitzer; Jim Toy; Common Cycle; and Jeff Micale.

You’ll read more about them below. They are representative of so many others who work to make this community a better place, in ways that are well-known in some cases, or that more often play a critical but less high-profile role.

The physical awards were fashioned by local artist Alvey Jones, creator of the inscrutable Bezonki cartoons published monthly in The Chronicle. Each of the six Bezonkis is unique, and captures this community’s quirky attributes. The awards embody a nod to the past – some of the parts were salvaged from equipment at the former Ann Arbor News – and a wink to the future.

There’s another twist to these awards. We ask that each winner of the Bezonki be a steward of the physical award for a year. They then pass it on to the next year’s winner – that happened at a July 27 reception held at Zingerman’s Events on Fourth. Our goal is for the awards to create connections between people in the community year after year – people who might not otherwise have crossed paths.

That’s actually one of the things that has been most rewarding for me since we launched The Chronicle – crossing paths with so many remarkable people that I might not otherwise have met. So the Bezonki awards are also an opportunity to thank the many people who have supported us along the way – as advertisers, subscribers, commenters, contributors or Chronicle readers and enthusiasts. We thank you all.

And now, I’m delighted to introduce our 2012 Bezonki winners!

2012 Bezonki Awards: Roger Rayle

What he does: Roger has volunteered his time and energy to be a watchdog for the community, tracking the impact of 1,4 dioxane contamination discovered decades ago at the Gelman Sciences site, now owned by Pall Corp. He is a leader of Scio Residents for Safe Water and member of Washtenaw County’s Coalition for Action on Remediation of Dioxane (CARD). The amount of hours he has spent on this effort is staggering.

Roger Rayle, Saul Vielmetti

Roger Rayle, left, receives congratulations from Saul Vielmetti, a student at Summers-Knoll School. The school, which had been a 2011 Bezonki recipient, recently relocated to a new building and the award is packed up as part of the mood. Head-of-school Joanna Hastings brought a temporary stand-in created by one of the S-K students.

Why he’s Bezonki-worthy: In recognition of his rigorous, relentless, often thankless effort in tracking the environmental impact from the decades-long Pall/Gelman groundwater contamination. His voluntary oversight of the regulators has given our community its best shot at protecting our environment for future generations.

2012 Bezonki Awards: AADL Library Digital Archives Team

What they do: This four-person team at the Ann Arbor District Library – Andrew MacLaren, Amy Cantu, Debbie Gallagher and Jackie Sasaki – is tasked with putting the Ann Arbor News archives and other publications online. The Old News site provides an amazing collection of material, representing thousands of hours of work. In addition to archives, it also includes original interviews with people who’ve played a role in our community’s history, like former Washtenaw County sheriff Doug Harvey and local business owners Charlie Schlanderer and his son Chuck.

Andrew MacLaren, Amy Cantu, Debbie Gallagher, and Jacki Sasaki.

Ann Arbor District Library digital archives team, from left: Andrew MacLaren, Amy Cantu, Debbie Gallagher, and Jacki Sasaki. Amy is holding the Bezonki.

Why the AADL team is Bezonki-worthy:  In recognition of their contribution to the preservation of our community’s history. Their efforts make the rich historical archives easy to access and navigate, and fun to explore.

2012 Bezonki Awards: Anna Ercoli Schnitzer

What she does: Anna is the disabilities librarian with the University of Michigan Taubman Health Sciences Library, and she is a tireless advocate for the disabled community, for diversity of all kinds, and for fighting discrimination wherever she finds it. She is also one of our best Stopped.Watched. contributors, keeping her eye on what’s happening around town.

Anna Ercoli Schnitzer

Anna Ercoli Schnitzer is given a stand-in Bezonki – the real one was still with Yousef Rabhi, a 2011 winner who will be passing the award to Anna later this week. Anna was cheered on by many of her supporters who attended the event.

Why she’s Bezonki-worthy: In recognition of her advocacy – not for helping those with disabilities, but for helping find the abilities in all of us. Her work with the University of Michigan and in the community goes beyond a vocation – it’s a passion that benefits us all.

2012 Bezonki Awards: Jim Toy

What he does: Jim Toy is another activist – who for decades has advocated for the rights of the LGBT community. Among many things, he helped establish the University of Michigan’s Human Sexuality Office (now called the Spectrum Center) and retired in 2008 as diversity coordinator of UM’s Office of Institutional Equity. You might recognize his name from the Jim Toy Community Center, located in Braun Court.

Accepting the Bezonki award on behalf of Toy were Sandi Smith and Linda Lombardini, partners in life and in their business – Trillium Real Estate. Smith currently serves on the board of the Jim Toy Community Center and Lombardini has served on the board in the past.

Sandi Smith, Linda Lombardini

Linda Lombardini, right, holds the Bezonki for Jim Toy, who could not attend the event. Lombardini and Sandi Smith, left, accepted the award on his behalf. Linda is 2011 past president of the Jim Toy Community Center board, and Sandi is the board’s current vice president. Sandi read a short poem that Jim had asked her to share: ”Speak the Truth to Power’s face: Justice, Truth, and Love embrace!”

Why he’s Bezonki-worthy: In recognition of his activism, energy and sheer guts and stamina in advocating for LGBT rights for more than 40 years. He’s been grounded in our community, but has served as an inspiration for generations in Michigan, the nation and the world beyond.

2012 Bezonki Awards: Common Cycle

What they do: A lot of people have ideas for things they think would make this community a better place. But far fewer people actually work to create their vision. The folks at Common Cycle did that – you’ve probably seen them at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, where the nonprofit sets up shop to repair bikes for free. Their long-term goals include a shared workspace for workshops, build-a-bike programs for kids, and a bike-sharing program for the community.

Jimmy Raggett, Vivienne Armentrout

Jimmy Raggett accepts the Bezonki on behalf of Common Cycle from Vivienne Armentrout, one of last year’s winners. Jimmy is co-founder of the nonprofit and vice president of the board.

Why they’re Bezonki-worthy: In recognition of the vision they have transformed into reality – seeing a need, finding a solution, working to bring that solution to life and keeping it alive. In a community that talks a lot about alternative transportation, they’ve made a tangible contribution to that effort.

2012 Bezonki Awards: Jeff Micale

What he does: On election days, The Chronicle typically visits polling stations throughout the city to watch the election in progress. While the election results get the attention, it’s the people who work behind the scenes that make these elections possible. We end our day at the Ann Arbor absent voter counting board, which for the past several years has been overseen by Jeff Micale.

Dave Askins, Jeff Micale

Chronicle editor Dave Askins gives a Bezonki to Jeff Micale, who supervises the Ann Arbor absent voter county board. Several of Jeff’s fans from the city clerk’s office were on hand to celebrate.

Why he’s Bezonki-worthy: In recognition of his work on behalf of voters in this community, through the vital role he plays in helping the gears of our democratic process grind smoothly. His calm, good-natured competence and intelligent professionalism in a pressured environment reminds us of the hundreds of people it takes to ensure it’s possible to cast a vote in a free society.

It’s appropriate to end this column with Jeff – we’ll be seeing him again soon, at the Aug. 7 primary election.

Scenes from the Reception

Here’s some additional photos from the reception.

Chalk Art

Chalk art by local artist David Zinn, commissioned by The Chronicle, on the sidewalk in front of Zingerman’s Events on Fourth, where the Bezonki award reception was held.

Close-up of a Bezonki award, created by local artist Alvey Jones

A detail shot of one of the Bezonkis, created by local artist Alvey Jones.

Dave Askins, Jennifer Coffman

Dave Askins with Jennifer Coffman, who has been covering the Ann Arbor Public Schools board meetings for The Chronicle since early 2010. Jennifer is returning to a teaching position in another district, and Monet Tiedemann will now be covering AAPS for The Chronicle.

A crowd scene from the July 27 Bezonki reception.

A crowd scene from the July 27 Bezonki reception.

Dave Askins, David Erik Nelson

David Erik Nelson, right, displays his ability to dramatically hold a card in each hand. Nelson writes a monthly column for The Chronicle – “In It For the Money.” Watching him in wonderment is Chronicle editor Dave Askins.

Chronicle publisher Mary Morgan

Publisher Mary Morgan thanks supporters for helping The Chronicle reach its fourth anniversary.

Four Bezonki awards.

Four Bezonki awards.

Chalkboard listing 2011 and 2012 Bezonki winners

A chalkboard at Zingerman’s Events on Fourth lists 2011 and 2012 Bezonki winners.

The Ink-Stained Wretch, a Chronicle cocktail

The Ink-Stained Wretch, a cocktail created for The Chronicle by the folks at Zingerman’s Events on Fourth. In the background is a bouquet from Pot & Box.

Artist David Zinn works on his Sluggo the Reporter creation.

Artist David Zinn finishes his Sluggo the Reporter creation.

Toolkit for artist David Zinn.

Toolkit for artist David Zinn.

The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of local government and civic affairs. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!

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Milestone: On Crime and Calendars Mon, 02 Jul 2012 10:21:06 +0000 Dave Askins In a comment on last month’s milestone column, reader Jim Rees wrote, “If I had a million bucks to endow a reporter’s desk at the Chronicle, I would ask that Bill Treml be hired for the crime desk.”

xx article by Bill Treml in the Ann Arbor News

A 1968 article by Ann Arbor News police reporter Bill Treml from the Ann Arbor District Library's digital archives project.

For readers who are not familiar with Treml, he was a long-time reporter for the Ann Arbor News. Some of Treml’s work is already part of the Ann Arbor District Library digital archives project.

From the lede of a piece by Treml, “Police Believe Several People Saw Murder Victim Enter Car,” published on July 10, 1968: “Police hopes of solving the Joan E. Schell murder case spurted sharply upward today with the revelation that as many as three persons may have seen the Eastern Michigan University coed get into a car on the night of June 30.”

While The Chronicle doesn’t currently cover crime, we do reflect occasionally on possible models for covering that topic – as a contingency for an unexpected million-dollar endowment. Several possible newer approaches are sketched out in a recent piece by Jonathan Stray for Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab: “Beyond the Crime Scene: We Need New and Better Models for Crime Reporting.”

As Stray notes, police departments no longer need to rely on third parties like newspapers, radio and television stations to disseminate information about crimes that have taken place. A police department can communicate directly with the public about those crimes – using its own website and RSS feed, for example. The University of Michigan department of public safety maintains a crime alerts public data feed and a daily incidents log like that. The Ann Arbor police department contracts through to provide publicly accessible basic information about crime location, type and time, which is updated once a day. And the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office uses the Nixle service to let people sign up for crime alerts and other information, delivered via text message or email.

For this basic “spot news” type of information, public safety agencies are a single-point source of authoritative information, which they can share directly with the public. It’s authoritative, because a police department has unique access to basic descriptive information about crimes.

Now, I’m going to draw an analogy that might seem at first like a non-sequitur: A police department’s unique access to descriptive information about crime events is comparable, I think, to a party host’s unique access to details about an upcoming party. And that has consequences for a reasonable model of at least one small component of crime reporting.

Authoritative Sources

It’s possible that party hosts might deliberately lie to us – by placing events on their public calendars advising that swimwear is the expected attire, then asking people to sit down to a formal dinner. It’s also possible that a party host might inadvertently indicate an 8 a.m. start time for an evening affair. But ultimately, the authority on the details of an upcoming event is the host of that event. Of course, that information could eventually be checked by attending the event, too.

The Chronicle’s approach to providing a calendar of events is to allow the actual authority on the event (the host) to write up the details – using the Yahoo! Upcoming platform. The public data stream for all of the Yahoo! Upcoming events gets funneled to The Chronicle’s calendar listing based on its manual inclusion in The Chronicle’s “watch list.” That’s the only part that is controlled by The Chronicle.

It would be possible for a rival publication to replicate The Chronicle’s event listing exactly, by selecting the same set of events from the Yahoo! Upcoming platform – and that would be fine. If every publication committed to using the Yahoo! Upcoming platform, then local event hosts would have an easier time disseminating information about their events. It would be easier, because they – as the authoritative sources of information – could enter the information one time only. Done. Forever.

But not every local online publication uses Yahoo! Upcoming. So event hosts who want their events listed in multiple publications must now typically enter the same information using a system peculiar to each publication, or send out a press release and hope that staff at the publication itself shoulders the task.

Microsoft’s Jon Udell is working on this problem. In a recent column for Wired, “Calendars in the Cloud,” Udell writes [emphasis added]: “If you are sponsoring a church supper on Saturday, I want you to record the details of that event once, in your church’s own cloud-based calendar service …”

Udell isn’t just working on that problem – he’s got a proposed solution. Here’s a placeholder he’s created for Ann Arbor events – using just the calendar information that various people and organizations around Ann Arbor are already making available on the Internet: Ann Arbor Event Syndication Hub. There are some rough spots – like inclusion of a bridge game held at the Ann Arbor Senior Center in the “government category” (by dint of having the city of Ann Arbor’s calendar as a source). But the “placeholder” is already pretty impressive.

Granted, Udell is looking to demonstrate the power of Microsoft’s cloud computing platform, and it might not be obvious that this particular implementation is the specific strategy that’s best for the community of Ann Arbor. But any such approach will depend on some basic consensus in the community that this kind of strategy is one we’d like to adopt.

It’s a strategy that would make clear who is playing what role. Event hosts are supplying the information – to a calendar syndication hub. And different publications – what Udell calls “attention hubs” – are simply amplifying the identical signal that comes out of the syndication hub.

Basic Descriptive Crime Reports

To get an idea of how this event calendar model for basic “spot news” crime reporting might work, let’s consider how it currently doesn’t work.

In June, the University of Michigan department of public safety reported the following item through its crime alerts data feed:

DATE OF INCIDENT: June 9, 2012 between 11:30pm and midnight

LOCATION: Ingalls Mall, near Modern Languages Building (800 block of East Washington)

SUMMARY: A female reported that as she was walking northbound through Ingalls Mall, she was approached by three unknown males who taunted her using an anti-homosexual slur. One of the males grabbed her multiple times, including her arm and breast, before she could push him away and flee northbound. The suspects did not pursue her and she did not seek medical attention.

SUSPECTS: 1: White male, 6′, 18-20 years, medium build, medium-length blonde hair and unshaven, wearing a light-colored t-shirt and blue jeans

If you have any information: Please contact U-M DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY (DPS) at (734) 763-1131 or dial 9-1-1

The item was reported by the Detroit Free Press this way:

A woman walking through Ingalls Mall on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor was groped and surrounded by three men who taunted her using an anti-gay slur, campus police said.

The incident occurred between 11:30 p.m. and midnight Saturday, police said. The woman said she was walking north in Ingalls Mall, near the Modern Languages building in the 800 block of East Washington Street, when three men approached her, police said in a crime alert issued today.

The woman said they taunted her, and one of them grabbed her multiple times, including her arm and breast, before she could push him away and run, the alert said. The men did not pursue her.

The woman did not require medial [sic] attention, police said.

Witnesses described the man who grabbed her as white, 18-20 years old, 6 feet tall, medium build, unshaven, with medium-length blonde hair and wearing a light-colored T-shirt and blue jeans.

Anyone with information is asked to call campus police at (734) 763-1131.

And the item was reported by this way:

Campus police are investigating an alleged groping incident that involved the use of an anti-gay slur against a woman walking on the University of Michigan campus late Saturday.

The woman told police that three unknown men approached her as she walked northbound through Ingalls Mall, near the 800 block of East Washington Street, between 11:30 p.m. and midnight.

The men taunted her with an anti-gay slur, and one of the men grabbed her multiple times, including her arm and breast, before she was able to push free and flee, U-M police said in a crime alert dated Sunday.

The suspects did not pursue the woman and she did not seek medical attention.

The main suspect is described as an 18 to 20 year-old, 6-foot white male of medium build, medium-length blonde hair and unshaven. He was wearing a light-colored T-shirt and blue jeans.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call (734) 763-1131.

Subsequently, the University of Michigan department of public safety updated the item: “Through follow-up investigation, it has been determined that the reported assault did not occur.”

Screenshot of University of Michigan Department of Public Safety update of original item.

Excerpted screenshot of University of Michigan department of public safety update of original item.

It’s worth highlighting the technical details of how that update was implemented by UMDPS. First, the original item was updated to reflect the new information, with the word “cancelled” prominently in red text. In addition, a second item was added to the RSS feed that replicated the updated information in the original item. That duplication ensured that anyone using an RSS reader to check UM campus crime would not fail to miss the update – by dint of having already read the original item and habitually viewing only “unread items.”

In a telephone interview, I asked Diane Brown, public information officer for UMDPS, if the way the department handled that incident had been an ad hoc judgment call for that particular incident or if that’s standard protocol. Standard protocol, she told me. So after UMDPS updated the item, members of the public who got their information directly from the UMDPS were never presented with an inaccurate picture of the best information UMDPS had at the time.

That was not true for readers who had their information mediated by the Detroit Free Press and

In the case of the Free Press, that updating of the original story appears to have taken place a few hours after publication of a separately published second story – which relayed the fact that the incident never occurred. In the case of, as of July 1 the original story had not been updated; however, a second story was published separately, soon after the update from UMDPS containing the new information.

The problem with the approach those organizations take to reporting the “spot news” of crime incidents is that they disconnect the information from its single, authoritative source. And as a result, any update to their original reports would need to be undertaken manually – that is, someone would need to think to do it.

The alternative would be to pipe the information straight from the UMDPS data feed directly onto a news organization’s website – and to make clear to readers that this is what they’re getting. As soon as UMDPS updates its data, the information displayed by media using that updated data feed would be simultaneously updated. That kind of approach would acknowledge that for “spot news” relaying basic crime information, the essentially effortless role of a private news organization can be simply to amplify the information signal of a public agency.

That’s certainly not to say that I think the police department should be the only source of information about crime.

But the advantage of this approach, as part of a broader crime reporting strategy, is that it frees up human labor – to do the kind of reporting we want to do independently of the police department as an informational source. It might allow time to take a more in-depth look at longer-term trends for specific types of crime incidents, analyze a specific case in more detail, visit crime scenes, or gather performance statistics for police response times and solve rates.

It could also allow more time for the facets of Bill Treml’s reporting that Jim Rees misses – as do, very likely, many other readers.

Dave Askins is editor and co-owner of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. The monthly milestone column, which appears on the second day of each month – the anniversary of The Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch – is an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication.

It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

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