Stories indexed with the term ‘local business’

Column: Medical Marijuana – Drawing a Line

The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (old-tyme spelling courtesy of the Michigan legislature) has been in effect since December 2008, but it wasn’t until last summer that seemingly every stationary object and alternative newspaper in Michigan was plastered with pot-leaf emblazoned ads for dispensaries, compassion centers, and doctors willing to recommend medical marijuana.

Photo illistration of a prescription bottle for medical marijuana

Would you want your medicine dispensed like this? (Photo-illustration by The Chronicle.)

As the business columnist for the Current, I dropped in on one such business, hoping to sit down with the good doctor and get a sense of just how all this worked. To ensure accuracy, I always record my interviews, something the subjects of those interviews usually appreciate: No one wants to be misquoted.

I was shocked when this doctor declined to be recorded. In four years of writing that column no one had ever asked that I not record: burlesque dancers, roadkill-eating geeks, foreign-born restaurateurs with unpopular social stances, even those involved in actual criminal enterprises had all been fine with a recorded interview.

But this medical doctor didn’t want me to record her talking about her medical practice, nor would she tell me her first name – although LinkedIn outed her the next day when it showed me her picture and suggested we connect as business contacts. [Full Story]

Arbor Dog Daycare Returns – and Prevails

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Dec. 21, 2010): More than a year after making their initial request, the owners of Arbor Dog Daycare were granted a special exception use on Tuesday, allowing the South Main Street business to expand.

Chris Cheng, Jon Svoboda

Chris Cheng, left, of the Ann Arbor planning staff talks with Jon Svoboda, co-owner of Arbor Dog Daycare. (Photos by the writer.)

Several conditions were added, including requirements related to the number of dogs allowed outside, and action to be taken if there’s continuous barking. Noise concerns had been a reason cited by commissioners who previously voted against the request.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the commission granted a special exception use and approved the site plan for Allen Creek Preschool, which plans to tear down an existing house and build a larger one at its Franklin Street location.

Commissioners also heard several updates and communications, including a request for feedback on a draft resolution regarding a proposed development agreement between the city and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. [Full Story]

Column: Benefits of The Local Call

Due to some unpleasantness in my gastro-intestinal tract, I spent this past Friday night in the University of Michigan Hospital.

The author's iPhone, clad in its new case: "I do have an iPhone, a wonderful gadget that can tell me what drug stores are near my house ..."

Happily, I was not sick enough to stay very long, so I was kicked to the curb on Saturday afternoon, clutching a prescription for oxycodone. [No, that’s not a typo – it’s the generic version of OxyContin.]

I need the stuff for my stomach pain, which – for reasons the UM docs could not quite explain – has lingered past any sign of inflammation that can be detected by a CT scan or in my bloodstream.

I asked the nurse who checked me out whether I could get the meds at any pharmacy, thinking that perhaps high-octane opiates are reserved for hospital dispensaries. “Well,” she said, “that’s why you have a prescription.”

Yes, but filling a prescription on a Saturday night is not so easy. There are no fewer than four stand-alone pharmacies within a mile radius of my house on the West Side – five if you count the one inside Kroger’s. I struck out at three of them. [Full Story]

University Bank Project Postponed

Ann Arbor planning commissioner meeting (Oct. 19, 2010): Three projects were considered at the Oct. 19 planning commission meeting, and commissioners voted to postpone two of them.

Hoover Mansion

The headquarters of University Bank, in the building known as the Hoover Mansion on Washtenaw Avenue. A request to increase parking on the site was postponed by the Ann Arbor planning commission at its Oct. 19 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

One of those projects – related to an expansion of Arbor Dog Daycare – has already appeared before the commission multiple times. Most recently, the proposal was rejected by commissioners in September, primarily due to concerns about noise generated by dogs using the outdoor dog run. Owners Jon and Margaret Svoboda had asked that their request be reconsidered, and commissioners agreed to the reconsideration. But after an hour of discussion on Tuesday evening, commissioners voted to postpone again, asking staff to explore possible conditions – such as an annual review or written policy requirement – that could be added to the special exception use to address the problem of continuously barking dogs.

Also postponed was a request to add more parking to the site of the University Bank headquarters in the building known as the Hoover Mansion on Washtenaw Avenue, and to allow up to 10 additional employees to work at that location. The planning staff had recommended denial of the request, stating that the project impacts natural features and doesn’t offer an overall benefit to the city. However, commissioners asked planning staff to work with bank officials to come up with an alternative proposal for locating new parking.

During a public hearing on the project, bank president Stephen Ranzini told commissioners that if the bank can’t get the additional parking, it could trigger a decision to leave that location and expand elsewhere. He noted that the building, which he said sat vacant for nearly three years before being acquired by the bank, is extremely expensive to maintain, and described himself as a good steward for the property.

A third proposal considered by the planning commission on Oct. 19 – adding parking spots to the Briar Cove Apartments complex on the city’s southwest side – was approved unanimously. [Full Story]

Column: Arbor Vinous

Joel Goldberg

Joel Goldberg

In the far corner, wearing synthetic trunks: Steve Heimoff, west coast editor of Wine Enthusiast magazine. I pilfered part of the column title from him; fortunately, Steve’s pretty laid back about such things.

Unlike “natural, schmatural” wine, over which he turns apoplectic: “‘Greenwashing’ is the perfect way to describe a large part of the whole natural, green, sustainable, organic, biodynamic thing. Everybody wants to portray his practices as purer than the other guy’s practices. It’s a holier-than-thou world out there, and IMHO that goes for the whole greenie-natural crowd.”

And here in the near corner, Ann Arborites Stacey and Rob DeAngelis, dressed in the all-natural cloak of DeAngelis Cantina del Vino, whose tasting room opens later this month. It’s the only winery with an Ann Arbor mailing address, though you’ll find it deep in Scio Township.

Not for them, the typical 21st century winemaker’s arsenal of chemicals, sulfites, color enhancers and designer yeasts.

What’s in the wines? “Just the grapes,” says Stacey DeAngelis, whose picture appears on their label.

She’s not kidding. [Full Story]

Zingerman’s Expansion Moves Ahead

Ann Arbor Historic District Commission meeting (Sept. 9, 2010): The last-minute addition of a closed session – which lasted nearly an hour, just prior to deliberations on the Zingerman’s Deli expansion – added a bit of drama to Thursday’s meeting. But ultimately commissioners unanimously approved all projects on their agenda, with only a few concerns cited.

Members of the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission talk with architect Ken Clein, right, in back of the Zingerman's Deli Annex on Sept. 7. Clein is with Quinn Evans Architects, which is handling the proposed expansion project. (Photos by the writer.)

The highest-profile of those projects, of course, was a plan to expand the Zingerman’s Deli operations at the corner of Detroit and Kingsley streets, in the Old Fourth Ward historic district. About a dozen representatives affiliated with Zingerman’s attended the meeting, including co-founder Paul Saginaw and managing partners Grace Singleton and Rick Strutz.

In 2008, commissioners rejected the company’s first attempt to gain HDC approval – in the form of a “certificate of appropriateness,” which included asking permission to tear down a small house on their property that had been gutted by fire. Since that initial rebuff by the HDC, Zingerman’s has been working on an alternative path, gaining approval from the city’s planning commission and city council, and returning to the HDC for a “notice to proceed.”

On Thursday, the commission granted the notice to proceed, which will allow the project to move forward. Several commissioners addressed concerns raised during public commentary about this project setting a precedent, saying that Zingerman’s is a unique business and this expansion is unique as well.

But commissioner Lesa Rozmarek, while noting that she would support the project and that overall Zingerman’s is an asset to the community, also said she wanted it on the record that she felt Zingerman’s had threatened the commission with the prospect of leaving the area if they didn’t get approval. The project sets a bad precedent, she said, adding that “it’s opening a big door that hopefully we can shut after this application.”

Later in the meeting Saginaw responded to Rozmarek’s comments, denying that anyone from Zingerman’s threatened to leave the city – though at one point they did consider moving out of that location to another site within Ann Arbor, he said. Saginaw said he believed the HDC was able to approve the project on its merits.

In other business, the commission issued certificates of appropriateness for three projects: 1) a solar panel installation at 217 S. Seventh St., 2) a request to add an exterior sign near the front door of 209-211 S. State St., where a CVS pharmacy is being constructed, and 3) a proposal for a 1.5-story addition on the back of 442 Second St.

The solar project is being installed on the home of Matt Grocoff, founder of Greenovation TV. Grocoff had attended last month’s HDC meeting, when two other solar panel installations were approved, including one at the historic Michigan Theater building on East Liberty. On Thursday, Grocoff told commissioners that when his solar panels are installed, his home will be the oldest in the nation to achieve net zero energy status, using only energy generated on-site. [Full Story]

Column: Seeds & Stems

Marianne Rzepka

Marianne Rzepka

The sky was full of fast-moving clouds – disappearing remnants of a morning’s rain – and temperatures were falling from a week of 90-degree weather into the 70s.

A breeze was the final touch to the perfect weather at Kirk Jones’ Good Scents Gardens in Ypsilanti Township.

“Being out here,” said Jones. “I like this.”

Good thing, because the flowers he grows there are his business. Jones uses the yarrow, zinnias, butterfly weed and agastache for bouquets he puts together and personally delivers to regular subscribers.

Jones explains it as a twist on the idea of community supported agriculture, or CSA, in which subscribers pay a set amount for one season of produce from a local farm. Instead of picking up a carton of vegetables once a week, Good Scents’ customers get a floral bouquet delivered to their home or business once a week.

Like a CSA, in which a subscriber’s take depends on what and how much the farmer raises over a season, Good Scents’ customers get what Jones chooses to plant and what comes up each year. No matter what, he said, they will get a bouquet of flowers each week over the 26-week season. [Full Story]

Column: Arbor Vinous

Joel Goldberg

Joel Goldberg

Imagine a restaurant that thrives and grows based on its friendly service, consistent products, strong marketing and support for and from its community.

But peek in the kitchen and you discover packaged mixes, pre-sliced produce, shortcut recipes and commercially-prepared dishes, straight from a central commissary or food-service supplier.

Its primarily pre-packed ingredients never spoil, but neither do they ever taste truly fresh. Menu items don’t vary from one visit to the next, thanks to consistent sourcing and preparation – but neither do they ever excite, or rise above the overall uniformity and mediocrity of their processed flavors.

Now imagine that this restaurant is, instead, a winery. And let’s consider the curious case of downtown Saline’s Spotted Dog, which just announced a capacity-tripling expansion accompanied by positive nods from some local media.

The affable John Olsen, a refugee from the world of corporate tech support, looks up from behind the tasting counter as you enter the Spotted Dog, a brick-walled, 1,600-square-foot storefront just off the corner of Michigan Avenue and Ann Arbor Street.

Olsen, who co-owns the winery with his wife, Jill, is tediously affixing labels to a batch of newly-filled bottles. Such is life at a micro-winery, where hand labor often stands in for expensive and space-consuming machines. [Full Story]

Column: Losing a Friend, and Community

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

It was a beautiful summer morning. I walked from my home in Ann Arbor, down State Street, to St. Thomas the Apostle Church. A crowd had already gathered outside, waiting to pay respects to our old friend, Mr. Brown.

No one told us to call him that. We just did.

In 1937, Mr. Brown’s father and grandfather opened a store called College Shoe Repair. Mr. Brown took over the business in 1951, the same year he married Dorothy – or Mrs. Brown, to us. They worked together every day. They had seven kids, and all of them worked at the store at some point.

When the shoe repair business slowed down in the ’70s, Mr. Brown started selling hockey equipment and sharpening skates. That’s how most of us got to know him. [Full Story]

Zingerman’s Project Seeks Brownfield Status

The major renovation and expansion in the works for Zingerman’s Deli cleared its most recent major hurdle in May, gaining site plan approval from the Ann Arbor planning commission. While the site plan now moves on to city council, the business is taking action on another front as well: Applying for support from the local and state brownfield program.

Grace Singleton

Grace Singleton, a managing partner with Zingerman's Deli, talks about plans to apply to the local and state brownfield program as part of the deli's renovation plans. The business hosted a public meeting about the plans on June 21. (Photos by the writer.)

On June 21, Zingerman’s hosted a public meeting to answer questions about their plans for the brownfield application. Matt Naud, the city’s environmental coordinator, was on hand as well, and distinguished between this project and those that are typically associated with the term “brownfield.” In the case of Zingerman’s Deli, “it’s economic development,” he said, “It’s not about environmental cleanup.”

Specifically, brownfield status would allow Zingerman’s to be eligible for tax increment financing (TIF), a mechanism that would let the business recoup certain qualified expenses related to the project – possibly as much as $817,000 over 15 years.

It’s a different approach than the brownfield application most recently approved by city council for the Near North affordable housing project on North Main. In that case, the site’s need for environmental cleanup qualifies it for a brownfield status. Zingerman’s application also differs from Near North’s in that Near North isn’t seeking reimbursement through TIF. Both projects plan to apply for Michigan Business Tax credits. [Full Story]

Column: Book Fare

Arthur Nusbaum raised the curtain on his second act – Third Mind Books – in January. With an inventory of more than 500 items, the online bookstore devoted to the work and legacy of the Beat Generation shares office space with Nusbaum’s once-primary gig: he’s president of Ann Arbor’s Steppingstone Properties Ltd.

Arthur Nusbaum

William S. Burroughs looms large for Arthur Nusbaum – in this case, literally. The portrait of this Beat Generation iconoclast hangs in the lobby of Nusbaum's Third Mind Books and Steppingstone Properties.

A real estate guy with a thing for William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and the rest of that reckless crew? Incongruous, on the face of it. But a closer look reveals a certain ironic harmony.

“I used to be an activist,” says Nusbaum. No surprise there – this is a fellow whose dazzling energy will find an outlet.

Born in Detroit, he grew up in the suburbs, attended the University of Michigan and returned to Ann Arbor for good in the early 1990s as the concept of New Urbanism was gathering steam in Ann Arbor and across the country. Those principles resonated with him, and as he made the connection between his own business and the intensifying local efforts to rein in suburban sprawl, Nusbaum says, “real estate became more meaningful for me. And that’s reflected in buildings like this.”

He’s speaking from his second-floor suite of offices in Ashley Square, at 123 N. Ashley St. The building – Nusbaum believes it was an auto showroom in its original incarnation – was rehabbed in the 1980s and purchased in the late 1990s by Nusbaum, who relocated Steppingstone there in 2000.

“To make a long story short, that’s the direction I took for the last decade and a half in my business,’’ he says. [Full Story]

Zingerman’s Deli Expansion Moves Ahead

Ann Arbor Planning Commission meeting (May 18, 2010): Two items with ties to Zingerman’s received approval from planning commissioners at their most recent meeting: The site plan for expansion of Zingerman’s Deli, and a special exemption use for the Westside Farmers Market, located next to Zingerman’s Roadhouse.

Grace Singleton, Paul Saginaw

Grace Singleton, a managing partner of Zingerman's Deli, sits next to Zingerman's co-founder Paul Saginaw as the planning commission deliberates on a proposed expansion of the deli, which was ultimately approved. Behind Saginaw is Michael Quinn of Quinn Evans Architects, who is working on the project. (Photos by the writer.)

The farmers market has no further steps to take – it opens on June 3, from 3-7 p.m. But the approval process for the deli expansion is far from over. After seeking approval from city council for its plans, deli partners will need to circle back to the city’s historic district commission – the site is located in the Old Fourth Ward historic district. The Chronicle has previously reported on their earlier efforts down this path: “Zingerman’s: Making It Right for the HDC.”

Pending approvals, Zingerman’s hopes to break ground on the project early next year.

Also at last week’s meeting, commissioners reviewed the site plan for the Windsong affordable housing project off of Stone School Road, north of Ellsworth. They ultimately approved plans for building 32 townhomes financed in part by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. But concerns were raised over problems that some residents in the site’s existing 12 townhomes are causing for their neighbors. Three of those neighbors spoke at a public hearing, saying they’d like a higher fence around the property, at the least, to deal better with harassment, fighting, graffiti and other issues. [Full Story]

Pleas for Human, Safety Services at Council

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (May 3, 2010): Several speakers addressed the city council at its Monday meeting asking for continued funding for human services and to avoid layoffs in the city’s police and fire departments.

Fire fighters informational picket

Firefighters held an informational demonstration Monday afternoon before the city council's meeting at Station 1, which is located across the street from city hall. Firefighters from Flint, Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Ann Arbor Township, Ypsilanti, Battle Creek and Ann Arbor took part in the demonstration. (Photos by the writer.)

And Margie Teall (Ward 4), who faces two challengers in the August Democratic primary, announced a planned amendment to the city’s proposed budget that would maintain human services funding at FY 2010 levels. The amendment, which will be brought forward at the council’s May 17 meeting, would also avert as many layoffs in the police and fire departments as possible, she said.

The previous evening at the council’s Sunday night caucus, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) had already indicated they would support using part of a possible $2 million payment from the Downtown Development Authority to avoid police and firefighter layoffs.

The council’s plan for funding the amendment, reported Teall, is to use a $2 million payment from the Downtown Development Authority that it hopes the DDA board will approve at its May 5 board meeting. Even if the DDA board approves the payment, which is very likely but not certain, not all safety services layoffs in the city administrator’s proposed budget could be covered. Averting the elimination of 35 positions across police and fire departments combined would require $3.6 million. The restoration of human services funding would require another $260,000. And that would still result in the city tapping its general fund reserves for $1.5 million.

In its business for the evening, the council passed a resolution added late Monday to the council agenda, which strikes an agreement between the city and the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources and Environment for the future of the embankment along Argo Dam. It will allow the headrace to be re-opened by the end of this week.

The council also approved on first reading a revision to the city’s sidewalk occupancy permit system to include sandwich board signs. And the residential development now called Heritage Row – proposed along Fifth Avenue south of William Street – was approved at the council’s first reading with no discussion, but with dissent from Mike Anglin. Both of those measures will need to come back before the council for a second reading to gain approval.

The council also approved received the mayor’s nomination of the appointment of Anya Dale to the AATA board, replacing Paul Ajegba, whose term expired on May 1. Ajegba had been elected by his colleagues last fall to chair the board. Dale is a Washtenaw County planner. Her appointment will be presented for confirmation at the council’s May 17, 2010 meeting.

The council also approved some additional road closures for the June 6 Dexter-Ann Arbor Run. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor, Give Me a Sign

Vicki Honeyman, Doug Wathen

Vicki Honeyman gives Doug Wathen a haircut in her shop, Heavenly Metal, which shares space with her other business, Vicki’s Wash & Wear Haircuts. In the background to the left is a sandwich board sign for Heavenly Metal, tucked into the corner since Honeyman was notified that it's illegal to put it outside the store.

Vicki Honeyman’s Heavenly Metal is easy to miss. Not only is it the sole retail shop on East Ann, but the business is also set back from the street. Until recently, Honeyman relied on a portable sign she set up on the northeast corner of East Ann and Fourth Avenue to bring in business. But earlier this month, a city official told her she had to take her sign down. In Ann Arbor, it’s illegal.

Honeyman says that since the city made her take her sign down, she’s seen a significant drop in the number of customers coming into Heavenly Metal. Without the sign, people don’t know her business is there.

“It’s completely affected my business,” Honeyman said, describing it as “devastating” to her income.

The Ann Arbor city council considered a measure in February that would have amended the sign ordinance to make portable signs legal, allowing businesses to buy annual permits to use them. But when that resolution was voted down, city officials decided to step up enforcement of the existing sign ordinance. Business groups and retailers have protested – it’s likely that city staff will propose a new permitting system for council to consider next month, one that’s based on sidewalk occupancy permits. [Full Story]

No Secret: Sakti3 Wants Its Batteries in Cars

University of Michigan engineering professor Ann Marie Sastry – CEO and co-founder of a hot, new automotive battery development company – sits shivering in her overcoat in the cold Cobo basement at the Detroit auto show.


Ann Marie Sastry, CEO and co-founder of Sakti3, at her company's booth at the Detroit auto show. (Photo by the writer.)

But Sastry and her company, Ann Arbor-based Sakti3, is far from “out in the cold.” They are in the auto business for the long haul and do not plan on being relegated to a basement booth forever. Eventually, if all goes well, her company’s battery technology will be powering the cars upstairs on the main show floor’s Electric Avenue.

What is it about the “Eureka moment” in her UM lab that prompted her to help found a company two years ago? What is it that turned the heads and opened the wallets of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and cleantech venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, who chipped in $2 million out the gate? What exactly is her company’s battery technology? [Full Story]

John Leidy Shop to Close in Late February

The entrance to the John Leidy shop at 601 E. Liberty, adjacent to the Michigan Theater. (Photo by the writer.)

The entrance to the John Leidy shop at 601 E. Liberty, next to the Michigan Theater. (Photo by the writer.)

Just after noon on Sunday, several people had already assembled in the John Leidy gift shop on East Liberty: three generations of the family-owned business, and two self-described “Leidy Ladies” – long-time staff at the 58-year-old store.

A Chronicle reader had contacted us with news that the store planned to close. So we stopped by to talk with the Leidy family, who were gathering there after coming from church: John Leidy’s widow, Ann Leidy, their daughter Liz Arsenault, who manages the store, and son Peter Leidy, who’s acting as spokesman for the family.

Postcards were mailed to their customers over the last few days announcing plans to close at the end of February, when their lease is up. But on Sunday, Peter Leidy told The Chronicle that they weren’t yet ready for an interview. There’s a lot of emotion, he said, and gratitude to customers – but it’s a hard time for them. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Main Street BIZ Clears Hurdle

Map of proposed BIZ district

Map of proposed BIZ area: Main Street from William Street in the south to Huron Street in the north. (Image links to complete .pdf file of the Main Street BIZ plan.)

On Wednesday, a cold and rainy evening, a group of downtown Ann Arbor property owners gathered in the city council chambers for a public meeting gaveled to order by the city clerk, Jackie Beaudry.

They were there not to discuss rain, but rather snow. At least in part.

On their agenda was consideration of a plan for a business improvement zone (BIZ) on Main Street – bounded by William Street to the south and Huron Street to the north – which would assess an extra tax on owners of property in the zone.

That plan for the BIZ includes snow removal as one of three main categories of services to be paid for through the BIZ. The other two categories of service in the plan are sidewalk cleaning and landscape plantings.

The plan was approved on a roll call vote of the property owners in attendance on Wednesday night, but not without some dissent. And the approval of the plan on Wednesday is not the final step before the BIZ can be implemented. Still ahead lies a formal public hearing by the city council, a vote by the city council, followed by another vote by property owners – this one by mail. [Full Story]

Column: Balanced Offense for Local Economy

A little over 13 years ago, I started work as a business reporter at The Ann Arbor News. And exactly 13 years ago today, as I hoisted myself out of a warm bed at four o’clock in the morning, I was beginning to grasp why the other business reporters might have welcomed me so warmly.

Best Buy

Best Buy on Lohr Road at 4:08 a.m. on Nov. 27, 2009. Doors opened at 5 a.m. (Photo not by the writer – she's not required to cover Black Friday morning stories at The Chronicle.)

They knew that as the newest hire, I’d be the one assigned to the morning-after-Thanksgiving Black Friday shopping story. Later that dark, frigid morning, I watched as a stream of cars disgorged expectant, even festive shoppers to stand in line waiting for the doors at Walmart to open.

My initial reaction: These people are slightly nuts.

Then: Downtown retailers would kill for this kind of crowd.

The dichotomy of large and small businesses is perhaps most visible on days like Black Friday, when more customers on a single morning might flow through Walmart than would shop at a Main Street merchant all year. But the tension between large and small is also reflected in our local public policy priorities for economic development. [Full Story]

Paul Saginaw: We Want to Change the World

Paul Saginaw, co-founder of Zingerman's, spoke about building a local "living economy" at Monday night's Think Local First annual meeting. (Photo by the writer.)

Paul Saginaw, co-founder of Zingerman's, spoke about building a local "living economy" at Monday night's Think Local First annual meeting. (Photo by the writer.)

Paul Saginaw joked that during his senior year of high school, he was voted Least Likely to Have a Positive Impact on Society. The remark drew a laugh from the crowd of more than 100 people attending Think Local First’s annual meeting on Monday night – most of them know the Zingerman’s co-founder is an advocate for socially responsible business, as well as a driving force behind the nonprofit Food Gatherers, which launched 21 years ago this week.

For many years, that high school description was “so true,” Saginaw said. “But for the second half of my life, I’ve been trying to prove them wrong.”

Saginaw, the evening’s featured speaker, talked passionately about the need for local economies built around “human-scale” enterprises, with businesses as a positive force for social change. He described several ways that the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, a national group, is supporting the efforts of small, independent businesses. The goal? “What we want to do is change the world,” he said. [Full Story]

Fresh Seasons Market to Close

Fresh Seasons Market, which announced plans to relocate earlier this month, is closing. The owners of the West Liberty grocery told their staff on Thursday afternoon, and are preparing for a going-out-of-business sale that begins on Saturday.

Jan DeMunnik, Fresh Seasons general manager, spoke with The Chronicle in early October about the planned move. Reached on Friday at the store, she said that at the time she couldn’t disclose the pending sale of the business. Lynda and Ben Stahl, who’ve owned Fresh Seasons for 15 years, were working on a deal to sell the grocery, she said, and the new owners had planned to relocate it. That deal fell through, however. [Full Story]

Gubernatorial Candidates Outline Agendas

Pamphlets for gubernatorial candidates Alma Wheeler Smith and Rick Snyder, on the table a Wednesday's Morning Edition meeting hosted by the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce. Smith, a Democrat, and Snyder, a Republican, were both speakers at the event.

Pamphlets for gubernatorial candidates Alma Wheeler Smith and Rick Snyder, on the table at Wednesday's Morning Edition breakfast hosted by the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce. Smith, a Democrat, and Snyder, a Republican, were both speakers at the event.

Running was a common theme for speakers at Wednesday’s Morning Edition, a breakfast meeting hosted by the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce at Weber’s Inn.

Alma Wheeler Smith and Rick Snyder are both running for governor, in the Democratic and Republican primaries, respectively. Michael Ford, the new CEO for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, keeps the buses running, while Keith Hafner runs a local karate business. And Kevin Borseth, the University of Michigan women’s basketball coach who makes his team run drills, almost ran for cover when Russ Collins, the event’s MC, brought up an infamous YouTube video that Borseth might well want to forget.

Collins, who’s also executive director of the Michigan Theater, kept the speakers running on schedule – after the jump, we’ll give a summary of their remarks, presented in the order in which they spoke. [Full Story]

Work Session: Trains, Trash and Taxes

slide showing in red highlight the area of Main Street Ann Arbor that would be included in a business improvement zone

The proposed business improvement zone would include Ann Arbor's Main Street from William Street in the south to Huron Street in the north.

Ann Arbor City Council work session (Oct. 12, 2009): It’s a world where you can throw your newspapers, glass bottles and plastic tubs into one single recyclables cart and set it out for morning collection.

It’s a world where you can then board a bus that drops you off at the train station for your morning commute to Detroit.

It’s a world where during the work day you watch a foot of snow fall, but on your return home to Ann Arbor, you see that the snow hasn’t just been plowed on Main Street – it’s been completely removed – along with those handbills you’d noticed plastered on the lightpost.

It’s a world where later at home, you roll your empty recycling cart back to its place. Then you log on to the internet and see you’ve earned $250 worth of points tallied by the weight of the recyclables that the truck has been recording and crediting for the last year.

At its Monday night work session, Ann Arbor’s city council heard presentations on all the discrete elements of that world, which Ann Arbor could start to resemble in a couple of years. [Full Story]

Fresh Seasons Market Plans to Move

Sign at Fresh Seasons Market on West Liberty

Sign at Fresh Seasons Market on West Liberty. (Photo by the writer.)

It’s hard to keep something under wraps when your landlord’s real estate agent puts a “For Lease” ad on the front page of the local newspaper. That ad ran last Thursday to solicit a new tenant for the building at 2281 W. Liberty, where Fresh Seasons Market has been located for about 20 years. And it prompted the grocery’s customers to ask: What’s up?

“We’re not signed, sealed and delivered yet,” said Fresh Seasons general manager Jan DeMunnik, referring to their new, undisclosed location, which she characterized as “very close” to the current store. They hadn’t planned to announce the move just yet, she said, but the real estate advertisement forced their hand.

Since then they’ve put a notice about the move on the sign outside their business, and are passing out flyers to customers that explain the situation – and to make sure people know that they are not closing. [Full Story]

Liberty Street Video to Close

The storefront of Liberty Street Video at 119 E. Liberty in Ann Arbor.

The storefront of Liberty Street Video at 119 E. Liberty in Ann Arbor.

When the economy soured last year, Dave Kozlowski still felt optimistic about the prospects for his business, Liberty Street Video. After buying the store in 2007 and investing in new inventory, sales were growing 10-15% each month, and he had finally stopped losing money.

But in January, he says business took a turn for the worse. Since then, sales at the East Liberty store have dropped around 5-8% each month, with no sign of improving. So with his lease up for renewal at the end of the year, Kozlowski has decided to close the last independent video store in Ann Arbor.

Sunday will be the last day of the store’s regular hours. It will be closed on Monday and Tuesday, then reopen on Wednesday with truncated hours: from 2-8 p.m. weekdays, and noon-8 p.m. on weekends. The goal is to sell off all inventory, including DVDs for $5 and $2 for VHS tapes. Kozlowski says he’s hoping to recoup some of his roughly $200,000 investment and pay down $40,000 in debt, including the $10,000 in back rent he owes the landlord, Ali Amiri.

“It’s been fun,” Kozlowski told The Chronicle. “I love it. I love the town.” [Full Story]

Making Jobs for Former Prisoners

Larry Voigt stood in front of a crowd of social workers, nonprofit leaders, and members of the faith community on Friday afternoon, folded his arms, and declared, “No!” The president of Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County was playfully addressing attendees of a jobs creation summit by illustrating the opposite of what they were there to do: Say yes.

man with arms folded, saying no

Larry Voigt, president of Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County, demonstrates the classic arms-folded posture of saying no. The job creation summit held last Friday was partly about getting people to say yes. (Photo by the writer)

Say yes to what?

They were there to say yes to the idea of economic development through creation of self-sustaining businesses that would employ former prisoners making the transition to society. The jobs creation summit was sponsored by MPRI – the Michigan Prisoner ReEntry Initiative.

The first part of the program, which ran through the morning, lunch and the early afternoon, was dedicated to hearing from four panelists representing three organizations in other parts of the country that have successfully launched a variety of businesses that employ former prisoners and substance abusers.

Then, after hearing pitches for close to a dozen different business ideas, participants winnowed them down to three basic concepts for small group focus: a building weatherization business, a green cleaning enterprise, and an urban farming venture.

The working summit was meant simply to kick things off in a directed way, said Mary King, who’s the community coordinator for Michigan Prisoner ReEntry Initiative of Washtenaw County. The summit allowed some of the specific challenges to crystallize that are faced by business startups, especially those that say yes to the idea of employing former prisoners. [Full Story]

How to Sustain a Local Economy

Panelists at the Sept. 23 Michigan Peaceworks forum on the local economy, from the left: Tom Weisskopf, University of Michigan economics professor; Ellen Clement, Corner Health Center executive director; Jeff McCabe, People's Food Co-Op board member; Lisa Dugdale, Transition Ann Arbor; Michael Appel, Avalon Housing executive director; John Hieftje, mayor of Ann Arbor.

Panelists at the Sept. 23 Michigan Peaceworks forum on the local economy, from the left: Tom Weisskopf, University of Michigan economics professor; Ellen Clement, Corner Health Center executive director; Jeff McCabe, People's Food Co-Op board member; Lisa Dugdale, Transition Ann Arbor; Michael Appel, Avalon Housing executive director; John Hieftje, mayor of Ann Arbor. (Photo by the writer.)

When The Chronicle entered the lower level meeting room of the downtown Ann Arbor library, the first things we noticed were three large trays of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut into bite-sized wedges. As public forums go, this was an offbeat gnoshing choice.

It turned out that the sandwiches – and apples, soft drinks, potato chips and other food – were all sourced from Michigan, in keeping with the theme of Wednesday night’s event. The panel discussion focused on the state’s economic crisis, and how the community can respond to it.  Buying local products is one example.

Starting a local currency is another possibility – the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority is funding a study to look into that. Generating  electricity locally is also an opportunity – Mayor John Hieftje told the group that he didn’t think the dam at Argo Pond would be removed, in part because it might be used for hydropower in the future.

The forum – “Michigan’s Economic Situation: Crisis or Opportunity?” – was hosted by Ann Arbor-based Michigan Peaceworks and Washtenaw Voice, a coalition of local nonprofits that are working together to increase voter turnout and bolster the community in other ways. Michigan Peaceworks is the lead agency in this effort, part of the broader Michigan Voice initiative.

State and national issues were part of the discussion, but most of the six panelists focused on how the local community can take action in specific areas, including food, health care, housing and the environment. [Full Story]

“What Did You Say?”


An Accent Reduction DVD shows a close-up of a speaker pronouncing the word "job." At the bottom of the screen, the word is spelled phonetically.

When Ann Arbor educator and entrepreneur Judy Ravin claims she can say, “What? What did you say?” in at least five different languages, she is not bragging about her multilingual prowess. She hears those phrases too often as she travels abroad. Just because she speaks the languages does not necessarily mean she is easily understood in all of them.

“And that doesn’t feel good,” she says. “None of us like that.”

It was mutual frustration (between speaker and the spoken-to) during her trips abroad that led her to think about how that must feel to immigrants in the United States as they attempt to set up their careers here.

And out of that frustration was the idea that eventually led to the Accent Reduction Institute, based in the Godfrey Building on North Fourth Avenue in Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown district. With a faculty of 18 contractors and three full-time directors, Ravin’s institute has been smoothing out the rough spots for immigrant speakers for about four years. The innovation behind the business is what is officially trademarked as the “Ravin Method,” which Ravin humbly says she feels “kind of silly about.” [Full Story]

Transitioning the Ann Arbor Chamber

John Hansen talks to the media  in this case, both The Chronicle in the room and Paula Gardner of on the phone.

John Hansen talks to the media – in this case, both The Chronicle (in the room) and Paula Gardner of (on the phone).

John Hansen’s title on his business card is “Transitionist” – and he isn’t kidding. Hansen has been on the job only a few days as interim president of the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce, but he’ll be shepherding what could be a significant physical transition too: A possible move out of the business group’s third-floor offices at 115 W. Huron St.

On Monday, the chamber announced plans to sublet all or part of its 6,300-square-foot warren of offices. There’s too much space for the 10 or so people who work there, Hansen said, and they’re paying too much for it. He declined to say how much, noting only that “it’s very expensive” – the biggest cost after payroll in a roughly $1 million budget.

The Chronicle talked to Hansen on Monday about both transitions: The possible move, and the process of choosing a new leader for the 1,200-member group. Along the way, we learned a few things about what it’s like to be a state legislator and school superintendent, too. [Full Story]

Firefly Club Closed, Assets Seized

A sign at the entrance to the Firefly Club apologizes for the closing.

A handwritten sign at the entrance to the Firefly Club apologizes for the closing. (Photo by the writer.)

The Firefly Club, a jazz and blues nightclub at 637 S. Main, was closed down by the state last night and its assets seized for unpaid sales taxes. Owner Susan Chastain told The Chronicle that her bank account and other assets have been frozen as well, because she was unable to make full payments to the state over the past two months on a debt of $120,000 – an amount in arrears for assessed sales tax dating back several years.

“We’ve always struggled,” Chastain said. It’s historically been difficult for blues and jazz clubs, she added, but the economic downturn has made it even more difficult to keep up.

Chastain opened the Firefly nine years ago at 209 S. Ashley, where the Bird of Paradise, a now defunct jazz club, had been located. Recordkeeping problems – dating back to the club’s opening – caused the state to assess the Firefly’s sales tax, plus penalites and interest, at about $160,000 several years ago. Chastain said that about three years ago her current accountant negotiated a payment plan, and she started sending the state $2,000 each month to put toward the unpaid sales tax. [Full Story]

Inside the Box: The Mail Shoppe

MailShoppe Proprietor

Carolyn Hough, proprietor of The Mail Shoppe, peers out from behind some UPS packages that are ready to be sent out.

When customers call Carolyn Hough asking for directions to her store, she always tells them the same thing:  Look for the big yellow mailbox. Hough, owner of The Mail Shoppe in downtown Ann Arbor, says the decorative mailbox has marked the store’s location since it first opened 26 years ago.

For Hough, owning her own mailroom wasn’t something she dreamed of as a child. Originally hailing from Rhode Island, she spent most of her career as a medical librarian, a vocation she says was “very different” from her job now. What did that entail? It was a research position – before there were computerized databases. So responding to research requests from nurses and doctors – say on the latest known effective treatment for a particular disease – entailed manually poring through indexes and literature.

Hough purchased the business in 1983 from Doug Barnett after the hospital she was working for went bankrupt. “I love it – it’s so much more fun than working at the hospital,” she said. Readers who think that packaging a bear’s head sounds more fun than rummaging through medical literature might agree with her. [Full Story]