the future of downtown ypsilanti: business

The folks who brought you the recent Ypsilanti mayoral debate have decided, instead of disbanding, that they would like to do more to facilitate substantive public dialogue on the future of our community. With that as a mission, they’ve set out to host a series of public meetings on subjects ranging from poverty and crime to local economic development. The first of these public forums is to be held on the evening of Thursday, November 2, 2006, at the EMU Business School. The subject is Downtown Business.

If all goes according to plan, over the course of the next few days you should be hearing more about this. Right now, I can only tell you this much. The event will start with a brief synopsis of where we are today — who owns what, what percentage of spaces are vacant, what average asking prices are for both rental and purchase, local demographics, traffic patterns, how the types of businesses have changed over time, etc. Then, we’ll enter into a discussion on the kinds of businesses that we as a community would like to see here. And, from there, we’ll get into actionable next-steps: ideas as to how we can attract the kinds of businesses we want, how we can better leverage the successes we already have, how we can better engage the University and learn from the experiences of other cities, and how we can creatively market our unique section of Michigan Avenue. And, between each of these main sections, we’ll be hearing the observations of area business owners past and present. We’ll find out what, in their opinion, are the challenges unique to Ypsilanti, and what kinds of businesses, given all the variables, might have a shot at succeeding.

Right now, I think it’s safe to say, our assumption is that, if given the opportunity, people would prefer to shop locally and contribute to the economic wellbeing of our area. Hopefully, in this forum, we can determine whether or not that’s actually the case. And, if it is, we can start setting a course that will see us get there — to a truly walkable, sustainable city. Already, as a result of our planning discussions, several very strong ideas have surfaced, and I’m confident that even more will come about as a result of this event… So, if you could put November 2nd (7:00 PM to 9:30 PM) on your calendar, I’d appreciated it… And, start giving some thought as to the kinds of businesses you would like to support and how we together might do a better job of promoting and supporting the businesses we already have.

(We’ll no doubt have plenty of examples to talk about at the event, but it still pisses me off that I never posted anything on my website about Sundays Restaurant, even though I’d eaten there and very much liked it. And now, not a day goes by that I don’t walk by their empty storefront and experience a moment of gut-searing self-hatred for not having done more to have spread the word.)

More information should be forthcoming both here and on the Ypsi Votes site in the next few days.

(The image above comes courtesy of Murph.)

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  1. schutzman
    Posted October 9, 2006 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    If, as the photo suggests, Murph is planning on building a running track surrounding downtown, I must respectfully disagree with the proposal.

    I realize he wants to encourage walkability, but making pedestrians just go around in a circle seems like a somewhat arbitrary solution.

  2. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted October 9, 2006 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    The yellow oval, I believe, marks the area that will be demolished to make room for the new football stadium.

  3. Dr Cherry
    Posted October 9, 2006 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    As a suggestion by an outsider: Go through your shopping lists for the past month or two and make notes of the stuff you buy on a regular basis.

    This is the stuff you would buy locally if you could.

    As an attendee of meetings of this type I’ve witnessed some of the most outlandinsh or faddish requests for businesses. I’ve found out later that they were romantic ideas instead of practical ones.

    Sometimes people making the suggestions have no intention of shopping there, they simply think it would be “neat” to have a cobbler (for example) on Michigan Ave.

  4. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted October 9, 2006 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Actually, it marks the boundaries of the lethal radiation area.

    Damn North Korea and their subterranian Michigan Avenue test site.

  5. Ted Glass
    Posted October 9, 2006 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Dr. Cherry – cobler is delicious and we should have more of it on Michigan Avenue!

    Seriously though, an Indian restaurant would be great.

  6. Ted Glass
    Posted October 9, 2006 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    And everyone knows that the yellow line marks the Indian burrial grounds.

  7. schutzman
    Posted October 9, 2006 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Technically, there is a cobbler on Pearl Street, next to the hardware store.

    I realize that people south of town might prefer to go to a cobbler on michigan avenue, though, just to save themselves from walking an extra block in shoes which, obviously, are in serious need of cobbling.

    And really, Dr. Cherry, doesn’t it follow that in a truly walkable community, there would be an increased amount of wear to our shoes, and therefore an increased need for cobblers?

  8. ol' e cross
    Posted October 9, 2006 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    I looked at my shopping list and realized that everything I bought in the last two months, I could’ve gotten from WalMart.

    I think, within that yellow line, we have just enough room…

  9. ol' e cross
    Posted October 9, 2006 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    I looked at my shopping list and realized that everything I bought in the last two months, I could’ve gotten from WalMart.

    I think, within that yellow line, we have just enough room…

  10. egpenet
    Posted October 9, 2006 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    I have beeeeen at these gropes here in Ypsilanti several times …

    And the DDA, whomever, has paid lots of money to supposed research companies for recommendations …

    Experts come and go …

    But, Dr. Cherry is right. WE need to make our own lists: 1) What’s here now, we can walk or bike to for fresh foods, produce, milk, butter, eggs, flowers, greeting cards, dry cleaning … etc. DAILY stuff, stuff you can carry in one arm. 2) What neighborhoods are too remote to be served by what’s here … and what can we do about filling in those blank spots … zoning, AATA shuttles … etc. 3) What WEEKLY stuff is available … meats, clothing, real bread, cheeses, fruits, veggies … and more. 4) BIGGER ITEMS … car repair, bike repair, shoe repair, etc. … what’s here … where is it … where else would it serve us best? All the while think walking or biking.

    On the other hand …
    Real market research may reveal changes in what our little urban conclave is all about … restaurants, theater (RAC), entertainment, music, antiques, art, indie, beer gardens, alternative culture … that’s a big change from a working class culture of bomber plants and transmissions.

    This is an incredibly important topic, even more so than the election. It’s about US and what WE want for OUR city … not what some developer can get from a leaseholder. We have a LOT of organizing to do before the Thompson Block and Water Street give us the “top down approach” of “they loved it in Cleveland, so …”

    Thanks to Mark, others on the Riverside Neighborhood Association Marketing Group, and other Ypsi lovers who have helped to get this process rolling.

  11. murph
    Posted October 9, 2006 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    I have to say, the cobbler on Pearl is pretty badass. A repair to my leather jacket’s zipper that cost $40 and a few weeks when I lived in New Jersey, and was done poorly, took $8 to fix here, drop off Friday, pick up Monday. I was impressed.

  12. danandkitty
    Posted October 9, 2006 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    You guys may find this interesting…
    THe quicktime is a bit simplsitic, but a decent primer on what the Austin Independent Business Alliance has been trying to do in promoting local.

  13. Mark H.
    Posted October 9, 2006 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    Murph is right, the cobbler on Pearl is great – he can make your old shoes as good as new. The store is a gem.

    Why would anyone want to make him relocate to Michigan Avenue?

  14. mark
    Posted October 10, 2006 at 12:04 am | Permalink

    If he moves to Michigan Ave, he might be able to escape the stench of the urine moat that Murph has planned for the city (see image above).

  15. mark
    Posted October 10, 2006 at 12:23 am | Permalink

    And thanks for the link, Dan. I’ll check it out once I’m done watching these mechanical clothes from the future. (Fashion shows incorporating Hitlers voice and self-deconstructing clothes can’t go wrong in my opinion.)

    As for your comment, Steve, I think you’re right on. It’s one thing to say you want a particular kind of business in your neighborhood, and it’s another to support it. Hopefully we can address that at the event.

  16. egpenet
    Posted October 10, 2006 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    Being consistent local patrons is a big part of the picture, as well.

    I might guess (not having the numbers) that most of us are commuters and we shop on the return leg of our commute for a lot of items, rather than make special trips.

    Even entertainment … most of the Sidetrack business is out-of-towners, Haab’s, too, I’d also guess.

    As for daily “fresh” stuff … veggies, real breads, etc. … the response from the westside locals to the Tuesday Farmers’ Market is very good. If “it” (real bread bakery, butcher, etc.) was here, they would come.

    My wife and I walked to Sunday’s on three widely separated times to find it closed … Oasis was closed at those same times … and 13’s sports bar noise did not appeal that night … so we went home … and I drove out to Lucky 7 for Chinese carryout.

    Local businesses know who their patrons are and where they live. And a big complaint among local CBC members is lack of local patronage. Despite under- capialization, limited and/or inconsistent hours of business, I think there’s a lot more we can do as neighbors and consumers to support local business.

    Murph’s cobbler story is great … I trade there as well.

  17. murph
    Posted October 10, 2006 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    I drove out to Lucky 7 for Chinese carryout.

    For shame! egpenet, if Golden Wall (W. Cross and Ballard) goes out of business, I’m coming after you!

    I’ve also been quite happy with the Co-op/River Street Bakery’s “real bread”. One of our friends from Ann Arbor treks out just to pick up some three-seed sourdough. AFAICT, the bakery’s about at their limit of bread production under the current schedule, so I don’t know how much more demand they need. As long as I’m at it, I will put in a plug here for the Food Co-op’s new open-’til-9pm 7 days a week hours.

  18. Lisa
    Posted October 10, 2006 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Clearly the yellow line is meant to indicate what will be left after we eliminate everything outside of downtown. What better way to encourage people to shop downtown than to give them no choice?

    Er, back to the subject…

    I wonder if some sort of online/downtown bulletin board would be useful for people who don’t think they can get something downtown that they actually CAN get downtown. I’ve certainly learned more about what can be bought just reading this thread, and I regularly direct people to locally-owned places in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti that they simply didn’t know exist…

    However, if people know something is available but are simply choosing not to buy it downtown (as we all do sometimes…), one of the best ways to get people to actually change their behavior is to have some sort of public pledge that people can take (for a week or month) to buy everything that they are able to buy locally/downtown. I wanted to do something like that for Buy Local Week in December but ran out of organizing time to do it on a larger scale.

  19. egpenet
    Posted October 10, 2006 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    I promise to take my best pair of ebony chop sticks to Golden Wall soon!

    By the way, Kana Korean on East Michigan is quite superb … a few Japanese dishes are also available.

    Ditto on the Food Co-op, we’re members.

    And the wife and I are as guilty as anyone for not KNOWING all that is going on and PAYING ATTENTION to places, open times and specialties.

    Can you really EAT at Angel Food Catering? Etc.

  20. UBU
    Posted October 10, 2006 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    How about a seersock store?

  21. downtownpatron
    Posted October 29, 2006 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    In response to egpenet- Why drive out to the Lucky 7 for Chinese carryout? What about the Hidden Dragon on Michigan Ave next to city hall? Dalat?

    Sorry you can no longer dine in at Angel Food. But who knows maybe in the future they can be persuaded to try again.

    If you are looking for a dining experience without the hard rock, try the TapAnnex, there have been some changes in the menu, and the pizza is great. On Fridays they have that accoustical music night with John Latini. Blues on Saturday.

    The Downtown Farmers Market was Fabulous. The vendors all agreed that it was better attended than the DepotTown FM on Wed and compared favoraby to the Sat Market. It was convenient for the Seniors at the highrise, and served those on the southside who do not have easy access, or feel welcome in DepotTown.

    I was sad to see the Korean Market close because I shopped there fairly regularly. The property owner, is looking for another grocer to move in. He has had numerous offers from individuals who want to open beer and liquor stores, and has turned them down even when they offered to pay more rent than he was asking. He is personally commited to filling his space with a grocery market.

  22. egpenet
    Posted October 29, 2006 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    I continue to patronize the Lucky 7 because of their Hot Sour soup. And I am also now promoting the new Garam Korean restaurant, which will be adding California rolls very soon. I like Kana out on East Michigan, too. Lunch prices at Garam apply to dinners during their grand opening month.

    I used to eat at Hidden Dragon before the new owner … and I DO patronize Dalat. I have also been told the Chinese on Cross is quite good … more Taiwanese than Southern or Northern. I’ll compare soon.

    I was a frequent patron at Louis’ before the TapAnnex … and the menu looks like any other menu. I still prefer Haab’s for meat and potatoes, mixed grille and seafood.

    My favorite, while it lasted was, L’Amour, until the partners split up (superb French/ Lebanese cusisine). Since then, I patronized the successor, Alfredo Martini, which I liked, especially the Veal Chop and the squid rings appetizer. Their salad entrees were also quite good.

    Lunch on the patio at Club 13 was OK even good, but I’m not in town during the day … and I tried three times to go to Sunday’s, but it was always closed. Same for Oasis.

    In my opinion, food-freaks in Ypsi just don’t seem to challenge the cooks around here … are there really any chefs? Haab’s has the best tasting, best prepared and most consistent sitdown meals, and great service. Cady’s is number two for me, but it’s pricey for what you get and service is slow. The Sidetrack is dynamite for burgers, fish & chips, the Blue Hen salad; and service is excellent. Aubrey’s is same old bar selections (tacos, pizza, etc.) but in quantity.

    Clearly, Haab’s and Sidetrack spend a big portion on quality ingredients … but the GFS truck goes everywhere … so it’s really hard to compare and be fair on that account. Taste is everything and after one or two scotches on the rocks or Sam Adams … who cares. I do.

    Want some chicken fingers, pizza or other fried stuff … any place else will do … in my humble opinion. Since Connie Crump stopped banging heads and pots in the area, food in general around here has been downhill.

    All my opinion and open to trying them all on occasion.

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