My friend James owns the local screen printing company, VG Kids. I’ve written about them here plenty of times in the past, and I’ve held them up as an example of the kind of young, dynamic, quality-focused, arts-centered company that we need more of here in Ypsi. So, as you might expect, I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic when I heard from James not too long ago that he was thinking of moving the company to Ann Arbor… After a few conversations on the matter, I asked him if he’d mind my bringing it up here on the site. He was open to the idea, and what follows is a short email exchange between the two of us.
MARK: In your quest to find a more suitable VG Kids production facility, you’ve begun looking outside of Ypsilanti, and I’m wondering what it is that you’re looking for that you haven’t been able to find locally.
JAMES: Its true we’re looking for more space, and after searching in Ypsi and coming up empty handed, I’ve gradually gotten used to the idea that VG might not have a future home in Ypsi. I shouldn’t say empty handed- the search yielded SPUR Studios.
We’re looking for 4-5000 sq ft. of clean light industrial space with adequate sewers, power, and gas. Roll up doors. Basic stuff as far as buildings go, and the location has to be easy to find, as we’ll be doing customer service and production out of the same building. It would be ideal if we could take part of a larger building so we would have room to grow.
The neighborhood is important, we want to be close to other like minded people where we can benefit from one another and build some energy, not isolated off by ourselves somewhere.
MARK: So, as of right now, no decisions have been made? I’d hate to see Ypsi lose VG, as I think, along with Beezy’s, and a few other places, it kind of represents a new, more sustainable direction for the community. But, at the same time, I wouldn’t want to keep you here if it’s not in the best long-term interests of the company. An Ann Arbor-based VG, is, after all, better than no VG at all. It’s just frustrating that we can’t seem to make it over that hump as a community, where we have critical mass.
JAMES: Correct, we haven’t officially decided. I put a note out to our close friends that we were moving to Ann Arbor, but we haven’t signed on anything yet, and the more I talk about it with people, the more I realize how much I really would like to keep VG in Ypsi.
It’s been surprising to me that we haven’t been able to find something suitable, I’m sort of hoping someone will suggest something obvious that I’ve overlooked.
It’s brought my attention to how little space we have that’s practical for new people to put down roots. We want more businesses, but our stock of space is pretty limited.
As a sidebar, it’s frustrating to see buildings on the Water Street property that might work, and get the response that they’re slated for demolition for this long term plan. A long term plan that I had reservations about to begin with, has stumbled at every turn, and isn’t attracting what I consider to be the right kind of investors.
I don’t think VG has the time to wait, but maybe this is something that we should address in whatever comes of the Water Street property. Light industrial zoning that’s close enough to town that businesses and makers are a part of the community and welcomed.
MARK: It seems likely to me that you could find a space that meets your physical requirements without going to Ann Arbor, but that second part of the equation, about being surrounded by synergistic young businesses, is going to be lot more difficult. Here in Ypsi, we don’t have a lot of young companies leveraging the know-how and capabilities of one another. When it does happen, it’s very cool, but we need more of it. I’m reminded of the time that Linette designed scarfs for Maggie’s Organics, which you printed at VG, that were then sold at the Co-op (as well as though Whole Foods nationally). That’s the kind of thing we need to see more and more of. Losing VG would be a huge blow, but I’m not sure how long we can reasonably expect for an entrepreneur like yourself to wait.
JAMES: I think there’s energy in both places, its just different. In Ypsi we’ve got this reputation of being this bad-ass arts town, which feels incredible to be a part of. It may not manifest itself that often, but the esteem that goes with the vibe is huge. Things like Shadow Art Fair, the Maggie’s Organics lines you mentioned, these art-kits for FLY that Linette, Ruth, and I are working on. There are more examples, but I agree there should be 10x that many.
Emotionally, I’m there with you. But just as an example, we need this new conveyor dyer for our t-shirts, because as we do more waterbased inks on shirts, the old one isn’t cutting it. The new one is 7 feet across and 36 feet long. It doesn’t fit in the building we’re in, and they only thing that seems possible in Ypsi is way out East Michigan or by the Willow Run airport. If we were all the way out there, would anyone even care if we were still in Ypsi? We would be totally isolated, it would be a tough place to keep a crew like ours motivated.
If I’m looking at this from too negative a lens, I want to hear about it. If someone shows me the perfect spot, I’ll take it.
I think it goes without saying that I’d like to keep VG here in Ypsi. I’m tired of seeing people who are genuinely dedicated to this city, and doing really good work, have to leave. It still pisses me off that we as a community weren’t able to sustain a shop like Henrietta Fahrenheit, and I don’t want to see it happen again. So, if you know of a location that might work for our friends at VG, please send me an email or leave a comment.