I’m thinking that, from now on, I should draw new Ypsi residents, in addition to interviewing them. I think it would be particularly interesting in those cases when I’ve never met the individual face-to-face. (I think it would make my email interviews a lot more interesting, if, in addition to asking questions about why folks chose to live in Ypsi instead of in Ann Arbor, I also asked about scars, birthmarks, hair color and the like.) But, as I’ve got a baby sleeping me on the moment, and don’t see a pen within reach, that’ll have to wait for my next interview. Here, in the meantime, is an interview I just wrapped up with a young woman by the name of Valerie Bierberich. Please join me in welcoming her to the neighborhood.
MARK: Where did you live before moving to Ypsilanti?
VALERIE: To start at the beginning of my Michigan story, my family moved to the state when I was 6 and we lived in Battle Creek through high school. I moved to the east side of the state to attend the University of Michigan.
MARK:: What brought your family to Battle Creek?
VALERIE: We moved to Battle Creek for my dad’s job and to be closer to family. My mom’s parents live in Kalamazoo, and my dad’s are in northern Indiana, so the move brought us closer to both. My dad worked at a high-powered law firm in DC, and the new job in Michigan was a great opportunity that allowed him to retain slightly more sanity and balance.
MARK: What did you study at U-M?
VALERIE: I studied political science, with a focus in community work.
MARK: When, if you can recall, was the first time you stepped foot in Ypsilanti? What were the circumstances?
VALERIE: The first time I visited Ypsilanti, it was actually a mistake. At some point during my freshman year of college, my friends and I accidentally took the bus the wrong way from Meijer, further into Ypsi, rather than back to U-M. We ended up at the end of the line, at the Vu, and picked up some colorful characters along the way. I had some high school friends who attended Eastern, so I visited them a few times, as well. My first impressions of Ypsilanti weren’t the greatest. They weren’t bad, but I didn’t really think Ypsi was anything special.
MARK: Would I be right in assuming, based upon what little I know about you, that a job brought you to Ypsi?
VALERIE: It’s fairly accurate to say that a job brought me to Ypsi. I work for a nonprofit based out of Ferndale, but we have so many employees who live in Washtenaw County that the boss man decided to open up a satellite office in the area. I was living in Ann Arbor at the time, so I ended up spending a lot of time at the Ypsi office, which led me to explore the surrounding area a bit. I started going to local bars, eating delicious food, and figuring out that Ypsi is pretty awesome.
MARK: As I understand it, you rent in Ypsi. Can you tell us what it was like looking for a place? How did you find the quality of the available properties here? The landlords? Did you do much online research before starting your search?
VALERIE: Logistically, we leaned pretty heavily on Craigslist to find apartments, and I went to my coworkers for advice on landlords. While searching real estate, we found some not-so-great student apartments, some fantastic historic spaces, and some pretty good generic-type apartments. Before I moved here (and before my job plunged me into Ypsilanti community work), I actually didn’t realize the strength or extent of Ypsilanti’s community networks. I had not read your blog, or seen Dreamland, or even gone to see a show at Woodruff’s. All that was just a great bonus.
MARK: If you’re like most folks, you probably debated a bit between whether to rent in Ypsi or in Ann Arbor. Can you talk a little about the decision process, and why you chose Ypsilanti?
VALERIE: I continued to live in Ann Arbor for a bit after graduating. At the end of my lease last August, though, I knew I wanted to move somewhere new. My boyfriend goes to med school at U of M, so we couldn’t move too far away. We were looking for a place with some character and I was insisting on living in a walkable, downtown area. We did look at a few apartments in Ann Arbor, but most places were either out of our price range or just not that great. That’s when I started pushing for a move to Ypsi.
I was born in Virginia and my mom’s a huge Civil War buff, so I was raised to appreciate a historic home. That was a huge part of our current apartment’s appeal. We’re renting a gorgeous three-bedroom, two-story house that was built in 1860, and we’re paying less than the boyfriend was paying for a truly horrible student apartment in Kerrytown, Ann Arbor. And unlike Kerrytown, Ypsilanti’s historic character doesn’t feel pretentious or forced. Neither my boyfriend nor I have regretted the move for a minute. We love Ypsilanti–the people, the culture, the restaurants and bars, the affordability, the walkability, the access to everything we could need or want, and most of all, our house.
MARK: Is there anything you miss about Battle Creek?
VALERIE: Battle Creek’s where I grew up and went to high school, so I definitely have a little of the “boy am I glad I got out” syndrome. It does have a great history, though, as the birthplace of cereal and a key stop on the Underground Railroad. Sojourner Truth is buried there! I probably most miss my home church and congregation. I actually wrote my thesis on community organizations in Battle Creek, which re-exposed me to how great the people and neighborhoods there can be.
One of the best things about BC, though, was the smell of cereal in the air–literally. Some factory towns smell horrible all the time, but BC had the fantastic aroma of whatever cereal Kellogg’s was making that day. De-lish.
MARK: If you could change one thing about Ypsi, what would it be?
VALERIE: If I could change one thing about Ypsi, I’d ask for improved public schools. I think that’s what keeps me from thinking seriously about living here for the long term. Also, I’d like to be able to teleport from my house to Michigan’s campus. Can we make that happen?
I asked the boy for his input, and he says “More barbecue places and a movie theater downtown.”
MARK: What, if anything, could we do to make it easier for new Ypsi transplants, such as yourself, or people who are looking for information about the city online, prior to looking for a place to live here?
VALERIE: It would be nice to have some central location for finding information about rental places or reviews for landlords. Actually, even more than that, it would have been nice to have information on the different neighborhoods in Ypsi–their culture, assets, and weaknesses.
MARK: Is there anything else that you’d like to say?
VALERIE: Move to Ypsi!