Community Spotlight: Vertex Coffee

 Vertex Coffee Roasters is a new coffee shop on South University that seeks to provide high quality coffee to Ann Arbor by honoring coffee throughout its entire process. The DDA had the pleasure of sitting down with owners Matt Bjurman and Kara Huckabone to learn more about their business and its role in the Ann Arbor community.

What is the origin story of Vertex?

Kara: Matt owns Milan Coffeeworks, and I started working for him as the Director of Coffee and Education. We had the opportunity to do a popup at Blom Meadworks, which was just great to be a part of. Then the opportunity came to open up a new shop on South U, which was a little bit of a surprise. We jumped on the offer and created Vertex, which is a separate company from Milan Coffeeworks– they’re like sister companies. Matt owns and roasts for Milan and he roasts for Vertex, and I’m the owner/operator of Vertex. I’ve been wanting to do something like this for many years, so it was an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up

Matt: Yeah, we weren’t searching for another coffee shop. It made sense to do it together since we had already been working on projects together and popups like Blom.

Tell me about this business in general.

Kara: We focus on high quality coffee and honoring coffee through its entire process. We’re working towards being a zero waste establishment, meaning that we are more intentional about how much waste we’re creating or not creating. We have things like linen napkins and linen towels in the bathroom, we compost all our coffee grounds, and we’re working towards no single-use cups.

Matt: We try to be intentional and thoughtful.

Do you think that businesses will be more eco-friendly in the future?

Kara: We hope so. There’s some extra work that needs to be put in, there’s a few more dishes to wash, some straws to wash. But there’s less trash to take out! We take the trash out once or twice a week. You have to think about things a little bit differently, which can be hard if you’re owning a business, because there’s a lot of things to think about

Do you think Ann Arbor is a place that makes it easier to have a sustainable business?

Kara: I think so. Ann Arbor has recycling and they have residential compost.

Matt: But it doesn’t necessarily have to be easier cause we’re in Ann Arbor. I think the things that we do can happen in and outside of Ann Arbor.

What about Ann Arbor do you think makes it a good place to own a small business?

Matt: One thing is its population density.

Kara: Along those lines, the people in the community. Our business is trying to be a part of the community and so we have some events, like the Sustainability Series, poetry night, concerts, just meetings for people. The people are really great and I really enjoy coming to work every day and getting to see the people that come in the shop.

Matt: It’s great to have all the backgrounds and different viewpoints in town.

Kara: A few people when we opened reached out to us on South U and welcomed us here. That was really nice. Having those connections throughout the city is really nice.

Do you guys have a favorite story of having this business so far?

Kara: I like to think fondly back on the day of our grand opening. It was a Saturday in July, and we had some musicians playing on the patio. The place was full and lively, and people were meeting one another.

Matt: It was the fruits of our labor showing through.

What is something you want the people of Ann Arbor to know about vertex?

Kara: This sounds cheesy, but we really care about the coffee, zero waste, holding events, we care about the community, and we care about our team here. We‘ve been so lucky, and we have wonderful people that are a part of the Vertex team.

Matt: We’re not scheming or trying to squeeze out a dollar. We’ve got some goals and a message.

Community Spotlight: Iorio’s Gelato

If you visited Art Fair in 2004, you might have noticed two kids selling Italian water ice out of a cart on East William Street, in front of College Shoe Repair. In fact, because it was a hot July afternoon and the dessert looked cold and delicious, you might have even bought some Italian water ice from them. If you did, you might have talked to them a bit, learned that they also take their cart to the Farmer’s Market in Lansing, and to music festivals, and wherever else their parents would drive them.

Those two kids were Nick and Mary Lemmer, who grew up spending their summers on the East Coast visiting their great grandparents, Luigi and Maria Iorio, who were Italian-American immigrants. On those hot summer days, their great grandparents would treat them to Italian water ice, which is a non dairy frozen dessert.

When Nick and Mary started to crave Italian water ice year round, their father bought them a cart and an order of inventory. “It was his way of teaching us what the value of a dollar is,” Nick Lemmer explains.

Today, Nick and Mary’s cart has become Iorio’s Gelataria, a storefront location on East William Street, with additional locations in Grand Rapids and Lansing. They opened up the brick and mortar location when they were students at the University of Michigan.

“Summer of my sophomore year, the building we’re currently in became available,” Lemmer explains. “We ended up meeting the architecture professor that led the Italian study abroad. We approached him and he loves gelato, so he designed our store, worked with us, and we’ve had it since.Image may contain: food

“It was a little crazy because [in addition to opening Iorio’s], I was working full time with the women’s basketball team and travelling all over the country with them. My roommates at the time always ask me if I even remember that time. I’d come home, I’d have a box of pizza, I’d sit on the couch, and I’d fall asleep with a half-eaten box of pizza on my lap,” he recalls. “It was so busy, but I definitely prioritized the business and my job with the basketball team more than I did my schoolwork.”

After Lemmer graduated, he realized Iorio’s had the potential to be more than just a passion project. “I took five years to graduate because I changed my major in the last semester of my first senior year. That fifth year was actually one of the most valuable because all of my friends from those first four years, they were going off to do banking, engineering, law school, whatever. Whenever I saw those friends, they were like, ugh working sucks. I didn’t want to hate my job like they did.” He’s been at Iorio’s ever since.

Gelato is essentially a richer, denser version of ice cream. “It’s made predominantly with milk instead of heavy whipping cream, so you’ll get a third of the fat,” Lemmer explains. “Second, there’s less air in it, so it’s more dense. The best way to illustrate that is if you had a 4 oz cup of gelato and 4 oz cup of ice cream fully frozen and you melt it down to your liquid form, you get close to 70% of your cup full of gelato, but 50% of it full of ice cream. That’s why some places sell ice cream for so cheap; it’s half air. Lastly, we serve at a little bit warmer temperature than ice cream, so it’s a lot softer and creamier.”

Initially, Iorio’s bought its gelato from a manufacturer. During this time, Lemmer worked on building an authentic brand and customer experience. “We figured out it’s one thing to have a good product, but you have to serve authentically and provide good service,” he says.

Eventually, Iorio’s started manufacturing its own gelato, which it serves at all three storefront locations and distributes to local retailers like Busch’s.

“We actually sublease some space from Zingerman’s down at their complex on Plaza Drive,” Lemmer explains. “After graduate school, I traveled to Italy for two weeks and just learned from people and companies. Then I came back and started our own little process, which has changed dramatically as we’ve grown. Now we have a dairy partner, Country Dairy, in New Era, Michigan, which is about 4 or 5 hours from here. They provide us all our milk, and they mix it for our main gelato mix, and then they send it to our different stores and we flavor it.”

Lemmer believes that success and longevity for a small business in downtown Ann Arbor all comes down to the people. “You sit and talk to someone like Amer [of Amer’s Deli] for twenty minutes and you realize that he’s one of the hardest working people you’ll ever know,” Lemmer says. “He’ll be the first to admit that he’s made a lot of mistakes, but at the end of the day, he just gets it done.

Lemmer acknowledges that owning a small business isn’t always easy, and he speaks highly of his colleagues in downtown Ann Arbor: “The people who understand it and just put their nose down and keep grinding are the people who are going to be successful.”

Community Spotlight: Art Fair

July is one of the most exciting months of the year for Ann Arbor, because it’s Art Fair month! The Ann Arbor Art Fair, which is actually composed of four separate fairs that collaborate to create one cohesive event, is one of the largest art fairs in the country. Each year, Ann Arbor residents, visitors, and business owners look forward to the several days when a new city seems to emerge on the streets of Ann Arbor, packed with tents full of world-class artwork. The DDA had the privilege of speaking with the people behind the art fair for a behind-the-scenes look.

Karen Delhey is the Executive Director of the Guild of Artists and Artisans, which produces the Summer Art Fair. Maureen Riley is the Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, which produces the Original Fair and the Townie Street Party. Frances Todoro is the Executive Director of the State Street Art Fair. Maggie Ladd is the Executive Director of the South University Art Fair.

How did the Art Fair originate?

Riley: The first fair was in 1960. It was the idea of a merchant in the South University area, to invite artists out on the street. It was immediately successful. By the second year, it was named the Street Art Fair. Then the State Street Area Association started their fair, building on the success of the Street Art Fair.

Delhey: in 1970, a group of artists, mainly students who couldn’t get into the Street Art Fair, decided to create their own fair. They brought out their blankets, set up on the university diag, and became the Free Fair. The university jumped in in 1971 and put them on East University and helped establish the Guild [of Artists and Artisans]. Now, that’s the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair. We’re on Main Street and State Street, and the Guild is one of the largest artist membership organizations in the country. We have close to 1000 artist members from all over the country who are part of our organization.

Riley: [Around the year 2000], the Street Art Fair relocated to our current location in Ingalls Mall on North University and Washington, and the South University area association started their own fair. So then there were four.

What exactly does it mean that there are four Art Fairs?

Riley: There are four fairs because they’re produced by four separate organizations. Each of the four organizations has a different mission. Each fair has its own character and does things differently to fulfill the mission of that organization. Karen and I are both nonprofit arts organizations, while Maggie and Frances are both neighborhood associations.

Delhey: We actually collaborate on a lot. We work together on city services like trash and recycling. All of the marketing is done jointly, sponsorships are done jointly. Marketing, PR, city services, our guide…We have a joint website, we have a joint Facebook page, and social media presence. We also have pages for our individual fairs.

Frances: We do a lot of logistics together because otherwise it would just be work.

How do you put on an Art Fair? What’s the process?

Delhey: It’s a year-round process. Applications, for most of us, open in the late fall. In August and September, there’s a lot of wrap-up meetings, and then we start going for the next year with artist applications. Some of us re-invite artists at that time. We start meeting pretty regularly and planning for the next year. Some things actually start the year before, even before that fair, for the following fair. For example, the 2019 fair hasn’t happened yet and we’re already talking to sponsors for 2020. 

Riley: We even announce our 2020 featured artist at the 2019 fair.

How do you select the artists for Art Fair? 

Delhey: Each of us juries separately, and applications go to the individual Art Fair. Artists can apply to as many of the Art Fairs as they’d like. I love seeing the applications come in. I always joke with my staff that, in the art world, it’s our Christmas. You get to see all the new stuff, and for me, that’s always very exciting. Our jury process is multi-tier. When artists apply, they go through a standards review, which is a “yes or no” jury of whether they meet our standards or not. We do that first, then they go through a scoring juy, and then they get invited based on that score.

Riley: Mine is somewhat similar. It’s based on score and factors. There’s probably twenty jurors that are professionals in the art world that view all of the images, and only about 20% of the applicants are actually chosen.

Why is Ann Arbor a good place to have an Art Fair?

Delhey: So many communities have art fairs now. When we started, it was the new thing, it was different. So what differentiates us from all these other art fairs is the City of Ann Arbor. I feel like the city has really grown up around this event.

Todoro: The economic development that the Art Fair brings to the downtown isn’t necessarily recognized. People don’t understand that a lot of our merchants survive here year round because of the Art Fair. We have one gelato and two ice cream stores in our district. They’re within three blocks of each other; two of them are right next door to each other. They survive because one day of Art Fair is equivalent to their costs for the entire month of January. So if we didn’t have Art Fair, we wouldn’t have those businesses. 

What’s your favorite thing about Art Fair?

Riley: My favorite thing is the Art Fair itself. It’s being out on the streets when everybody comes, the excitement, seeing people, all the artists that return every year, and meeting new ones. That’s my joy, seeing it all to fruition.

Todoro: I always take time to shop. I have my favorite artists, and then each year I buy something from someone I never bought from before. My husband always has a bottle of Bourbon waiting for me when I get home the last night. My Sunday starts with a photograph of my 5:30 am interview, and it ends with a picture of the bottle my husband bought for me and all of the things I bought. It’s my reward.

Community Spotlight: IVEY Salon

Earlier this spring, IVEY Salon, an Aveda concept salon, opened at Fourth Avenue and Huron Street. The DDA had the privilege of speaking with the three women behind IVEY: sisters and co-owners Danielle Vaughn and Casey Baumeier, as well as Synecdoche designer and architect Lisa Sauve, about why they chose to locate in Ann Arbor, the behind-the-scenes of opening a hair salon, and what it’s like to work as part of a team.

DDA: Why did you choose downtown Ann Arbor as the location for your salon?
Danielle: We live here. We have our first salon in Pinckney, but we live here, this is our community, our kids go to school here, it’s just, it feels good. So here we are!

DDA: Are you liking your location on 4th Avenue?
Danielle: This [block of 4th Avenue] is the new “it.” And you can’t get a better seat. We’re front row to construction. As big of a pain as it is, we’re front row to watch all of this happen and evolve. It’s going to be amazing when it’s done.
Lisa: Between the construction, us coming in, and Blom coming in, just activating this block, I really think we’re establishing another commercial corridor. It’s a place for people to walk and meet each other beyond Main Street or State Street. We’re making another avenue for people to connect and interact. We’re really excited to be early adopters for the Huron and Fourth area. We have faith in what this area is going to become, so we’ll kind of buy in and move in before it’s all polished up.

DDA: What’s it like being right downtown?
Danielle: It’s a good vibe. Aside from parking, which I think is everyone’s biggest hurdle, we’re in a good spot.
Casey: We forget all the connections we’ve always had down here, and before we know it, all these people are just popping into see us. It feels so much more like home. People just want to stop in and say hi to the sisters.
Danielle: We have the best neighbors at Blom, we couldn’t ask for better people. They’re just good souls, and it’s really nice walking outside and saying hi to each other. We have each other’s backs in the community.

DDA: What’s the process behind opening a salon?
Danielle: [Casey and I] are two sisters. Opening another location was something we’ve always wanted to do, to just be closer to home. That’s when I met Lisa, and then introduced her to Casey, and we just vibed. We vibed and formed a partnership, which was something all women want and need, we’re this girl power group, and it’s pretty cool.
Lisa: My design studio worked on Blom next door, and we’ve got relationships with the building owner, so we felt really confident about who we were working with. My role was designing the space, which was very much plucking out the essence of Danielle and Casey, and figuring out how we can manifest that to the physical form of the space. There’s a certain vibe and a certain charisma that IVEY has, and so designing it, I had to really understand Danielle and Casey’s rhythm.
Casey: I do hair. I’ve worked at salons, and over time i’ve seen what each salon was sort of lacking and what I would like to see in a salon. As I started to collaborate with my sister Danielle, we came up with our own way, and collaborated with Aveda and what they offer. We also went the extra mile to do those small things that we do to, for example, make sure that every person in this salon knows that you’re a new client without you having to tell them. If you come in to be a client, you’re always going to feel like you’re part of our family.

DDA: Tell me a little more about your salon. What exactly is an Aveda salon, and what is IVEY?
Casey: IVEY is a salon, that’s our brand, and you can become an Aveda salon where you carry all the Aveda products and believe in the Aveda way. We went the extra step and we’re a concept salon, so that means that we don’t carry anything else, we’re only Aveda. So we’re backed by Aveda as well.
Danielle: We want to be different and break molds, which means kindness, it’s treating everyone with respect and kindness. Whether you work here, or you’re a guest at the salon, you should always feel like you’re the most important thing. It’s a fun place. I love it here. I love coming to work. And I want every guest and every employee to feel the same way. We have something called, it’s kind of funny but it’s true, it’s a “no a$#holes policy.” It doesn’t matter how much you bring to the table, or who you are, if you treat someone poorly, you’re being an a$#hole and you gotta go.

DDA: What about this new business are you most excited about?
Lisa: We’re a storefront salon, so we’re kind of projecting our attitude and our visions into the downtown on a main block. Our big ambitions in the next few years are to be really integrated and supportive to other business and the community and the town. We’re really intentional as to how to be a community member.
Casey: I’m excited mostly about teaching my staff. That’s always been my dream. I mean, I love doing hair, and don’t get me wrong, I’ll always want to do hair, but it’s fun to teach other people how to do hair.

DDA: What’s it like working together?
Danielle: There are three pieces to this, there’s myself, Casey, and Lisa. All three of us, very much alike, are also very different, working on different dynamics of the business. We have this team of strong women, and I wholeheartedly feel we can do anything we want to do. It’s just fun.
Casey: I know it might seem to some people that it would be fun to just own a business by yourself, but our strength is that we have three strong women. Each one of us wants to be able to help the other one.
Lisa: But I’m not cutting hair. That’s the only thing I can’t do.
Casey: That’s the only downfall.
Lisa: The whole partnership, the idea is, this is not a financial investment. I didn’t join this for that reason. The entire kind of effort is about having everyone find their own piece of success, and figure out how we can do it together.


Community Spotlight: Ann Arbor Farmers Market

Starting May 1st, the Wednesday Farmers Market is officially back. (The Farmers Market runs on Saturdays year-round, and runs on both Wednesdays and Saturdays during the summer.) After a particularly dark and cold winter, the return of the Wednesday Farmers Market is the light at the end of the tunnel. Stephanie Willette, the market manager, describes the Farmers Market as a “hub of fresh local food”, citing the wide variety of products and vendors that could come on any given market day.


This year, the Ann Arbor Farmers Market is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Willette explains that the market began in 1919, and it was originally located on Fourth Avenue near the courthouse. “Then, in 30s, it moved to its current location [in Kerrytown],” Willette says. “This [location] actually used to be a lumber company. They sold it to the Farmers Market, so we set up shop here in the 30s and have been here ever since.”

Given its longevity, the Farmers Market is deeply rooted in tradition. “We have some vendors who have been here for several generations,” Willette says. “Their parents and their grandparents started here. Same with customers; customers come in and they have their favorite vendors that they just have these long standing relationships with.”

One of Willette’s favorite stories that highlights this tradition is about Jeff Nemeth of Nemeth

Greenhouse & Farms, a farm that has been part of the Ann Arbor community since the 1930s. “One of our farmers, Jeff Nemeth, used to come with his parents and his grandparents for selling here,” Willette explains. “They had a t-shirt for him when he was a kid that would say ‘If found, return to stall #20’ and now he has his own kids that he brings. He’s actually got twins on the way.”

Over its one hundred year lifespan, the Farmers Market has become an integral part of the community. The first Wednesday of every month from May to October, the Farmers Market hosts a Food Truck Rally, which Willette describes as “another way to highlight local food businesses.”

Part of the reason a Farmers Market can thrive so well in a city like Ann Arbor is its positive impact on the environment. “Ann Arbor is more eco-friendly and really trying at several levels to be more conscious of the environment,” Willette explains. “[When you purchase food from the Farmers Market], your food is coming from at most a hundred or so miles away, whereas the average food will travel thousands of miles to get to your dinner plate.” Willette also notes that the farming practices at local farms are often more environmentally friendly than those used on larger scale or commodity farms.

The Farmers Market also has a positive impact on its neighborhood: “Everything you spend here, the money is kept inside of our community. People who come to the market also shop around at the neighborhood businesses and coffee shops, so we’re supporting our whole neighborhood– and vice versa. When people come to Kerrytown to go to Zingerman’s, they’ll stop over here at the market.”

The Ann Arbor Farmers Market distinguishes itself from other farmers markets by enforcing a “producer only” policy. “All of our vendors grow and make their own products,” Willette explains. “A lot of other farmers markets, for example, allow you to buy fruits and vegetables and then resell it on the market. We don’t allow that. We have on-farm inspections for every single vendor where we’ll go out to their farm and we’ll see what they’re growing and make sure that it is what they’re selling. We try to be really careful about that.”

The Farmers Market is kicking off the summer on May 1st with the market from 7am-3pm and a Food Truck Rally from 5-8pm. For more events, including Guest Chef Cooking Demos and Kids Activities, check out their website.

Community Spotlight: Museum of Natural History

The Ann Arbor community deeply values knowledge. Take for example the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History, which is located right within the borders of downtown: “There are twenty million items in the natural science collections at the University of Michigan,” Amy Harris, director of the Museum of Natural History, says. “I like to say they go from mites to mastadons, or mammoths, if you want.”

The Museum of Natural History isn’t just a museum, of course. It’s a living, breathing member of the community. It’s a bridge that connects university faculty with students with all those who live, work, and play downtown.

“The museum can be a social outing,” Harris explains. “We’ve heard about students who like to come here on first dates. We heard one person say that it’s a good way to find out if the other person is an interesting person. But then when they’re here they might realize that they could work in those labs. So it’s an entree into recognizing that students are doing research all over campus and that they’re really welcome and invited to be part of that.”

But the Ann Arbor community is constantly evolving, and, therefore, the museum must evolve with it. The Museum of Natural history was originally built in 1928, but on April 14th, 2019, it will be reopening in its new and improved space in the Biological Sciences Building. According to Harris, this space will provide the museum with increased avenues to strengthen and redefine its role as a member of the community.

“The old museum was in a 90-year-old building, so built in 1928. It was actually built to be a museum, so it was state-of-the-art then, but over ninety years without any thorough updating, it really kind of fell behind the needs of the museum,” Harris says.

A lot changes in ninety years. The old building had very few women’s bathrooms, which may have been the norm in 1928, but simply doesn’t work in a modern environment with plenty of female researchers and museum visitors. The old museum also lacked adequate climate control, and didn’t have air conditioning in the galleries. In order to serve the needs of a community that thirsts for knowledge, the museum was due for a major upgrade.

“This space is about a third bigger than the old one, and we have some really fantastic new spaces that we didn’t have at the old museum,” Harris says. “We’re putting science on display by giving visitors an opportunity to look into real working labs and seeing scientists at work.”

One of the primary focuses of the new building is interactive elements. The University of Michigan, one of the world’s top research institutions, is located right in downtown Ann Arbor, and the museum provides an avenue for community members to claim an active role in groundbreaking scientific discoveries.

“We’re trying to get away from the ‘finished science’ feel of older museums to more of an ‘active research’ feel,” Harris explains. “Science is a process and it’s ongoing and you can be part of it.”

The entire museum is founded upon this concept of “active research.” Instead of just displaying research that has been completed, it centers current innovation, showcases researchers, and encourages community members to engage in research. This interactiveness consists of active involvement from all members of the museum community.

“When researchers are trying to get funding for their research, they write proposals, and one of the major funders is the National Science Foundation,” Harris explains. “They require that researchers do some form of educational outreach. They can do a whole range of things, but one possibility is to work with us, and we’ve been doing a lot of that.”

The museum supports these researchers through a variety of programs. For example, one of the programs is a “science communication training program for faculty graduate students and postdocs, and we’re going to expand that to undergraduates. So we give them the skills of how to talk to someone in the public who doesn’t know anything about science. How can they explain and engage in a conversation about what they’re doing and why it matters.”

Another goal of the museum is to utilize the inquisitiveness of the Ann Arbor community by creating avenues for community members to contribute to research. Part of this goal is reached by allowing visitors to watch researchers work in their labs. Another component of this process is Citizen Science, which allows community members to actively participate in research.

“Members of the public can actually contribute to real research projects by helping either to gather data or analyze data,” Harris explains. “A good example is, here at U of M, we have a researcher who puts cameras on trees in the woods and when they’re motion activated so an animal walks by a picture gets taken, data gets sent to Ann Arbor. She’s got thousands and thousands of photos and she needs help to identify what’s in all those photos, so she’s got a web based platform where anybody in the community can help identify those animals using a key.”

The museum catalyzes community engagement in Citizen Science by creating a space where visitors can learn about the process and try it firsthand.

Harris says the new museum provides “a twenty-first century updated set of opportunities, where the community can learn about the research that’s happening at this top-of-the-line research university in their own hometown. They can get a sense that science isn’t finished. It’s an ongoing process that they can get involved in, and I think that’s really exciting.”

The Museum of Natural History opens on April 14th, 2019 in the University of Michigan Biological Sciences Building.

Business Spotlight: Real Irish & Conor O’Neill’s

Ann Arbor doesn’t lack much when it comes to sports. It is, after all, a football town before anything else– a town where shops post hours on their doors for “football Saturdays”, a town where people walking down the street smile a little more brightly the week after a Wolverines win. Football isn’t the only sport in Ann Arbor, of course. Anyone who was within a ten-mile radius of South University Avenue after the basketball team made it to the national championship game can tell you that. Summers in Ann Arbor are marked by drives to Comerica Park to watch the Tigers and walks to Vets Park to watch future Tigers put it all on the line for their Little League teams. If you’re a sports fan in Ann Arbor, you know you live in a bit of a haven.

If you’re a sports fan, though, you also know that alliances to certain teams are often formed when you’re young and impressionable, and can’t be broken even after decades living away from your team. Across the Atlantic, about 3600 miles from Ann Arbor, is a city called Manchester, England that boasts a soccer team called Manchester United Football Club. In England, fans breathe Manchester United the way Ann Arborites breathe Michigan football: with an all-consuming, undying love for the team.

On January 1st, 1993, Stuart Marley, who was born and raised in Wales by Irish parents, moved to Ann Arbor with his wife. “I didn’t know anything about Michigan at all, so my wife said we’re going to move to Ann Arbor, it’s the only place [in Michigan] we’re going to live,” he says.

Ann Arbor turned out to be the perfect place for Marley to build his life. He worked at Zingerman’s, played soccer at Fuller Park, and had two kids who would both go on to attend the University of Michigan. However, as crazy as Ann Arbor is about Michigan football, Marley never lost his love for the team he grew up rooting for. So when Manchester United had a game, Marley found himself cheering them on at an Irish pub on Main Street called Conor O’Neill’s.

“Now I can watch games on my phone, which is crazy,” Marley explains. “Twenty years ago, we would go to Conor O’Neill’s, because Conor O’Neill’s has got the games.”
“We’re probably one of the most popular pubs in Michigan for soccer,” says Tom Murray, the owner of Conor O’Neills. “The other day, we had Champions League and Liverpool was playing Bayern FC, and around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, we probably had fifty or sixty people in here watching the game. People come from all over to watch soccer.”

Marley has stories about the connections he made at Conor O’Neills. Jon Wilson, for example, originally hails from Manchester, and he used to play soccer with Marley at Fuller Park. They’re about the same age, so when they realized they both grew up following Manchester United, they began to compare experiences.

“So I said, ‘For this game, where were you?’” Marley explains, “And he’d say, ‘I was there,’ and I said, ‘I was in that part of the crowd too, we could’ve been standing next to each other.’”

Sports or no sports, that’s the kind of place Ann Arbor is. It’s a place where you build connections; you could’ve stood next to someone in a crowd a million times, but it takes a place like Ann Arbor for you to finally say hello.

Tom Murray, the owner of Conor O’Neill’s, has the privilege of watching these connections form every day. “Last Saturday night, I was talking to a couple celebrating their anniversary, and they said they met fifteen years ago at the bar at Conor’s,” Murray shares. “About half an hour later ,somebody else came in, a gal with three of her girlfriends. She was telling her girlfriends, she met her husband twelve years ago at Conor’s too.”

This convivial atmosphere is exactly what Murray had in mind when he opened Conor O’Neill’s. “For pubs in Ireland, it’s not just drinking, it’s really a social experience,” he explains. “So that’s what we always try to do.”

Murray’s family owned a pub in Ireland, and he remembers visiting it during summer trips to Ireland. For some time, he lived in Ireland and worked at the pub, before working at some Irish pubs in Detroit. Murray understands the authentic Irish experience, and uses it to create an environment that caters to Ann Arbor’s diverse population.

“The stone is in the fireplace here is from Ireland,” he explains. “The bar itself came from Ireland. We had painters come out from Ireland and do all the special painting work. Then we have little themes throughout, Irish literature, Irish music, Irish sports. We have traditional Irish music every Sunday evening at around 7:30. That’s really common, if you were to go on vacation in Ireland, every town you go to you could find an Irish session. Musicians just come in, sit in a circle and play music.”

Meanwhile, after living in Ann Arbor for over twenty-five years, Stuart Marley has opened up his own little piece of Ireland: an Irish gift store on Fourth Avenue called Real Irish. For years, Marley has run various shops and kiosks that sell Irish goodies, but this is his first storefront in downtown Ann Arbor.

“We meet people from all over the world,” Marley says of downtown. “We’ve got two major hospitals, the university, the three motor companies. So we’ve got people living in Ann Arbor who are connected to all these. I’ve met people from Ireland, from Scotland, from England, from Wales, and from all over who live here.”

The cosmopolitan nature of downtown Ann Arbor means it’s incredibly receptive to businesses like Real Irish and Conor O’Neills that cater to an international culture. This quality of Ann Arbor is particularly important to Marley, who focuses the majority of his energy on running tours of Ireland.

“A lot of people [in Ann Arbor] have been to Ireland even if they’re not Irish, because Ireland is a place where people are friendly, they speak English, it’s very welcoming, and it’s beautiful,” Marley says. “Giving tours of Ireland is something that I am passionate about.”

Marley gives several tours each year, and his storefront on Fourth Avenue serves primarily as a physical presence to his tour business. He plans the tours himself, hires the tour guide, books the hotels, and ensures that each person on the tour is able to experience Ireland in an authentic manner. The population of Ann Arbor, he has found, is particularly receptive to these tours.

Not every town in Michigan, or in any other state for that matter, would be as eager to celebrate an authentic Irish experience. Ann Arbor is a great place for these cultural experiences, not necessarily because it has a particularly large Irish-American population, but because it’s home to a diverse group of people who are eager to find community and build connection, and who appreciate the role that culture plays in community. In the end, Ann Arbor is a place where people from all over the world come together and share their passions and experiences. Conor O’Neill’s and Real Irish came to life in a town that is excited to celebrate Irish culture, even if the majority of the population doesn’t have any Irish background.

After all, Manchester United is a team that’s based 3600 miles away, and yet if you want to a place to celebrate them, you need not look farther than our very own Main Street. Don’t believe me? Next time they play, let’s grab a drink at Conor O’Neill’s.

Business Spotlight: The Getup Vintage

“Everyone wants Ann Arbor to be funky.”

This is the proclamation of Lindsey Leyland, one of the two owners of The Getup Vintage, a small vintage boutique sandwiched between Totoro Japanese Restaurant and Taste of India on State Street. The boutique boasts an eye-catching storefront (bright purple with turquoise daisies painted around the logo), but the inside of the store, decorated with bright colors and peace signs and a sign that says “You Can Dig It”, is even more…well…funky.

“We need to keep Ann Arbor funky,” Kaylan Mitchell, Leyland’s co-owner, proclaims with a laugh. “Us being here, we’re…”

“We’re one of the last places you can go and get, like, a disco outfit,” Leyland finishes Mitchell’s thought without missing a beat. “There’s so many fun events in Ann Arbor and everyone wants this town to remain hip and that type of thing, but you have to come out and support these types of places or they won’t exist anymore.”

It’s true; as Ann Arbor grows in size, it would be easy for it to lose the eccentric culture that makes it Ann Arbor in the first place. The primary reason that it retains this culture is the efforts of small shops like The Getup. These shops are, essentially, the cornerstone of Ann Arbor’s unique vibe. As soon as people start to overlook them, we lose the trendy, offbeat town we know and celebrate.

The Getup Vintage was founded in 2005 by Kelly and Paul McLeod, and it found its home in a cozy attic space. Leyland was the first employee, and when she left to run a store in Chicago for a little while, Mitchell was hired in the interim. In 2010, the store moved into the lower-level space it calls home today, and in 2015, the McLeods transferred ownership to Leyland and Mitchell. Since then, Leyland and Mitchell have streamlined the store to cater to vintage clothing buyers. Every item in the store is hand-selected and washed by Leyland and Mitchell, meaning that the store is essentially the exact opposite of a thrift store, where you might have to dig for hours to find something of value.

“It used to be a lot more packed full of stuff, which in its own, is really interesting, but in a college town, we felt like streamlining vintage is probably the best way to go,” Leyland explains.

“We wanted to create just like a bright welcoming space that like all these items, like they’re super special, but you should be able to see them and appreciate them,” adds Mitchell.

Mitchell and Leyland have curated an eye-catching assortment of clothing items and accessories. Every item stands proudly on display, giving the small store a bright, fun appearance. Stepping into the store feels a bit like stepping each of your feet into the best part of a different decade. It’s simultaneously nostalgic and exciting.

The Getup is a haven for all sorts of shoppers, whether they’re lifelong vintage-lovers or they were just drawn in by the bright storefront. Mitchell specifically cites “18-34 year olds” as their target market, but the two fondly reminisce about their shoppers of all ages, including, apparently, Ryan Gosling and the “total government dude” who often stops in to buy cufflinks.

“Madonna’s daughter, I dressed her a bunch of times when she went to U of M,” Leyland adds nonchalantly. “I altered a bunch of clothing for her, she bought a bunch of stuff here… You don’t just see one type of person, we get to interact and be around every type of person and that I think that’s really special. This type of store draws all types of people. We like to have a little sanctuary for the little punk kids to come, for the sorority girls to find Champion sweatshirts.”

The Getup is in a unique position to come across such an eclectic consumer base. After all, it’s located right on State Street, and you would be hard-pressed to find an out-of-town visitor who doesn’t pass by the storefront at least once. Leyland and Mitchell note that the hospital brings a lot of their customers, as people explore downtown after their appointments. They also cite the Michigan Theater, which is just across the street, as a huge driver of sales. Apparently, bands like to stop in The Getup to get some shopping done after sound check.

When it comes to the logistics of keeping Ann Arbor funky, Leyland and Mitchell have it down to a science, thanks in part to their differing backgrounds. Although they’re both creative, Leyland’s creativity translates more directly to the clothing, while Mitchell’s creativity runs the business side of things.

“I always was obsessed with vintage at a very young age,” Leyland recalls. “I was a theatre costumer for a long time. I just really loved the quality, the sustainability, the designs…It was always my dream that I would have a boutique, and then I found Kaylan and I wrangled her into it.”

Mitchell laughs, not appearing to have been wrangled into anything. “I was working both here and at the Michigan Theater, and my strengths were in business management, so I just kind of took everything I learned over there,” she explains.

“Every small business needs a Kaylan!” Leyland exclaims. “We both come with two very strong creative background but they’re different enough that they complement each other.”

Beneath the stylish storefront and their lighthearted demeanors, Mitchell and Leyland both have deeply-seeded reasons for their passions for vintage.

“Ann Arbor is a very environmentally conscious town and buying second hand is wonderful for the environment,” Leyland says. “Every time you purchase something secondhand, you’re doing the environment a wonderful deed.”

Leyland and Mitchell take their environmentally consciousness seriously. In addition to selling secondhand clothes, they hand make all of their soaps and detergents from sustainable ingredients, and they run the store on solar power. In all of their actions, they demonstrate a keen awareness that in order to keep Ann Arbor funky, they must first keep it healthy.

“It’s not weird to buy second hand,” Leyland says. “It shouldn’t make you feel uncomfortable. So we try to go out and find these special treasures that have so many lives left in them. We hope people come in and find things to add to their wardrobe, and in the same breath you’re doing our planet a wonderful service and keeping Ann Arbor cool.”