Author Archives: Maura Thomson

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.”

Business Spotlight: Pacific Rim

When Duc Tang received his undergraduate degree in biochemistry from Yale, he didn’t plan to use it to become the chef at a pan-Asian restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan. But, as Tang has discovered time and time again, there is only so much you can plan for in life. Most of the time, you just have to take what life throws at you and decide how you’ll respond to it.

Tang’s restaurant, Pacific Rim, originated as Kana, which was a small, family-owned Korean restaurant that opened in the early 1980s near the University of Michigan medical school. In a 1992 issue of the Ann Arbor News, one columnist wrote, “Kana is run by Byung Dok and Kun Hi Ko, fervent believers in the power of faith and the wisdom of ensuring customer satisfaction.” The column commends the “fun” nature of Korean food and mentions that that the restaurant emits an “enticing aroma.”

However, the year that column was written, Tang didn’t know Byung Dok or Kun Hi Ko. Nor did he know that he was heir to their restaurant. For all he knew, his life was setting him up to become a doctor and work in the medical field in underserved areas. At the time, that was his goal.

Tang is a Vietnamese immigrant who was born of Chinese-Vietnamese parents. His childhood fostered a curiosity for global foods and cultures. “I grew up with Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines,” he notes fondly. “Our family fled the country after the war. We were boat refugees and we lived in refugee camps in Hong Kong and the Philippines, so we were exposed to different cuisines, different areas. We finally immigrated to California in 1980 when I was almost nine years old.”

Restaurant Interior Photo

Tang attended Yale for undergrad and then pursued a graduate degree in theology, with the intent of attending med school shortly thereafter. However, he “took a detour” and came to Ann Arbor with Y.B. Ko, one of his friends from graduate school– who happened to be the son of Byung Dok and Kun Hi Ko, the owners of Kana.

“His parents retired in 2000 or ‘99, and he came back to Ann Arbor to take it over,” Tang explains. “He wanted to revitalize it so he thought to expand the cuisine to encompass other Asian cuisines like Vietnamese, Thai, and other southeast Asian cuisine. He remembered from grad school that I liked to cook. My two roommates and I, we cooked every night and invited friends over and had these large food parties.”

When Ko contacted Tang to ask if he would help him open Pacific Rim, Tang said yes because it “sounded like an adventure.”

“I had absolutely zero experience, but at the same time, I wasn’t quite ready to go to medical school, so I thought, okay let’s do it for two years and then maybe go to med school.” Tang laughs. “And it’s turned into eighteen years.”

As it turns out, Tang’s life path prepared him rather perfectly to run a restaurant. He loves to solve problems, which is what sparked his interest in medicine in the first place, but that translates quite well to the high-stress restaurant culture. Additionally, his childhood exposure to various Asian cuisines put him in a unique position to cultivate Pacific Rim’s Asian fusion cuisine, despite his lack of formal culinary training.

Food Photo

“[Pacific Rim] started out as a very more modest operation with more authentic Asian dishes, but after a little while, I got a little bored of that and wanted to be more creative,” he explains. “So it evolved from more modest to more fine dining.”

Pacific Rim began serving wine and Tang began playing around with the menu until it evolved into its current iteration, which Tang describes as “contemporary pan Asian cuisine.”

“It’s more of a reflection of my background, in terms of authentic Asian flavors but in a more contemporary context. Because I grew up mostly in California, so it has more western of sensibilities but authentic Asian flavors. It’s fine dining with lots of Asian ingredients. But it’s not just accents,” he is quick to clarify. “Oftentimes you’ll see a lot of dishes with little Asian accents. I wanted to keep the flavors more authentic, so I think of a dish I grew up eating and, say how how can I reinterpret it for Ann Arbor?”

Not only does Tang’s cultural background help shape the restaurant, but so does his passion for serving others.

“I feel like most people really feel something intangible when they eat here, and that’s because of our philosophy of offering hospitality, not just fine service,” he says. “That hospitality comes from authenticity in our interactions with the staff. They love working here, so the interactions with guests are very genuine, very friendly.”

This sort of hospitality doesn’t just come naturally. Tang works to ensure that the entire staff feels as passionately as he does about the restaurant.

“We do things to cultivate that sense of ownership,” he explains. “We have a staff meal every night where the whole staff sits around a table together. That’s kind of a loss in the restaurant world nowadays. We have the servers share the tips, so there’s no competition among them and they work together collaboratively. They tip out the kitchen, too, so there’s an appreciation for the kitchen from the front of the house and vice versa, so they work well together.”
Of course, this level of hospitality wouldn’t be appreciated just anywhere.

“Part of the restaurant’s success is because it’s in Ann Arbor,” Tang recognizes. “I think it has been well-received in Ann Arbor because people here definitely recognize the authenticity of the servers and respond well to it.”

People in Ann Arbor have a keen appreciation for “genuineness and authenticity” as Tang notes, as well as a palette for global cuisine.

“Oftentimes, people move here from big cities, East Coast or West Coast, so they feel at home here because there’s more culture in the food,” he explains. “For example, we get lots of faculty eating here, bringing their guest speakers or candidates for jobs. We always get comments that they like bringing them here because they want to impress that person, to say, hey, we have culture in Ann Arbor, we have good food.”

For Tang, running Pacific Rim doesn’t feel like he gave up his dream to go to med school. In fact, it’s just the opposite: He’s found a new dream, one he didn’t even know he had.

“In Ann Arbor, what I love is the ability for my family to integrate family life with work life and community life,” he says fondly. “We live just a few blocks down the street. My wife homeschools our kids, so they’re around all the time, and she’ll visit with them. They’ll walk downtown and we’ll eat together.”

That dynamic is what makes Ann Arbor so special, and it’s the reason that any small business owner in Ann Arbor can tell you that working in Ann Arbor isn’t a stepping stone on the way to your dreams– it is the dream. You never know where life is going to put you, but if it puts you in Ann Arbor, you’re pretty lucky. Just ask Duc Tang.

Business Owner Spotlight: Adam Lowenstein

Ann Arbor can be described in a number of ways: It’s the most educated city in America, it’s home of the top public university in the country. It’s the best city to raise a family in. It’s a vibrant city with a sweet, small-town feel where people come from all over the world to experience a world-class culture and education.

But when the last class of the evening lets out and the downtown shops lock up for the night, Ann Arbor becomes something new. It becomes Adam Lowenstein’s canvas, where he paints the downtown streets into the backdrop of one of the most fun and vibrant nightlife experiences in the world.

As owner of five of Ann Arbor’s most popular bars and one of the most famous late-night restaurants, Adam Lowenstein plays perhaps one of the most pivotal roles in orchestrating downtown nightlife. But he isn’t some unapproachable executive who sits up in an office and buys local bars. Instead, he’s an invested member of the community, someone who loves the city and has a unique eye for seeing exactly what could make midnights in Ann Arbor a little more fun. After all, what would nightlife in Ann Arbor be if it weren’t for BTB Burrito, Good Time Charley’s, Cantina, Alley Bar, Live, and The Last Word?

Lowenstein first began designing his creative vision for the Ann Arbor night life in 2004. “I started Big Ten Burrito, as it was called back then,” he explains. “I would’ve been a senior at Michigan, but I took time off. It was me and two other guys.”

Taking time off of college to open a counter-service burrito joint is a risky move, but even as an undergraduate student, Lowenstein demonstrated a deep understanding of exactly what the downtown community craved. In this instance, it craved a good late-night burrito.

“Coming from Cali, I felt like there was really a need for Mexican food here and the only burrito place at the time was basically Panchero’s, so that was a huge opportunity,” he recalls. “[My business partner Justin Herrick and I] knew each other from boarding school in California, and then went to Michigan, and, yeah, we started the burrito place and it took off.”

To say the burrito place, which is now called BTB Burrito, “took off” is a vast understatement. To this day, the counter-service late night burrito place on State Street is one of the finer points of campus nightlife. To this point: When Brian McKelvey, an artist best known for his “Pubs Of Your City” series, created a poster called “Pubs of Ann Arbor”, BTB was recognized among several clubs and bars.

“He takes all the different restaurants and bars and he puts them up on a big caricature poster,” Lowenstein explains. “BTB, out of all the different places, is the only place on there that doesn’t have liquor, and he put it on there because it’s so integral to the culture of the night life of Ann Arbor. I thought that was cool.”

Opening BTB was the first time that Lowenstein put his mark on the nightlife of Ann Arbor, but it certainly wasn’t the last. After opening two more locations of BTB that he eventually shut down, Lowenstein realized his vision for what student nightlife could be on South University.

“We would hang out and go out and come to South University,” he remembers. “We would go to Brown Jug and look across the street, and Charley’s wasn’t busy or popular at all at the time. Our question was, why not? We had the idea to do a burger place, so we kind of put the two together.”

In 2007, Lowenstein and his partner bought Good Time Charley’s and transformed it into the popular student venue it is today.

“We made the jump from BTB, which is a counter service late night burrito place, to a full-service bar and restaurant with Good Time Charley’s,” he recalls. “That was a crazy adjustment….There’s a huge tradition at Charley’s. It’s been here since 1979, so we were just lucky to be able to be part of that. It’s been here 39 years and we’ve had it for 11 of the 39. We’re slowly carving our names into the legacy of Charley’s.”

In 2008, a year after buying Good Time Charley’s, Lowenstein played off the massive success of BTB and opened up Cantina, a taqueria and bar adjacent to Charley’s. “In our opinion, it was gonna be BTB plus a bar. We thought adding in a bar, that would be fantastic.”

Perhaps this was the moment that Ann Arbor nightlife became Lowenstein’s canvas. After all, any University of Michigan student can tell tell you that nightlife is far less vibrant if you subtract BTB, Charley’s, and Cantina from the equation. But that wasn’t it for Lowenstein’s creative vision: he still had yet to tackle Main Street.

After the massive success of his campus-area business, Lowenstein recalls, “We partnered with a couple of other guys on the Main Street side of town, and we opened up Alley Bar, Live, and The Last Word, all within the period between 2010 and 2012.”

With that, Lowenstein had made his mark on all aspects of Ann Arbor nightlife: he had one foot on campus, and the other on Main Street, where the post-college sector of the Ann Arbor community often finds itself at night.

Lowenstein saw huge success no matter which side of downtown his businesses were on.

“Good Time Charley’s and Cantina, which is one business in the state’s eyes, and The Last Word and Live, which also count as one business in the state’s eyes, have been #1 and #2 in terms of liquor purchases in Washtenaw County for the past five or six years,” Lowenstein says. “So that’s pretty cool.”

Lowenstein wouldn’t be able to have such a monstrous effect on the Ann Arbor community if he wasn’t an instrumental part of the community himself.

“Ann Arbor is a fantastic place to be a small business owner. The community is just really supportive of small businesses, and it always has been. We depend on the Ann Arbor community every single day, we try and to give back in any way we can,” he says. “At Alley Bar, we have a promotion called Give Back Thursdays where we pick a different charitable organization and we partner with them every month and donate a portion of our sales on different days to that organization. And we do tons of stuff with student groups at BTB and Charley’s and Cantina.”

Why is the Ann Arbor community so important to him? “When we franchised up in East Lansing, we really felt like the community up there didn’t care if you were an independent business or if you were Taco Bell or you were Chipotle. That wasn’t a discerning characteristic in terms of the competition. A huge difference is that, in Ann Arbor if people have the opportunity, they’re gonna wanna go to the unique icon that only Ann Arbor has.”

The Ann Arbor community certainly is eager to support local businesses. Perhaps that’s because it’s a city of relationships: Lowenstein invests in the community by creating unique, enjoyable venues, and the community invests back in him by supporting these venues. Everyone wins in this relationship: Lowenstein gets to exert his creativity on Ann Arbor, and Ann Arbor gets to enjoy a thriving nightlife experience.

Business Spotlight: Downtown Home & Garden

Downtown Home & Garden, a store that carries everything from birdseed to Polish pottery, is a destination in and of itself. In the family of Ann Arbor businesses, Downtown Home & Garden is the grandparent. It sits from its lot on South Ashley Street and watches over the community with its all-knowing eye. It has been meeting the needs of Ann Arbor for over 100 years, and as a thank you, the community continues to tell its story.

Kelly Vore, who owns Downtown Home & Garden, says she hears people telling the story of her business day in and day out: an oral tradition passed on through the generations of Ann Arbor.

“All day long, customers bring people with them to come in and say, ‘This is the store I’ve been wanting to show you.’ I overhear customers tell their guests, ‘…And then there was the horse and buggy through the barn…’ To hear people’s pride in the space is probably my ultimate favorite thing,” Vore shares.

The shortened version of Downtown Home & Garden’s rich, intricate history is as such: It was built in the late 1800s and has sought to meet the immediate needs of the Ann Arbor community ever since. “The building started as Mann and Zeeb grain elevator to support the farm land that was west of us. This was an active railroad track,” Vore explains, gesturing to the space surrounding Downtown Home & Garden. “This was active farmland to the west of us, as far as you could see that’s what it was.”

In 1906, the Hertlers—three brothers and their sister, Emma—bought Mann and Zeeb. “Those guys ran it as the feed store general store. They added the horse barn which was designed for horse and buggy to roll in, not the SUVs that it just happens to very conveniently host,” Vore laughs. “So you could park your horse for 10 cents a day, and then at the base of that barn is where the stalls are that the Hertlers team used to use so they would go out, deliver grain, feed, etc.”

The business was sure to keep step with the city of Ann Arbor as it grew and industrialized, so it was always able to meet the immediate needs of the community.

“Shortly after that, the Model T was developed, so the horse and buggy vein of things started to change quite a bit,” Vore explains. “Carriage Works was across the street, so there was a lot of industry built on horse and buggy that changed radically. The Hertlers, however, went on to run the business to meet the changing needs of the community.”

In 1975, the Hertlers sold the business to Mark Hodesh, under the condition that he would keep serving the needs of the community in the same way the business had been for over half a century. “There were lots of people looking to buy the property to make it a bar or a restaurant, but [Emma Hertler] didn’t want to sell to them,” Vore says.

Over forty years later, Hodesh is still a huge part of the picture. “Mark bought it in the mid 70s, and ran it until 1985 when he and Margaret left and went to Maine, raised their daughter, and had a B&B. [During that time], he sold the business, but he still held onto the property, so he was the landlord…Then Mark and Margaret came back in 1995 and Mark bought the business back, but he didn’t have the name Hertler Brothers, so they had to rename it Downtown Home & Garden. So 1995 is when Downtown Home & Garden as we know it began.”

In 2014, Hodesh sold the business to Vore, who was his employee at the time. However, Hodesh retained ownership of the property as well as ownership of Bill’s Beer Garden, a business that operates on the same property as Downtown Home & Garden.

For Vore, running a business that has faithfully served its community for over a century is both a privilege and a crazy dream. “It’s a small business, but it’s a very large operation. A lot goes on here. Seasonally, we’re always changing. Not very many businesses have seven different entrances and exits, not many have car traffic, kid traffic, stroller traffic, bike traffic, cats, dogs…So there’s just a lot happening here all the time.”

Amidst all of the chaos, Vore never forgets how fortunate she is to live in a community where her business is thoroughly appreciated. “Our customers are our best ambassadors, and Ann Arbor, I think, is a community that does specifically support this kind of business,” she says. “There are lots of communities who would like to have approachable small business, but Ann Arborites legitimately patronize the business. It is not a hobby, we’re not a museum, we’re not an amusement park, we’re a valid business, so people genuinely patronize us, they genuinely want our goods.”

Perhaps this patronage stems from the intimate connection that Ann Arbor customers feel with the business: “We have people who’ve been shopping here for 45 years that still write checks to Hertler Brothers, and the bank will still take them, and then we have people who have never been here before, and everything in between. When Lewis the Cat, who lived here before Wallace the Cat, passed away, I think that Facebook post reached around 50,000 people worldwide. There are employees who have been here 20 years, 16 years, 18 years, there’s lots of long-time staff, Mark is still around, there’s a lot of recognizable faces. We’re all in this business together, and the community is just as much a part of our strength and existence as the staff who work here.”

Ann Arbor has grown a lot since the birth of Downtown Home & Garden. The city has had its painful growth spurts, its angsty teen years, and its blissful, idyllic years—and through it all, Downtown Home & Garden has remained on its seat on South Ashley Street between Washington and Liberty, quietly, graciously providing for the needs of its community. In a city that’s constantly evolving, it’s comforting to know that some things never change.