Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Living Economy Network launches new website for Buy Local Day

1. December 2005 • Murph
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LEN has launched a new, much shinier website in time for Buy Local Day (this Saturday):

The over fifty local businesses that are part of the Living Economy Network have declared December 3rd Buy Local Day. They know that when locally-owned independent businesses do well, the community benefits from an increase in the money that stays circulating in the community, and an increase in nonprofit support. During the upcoming holiday season, LEN would like to encourage our community to support these businesses, and has released a directory of locally-owned businesses to make it easier to do so. This directory contains business listings, information about the benefits of supporting locally-owned businesses, and profiles of businesses and organizations that exemplify LEN’s Seven Reasons to Think Local First. Some participating businesses include Arbor Brewing Company, People’s Food Co-op, Shaman Drum Bookshop, and Kerrytown Market & Shops. See our website at for more information and a list of participating businesses.

EDIT: relatedly, retail consultant Robert Gibbs gave a lecture at the AADL on Tuesday, 29 November, addressing topics like Ann Arbor’s advantageous position in the retail market – we are about to be targeted by a very large amount of retail development, he says, retail development that would prefer to locate downtown, but will build malls in the townships if we block it out of downtown. Ann Arbor, he says, has the ability to push and pull this incoming development around and shape it how we want it to a significant extent, but we can’t stop it from coming.

Much of his talk was in a fairly open question-and-answer format – he was asked to talk about parking (important), about appropriate open spaces for downtown areas (smaller is better), about the role of affordable housing downtown in the success of local businesses (beneficial), about the ways that large anchor retailers can benefit the small local retailers around them (spillover business from new downtown shoppers), and about the need for Ann Arbor to actively market itself to retailers, in order to ensure that the ones we get are the ones we want most, and not the default that comes if we do nothing.

The prime quote of the evening came when he was asked just how much of a region’s retail activity might be located downtown. He reiterated that he’s not all that familiar with Ann Arbor’s specific desires, but that “some cities decide they want to bring all the retailers downtown and eliminate suburban strips entirely – other cities say, ‘We just want to buy kites and scented candles downtown; for anything we need, we’ll go out to the mall.’”

I recorded the lecture on my iPod – please excuse the occasional whine audible as the iPod spins up its hard drive – and we’ve uploaded it as a 90 minutes, 20MB mp3: Robert Gibbs at AADL, 29 November 2005.

  1. Hi folks –

    Thanks for the link, Murph. The Ann Arbor News did a nice article today about Buy Local Day.

    The directories are out and about at local businesses – pick one up if you are interested.
       —Lisa, LEN    Dec. 2 '05 - 09:41PM    #
  2. Thanks a bunch for recording the Gibbs talk and making it available, Murph. I just finished listening. Your summary was useful, and listening to the whole thing allowed thoughts to develop.

    One of Bob’s comments that I think is worth more consideration is the potential of those “greyfields” outside the downtown. What do you (all) think the chances are for the Calthorpe plan being viewed in a larger context for the city that assigns those areas certain roles (for lack of a better term) that we collectively don’t find appropriate for downtown, in order to take advantage of that large retail potential? For transportation reasons alone, keeping new retail within the AATA service area is important.

    I’m also wondering about the value of civic spaces/buildings as he discussed relative to the possibility of a new city hall next to the library. Would we be wasting its potential value for retail (on all sides) in another section of downtown, or would that be outweighed by the value (which is?) of having it (very) close to the transit center and library?
       —Steve Bean    Dec. 3 '05 - 02:11AM    #
  3. The service is a great idea! However… it took me four clicks to actually view a business. You should add a way for people to view your members—perhaps even sort them by type, since you’re running Plone.

    Also, it’s interesting how your site was built by a company in Atlanta, Georgia. You couldn’t find a locally owned web design firm?
       —Matt Hampel    Dec. 4 '05 - 02:22AM    #
  4. Steve, I think that the major problem I see with, say, keeping the current City Hall and wrapping it with new uses is that the existing structure needs help badly. Anything we wrap it with is going to be in the way when we decide its time to remove asbestos and renovate. The concept of creating a new City Hall on the library lot has the benefit of allowing us to plan for a good combination of uses (public/civic, private, open space, parking) from the start, rather than trying to retrofit the worst example of urban design in downtown Ann Arbor.

    I don’t disagree, though – if we keep the current City Hall building, we definitely should find ways to make better use of its land.

    Meanwhile, you picked up his statements about greyfields too, I see. I asked him, after the talk, whether he thought it would be appropriate / appealing to businesses to turn some of our trashy strip commercial areas into satellite downtowns. He said that he thought, yes, retailers would rather overhaul the areas already developed, if the opportunity was allowed them. “Downtowns” might be a little strong though – a “village center” might be more the style we want to encourage in redevelopment of our fringes. Still dense, walkable, and person-oriented, but probably in pockets small enough that everything in one is all within reasonable reach of a single transit stop, and buildings are on the scale of a downtown Saline or so. (most of this not his exact words.)
       —Murph.    Dec. 4 '05 - 04:06PM    #
  5. Murph, I agree about the current city hall building (esp. re asbestos and maintenance costs), including the advantages of starting fresh. My question, though, was about siting a new one next to the library, so you might weigh in on that if you have an opinion.

    I haven’t looked at the various area plans for the city, but I’m kind of developing a vision of those “village centers” apart from downtown—Lower Town (or is it LowerTown? Lowertown?), Westgate, Plymouth & Green (or Plymouth Green?), Briarwood (and the S. State strip), Georgetown, Platt & Ellsworth (Pittstown?), Arborland/Washtenaw. Any others?

    I don’t think it makes sense to talk about ‘areas’ (e.g., the ‘Northeast area’ of the Northeast Area Plan) when we could be talking about (more human-oriented) “village centers” or neighborhoods.

    The Postcarbon Institute has pages on relocalization plans being created around the developed world. Our “village centers” can be the beneficiaries of such efforts. Can several of the larger ones support farmers’ markets? Can each have community garden plots and compost centers, perhaps on school property? (Sadly, we may have missed the boat on neighborhood/transit-oriented schools with the new suburban high school.) Can transit links be developed between them in addition to the radial lines from downtown? And (back to the subject at hand) can they have locally owned and operated service businesses (or community-owned cooperatives) that will fill the void if and when we can no longer afford (energy-wise) to hire a roto-rooter from anywhere in the county in the name of competition?
       —Steve Bean    Dec. 4 '05 - 04:43PM    #
  6. Robert Gibbs’ earlier lecture (September 8, 2005) is also available on DVD from the library:

    They have recorded a number of the presentations and programs that they have sponsored and those are available for regular checkout.

    I’d expect that this one will be available in that format as well in the near future.
       —archipunk    Dec. 5 '05 - 04:11PM    #
  7. Hi Matt –
    Thanks for your feedback. Our site is part of a (just starting) national effort to link independent businesses so that if you can’t find something you need at independent businesses in your community, you can search beyond your community to find it at other independent businesses elsewhere. To be part of that we used the national marketplace template that had already been designed, so sadly, there wasn’t any design for a local company to do.

    You’ll be happy to know that our directory was designed and printed by a local company, and our Buy Local Day posters were also designed locally and printed by a local union printshop.
       —Lisa    Dec. 5 '05 - 04:52PM    #
  8. Very cool! The template thing is totally understanable, I just didn’t realize. I will keep my out for copies of the directory.
       —Matt Hampel    Dec. 5 '05 - 09:41PM    #
  9. I saw copies of the directory at Washtenaw Dairy yesterday. They look great, Lisa. I didn’t pick one up at the time, but I will.
       —Steve Bean    Dec. 5 '05 - 10:15PM    #