Saturday, March 31, 2007

Can't Keep a Hipster Down

Ann Arbor, Cool City, home to thousands of peace loving armchair liberals, recently took a blow to the gut from Pfizer. But that will not keep Ann Arborites from pursuing diversity and celebrating Spring. This weekend will see the first annual FestiFools, a parade on Main Street Sunday from 4p.m. to 5p.m. including, I have heard, huge puppets. Laugh in the face of uncertainty; thumb your nose at bad news.

Ann Arbor will also be hosting the 35th Annual Dance for Mother Earth Pow Wow at Crisler Arena. This event takes place Saturday and Sunday (click the link above for more details) and features traditional Native American dancers and drum circles from around the US and Canada, fabulous food, and a huge number of vendors.

Quench your thirst for fun and diversity in Ann Arbor this weekend.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Third World Michigan?

Among the many trying to understand the state of the state, Prof. Bryan K. Ritchie, associate professor of international relations at James Madison College at Michigan State University, blogged yesterday about the parallels between Michigan today and Singapore in 1972.

"...Last week I presented a paper on how Singapore simultaneously created highly skilled people and attracted high-tech companies. After my presentation, a well-known colleague inquired if I had ever applied my research to Michigan. To be honest, I had never considered it. But as he talked I saw the potential application: globalization and an increasingly complex and technical international economic system is driving the primary location of competition to the state level. Michigan is not competing only with other states. Michigan is competing directly with Singapore and every other developing country. If true, why not act like these other countries?"

He goes on to offer a vision for business and government leaders:
Singapore’s success in the world economy has come from a mixture of technocratic and bureaucratic professionalism, strong political leadership, and active private sector participation. And by participation I don’t mean simply consultation. Heads of companies, leaders of unions, and leading academics have all taken turns directing the entire public policy process in key economic areas including forming, implementing, monitoring compliance, and ensuring enforcement of policy. The key to making this work is tight coordination between the private sector and government—not government as a regulating force, but as a facilitating one."

Still, in order to forge these alliances a lot of people will have to forswear an adversarial model of relating. United we stand (a chance of getting out of this downward cycle), divided we fall (farther and farther behind Singapore).

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Made in China: Small Business Idea

Looking for a small, I mean really small, business idea?

This weekend, I had the pleasure of staying at a Marriott in another Great Lakes state. Our accommodation included VIP status and special perks, access to a concierge lounge with food and beverages throughout the day, etc. Our room rate, with tax was $144. So why were the cotton balls and ear swabs imported from China? Would little packs of domestic cotton balls and swabs really put such a huge dent in Marriott's profit margin at the end of a day?

This little pack of hygiene supplies struck me as absurd, insulting and alarming. You can be sure there are low-skilled workers in the U.S. who could produce little packs like this and would be grateful for the work. But their labor is too expensive. Think about that. Paying someone in the U.S. minimum wage to make little packs of hygiene supplies is too costly. Or perhaps the actual phrase is "not sufficiently profitable to be competitive in a global economy." I wonder what how the Chinese cotton ball packers live. I wonder what they eat and where they sleep.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Willow Run: Lessons for Michigan

What factors created Willow Run's persistent social and economic vulnerability?

1. Willow Run's only unifying governing structure is the school district. Being split between Ypsilanti and Superior Townships, the community of Willow Run lacks a unified municipal governing structure through which to shape its future, develop economic diversity or express its unique historic legacy.

2. A large number of wartime workers were recruited from Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. The fact of a north/south cultural divide doomed Willow Run's prospective annexation into the City of Ypsilanti, which would have allowed it to benefit from infrastructure and services of an established municipality.

3. Residents depended on a single industry for employment. The wartime boom at the bomber plant transitioned almost seamlessly into the postwar boom of the auto industry.

4. Even as parents understood education's importance to their children's futures, children could consider the hard labor of factory work, a worthy well-paid pursuit.

5. Willow Run's historic and cultural identity is manufacturing.

Doesn't this resemble Michigan's present predicament?

1. While we have the appearance of a single governing structure, Michigan's legislature suffers a crippling partisan divide. Never mind two townships; we have two Michigans, red and blue. Or maybe it's a pushmi-pullyou in Lansing?

2. Certainly, the urban/rural cultural rift ensnares the state legislature when considering initiatives to help southeast lower Michigan, generally and Detroit in particular.

3. Michigan's historic and cultural identity is the automotive industry. The entire state has benefited from the auto industry. The tourism of "up north" developed from the prosperity of industry in southeast lower Michigan and the broad availability of cars.

4. While we say we value education, our tax policies say otherwise. And while industry was thriving, high school graduation could suffice. But this is no longer true.

5. Even though plenty of other businesses contribute to our economy, our principal economic engine has been auto manufacturing and associated businesses for nearly a hundred years. This primary dependence on one industry has had devastating consequences at the state level with downsizing and outsourcing.

What can we do?

1. Urge legislators to take view beyond the election cycle, detach from partisanship, and look in the same direction--forward.

2. Begin to see Michigan as a whole entity--one Michigan (Our Michigan), rather than a constellation of opposing, adversarial binaries (red/blue, urban/rural, rich/poor, labor/management, white/non-white).

3. Accept our special history and relationship to the automotive industry, but promote diverse economic development. Encourage small business and promote local economies that can sustain communities and cultivate local culture.

4. Educate children to become human beings, engaged citizens, and independent thinkers, not mere "good workers." Help them develop an appreciation and love of their home state, so that they might want to stay here, and improve the place, rather than become migratory workers in search of better opportunity.

5. Embrace Motown at the state level as the cultural gem that it is.

Any other ideas out there?

Willow Run is Michigan

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the government banned civilian auto production. War profiteering was illegal. Priorities were clear; the military needed stuff. Domestic industry was enlisted to produce that stuff. Subsequently, factories needed workers, lots and lots of workers. Workers migrated from all states of the union, as well as Hawaii and Puerto Rico to work at the Willow Run bomber factory. At the height of production in the summer of 1943, the bomber plant employed 42,331 workers. In that moment, government will, corporate resources, individual initiative and collective motivation aligned to create unprecedented industrial productivity--precursor to the postwar economy, mid-century midwife to the middle class.

Some of the Willow Run workers lived in government dormitories called Willow Lodge. Willow Village, prefab housing for 2500 families opened in July of 1943. Others lived in trailers and tents nearby. Community was born from collective sacrifice and experience. A diverse population shared migratory upheaval and the satisfaction of hard work rewarded with decent pay.

Housing at Willow Village was intended to be temporary, and the people who lived there understood that. The war would end and they would get on with their lives. By 1945 the workforce at the plant dropped to 16,000. Nearly, 1,000 families left the village. But, in 1946 Willow Village became temporary veteran housing. In that same year Kaiser-Frazer automobile company purchased the bomber plant and began producing cars within months. Although Willow Village housing was meant to be a temporary accommodation for the war effort, the auto industry gave people a reason to stay.

Friday, March 23, 2007

"Willow Run is America"

Lately, I have been fascinated by Willow Run, not the factory, but the community. To this day, it is synonymous with the history of government, industry and labor in the mid-twentieth century, and it has become a shorthand for the impact of the global economy on the American factory worker.

Something to ponder from Changing Classes: School Reform and the New Economy (2001), by Martin Packer,"The Willow Run community was a child of twentieth-century state-regulated industrial production, born of a union between the wartime demand for complex fighting machines and the efficiency gains of centralized production, and the power of the federal government. The community was created, and then shaped, to meet the needs of large-scale industry, first the military-industrial complex and subsequently the equally massive automobile manufacturing industry."

Marion Wilson, authored The Story of Willow Run in 1956, two years after the land was bought by Superior and Ypsilanti Townships. As the federal official who oversaw the community's transition from temporary government housing to permanent community, she had a unique perspective on its evolution. Her insight that Willow Run is America held true in the fifties. Then, it was a hopeful statement about community, industry, patriotism, and grit. What about today? And more importantly how is Willow Run Michigan? More to follow...

Better Times on the Rouge River

photo: C.Whiting

"To the world outside, Michigan is Detroit."
Wise words from a former Michigan legislator.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Made in Michigan: International Tabloid News

Has anyone else noticed the string of creepy, bizarre and embarrassing headlines featuring our fair state? I'm not going to link to these. You can just google the key words.

It started with "Body Parts from China Delivered to Michigan Home." We never learned the fate the other packages missing from that shipment. But we didn't need to; that would be old news. Same story, different state.

"Michigan Church to Honor Fallen Turkey." Touching, but weird. And it could have been worse, for example "Michiganders honor their dead."

How about "Michigan Man Gets $122,400 for Cat Bite." Was this one about excessive jury awards, a warning about the "pit bull" of the cat world or a veiled suggestion for extra income in hard times?

"Michigan 'Rat Lady' says white rats great pets." (Better than biting cats certainly.) I am sure other states have rat ladies. I am sure other states have people who like white rats. But no, this had a Michigan angle. Run it.

"Michigan Man Riding Lawnmower Across Country Hits Roadblock." He couldn't afford a car? Fortunately, the coverage does praise his charitable purpose for the trip.

"Houses Cheaper Than Cars in Depressed Detroit." Thank you, Reuters, but the modifier 'depressed' was unnecessary.

Did I miss any?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Chick Inn, Since 1953

"Paul Bunyan Burger 3.75--a half pound of the finest ground beef, cheese, thick sliced onion, crisp lettuce and our special Paul Bunyan sauce served on a 5" toasted sesame bun."
Good ol' American fare, beefy, large, cheap.

I was doing research for an upcoming piece on Willow Run, and spotted the Chick Inn Drive In at the corner of Holmes and Prospect, just west of Willow Run and just in time for lunch.

Mid-century modern architecture and a tall rotating sign immediately grabbed my imagination, so I pulled in and parked the car. Here was a cultural gem evoking a time of audacious gas-guzzling cars, unbridled economic growth and a thriving middle class--the fifties. The Chick Inn has been at this site since 1953, the current building dating from 1955.

It's iconic, a landmark, a relic, the subject of a song, and still a functioning full-service drive-in. For decades, the Chick Inn has been family-owned and operated. That is the case even now, although the restaurant changed hands about three years ago. I asked the current owner, Mr. Lim, about business. He said it's not great and said he thinks it has to do with the economy generally. Our conversation was difficult, as the owner and I grappled with a language barrier. He is Korean. I thanked him for talking with me and went out to the car to order. Paul Bunyan burger with a side of onion rings.

The car hop, a young woman from Ypsilanti, took my order by speaker and brought it out a few minutes later with a smile. She has worked at the Chick Inn for nearly a year. I asked for her thoughts on the Michigan economy. She shared that, "everyone in my family is leaving Michigan because there's no work. People in my family think we need a new president and a new governor. She tries to say everything is alright and it's not. We'd rather hear the truth from her."

Then she remarked about the situation for the Chick Inn. She had heard that business dropped off when regulars found out a Korean bought the place. The regulars didn't like that he raised the prices. Then she added, "this is an American place, you know."

My Disneyland lunch was over. My hope for the Chick Inn took a blow. Sure this is an American place, a quintessential American place, and how wonderful that a Korean immigrant has taken the chance in the 21st century to sustain a historic landmark in Ypsilanti. Our state economy desperately needs people like Mr. Lim--entrepreneurs and small business people--to take risks and make investments in communities. Thank you for taking a chance in Ypsilanti, Mr. Lim.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Render Unto Caesar

Since before the time of Christ, taxes have plagued us. Presumably, these monies support the commons we all depend on. Our state and local infrastructure depend considerably on property tax revenue. How will declining property values affect revenue? Most Michigan homeowners have been getting a surprise increase in the taxable value of their home on the latest assessment. How can this be?

From The Traverse City Record Eagle, a succinct answer:
"Assessors use sales studies to determine a percentage increase or decrease in property values by neighborhood. State law sets the study period at two years, running from April 1, 2004, through March 31, 2006, for current figures."

Republicans propose some relief...
"Michigan homeowners would never get saddled -- as many are today -- with rising property tax bills in a declining real estate market, under proposed changes to state law and the constitution that state House Republicans plan to announce Monday."

Ironically, the Lord's work can cause a decline in much needed revenue.
A Redford Township church has acquired a $3.65 million "parsonage" causing the township to lose $40,000 annually in tax revenues.

Meanwhile, foreclosures and declining values will also affect revenue down the road.
Michigan was second in the nation in the rate of new foreclosure filings in January (Nevada was first), according to RealtyTrac, a national real estate and foreclosure tracking site. Michigan saw 11,554 new filings, up 147 percent from a year ago.

And property taxes aren't the only concern...
"Less than one-third of Michigan adults support the centerpiece of Gov. Jennifer Granholm's plan to solve Michigan's budget crisis -- a 2% tax on many services and entertainment -- a new Detroit Free Press-Local 4 Michigan Poll shows."

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Flip It! Strategy: Getting Through Bad News Days

When you feel slammed by the news, try to flip it into a positive.

Global Warming
National Arbor Day Foundation reports that hardiness zones are shifting northward reflecting a warmer climate. Global warming is real and measurable in our environment. Our worst fears are true.
Flip: Time to investigate and propagate a completely different set of plants.

Depressed Real Estate
Property values are plummeting, at 6 year lows in Washtenaw county.
Flip: It is a fabulous buyers market. Renters might be able to afford owner-occupied housing.

Family Values Meets Diversity Training
James Tignanelli, president of the 14,000-member Police Officers Association of Michigan, said the group is backing the former New York mayor because of the leadership he showed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Flip: Thousands of Michigan tough guys are officially okay with Guiliani's public appearances in drag and multiple marriages. Hmm.

Next time you get bad news, flip it for sanity and fun!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Calling on the Great Spirit of Michigan

Genius Loci, the sense of a place or the special guardian of a place.

I hate small talk, but I love to talk about important things with strangers, usually in parking lots or stores. These fellow citizens going about their errands, gathering the things needed to care for their families, are burdened with a sense that Michigan is in an economic free fall. Grateful to be able to shop for necessities, grateful to have employment and housing, they are worried and feeling very vulnerable. One articulate gentleman at a going-out-of-business sale remarked that being at the sale made real to him the economic news he'd been hearing, as if news can be considered hypothetical, a suggested framing of reality. He was conscious of plight of the workers inside (no corporate transfers being offered, no golden parachutes, no buy-outs) a cohort of pre-unemployed young adults. A high school student told me that he can't imagine living anywhere other than Michigan because he loves it here. Yet, he was able to recite the same dismal labor and economic statistics I hear from adults. Was he merely repeating what he heard from adults in his life? Doesn't really matter.

Where is the Great Spirit of Michigan right now? In Lansing, where partisan politics resemble the bar sport of gut barging? At Pfizer, where workers are responsibly closing shop before heading for the "Mother Ship" (that's what they call the Groton facility)? At Comerica Park (can we please rename that one)?

I have to believe that the Spirit of Michigan is NOT the bad news of late. I have to believe the Spirit of Michigan is found in the compassion of people like that man at the sale and in the affectionate loyalty of that high school student.

If you seek a pleasant peninsula, be sure to look into the eyes of your fellow citizens.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Morning Education News

Despite improvements, few attend preschools
"National report finds 16% of 4-year-olds attend state programs even though Mich. boosted funding, quality standards..."

Local educator is 2007 Teacher of the Year
"...Kathy Hurst, 47, spends many afternoons in class at Wick Elementary School after the bell rings, and it’s for a good reason: She says the higher you raise the bar for children, the more likely they are to strive to meet goals..."

Buddying up for education: Metro students in dire need of mentors

"...Statistics from Mentor Michigan, an organization started by Gov. Jennifer Granholm and first gentleman Dan Mulhern, indicate that there are 4,081 young people currently on a waiting list for mentors in the state, and nearly 1,400 waiting in southeast Michigan..."

Students fight rising tuition costs
According to a report card issued by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, Michigan received an "F" when it came to affordability. While the state scrambles for answers, students are concerned others may not be able to afford higher education..."

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Coffee Talk: Bear Claw Coffee

Chelsea-based Bear Claw Coffee, owned by Debi and Doug Scroggins, boasts 17 Michigan locations with more on the way. They are in a growth phase and really excited about it. Reuters reported yesterday, Starbucks is planning to open 40,000 stores worldwide (half of them in the US). This kind of conquest doesn't fit on a Risk gameboard.

I spoke with Debi, Bear Claw's president, this morning about the company's plans for expansion, her take on the Michigan economy and how she interprets Starbucks expansion. Debi is definitely a cup-half-full kind of person. She said that the Starbucks announcement is highly motivating and that Starbucks has "espresso educated" the public. "We love Starbucks, but they cannot compete with small business. It is easier for us to introduce new menu items. We can change on a dime,"said Scroggins.

Founded in 2002, the original concept for the company was to have 4 or 5 drive-through locations. Since then, the company has grown through franchising. Scroggins sees competitive advantage in the owner/operator aspect of franchising. "Our staff is trained to have a personal interaction with you, to remember your name and what you like to drink."

Bear Claw Coffee, an active member of the International Franchise Association, participates in MinorityFran and VetFran, two initiatives geared toward diversifying franchise opportunities. is also collaborating with Bear Claw Coffee. Scroggins said,"It is a chance to reach out to the gay community and let them know we are very inclusive. It's a huge market. It's good business."

While Bear Claw is Michigan-based with an "up north" styled brand identity, they are looking to expand next into Tennessee, Florida and Illinois.

About the condition of Michigan's economy, Scroggins believes Michigan's hope for economic renewal rests with her people. "We have a midwestern work ethic; we're hard workers. We will come back,"she said.

When asked for encouraging words for aspiring Michigan entrepreneurs Scroggins said,"Look for start up help. There are a huge amount of programs out there. Get on the internet. Go to the library. Do your homework."

And, drink some coffee.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Gay Bar in Gay, Michigan

When you read that, what did you think? What was your reaction?

Well, there is a Gay in Michigan on the gorgeous Keweenaw Peninsula. And its sole business establishment is The Gay Bar. But it's not a gay bar, per se. (The small town and its bar are named for Joseph E. Gay, a mining company director there at the turn of the last century.) According to Bruce Fountain, who owns the place with his wife, Christine, it is "a long ways from any town" but three roads meet at the location of the bar. He says the place is the local watering hole, the local restaurant and the gas station.

Bruce says they are open to anyone who stops in. They have a view of Lake Superior, a decent beer selection and a menu with munchies, pizza, hot dogs, and more. I asked Bruce if he was aware of the issues and dispute involving same-sex benefits at public institutions in our state. He wasn't. When I asked him for his thoughts on the current state economy, he replied that he just wants to see everyone prosper.

Such a fundamental principle--how could anyone disagree with that? According to the latest census figures, Michigan has some 15,200 same-sex couples. Probably, these people would agree with such a sentiment for the economic well-being of Michigan. And certainly, people who voted for the marriage amendment to the Michigan Constitution could say the same thing.

Yet the wedge politics of 2004 continue to play out in real lives of Michigan citizens. On February 2 the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the marriage amendment "prohibits public employers from recognizing same-sex unions for any purpose," including the provision of employee health benefits. According to a letter from Laurita Thomas, Associate Vice President for Human Resources at University of Michigan, "the law allows us to honor our commitments to provide agreed-upon benefits through the end of the calendar year, or through the end of the current contract for bargained-for employee groups." That's all folks.

Some of Michigan's 15,200 gay and lesbian couples accounted for in the latest census are raising children. Many of them have configured their health insurance in ways similar to other families: one parent's benefits provide coverage for the family. These families will have to find other ways to provide what public employers cannot.

If any of these gay people went to the not-gay Gay Bar in Gay, Michigan, they would be welcomed and served, no questions asked. Too bad our most esteemed public institutions are now legally prohibited from doing the same.

Censorship Averted in Howell

Richard Adams, editor of the Cheboygan Tribune weighs in in the issue.

Censorship of books equates censorship of thought

So Much Water, Why Not Sell Some?

From the Great Lakes Information Network:
6 quadrillion gallons of fresh water; one-fifth of the world's fresh surface water (only the polar ice caps and Lake Baikal in Siberia contain more); 95 percent of the U.S. supply. Spread evenly across the continental U.S., the Great Lakes would submerge the country under about 9.5 feet of water. "

As reported in the Traverse City Record Eagle:

"KALKASKA — Members of the village of Kalkaska's Downtown Development Authority hope to woo a water bottling plant to northern Michigan.

John Wheeler, a DDA member, said he plans to arrange a tour of Nestle Waters North America's Ice Mountain bottling plant in Mecosta County to talk to the company about locating in Kalkaska..."

Icebreaker Mackinaw at Work in the Soo Today

Sault Ste. Marie locks will open March 25 for the 2007 Great Lakes shipping season. According to the , the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw will breakout lower river channels of the St. Mary's today and the upper St. Mary's and Lake Superior tomorrow. If you want to see what's happening at the Soo Locks, check out the US Army Corps of Engineers webcam.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


seating capacity of University of Michigan Stadium

total fall 2006 enrollment for University of Michigan

decline in Detroit Public Schools enrollment from fall 2005 to fall 2006

number of health care workers crossing from Canada to work in Michigan daily

persons employed in gambling industries in Detroit, Livonia and Dearborn

dollars contributed to education funding in 2006 from the Michigan State Lottery

recreation visitors to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in 2006

Michigan's rural population

percent of Michigan farms sized 1-99 acres

percent of Michigan farms sized 2000 or more acres

poverty rate in Clare County


9 (1%)
persons in poverty in Bingham Farms

Granholm Receives National Award for Campaign to End Homelessness in Michigan

While debate rages and sides are chosen over the proposed 2% service tax, Governor Granholm has been recognized for efforts to end homelessness in Michigan. On March 8, United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) recognized Governor Jennifer M. Granholm with the "Every American Deserves A Home" award for her encouragement and leadership for Michigan's statewide Campaign to End Homelessness.

A January 2007 report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that .26% of Michigan's population are homeless. That is 26,124 people.

If you want to get involved to help end homelessness in Michigan, consider connecting with one of these organizations.

Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness
Shelter Association of Washtenaw County
Greater Lansing Homeless Resolution Network
SOS Community Services (Ypsilanti)
The Goodwill Inn (Traverse City)
Detroit Rescue Mission
The SIREN/Eaton Shelter (Charlotte)

Friday, March 9, 2007

To Hell and Back in a Morning

About 30 minutes by car northwest of Ann Arbor, nestled in the hills of the Pinckney State Recreation Area, lies Hell. Through the efforts of local businessman and Hell native, John Colone, the town is experiencing a growth in tourism. Hell hosted in excess of 12,000 visitors last summer on June 6th (6/6/6). Not bad for a town of about 72.

The"business district" consists of three establishments--a general store, an ice cream shop, and a restaurant. Screams Ice Cream from Hell serves ice cream from the end of March through November and features a gift shop brimming with whimsical hell-themed items. Behind the shop, you'll find a wedding chapel. Humor plays a big part in all this. As the post card for the Chapel says,"Let's face it...marriage can be hell. Why not tackle it with a sense of humor, by tying the knot in Hell's own wedding chapel?"

I spoke with Screams manager, Janet Fuller, originally from Hampshire, England about her appreciation of Michigan and the US. She spoke to the wide open spaces and availability of land, the public access to protected land, the friendliness of the people here, and the relative ease of access to health care compared to that provided by the national health service in Britain. Though, she allowed that it is considerably more expensive here. She also pitched a number of upcoming events in Hell:

  • May 20th, Blessing of the Bikes at TMZ Farms, an annual event that draws scores of bikers to Hell
  • July 7 th (7/7/7), Lucky Sevens Festival and Las Vegas Night
  • August TBA, Hell of a Cruise, an annual vintage and classic car show
  • September 8th, Dances with Dirt, one of the top ten trail races in the US (50 mile, 50K and 100K events)

Next door to Screams sits Smitty's Dam Site Inn serving a full menu of homemade lunch and dinner specialties including stuffed walleye, Delmonico steak. The dam in town, formerly the site of a mill, actually holds back the seven lakes covering 900 acres in the Pinckney Recreation Area, where you can kayak and canoe.

Sure, the Michigan economy is going through a rough patch, but the good people of Hell can teach a thing or two about marketing, promotion, and creativity. If you have lemons...where ever you find yourself, make some local lemonade.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Eat at Joe's, Coney Joe's in Brighton

I drove to Brighton today in search of an address, 130 W. Grand River, found on the back of a vintage postcard, probably dating from the late 1950s.

"In Brighton, it's the Canopy. Food with imagination. Cocktail Lounge and Dining Rooms. Smorgasbord every Thursday, 5:30-9:30 p.m. Room seating 85 people. Gaslight Room seating 25 people."

You might remember this sort of place from your youth, or more likely your parents remember it from their's. Clearly, this was the place to be in 1950s, 1960s and 1970s in Brighton. Cocktails, smorgasbord, an ashtray on every single linen-draped table and even a gaslight room.

It's gone now. In fact, it's been gone for some time. According to the building's current occupant, the Canopy closed in 1989 and sat vacant until 1992 when Prudential Preview moved in. Currently, the broker-owned real estate firm, Preview Properties calls the building home. The owner of Preview Properties shared a bit about the old Canopy. Being centrally located between Lansing, Detroit, Ann Arbor and other centers, business people met their for working meals. Like many community landmarks and meeting places, the location is still remembered as the Canopy by people in southeast Michigan.

Next door and around the back you can find a restaurant celebrating 25 years in its current location. Coney Joe's, started in 1972, is still standing and serving hot dogs, burgers, fries, and even ostrich burgers.

Currently owned and operated by the founder's daughters, it boasts the "world's greatest coney." And for 2 dollars, it was quite satisfying.

One of the daughters and I talked about the current economy in this state, about the boom years of the 1990's, about the importance of small locally-owned business to a community's economic health. She had even heard about initiatives in other parts of the country to create local currencies. She allowed as how business has declined in the last two years, but then added, "since 9-11." Apparently, when the big box stores were all sprouting around Brighton, construction workers flocked to Coney Joe's. But that building rush has wound down.
Still, the humble hot dog has outlasted the power-dinner smorgasbord next door. Long live Coney Joe's.