Our annual Locally Grown section celebrates the small business heartbeat of Washtenaw County – folks who give back to the community through both their own hard work and support of other businesses and artisans to keep the blood of our local economies pumping. This crew of visionaries make Washtenaw County an amazing place to live, work and play. To celebrate, we asked them questions about their businesses, whom they admire and what it means to contribute in vital ways to the commercial health and quality of life of the communities they love.
Ann Arbor Tortilla Factory
727 W Ellsworth Rd # 6, Ann Arbor
What’s the best part of your job? Meeting people. It is wonderful to get to know employees, salespeople and customers from different backgrounds, cultures and locations. Everyone has a story and I get to listen to it, it is lovely!
What motivates you to do the work you do? The calls and Emails that we get from people who have tried our products and love them!
What do you consider to be the most important thing you offer the community? We try to contribute to as many events as possible. There are so many organizations helping and promoting others in Ann Arbor that even a small part helps. This is a wonderful community and we are thrilled to be a part of it.
What is your favorite local establishment? It is hard to say, I like so many and they are all terrific. Zingerman’s bakehouse and Broadway Cafe.
What’s one thing all local business owners should know? Be kind to employees and help your community in every way that you can.
Bloom City Club
423 Miller Ave, Ann Arbor
734-585-0621 | bloomcityclub.com
How did you get started? I got started in the cannabis industry because I strongly believed in people’s civil right to choose a natural alternative that is safe and effective for pain relief.
How long has your business existed in its present form? Since August 1, 2015.
What motivates you to do the work you do? The inspiring patients’ stories I hear on a daily basis where cannabis has changed their lives for the better. These stories encourage me to continue the hard road of being a cannabis advocate.
What do you consider to be the most important thing you offer the community? Safe access and a warm, caring, educated environment.
Who’s another person in the community doing good things that deserves a shout-out? Elaine Economou at Move. She is working with the general public on helping people understand that wellness comes from movement, whatever kind of movement that is right for you. Just MOVE.
What is your favorite local establishment? Arbor Farms.
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned? People who talk the most in the beginning have the least amount behind them.
What’s one thing all local business owners should know? Ann Arbor loves people above profits. They want to feel like we are family so treat them as such and they’ll keep coming back.
215 S. Main St.
734-761-8120 | urbanjewlers.biz
How did you get started? One night I heard my father/mentor/business partner making jewelry in the basement of our home in Redford in the late 1950’s. He was doing it to make some extra money for his family. I knew then it was what I wanted to do.
How long has your business existed in its present form? Since 1968. My father originally opened as a custom/fine jewelry retailer at 305 1/2 S. Main Street. In 1972, the business moved to Plymouth Road Mall, where we operated until the move to our current location in 1988, coming back to S. Main Street downtown.
What’s the best part of your job? I’m in the “happy” business. When I create a piece of jewelry for my clients, and I see the expression of joy and amazement of having taken an idea from concept to finished product on their face, I feel exactly the same way. Happy!
What motivates you to do the work you do? Like any artist, if he or she is not “creating,” then there is a great void in his or her life…my classic cars and a good vacation are good motivators too!
What is your favorite local establishment? Four Directions, two doors down. I like the owner, Alan…he’s a hoot! And I send everyone looking for silver items down to him!
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned? Life is short…have more fun. It’s taken me 42 years of jewelry-making to figure this out.
734-480-4012 | onwbeer.com
How long has your business existed in its present form? In 1917, William Seagert owned the Union Bar in downtown Ann Arbor (which is now the Old Town Tavern). On December 5th, 1933, the repeal of Prohibition took place creating what was the distribution side of our business. William wanted to keep his bar as he was a German Immigrant and had many German friends that lived on the west side of Ann Arbor and would come in each day. So, he gave his son-in-law James O’Kane the distribution side of the business and that was the start of James O’Kane Distributing.
What’s the best part of your job? The beer business is a fun industry full of fun people! There are never two days alike! I also love new ideas! I get to make ideas turn into a reality, especially when it comes to all the charitable organizations I do events with.
What motivates you to do the work you do? My family. I am here to make them proud – the faces I see on the walls of my Grandparents, my Grandma, my dad, uncle, sisters and cousins. I am very lucky to also have my husband Adam, my biggest cheerleader, who is also in the beer business. I hope my children will also find something within our industry they are passionate about and will join the business someday.
What do you consider to be the most important thing you offer the community? Beer of course! But, also the opportunity for people to use beer to support their families and grow businesses within our community. We employ over 180 people in our area and service over 2,300 accounts – that is a lot of lives we directly touch each day.
What is your favorite local establishment? I love doing Yoga at Tiny Buddha Yoga Studios, at Pauline, State St. and on Cross St in Depot Town.
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned? A few years ago, we bought out another distributor that for me, personally, was very challenging. Mornings were spent interviewing employees from the old company to decide who to bring over, an emotional task as many people had spent their whole career there selling against us. We then had to evaluate brands and prepare to interview for the new territory writing business plans for markets we had never served and brands that we had always competed against.
303 Detroit St #107, Ann Arbor
734-995-4222 | Arborcollectedworksannarbor.com
How did you get started? After graduating from the University of Michigan, my now husband and I lived on a communal farm. We made candles and leather goods and sold them to small boutiques. We also did Art Fairs. So, interesting handmade items made sense to me. When our friend wanted to exit from his small gift boutique in Ann Arbor, on Liberty Street, my husband said, “We should do this. In our spare time. It will be fun.” The rest is history!
How long has your business existed in its present form? We are celebrating 40 years this autumn. Collected Works is so very grateful for the support of our community. It is an honor to me that people “get” what we are doing. I do not take the support for granted. It is hard work but running Collected Works is a labor of love.
What’s the best thing about your job? One thing I love about being in business in Ann Arbor since 1977 is that when people who have moved away return for a visit, so many of them come into Collected Works to reminisce. They update me on their lives and family. They share an Ann Arbor memory. Life is full and beautiful in our community. So nice to be reminded of that.
Who’s another person in the community doing good things that deserves a shout-out? As a former trustee on the Board of Education for the AAPS, I am giving a shout-out to the present trustees who are doing the work. And I sincerely encourage YOU to stand for office. You will learn every single day. We need good citizens in leadership roles.
PJ’s Used Records
6178 Packard Rd.,Ann Arbor
734-663-3441 | facebook.com/pjsusedrecords
How did you get started? Back in 1980, there was only one used LP in town and there seemed like room for another. My brother – our namesake PJ – and I jumped in.
What’s the best part of your job? Sharing the wide range of musical enthusiasms represented by our diverse customer base.
What motivates you to do the work you do? Being as close to an artistic community as the limits of my personal talent allow.
What do you consider to be the most important thing you offer the community? New record stores pay their bills selling current hits. A store like ours supports the rest of musical history, a vast library otherwise without commercial availability.
Who’s another person in the community doing good things that deserves a shout-out? Mary Blaske has been the business point-person for The Ann Arbor Symphony throughout its growth in quality and vast increases in the amount of paid work it provides its members, a RARE double-win.
What is your favorite local establishment? Le Dog. Why not eat like European royalty at hot dog stand prices? Owners Jules and Ika model the best kind of marriage.
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned? People use music for many reasons, including having something on in the background not to listen to.
What’s one thing all local business owners should know? Your customers are among the best educated people in the world. Learn from them every day, or miss the
opportunity of a lifetime.
Mani Osteria & Bar
341 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor
734-769-6700 | maniosteria.com
How did you get started? I went to Cornell Hotel School to get my graduate degree in hotel and restaurant management. I focused on restaurant design and operations Got my first management job out of school in Philadelphia working for Stephen Starr.
How long has your business existed in its present form? We opened Mani Osteria & Bar in 2011 and added Isalita in 2012 and Mikette in 2016.
What motivates you to do the work you do? Every day we go to work with the goal of being better than the day before.
What do you consider to be the most important thing you offer the community? For our guests, a place they can rely on. The food will be great and they will be well taken care of. A place that is like a clubhouse, that’s familiar and full of familiar faces that are both other guests and our staff. For our staff, I hope they develop new skill-sets that allow them to excel at their jobs while working with us, or add new tools to use in future opportunities, wherever those might be.
Who’s another person in the community doing good things that deserves a shout-out? I have a great amount of respect for the work that is done at the Ann Arbor Art Center, a really important hub in the community for adults and children. And the past 2 years, Pop-X has been a super cool, pop-up manifestation of the Art Center mission in Liberty Plaza.