The Kerrytown Chime rings in each Saturday morning at 10:30. Today, “bell lady” Heather O’Neal helps four-year-old Naomi Cohen and dad Asaf play a bit of Beethoven’s Fifth. On one of the seventeen bells can be found these words, cast in relief: “Listen to the bells telling of joy, sorrow, alarm and the passage of time.”

A few blocks away, manager Antoinette Vega straightens the wristwatch boxes behind the huge windows at Shinola–those same windows that for thirty-one years showcased the fine arts and crafts of the Selo/Shevel Gallery. And as the Ann Arbor Summer Festival mounts its final shows of the season, Amy Nesbitt, the event’s executive and artistic director, sits in her sunny ground-floor office across the street from the train station. Even though this year’s festival is extending into August with a “One-Man Circus” at Burns Park, she’ll soon close the books and give her attention to 2017’s lineup.

How we live our lives–and spend our time–defines who we are. The past forty years have seen a multitude of changes in Ann Arbor, and the Observer has been taking monthly snapshots of the evolving city. We’ve invited readers to steal away to a comfy chair to pore over the community’s news and to dog-ear pages of the calendar with upcoming events.

Mary Hunt, our cofounder, has been known to say that she and her then-husband, Don, started the magazine because they were “unemployable.” The couple, who met as high schoolers in suburban St. Louis, were both brilliant, ruthlessly honest, and in need of a project that fully engaged their interests and abilities. (At the time, Mary was teaching in Dundee and Don had grown disillusioned with his psychology PhD program.)

Mary, who now lives in the Upper Peninsula, says her high school “newspaper crowd” gave her a foundation in journalism, but “the St. Louis Cardinals and folk music made me who I am.”

Her unquenchable interest in people’s origins, concerns, and commitments was first given free rein by Ernie Harburg, a U-M social science researcher, part-owner of the Del Rio bar, and aspiring redeveloper of the old Earle Hotel. As she told the crowd at the Top of the Park at the Observer’s fortieth anniversary celebration in June, Harburg was having trouble getting financing and hired her to promote the west-of-Main-St. district through a newsletter, introducing its old-time businesspeople and hippie entrepreneurs to one another and to the city. “I just did what Ernie told me,” she said, and it worked: he got his loans, and today the Earle building and its namesake restaurant are pillars of downtown respectability.

It was Don who suggested that the couple start their own publication. The Observer covered all of downtown–and soon expanded its reach to the entire city. Don was a tenacious investigative reporter whose stories explored the failure of the AATA’s visionary but premature door-to-door bus service, the illegal marijuana business, and mysterious deaths at the VA Hospital. Mary shaped the “Ann Arborites” profiles, followed business comings and goings, and gave the Observer’s calendar its catholic interests and knowing voice.

It also “stuck in her craw,” she recalls, that no one was “writing history for ordinary people.” An article in the first issue recounted U-M microbiologist Al Wheeler’s upbringing under segregation; a sequel described his path to becoming the city’s first black mayor. Wheeler won reelection in 1977 by a single vote, only to lose a court-ordered rematch with Republican Lou Belcher. But he and his wife, Emma, founded a political dynasty that continues to this day: county commissioner Conan Smith is their grandson.

Mary had briefly studied architecture, and her intense concern for the city’s built environment radiates from early “Then & Now” columns. But an uncredited January 1978 feature titled “Will These Buildings Be Saved?” sounds more like Don, thoughtfully laying out the threats to the city’s aging architectural gems and the tools, including historic districts and tax incentives, that might preserve them. Happily, almost all of the seventeen buildings shown in the article survived, including the Michigan Theater–which, Lou Belcher joked in a 1999 article, he briefly “owned” when he agreed to buy it before getting council’s backing.

Other stories proved the dangers of assuming the recent past would predict the future. A November 1979 story, “Farmer Harold Wing Won’t Sell,” quoted a recent Washtenaw County planning report warning that “if present trends continue, there will be no more farmland in the entire county by the year 2000.” And June 1988’s issue found us asking a question about the Farmers Market that seems impossible now. With older farmers retiring and few stepping forward to take their place, we asked, “Will the market survive to the year 2000?”

Today the corner of Zeeb and Dexter-Ann Arbor roads is still owned and farmed by the Wing family; in October, a hand-painted sign still advertises “Giant Pumpkins.” In August 2013, we profiled a new generation of “young farmers,” some working land protected from development as part of the city’s greenbelt, and many selling at the Farmers Market–where the issue now is not whether it will shrink but how it should expand.

Still, we’ve kept trying to look ahead. In March 1993, “Inside Ann Arbor” ran a list headlined “Peter Allen’s Predictions,” in which the developer forecast that the old Ann Arbor Inn at Fourth and Huron would be bulldozed. It wasn’t. After reverting to the government for unpaid taxes, it was sold for less than $25,000 to a company that installed kitchens in the former hotel rooms to create Courthouse Square senior apartments. We revisited the building in October 2009, to look into reports of friction between the senior residents and a growing contingent of social services clients.

The fate of another prediction, from January 2000, has yet to be determined: “If the attrition of the last generation is repeated, there will be no more gas stations in Ann Arbor by the year 2030.” We had already written about “The Vanishing Gas Station” back in December 1980, as older in-city stations gave way to sprawling multi-pump stations next to the highways. Now, downtown has more electric-car charging stations than gas pumps, and a “supercharger” station supplies Teslas travelling on I-94 (see Up Front, p. 11).

Our history is gathered in bound volumes of back issues, but it’s also carried in staff members’ memories. The average tenure for an Observer employee is eighteen years, with six clocking in at more than thirty. That includes publisher Patricia Garcia and editor John Hilton, who took over from the Hunts in 1986, ten years after the magazine’s inception.

When Garcia applied for an advertising sales job in 1983, she was twenty-nine years old and the mother of three young girls. Her resume was handwritten because she didn’t own a typewriter. But over the next three years she tackled every job set in her path, from going door-to-door to cultivate new advertisers to taking on the finances as assistant publisher.

Still, she was shocked when the Hunts called her and Hilton into their office to announce, “We want to sell the business, and we want to sell it to the two of you.”

“You could have knocked me over with a feather,” says Garcia. “I always wanted to run my own business, but it never crossed my mind it would be the Observer!” And up to that point Garcia and Hilton had never even had a conversation, because Hilton worked from home. “Our paths would cross at staff meetings, and we’d say ‘Hi,’ but that was all,” she recalls.

But the partnership, she says, was “genius,” combining her business acumen with Hilton’s love for the town and the writers who tell its stories. Sitting in the Observer’s conference room in a onetime factory on Winewood, Garcia chokes up describing the work of her “Observer family.”

“It’s a new gift every month, even though we’ve created it,” she says, getting up for a tissue to wipe her tears. “Every month the Ann Arbor Observer comes together because every single person in this office works together.”

Hilton, a handyman and an autoworker before the Hunts began buying his freelance articles, says he never got over his amazement that he’s “getting paid to learn.” If you’re curious, he says, there’s nothing like journalism: “It’s a license to ask questions.”

“John Hilton made me a better writer,” says Jim Leonard, a freelancer who has been writing for the Observer since 1989. “He makes you think! There’s a give-and-take between his views and mine. And we both change each other’s mind along the way, but when you reach the end, there’s no air [between us]. You know, there’s no shadow. It’s the Observer’s point of view.”

Some predictions that went awry simply reflected people’s own changing values. In July 1992, we profiled five “slackers … self-declared exiles from the career world.” Charlie LeDuff posed on a rooftop and proclaimed that he wanted to “get a piece of land and grow your own vegetables.” He reconsidered, and is now a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and New York Times best-selling author.

We watched other Ann Arborites grow over the years. Observer readers first met Martinus J.G. Veltman in November, 1981, when we wondered if the U-M professor was in line for the Nobel Prize. He’d retired and moved back to the Netherlands by the time he and a former student shared the award for their work on particle theory.

Who would have thought that the cute kid in a 1988 ad for innovative magnet school Community High would go on to become an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker? Davy Rothbart, thirteen years old at the time of the ad, is also a best-selling author, a “This American Life” contributor, and publisher of Found magazine.

Ann Arbor politics look simpler now. The days when a Democratic mayor might win by just one vote, or a Republican win at all, are long gone: the town is now so Democratic that Republicans rarely bother to put up candidates. But that’s made it harder to parse the balance of power, as the two-party system has been replaced by shifting, often undeclared, Democratic factions.

When the Observer started, there was even a third party, the Socialist Human Rights Party. Briefly powerful when it spearheaded a popular vote on the city’s infamous $5 pot fine in 1972, by 1977 it was reduced to a potential spoiler in city council races, and soon vanished altogether. But the $5 fine lived on, and on–it wasn’t until 1990 that Republican Jerry Jernigan was successful in raising the fine to $25. A succinct subhead to our January 1990 article observed that “Mayor Jernigan’s reluctant effort to raise the $5 marijuana fine isn’t generating much excitement. That’s probably because changing the law isn’t likely to have the slightest effect on Ann Arbor’s drug use.”

We’d later cover locals’ campaigns to legalize medical marijuana and, most recently, to decriminalize it entirely (see Up Front). And coming full circle, this year we saw renewed excitement for a “Democratic socialist,” as U-M students and old radicals teamed up to help deliver a Michigan primary victory to Bernie Sanders.

Much of what Ann Arbor is today can be credited to Henry Philip Tappan, the U-M’s first president. The cover of April 1978’s issue showed a pen-and-ink drawing of the university’s Detroit Observatory–Tappan’s first step, we wrote, in transforming “the University of Michigan from a provincial institution into a major research center.”

We’ve followed the U-M’s fortunes ever since, most recently looking at the long-term erosion of state support in our June issue. But though the university remains pivotal to the town’s economy, business now plays a bigger role. A September 2000 article profiled a dozen companies that had recently made public stock offerings. Software company “Pixelworks went to that beautiful land called ‘public,’ with iridescent dollar signs twinkling in the sky and a pot of gold waiting right near the end of the rainbow,” we wrote. “That’s public as in ‘IPO,’ short for ‘initial public offering’–the magic moment when companies first offer their stock for sale on a public market.” Two of the companies are no longer in business (RIP, Borders), four were acquired by other companies, and six are still publicly traded, including Pixelworks–though it’s now based in San Jose, California.

While valuing economic dynamism, Ann Arbor has also long prided itself on its concern for our environment–a concern that hasn’t always played out in practice. An April 1990 article revealed that the city had illegally piled 100,000 tons of garbage on top of an already-full section of the city’s landfill. A decade later though, a July 2001 feature celebrated an environmental success: “In the shadow of Michigan’s growing chain of garbage mountains, Ann Arbor has quietly built one of the nation’s best recycling programs.”

Meanwhile, the old landfill has not only been cleaned up, it’s yielding clean energy. Methane collected from the site spins generators that produce enough electricity to power 300 homes–with the bonus of keeping greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

That’s how it goes: the passage of time brings new problems and the solutions become new stories. Thanks, Ann Arbor, for forty years of sharing your stories, and for joining us in that comfy chair to read them.