December 30, 2021

Like communities all over the world, Ann Arbor went through many changes during 2021. Some were a result of the pandemic; in others, the pandemic was a catalyst. In this year-end issue of a2view, we look at a selection of highlights and lowlights that emerged during another unusual year.

This is the last issue of A2View for the year - and my last issue as editor. You’ll still find my writing in the Marketplace Changes column in the Observer. 

Best wishes for the holiday season and a happy new year!

Micki Maynard, editor


Downtown streets were lively, with pedestrians, shoppers  and diners. Photo: Main Street Area Association

Comebacks. After being canceled for 2020 – and originally canceled for 2021 – the Art Fairs returned to Ann Arbor streets. Library users across town were delighted when branches re-opened, following months of lobby pickups and the closing of some locations.

Sidewalk seating, open streets, and igloos–a popular pandemic feature–were back downtown. Meanwhile, a new variation joined the scene. 

Just in time for the holidays, Ann Arbor got a social district downtown. Patrons can carry alcoholic beverages from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. in a designated area, from Thursday through Sundays. Think of it as a frosty version of New Orleans’ famous go-cups.

George Jewett (center) received long-deserved honors from U-M. Photo: Bentley Historical Library

Black history. The African-American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County opened this fall on Pontiac Trail. One of its first exhibits looks at George Jewett, valedictorian of the Ann Arbor High Class of 1899 and first African-American football player at U-M. Jewett also played for Northwestern, where he earned a medical degree, and his accomplishments were commemorated this fall in a new trophy for the Michigan-Northwestern rivalry.

Big year for U-M sports. The U-M football and men’s basketball teams each won Big 10 conference titles, and the football team plays Friday night in its first College Football Championship game, against Georgia. Jim Harbaugh and Juwan Howard were named coaches of the year by the Associated Press, a first. Meanwhile, in another first, four U-M men’s hockey players were among the top five NHL draft picks – and returned to play a new season. 

Marketplace Changes

There were plenty of developments in Ann Arbor’s business scene this year, with multiple newcomers braving the pandemic – or seeing it as an opportunity.

The founders of Ypsilanti's Hyperion Coffee opened a shop in Ann Arbor. Photo: J Adrian Wylie

More coffee:  From campus town to downtown to the west side, coffeehouses roasting their own beans popped up to join established names. M36 and Ann Arbor Coffee Roastery were launched in former Espresso Royale Cafe locations by former Espresso Royale staff members. Hyperion expanded  from its home in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town to Liberty St. Dozer became the latest venture from HOMES brewery, with a cafe adjacent to HOMES’ tap room on Jackson Pl.

More boba: 2021 brought both independent shops and chains to town. Franchises included Bambu on Washtenaw, Quickly on S. University and Moge Tee on Plymouth, taking a vacant ERC spot. The founders of VKitchen opened UniTea on E. William, bringing fish-shaped waffles and Australia hot chocolate to a regularly changing menu. On the west side, Boba Tea House joined the strip mall opposite what used to be Quality 16 (more on its departure below).

Eric Parkhurst and Marcus Huber at Winewood Organics.

More marijuana: Pot shops brought different types of edibles to the city landscape. Like their snack counterparts, there were so many that Yelp cracked a list of the area’s 10 best. New names included Winewood Organics off Maple, New Standard on N. Main, and two JARS Cannabis shops on Packard and S. Main. 

U-M graduate, high school athlete and former child actress Emma Hess at B.Y.O.C. Photo: J Adrian Wylie

Retail boom: The pandemic prompted chains and entrepreneurs to launch and expand new businesses. High profile newcomers included Target, which took the retail space under the State Theater long occupied by Urban Outfitters, and Rocket Fizz, a colorful sweets shop on Main that also has locations in Traverse City and Kalamazoo. Downstairs on Liberty, young business owners opened BYOC (Bring Your Own Container) and UniQue T-shirts. And years of texts between the owners bore fruit when Mindo, the Dexter-based bean-to-bar chocolate maker, opened its first retail store next door to TeaHaus Fourth Ave.

Kerrytown got its first culinary store in years, when Kitchen Loft took the spot previously occupied by Spun, which expanded downstairs. The Write Touch moved from the west side to Lamp Post Plaza on Packard, gaining space. In the Courtyard Shops on Plymouth, Bookbound closed and Booksweet took its spot.

Pop up proprietors: Michigan’s pandemic restaurant restrictions helped give birth to a new area food scene. Pop-up food stands popped up all over Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, hosted by businesses such as Cultivate, York, and The Grotto, along with special appearances elsewhere. Strong social media followings made culinary stars of Lucha Puerco, Pizza Replicator, Basil Babe and Chef G, with support from their friends at Side Biscuit, a former pop up that became a brick and mortar spot on Packard.

Ji-Hye Kim of Miss Kim won national honors for her Kerrytown restaurant. Illustration: Kathrine Downie

Top chef: Local fans of Ji-Hye Kim have enjoyed her innovative interpretations of Korean food at Miss Kim. This year, she landed national honors as one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs for 2021. Kim began her career cooking at Zingerman’s, which helped her launch a food truck called San Street, and ultimately her restaurant in Kerrytown.

and Farewell

Eating places disappear: From humble lunch counters to ambitious restaurants, the food scene lost a number of familiar places this year. The Cloverleaf, which had been in business more than 50 years at two different locations, closed, as did Loomi, a street food-focused lunch counter open for just two years in Kerrytown. Siam Kitchen, Ann Arbor’s first Thai restaurant, shut in Maple Village, while the locavore Grange Kitchen closed downtown. NeoPaplis suffered a fire on William, attempted repairs, but auctioned its equipment at year’s end.

And still more goodbyes: On Jackson Rd., a pandemic shutdown proved fatal to Quality 16’s switch to discount movies. At year’s end, there were plans to turn the location into self-storage units. Water company Arbor Springs and pasta maker Al Dente were sold. Crazy Wisdom Bookstore downtown and Collected Works clothing near Kerrytown have announced plans to close in early 2022.

A window tribute to the beloved owner of Mallek's Service. Photo: LR Nuñez

Notables famous and friendly: Jean King, an attorney who was a nationally known leader of the 20th century women’s movement, died this year. Her work helped create opportunities for women athletes at U-M and elsewhere, and she was a mentor to countless women as they strived for opportunities. 

John Mendler, owner of Mallek’s Service on Jackson Rd., died only months after his wife Janet, a journalist and long-time U-M staff member. He was mourned by countless area customers, who gathered at Mallek’s in December to pay tribute. A painted wreath in the window spoke for us all: “Thanks, John.”

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