July 2, 2020

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This Week

The dog days of summer are upon us, with hot, dry weather anticipated for the foreseeable future. Educators are already deep into planning for a fall term like no other. Universities have announced their fall plans, and while many students have reserved their places no one knows how many will actually return, putting student-dependent businesses on edge. Governor Whitmer released her Michigan Safe Schools Roadmap for preK-12 schools, and administrators are working feverishly on plans to bring students and educators back safely. Parents and students are weighing the risks and benefits of in-person versus virtual learning, while considering how to safely enjoy the summer holidays when many hoped-for plans are on hold.

Trilby MacDonald, Editor

With permission from the city and support from local business owners, BLM activist group Paint the City is producing a series of public murals across Ann Arbor. The first was completed on June 30, across from Tios Mexican Cafe and Tequila Bar on Liberty St. Photo by Trilby MacDonald.

In the News

Governor Gretchen Whitmer releases the MI Safe Schools Roadmap to guide local school districts as they create plans for in-person learning in the fall. She also signed Executive Order 2020-142 requiring school districts to adopt plans detailing how they will protect students and educators from Covid-19.  

University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University announce their back-to-school plans. Both will offer a hybrid of online and in-person modules, and U-M will allow students the option to have a fully remote learning experience. The fall semester on U-M campus will end at Thanksgiving, with post-holiday classes and finals taken remotely. Winter semester will start after its mid-January MLK Symposium. Pandemic permitting, EMU campus and in-person classes will continue for the full semester.

In a June opinion piece for the Washington Post, recently retired Miami Beach police chief Dan Oates described  how hard it is to fire bad cops. In an interview in the July Ann Arbor Observer, he said Ann Arbor--where he was chief from 2001 to 2005--was no exception, citing  a “really, really onerous [state] arbitration statute” and an “absurd” limit on the chief’s ability to make assignments. Current city officials are unable to comment because of contract negotiations with the Ann Arbor Police Officers Association.

On July 6, the Ann Arbor city council will consider plans to redevelop 415 West Washington St.. The “preferred option” for the city-owned parking lot and former garage across from the YMCA calls for 175 residential units, each with one parking space, on 1.68 acres, with 0.89 acres of open space, including a portion of the Treeline Trail.

All the housing would be market rate. According to the city website, “Because the site sits within the floodplain and is adjacent to a railroad track, state and federal subsidies for affordable housing are very unlikely on this site.”

City council unanimously approved A2Zero, a $1 billion plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030-but only after stripping out language calling for radical zoning changes. The ambitious plan envisions powering all city buildings, new construction, and 30 percent of existing housing through renewable energy sources by 2030, but important elements are outside the city’s control.

Faced with a projected operating loss of $230 million, Michigan Medicine laid off 738 people by the end of June.  During the Covid-19 shutdown, the Detroit Free Press reported, hospitals postponed all elective procedures and nonessential visits -  revenue they relied on to balance losses caring for patients covered by federal insurance programs. The $175 billion federal Provider Relief Fund also shortchanged the state; according to a report released June 23 by U.S. senator Gary Peters, Michigan has received almost $130,000 less per Covid-19 patient than the national average. The only upside: the number of layoffs is just over half of what Michigan Medicine predicted in May, thanks to attrition, furloughs, and suspension of merit salary increases.

As of June 24 the cumulative total of laboratory-confirmed and probable cases of Covid-19 in Washtenaw County stood at 1809 with 108 fatalities. 


TeaHaus Mea Culpa. In our July Restaurant feature, the Observer mistakenly included the TeaHaus Tea Room among the casualties of Covid-19. Not true! The Tea Room will reopen when it can do so at full capacity. Meanwhile, TeaHaus’s “curbside cafe” is doing a bustling business, and its free lunch/dinner program continues to feed people in need (see The Helpers, below).

Sparrow Market legacy passes from father to son. Some good news emerged from a season of Covid-caused business disasters. On May 1, Bob Sparrow officially sold Sparrow Market to his son Jordan, who has worked there more or less full-time since graduating from Lake Superior State in 2010. Jordan notes, though, "I've been working there since I was eleven."

After 33 years as a cozy and reliable fixture of student life in Ann Arbor and other Midwestern college towns, Espresso Royale will not reopen. A vibrant student study and meetup scene was the business’s ace in the hole--until schools closed down and its clientele disappeared.

Pride Reimagined

Some local LGBT+ organizations have spent athe last month celebrating Pride. Others were hit hard by Covid and are saying goodbye for good. Businesses and groups in Ann Arbor and Ypsi are turning to their communities to find ways to weather the current storm and enjoy a month meant for visibility and celebration. Read more here.
Members of the Ypsilanti-based Boylesque drag troupe prepare for a livestream performance on a handmade backyard stage. Left to Right: Maxi Chanel, Jadein Black, Izaya Cole, Hershae Chocolatae, and Ani Briated. Photo by Austin Moan

Feeding Kids–And Covid Survivors

By Maggie McMillin

Summer is the hungriest time of year. There are more than 5,300 food-insecure kids in Washtenaw County, and with schools closed they no longer have access to National School Lunch and Breakfast programs. To meet this need, Food Gatherers kicked off its Summer Food Service Program on June 29th. It’s also working with the Hope Clinic and St. Joe’s hospital to help Covid-19 survivors - and looking to the community for financial support after the cancelation of this year’s Grillin’ for Food Gatherers fundraiser. Read our story here.


By Ella Bourland & Maggie McMillin

Thursday: All invited to the Ann Arbor District Library’s  Zoom discussion of the New York Times’ 1619 Project (6 p.m.), an ongoing initiative that aims to reframe U.S. history in the context of the year the first slave ship arrived in America. Also, watch veteran local singer-songwriter Dick Siegel’s virtual concert for The Ark (8 p.m.). Siegel’s live repertoire features material from his nationally acclaimed 2002 CD A Little Pain Never Hurts and early hits like “Angelo’s” and “When the Sumac Is on Fire.”

Friday: Help pick up trash and freshen up paint in Ypsi’s Prospect Park (noon). Vegan-friendly food, masks, gloves, and trash bags provided.

Saturday: Tune in to the Ann Arbor Jaycees’ virtual 4th of July Parade (10 a.m.) for a video featuring pictures and clips of local residents celebrating. Also, run the annual Firecracker 5k race (anytime, anywhere) to earn a T-shirt, medal, and a “buff,” a breathable headwrap.

See the Observer’s online calendar for many more local events.

The Helpers

By Ella Bourland

YpsiLocal’s community-sponsored 24/7, open-air U-Access Food Pantry, supported by local social advocate D’Real Graham and Ypsilanti Realtor Tyler Weston, is an emergency response to Covid-19 to keep people in the Huron Valley safe and healthy. “Take freely, give cheerfully,” at 315 River St., Ypsilanti, or donate directly to
Graham works to keep the pantry stocked with non perishable food and household essentials, including canned fruits, veggies, pasta, baby diapers, even toilet paper and potted plants. Photo by D'Real Graham
TeaHaus provides hundreds of free meals every week for locals in need, including seniors in low-income Avalon Housing, food-insecure families, and folks at the Food Gatherers Community Kitchen at the Delonis Center. Donations can be made at or in-person at TeaHaus (204-206 N. 4th Ave.) or Eat More Tea (211 E. Ann).

Ann Arbor T-Shirt Company assembles 25,000 face shields, sending them to healthcare workers at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor, Michigan Medicine, and other urgent care facilities. “It’s been tremendously fulfilling to turn our success to the community,” co-owner Jerry Kozak told MLive. “I like t-shirts but it’s pretty evident it’s not what the country needed right now.”

For more news on local businesses and people that are helping the community, click here.

Play On

By Stephanie Sorter

It’s no secret that live art is struggling right now. "Theater is a contact sport," says Purple Rose Theatre managing director Katie Hubbard. Their intimate building in Chelsea normally seats 168. With social distancing guidelines, they could sell just twenty-eight tickets.

Throughout the pandemic Ypsi’s Riverside Arts Center has made sure to keep their community at the center of all that they do. Read more about their online projects and classes here.
Claire Moore uses items found around the house to make a piece of art during the MADE IN 60 MINUTES livestream. Photo by Claire Moore
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