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March of the Sparrows

The Kerrytown market passes from father to son.

by Sally Mitani

From the July, 2020 issue

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."

In 1982 Bob opened a butcher counter in Kerrytown, Sparrow Meats, and, with a little nudging from landlord Joe O'Neal, he took over the adjacent produce store in 2004.

Bob, a youthful-looking fifty-nine, is still working for his son at Sparrow two days a week. "After working a hundred hours a week, I figured going down to no hours a week would be too big a withdrawal," he says. "Working two days a week is like being on another planet."

By "working," does he mean he's lending a hand for old times' sake or taking a small stipend? They both laugh: "Oh no," says Jordan. "I pay him what he's worth."

Sparrow Market is in the lucky slim minority of businesses that have weathered the pandemic with little disruption. "We've been rocking," says Bob. Sparrow is as close to a full-service grocery store as you get in central Ann Arbor, and its butcher counter is stocked with meat sourced from family farms, an increasingly scarce and sought-after resource in pandemic times.

Customers often notice that nearly all the people behind the meat counter are young women--unusual for the physically demanding meat-cutting trade. Bob says it happened organically: early on, some of his best employees happened to be women, and he continued to recruit new staff from their friendship pools. Over the years his meat cutters have skewed more and more female.

Jordan says they never changed the store hours during the pandemic, and he has no plans to change them now. The only real change he's had to make was to close down the sandwich counter (next to the cash register, it was a favorite grab-and-go for nearby

...continued below...

workers but so unobtrusive a lot of people never noticed it). He doesn't know when he'll open it again.

Bob says his own approach through the years has always been "I'm not big on change. I just try to do more of what's working and less of what's not working."

One good thing that's kept working is the thirty-eight-year relationship with Joe O'Neal and now O'Neal's son Andrew. "Joe deserves credit for our success," Bob says. "He let me do whatever I wanted.

"We always did everything on a handshake. He didn't let us down, and we didn't let him down."

Sparrow Market, 407 N. Fifth Ave., (734) 761-8175. Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat. 7 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.-6 p.m.     (end of article)

[Originally published in July, 2020.]


On July 6, 2020, Donna Estabrook wrote:
In the July issue under Marketplace Changes there is a story "March of the Sparrows" in which you relate that Bob Sparrow of Sparrow Market in Kerrytown has recently sold his business to his son, Jordan. In the article you describe Sparrow as being "as close to a full-service grocery store as you get in Ann Arbor". I frequently shop there and it is a very good store but I think that there are at least 2 other stores that could fit that description. One is The People's Food Co-Op about a block north of Sparrows on Fourth. Although the meat selection at the Co-Op is small it does have items not found at Sparrows like household goods; soap, paper products, etc. It also has everything else a grocery store is expected to have. The 2nd is Knights Market a few blocks west on the corner of Spring and Miller. Knights (a family business) has everything a grocery store should have and is known for quality meats.

Both of these stores are doing an excellent job in the pandemic. They have limited store access and very busy curbside business. Everyone wears masks. Perhaps in your next issue you can profile them.

Donna Estabrook

On July 30, 2020, Rita Shelley wrote:
I wanted to give some praise to Sparrow Market. As a new Ann Arbor local vendor, it has been very hard to scale during the COVID times, but Sparrow, being a great neighbor, gave me a chance...


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