Ann Arbor Area BUSINESS MONTHLY magazine brings the reader the latest business news and information important to the businessperson in Washtenaw County. Each month articles cover real estate, legal, Internet, employee concerns and the climate of business in the greater Ann Arbor area. There is news about company employees and feature articles on local businesses. We cover business news from Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Dexter, Manchester, Milan, Saline, Whitmore Lake, and Ypsilanti.
Local Businesses Celebrate
Ann Leidy (left) and daughter Liz Arsenault of John Leidy Shop enjoy a laugh while getting photographed.
By Stephanie Kadel-Taras
The first time I walked into PJ's Used Records, on Packard near State, I met the man who would become my husband. That was 1989, and his little record store had been opened eight years. PJ's was just beginning to buy and sell used CDs as the student population was transitioning from vinyl to digital. But I was still old-fashioned enough to listen to records, and when I brought a Charlie Parker LP up to owner Jeff Taras at the counter, I guess I caught his attention.
Seventeen years later, our house is filled with CDs, and PJ's Used Records is celebrating its 25th anniversary. I can hardly believe it's been that long-or that the store has made it to such a milestone. As businesses come and go in Ann Arbor, it's easy to get pessimistic about the prospects for the small business owner. But several local businesses are celebrating big anniversaries this year, giving us a peek into the past, insight into the impact of the digital age, and hope for the future.
John Leidy Shop Turns 55
If you got married in Ann Arbor in the past half-century, you might have had a bridal registry at the John Leidy Shop.
They have carried classic fine china patterns, flatware, silver, and crystal since John Leidy and his wife, Janet, started the business on East Liberty in November 1951. They traveled to New York to meet importers of such products as Georg Jensen silver and Royal Copenhagen china, went to trade shows, and gradually brought more and more fine tableware and gifts to the Ann Arbor market.
Unfortunately, Janet died of cancer in 1955, leaving John with the store and two young children. He met his second wife, Ann, during one of his buying trips to New York, where she was working for an importer of china and glass from Finland. Ann married John in 1959, moved to Ann Arbor, and quickly brought three more children into the family.
Ann Leidy spent most of her time at home while John ran the store. Personal service set the John Leidy Shop apart from larger department stores. "Everybody liked my dad," says Liz Arsenault, John and Ann's youngest child who has run the store since John's death in 1993. "I have never heard a bad thing about him from any customer." She says customers who shopped here as students always felt welcome, despite their limited budgets. "They tell me, 'He never made you feel like you didn't have enough money to come in.'"
Ann remembers John would let people take items home to try them out without paying or even leaving their name. "He just wanted people to enjoy it," says Ann. You could charge your store account and just send him a check later. John was equally kind to employees, and several women worked part-time at the shop for decades.
Some time in the early 1960s (no one can remember exactly when), John opened a second East Liberty shop on the other side of the Michigan Theater. The second store offered more casual products-stoneware, wood, plastic, and even Scandinavian designed furniture. Slower sales in recent years prompted Liz and Ann to close the second store just this past spring. They merged the casual stock with the more formal shop. Now the John Leidy Shop is packed with inventory, including Vera Bradley fabric bags, Lalique crystal figurines, handmade toys, cards, jewelry, pottery, and much more.
Even as their inventory evolves, the John Leidy Shop has remained stubbornly old-fashioned when possible. They still offer classic blue and white Royal Copenhagen china. Says Liz, "I like to follow the tradition of what my Dad wanted to carry." The store didn't begin taking credit cards until the early 1990s, and they still use the original, antique cash register. "We wouldn't have a computer if UPS didn't require us to use it for shipments," says Liz. Ann, now 79, still comes in every day, but mostly stays in the basement office, where she handles the mail, invoices, and payroll (with the help of her son's wife). Bridal registries have pretty much gone the way of formal dining rooms, but people still come to the store for gifts. And once they've looked around, they often can't resist buying something for themselves.
Washtenaw News Co. Delivers For 50 Years
If you just happened to be on South Industrial Avenue in the wee hours of the morning, you might glimpse the bustling activity that begins every day at Washtenaw News Co., the local distributor for most of the newspapers we read. A large warehouse fills with the USA Today, Detroit News and Free Press and, later in the morning, the Ann Arbor News, and is empty again by early afternoon once the papers have gone to stores and paper boxes all over the region.
This process has been repeated every day for fifty years, since Harry Genova bought the rights from Stofflet News Co. to distribute the Detroit newspapers in the Ann Arbor area. He opened an office at 310 West Washington Street and hired his son, Nick, a sixteen-year-old student at Gross Pointe High School, to make deliveries.
"We had a cot in the office," Nick remembers, for the long weekends of work. "I'd come out to Ann Arbor on Friday night, and we'd deliver the Saturday papers. Then the bulldog edition of the Sunday paper came out around five p.m. on Saturday, and 'hustlers' would stand on the street corners or go into bars and sell it. We'd collect from those boys around nine p.m. and get ready to pick up the Sunday papers at midnight. We were done with deliveries by six a.m. and then had to wait around to collect from the boys who sold on the corners on Sunday morning."
Nick ate a lot of meals at the Old German Restaurant and sometimes eschewed the office cot for a room at the Earle Hotel. His parents moved to Ann Arbor the next year, and Nick went to EMU while continuing to work for his dad on evenings and weekends.
There were no paper boxes back then, but Genova remembers a few "honor vending machines" with a cup on top where buyers could leave seven cents. When real vending machines turned up in the 1960s, the paper delivery routes became much more complicated.
Nick bought the business from his father in 1972, when Harry had a heart attack. By then Nick had worked as a physical education teacher and football coach for a few years. He gave up that career to go into newspaper distribution full-time, where his wife, Sharon, eventually joined him in the business. But Harry still came to work every day until he died in 1996.
Washtenaw News Co. gradually expanded to distribute many more out-of-town papers, including the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Wall Street Journal, and to service a wider geographic area, including Dexter and Chelsea and even Lansing and Kalamazoo (which soon became separate businesses run by Nick's siblings). When USA Today came out in 1982, Washtenaw News expanded its distribution routes further east to Farmington and Walled Lake and south to Dundee. Papers from Chicago and Toledo came in on the train, and others came in at the airport.
In 1976, Washtenaw News moved to Rosewood Street where they twice outgrew their space before buying their current building on South Industrial in the early 1990s. After years of tracking all billing by hand, they hired a computer programmer to create an original software system for their purposes. At the height of the business, they had sixty employees delivering tens of thousands of papers with twenty-two vehicles.
But the Internet age caught up with Washtenaw News Co. as it has with the entire newspaper business. "We started seeing a drop in sales in the early to mid 1990s," says Nick. "It was a slow process, not dramatic." The gradual drop hasn't stopped yet. They have consolidated routes and dropped locations that were too far afield. They used to deliver hundreds of subscriptions to the U-M dorms; now they don't even bother trying to sell subscriptions on campus. Circulation is only a quarter of what it used to be. "We've had to make painful cuts," says Nick, lamenting the loss of long-time, loyal employees. "The last three years have been very difficult." They are down to about twenty employees and eleven vehicles.
There will be no party to celebrate fifty years in business. "With all the cutbacks," says Nick, "it doesn't seem appropriate."
But all is not grim. Washtenaw News Co. continues as a family business with Nick's daughter, Pam Genova Gibson, overseeing much of the operation. They are exploring new avenues for the business including other delivery services and real estate options. Nick worries about how to keep the business going for his family, but he can't complain about the career it allowed him-and his many employees. "I feel fortunate," he says. "It's a great company. We've helped a lot of people go forward and get ahead."
John Shultz Celebrates 25 Years in Pictures
When certain high school seniors come into John Shultz Photography for their senior pictures, Shultz can still remember the little kid he photographed years before. "I don't see them in their awkward years," he says, "but they walk in as young adults and I recognize their eyes." Twenty-five years of photographing Ann Arbor families is long enough to watch your clients grow up.
John Shultz is primarily a portrait photographer, specializing in babies, children, families, business head shots, and graduation photos, with a preference for black and white studio portraits. He shoots a few weddings a year, usually for families he has worked with in the past.
"I don't think of it as work," says Shultz. "Running the business is fun." He enjoys the combination of the creative work as well as the accounting, marketing, and selling. "And I love meeting new people. I like hearing where they're coming from."
Shultz came from Plymouth and went to college at New York University. While working as a lifeguard at a New Jersey resort, he got his first look through a telephoto lens brought by a vacationer. "It was like spying," he remembers. "You could get very natural looks out of people. It was very interesting."
As a journalism student, Shultz took a lot of photography classes and set up a dark room in his apartment. He thought he might become a New York fashion photographer, but he missed the Midwest, so he moved to Ann Arbor and opened John Shultz Photography in his home in 1981. The next year he rented studio space upstairs at 206 South Main Street, where he has been ever since (although he did move to a bigger studio on the same floor in 1992).
The advent of digital photography has certainly changed his business, but John has adapted well. "It wasn't a really smooth road at first," he admits. He was a bit concerned that the ease of digital photography would keep people from coming to his studio. Instead, it just made his work easier. "Digital goes faster," he says. He still shoots on film, but the proofs come back on a CD, allowing easy cropping and detailed touch ups. For business clients, he can simply give them the results on disc for use in their marketing materials and Web sites. "Digital photography is magical, phenomenal," he says.
Now he carries a small digital camera with him everywhere and takes pictures all over town. "I'm swimming in cyberspace," he laughs. Shultz is an eclectic artist who has also explored painting, pastels, photo silk screening, and nature photography. "I'm on the quest of beauty," says John. His artwork is available for sale in his studio, and a separate business-John Shultz Artworks-is in the planning stages.
Shultz also offers framing services on site. "It's nice to see one of my photographs leave the studio exactly as I want it to be," he says. And he likes the idea of his photographs hanging on the wall in people's homes for years to come. "I feel a part of their family."
PJ's Used Records Still Spinning Tunes at 25
I don't think my husband, Jeff Taras, ever expected to still be in the record business today when he joined with his brother, Marc, and some friends to start PJ's Used Records in 1981. They put an ad in the paper seeking people's old records and before they knew it, they had an inventory ready for re-sale in a storefront between Hill and State Streets on Packard. They attracted a mostly student crowd and spent a lot of time hanging out on the sidewalk, broadcasting Miles Davis or the Grateful Dead from outdoor speakers.
Over the years, the other partners drifted away, and now Jeff and Marc are the sole owners of PJ's, which moved in 1990 upstairs from its original location to a larger, air-conditioned space above the Subway sandwich shop. Packed to the rafters with used and new CDs, LPs, DVDs, and even some cassettes and 78s, the store offers every genre, from rock and hip-hop to jazz and classical. After so many years in the business, Jeff and Marc-who are still a couple of cool cats despite their gray hair and glasses-can carry on a lively conversation with customers about almost any artist. Collectors and deejays and songwriters stop in regularly. U-M alums come by whenever they're back in town. Fathers who shopped here as college kids now bring their teenage sons who have never played a real record before.
New generations of university students continue to discover PJ's each year, but the trend toward downloading music off the Internet has definitely taken its toll. PJ's has responded by selling some of its inventory on eBay. But those boring hours on a computer can't compare to the interactive energy of a busy day at the record store, talking music with customers and making new friends. I hope they can figure out how to make it work another twenty-five years.
Local Non-Profits Find New Ways To Raise
By Duane Ramsey
Funds For Many Local Programs
Many local non-profit organizations are struggling to meet the increased demand for services and raising funds to provide those services under the current economic conditions. "There are more challenges to the non-profit sector with less money. There are going to be some hard choices that will affect the most vulnerable people," said Sandra Rupp, president of Washtenaw United Way.
The United Way's goal of $8 million in 2006, the same amount raised in 2005, will just barely hold the line, according to Rupp. Of the $8 million, raised last year, $2 million came from the automotive business and this year that amount is expected to be about $1.3 million.
"Although we realize this is a very generous giving community, it is of concern that only 20 percent of working people in Washtenaw County contribute to the annual campaign and we're looking for ways to connect with the other 80 percent," Rupp said. She suggests that everyone support the United Way and at least one other cause.
"We ask everyone to reconsider giving to help the community," said Rupp who believes and understands that "people tend to take care of their own first. We enjoy a certain quality of life here and there is some disbelief about the number of needy people in the community." Pfizer's 2,500 employees in Ann Arbor contributed nearly $1 million to the United Way campaign this year. The company matches that amount for a $2 million total, 25 percent of United Way's goal.
"Pfizer is the number one corporate citizen and gives a lot to the local community. They're the silent company that's making a big difference," said Rupp.
"We need to get more corporations to think about their responsibility, how they address it, and provide for their own employees and the entire community."
The United Ways helps to fund many community and health organizations in the county. Rupp said it acts as the chamber of commerce for the non-profits.
"We need to be the driver of that community, not just the fund-raiser," she said. The American Red Cross is one of the major organizations that receives funding from United Way. It will amount to 14 percent of its $1.6 million budget for fiscal year 2006-07. "We recognize the challenges all non-profits are facing with a limited amount of local resources available," said Pamela Horiszny, executive director of the Washtenaw County chapter. "The local community is wonderfully supportive of the Red Cross."
People and businesses in the community donated $4.3 million to the Red Cross for international and national disasters, the Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, during the past two years.
"We're working hard to engage donors and refocus their support of the Red Cross in Washtenaw County," said Horiszny. "We have a more sustainable fund-raising plan with long-term commitments for donors."
The Red Cross is 100 percent locally funded by donations and payment for services it provides to the local business community.
The local chapter responds to 50 to 65 disasters per year in the county, mostly single home fires, by providing food, clothing and shelter to the victims. It also operates emergency First Aid Stations at 75 local community and sporting events.
More than 71,000 people benefited from Red Cross services for the past fiscal year ending in June. That number includes many children that receive basic water safety and first aid training in school. All new teachers are required to be trained in CPR and first aid. About 28,600 individuals were trained in 35 certification programs in Automated External Defibrillator, CPR, first aid, lifeguard and babysitting. Of that number, 3,500 were trained at the Red Cross facility with the balance being trained in their workplace.
The certification program participation was down about 10 percent in the first quarter (July- September) which probably reflects what is happening in the overall economy, said Horiszny. The local Red Cross moved into its new facility on Packard Road two years ago. It allows them to integrate more volunteers into all operations.
"The chapter is always looking for in-kind gifts, donations of good and services by local businesses," said Horiszny. The repair and maintenance, lawn work and snow-plowing for the facility are donated by local companies helping to reduce its operating costs. Most people probably think of giving blood to the Red Cross, which is one of its three primary functions. The other two are disaster response and health and safety services. There is a high demand and utilization of blood, about 50,000 units per year, with two major health systems, the University of Michigan and St. Joseph Mercy, in the county. Only half of that amount is collected locally as Washtenaw is part of a regional blood system in southeast Michigan.
Local residents donate more than 24,500 pints of blood each year during more than 725 blood drives held in the county. Only five percent of those eligible nationally give blood, but nine percent of eligible donors in Washtenaw County donate.
"We're always challenged to maintain an adequate supply with not as many working people participating in corporate blood drives," said Horiszny. A high utilization period with low donations occurs during the holidays from Thanksgiving to Jan. 15.
The Red Cross expected to collect 1,800 units on the University of Michigan campus as part of the U-M and Ohio State Blood Battle in conjunction with the football game. There is also a Hockey Blood Drive between U-M and Michigan State. Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County is another agency that receives funding from the United Way.
Only three percent of its $3.5 million budget in 2006 comes from the Catholic Diocese of Lansing. The balance comes from grants and contracts with state and local governments to provide programs for county residents.
"We try to have different revenue sources so we're not dependent on one source," said Larry Voight, executive director. "We have to be good stewards of the resources by managing them efficiently."
"The needs of the people we serve are magnified by the economic conditions, so that becomes our first concern," said Voight. "The impact causes more harshness toward clients who don't do well in poor economic times and adds stress to their situations."
The services provided by CSS are based on the client's ability to pay. It strives to meet everyone's needs while providing a high level of service in a dignified manner, he added. "The spectrum of people we help is growing. Helping people costs a lot but not helping them is even more expensive," said Voight. "When we help people, it helps business. It's not only up to the business community to help, but to see themselves as part of the broader community by helping to provide services."
Business can help non-profits avoid expenses by providing goods and services they require to help people. Many businesses donate to the local emergency food bank where over half of the clients are working families, Voight cited as an example. "Tighter times are coming for Washtenaw County when the trickle down effect reaches more businesses here," predicts Susan Katz Froning, president and CEO of the Non-profit Enterprise at Work (NEW) Center in Ann Arbor.
The New Center was established in 1993 as a management support organization for other non-profits, providing office space, resources and services to help them succeed. It is currently home to 18 local non-profit organizations.
"Many non-profits are recognizing the need to diversify their revenue streams with such methods as grass roots campaigns, individual or planned giving, fund-raising events, and business sponsorships," said Katz Froning.
The NEW Center is supported financially by grants from corporations and foundations, revenue from rent and services provided to other non-profits and a small number of individual donors. "We don't do broad-based appeals or campaigns because we don't want to compete with the non-profits we're here to serve," she added.
In addition to leasing office space and sharing equipment and facilities at the NEW Center, it offers several other programs to help non-profit organizations.
Board Connect is a development program offered to train potential board members for non-profits. It also focuses on building a collaborative community in Washtenaw County. Resource Connect is a developing program to connect non-profits with resources they need beyond what the NEW Center offers.
New Service Network is a program designed to help non-profits save money by sharing back office services. The pilot involving four to six non-profits is currently underway with plans to open the service to all groups in 2007, according to Katz Froning. The NEW Center reaches beyond Washtenaw County, having served more than 500 non-profits from 20 different counties in southeast Michigan.
Artrain, the mobile art museum, is one of the non-profits located in the NEW Center. In addition to the actual train that tours the U.S. annually, Artrain provides cultural programs in communities with limited access to those opportunities and helps them build their own cultural programs.
Artrain just received the National Award for Museum and Library Service given to organizations doing work in communities to promote art and culture. "It's the nation's highest honor and we're proud to receive it," said Debra Polich, president and CEO of Artrain.
"Financial concerns can be exhausting and distract organizations from accomplishing their missions," said Polich. "The state's economy has affected funding from sources in Michigan, especially the automotive and manufacturing companies."
Polich encourages companies to spend dollars by looking at the quality of place in the communities where they operate and work.
Artrain is funded by corporations, foundations, governments and individuals. It also receives a large in-kind contribution from the national railroads that provide transportation for its tours.
The non-profit receives financial support from many local companies, including Ann Arbor Commerce Bank, McKinley, Pfizer and others. Pfizer has a strong presence with its corporate gifts to numerous cultural organizations, according to Polich. Artrain recently received a gift from Target's national foundation to sponsor its 2007 stop in Ann Arbor. Polich said Target also supports many other local non-profits in the area. "The support non-profits receive in Washtenaw County is astounding," said Polich, who is involved in the Arts Alliance of Ann Arbor Area that supports local art and cultural organizations.