My On the Ground Farmington story about Blue Hat Coffee & Gallery’s plans to move into Masonic Lodge

Screen Shot 2019-04-12 at 3.32.04 PM.pngAs news has spread that Coldwater-based Blue Hat Coffee & Gallery plans to open a second location in downtown Farmington – inside the historic Masonic Lodge, at Grand River and Farmington Rd. – locals have been jones-ing for more information.

So let’s start with the first thing everyone wants to know: when will Blue Hat open its doors?

“I’m assuming we’ll not get into the building until June 1st,” said Phillip Jewell, a retired software engineer who’s now Blue Hat’s COO. (Jewell’s wife Catherine, a former opera singer, is BH’s owner and CEO.) “We’re scheduled for a four-month build-out, so that would probably take us to the beginning of October, unless we can cut the buildout back. There’s not a ton of work to do, but we need to make changes to the serving area and the kitchen; we need to put in ADA-compliant bathrooms, and we need to put the deck in, which will be an elevated deck with 24×24 porcelain tiles.”

While this work is being done, locals will be able to try Blue Hat’s wares this summer at the Farmington Farmers Market.

“Our coffee is different from a lot of other roasters,” said Jewell. “ … Industry standards tend to result in coffee that’s more acidic, while our coffee is more smooth.” READ THE REST HERE


My Concentrate story about the 10 year anniversary of the announcement of the Ann Arbor News’ closing

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Photo by Doug Coombe

Ten years ago, on March 23, 2009, the staff of The Ann Arbor News – then a daily afternoon print newspaper founded in 1835 – was summoned to an all-hands-on-deck meeting.

Naturally, there was rampant speculation across departments about a possible second round of employee buyouts, or scaling back to print the paper only two or three days each week. News metro editor Steve Pepple (who now works at the Detroit Free Press) pulled aside business team leader Stefanie Murray and assigned her to report on whatever was said at the meeting.

“I had no clue what I was about to cover,” Murray says.

When the gathered throng finally fell silent and the News’ publisher, Laurel Champion, stepped up to the lectern, the 272-person staff (including myself, who had worked at the paper since 2004) learned that the company would permanently shut its doors in July. As more readers turned to the internet for free news (and free classifieds, once a major income source for the paper), the News’ business model had become increasingly unsustainable.

“I’ll never forget the audible gasps from several in the packed room,” says former News sports reporter Kevin Ryan. “Personally, I knew in those moments that my journalism career was going to end.”

Some News staffers went on to take jobs at the then-new digital media, which integrated with MLive Media Group and adopted the Ann Arbor News name four years later. But for many, the News’ closure indeed marked a transition into new careers and new markets. READ THE REST HERE

My On the Ground Farmington story about Metromode’s Future of Farmington event

Screen Shot 2019-04-12 at 3.36.15 PMOn Wednesday, February 27, about a hundred locals gathered in the Civic Theater’s upstairs auditorium to listen to, and take part in, a panel discussion called “The Future of Downtown Farmington: An Evening with Metromode.”

Moderated by DDA President Todd Craft, the panel consisted of Farmington Mayor Steven Schneemann; DDA Executive Director Kate Knight; Issue Media Group Co-CEO Brian Boyle; and Michigan Municipal League Executive Director/CEO Dan Gilmartin.

The program kicked off with a question about the role community engagement plays in the economic development of downtown.

“Many of you … know that this city, this community, is driven by volunteers,” said Schneemann. “ … Looking around the room, I’m seeing people who’ve been really engaged in the community, and they usually started by volunteering for something, by being downtown, by being out in the community and seeing something they want to get connected to. And the next thing you know, they’re interested in serving in a greater capacity on a planning commission. … This also starts to get people familiar with the place enough that they start to say, ‘Hey, this is a place to put down some roots. This is a place where I can start to invest, or I can open a business in.’”

Boyle, who’d just returned from the Knight Media Forum in Miami, noted that one big topic of conversation involved tracking the relationship between civic attachment and economic development and understanding the way the media plays a key role in that.

“The 24/7 news business model, which is essentially driven by clicks, is now, as a business paradigm, incentivized to report on things that disconnect people from place,” said Boyle. “ … There has been a lot of talk about the importance of these types of community conversations as infrastructure to continue to knit the community together and create more civic connectivity at a time when media implodes all around us.” READ THE REST HERE

My Destination Ann Arbor Great Minds Think A Lot blog post on Bilal Saeed

Screen Shot 2019-04-12 at 3.14.15 PM.pngThis profile is part of Destination Ann Arbor’s Great Minds Think a Lot series, highlighting influential leaders in Washtenaw County who make a positive impact within our community.

Bilal Saeed – co-founder and managing owner of Pakmode Media and Marketing, and chairman of AFC (Association Football Club) Ann Arbor – is a person who harbors equal love for Ann Arbor and YpsilantiOpens a New Window..

“I grew up in Port Huron,” said Saeed, 34. “Both of my older sisters went to U of M, … and my dad loved the (Ann Arbor) Art Fair, in particular. But really, we’d jump at any excuse for getting all of us in the car and heading to Ann Arbor. So I developed a real affinity for the area. When I went to Eastern (Michigan University), I hadn’t been familiar with Ypsilanti at all, and I fell in love with Ypsi, too. With both places right next to each other, I found it really hard to ever leave.”

Saeed launched PakmodeOpens a New Window. – a company that focuses on sports and entertainment marketing (the name alludes to Saeed’s Pakistani heritage) – in Ypsilanti in 2008, when he was still a student at EMU. And although the company now works out of an office in Ann Arbor, Saeed makes his home in Ypsilanti, near a border between the two towns.

“I’m one of those people – a lot of people feel really strongly one way or the other,” Saeed said of town allegiances. “I’m a connector. I love both communities. They each have different things to offer, so I feel like I get the best of both worlds.”

But how did Saeed become AFC Ann Arbor chairman in 2014?

Well, he’d already spent a good chunk of his childhood playing soccer in Port Huron, “and also pretty much every other summer in England with my family, which taught me a lot about the game, playing pick-up with kids in the back alley or the parks,” said Saeed.

So he’d always had a passion for the game. And when local soccer fanatic Jamey Amrine started laying the foundation for building a semi-pro team (now called The Mighty Oak), Saeed didn’t hesitate about getting involved.

“I thought, what a cool opportunity to use my skills for a good cause,” said Saeed. “From the beginning, I knew it wasn’t a ‘get rich’ type of business. It was clearly marked from the beginning as something we could just do for our community, and I thought about what a powerful tool this could be to get kids involved in the game, get them more active, and encourage them to adopt a healthy lifestyle. When I was a kid, the game gave me confidence, it gave me friends, I learned how to work with teammates – I learned so much from this game. So to be able to use this platform to give this same opportunity to young people, and get them involved from the get-go – I just love it so much. I feel lucky to lead the club. It’s a real labor of love.” READ THE REST HERE

My On the Ground Farmington story about the Greater Farmington Film Festival and the Civic Theater’s history

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Photo by David Lewinski

Marrying the old with the new has long been part of the Farmington Civic Theater’s DNA.

So the fact that this classic, beautifully restored 1940 movie house will be the sole venue for the 6th annual Greater Farmington Film Festival (March 7-9) – which showcases some of the latest and greatest “good films for a better world” – makes a perfect kind of sense.


“The idea for the festival came out of wanting to do something at the Civic, and use the theater in a different way than just the usual second run films it usually shows,” says GFFF co-founder Dwayne Hayes, who noted that a group of volunteers entirely runs the festival.

“Originally the idea grew out of my love for foreign films, so at first, it was going to be a foreign film festival – which would have been great for me. I would have loved it. But in thinking more about what the community was about, having lived here a while, it just seemed like the community was built on giving and supporting one another. So the idea of showing films about contemporary issues that people could get behind, and that would ultimately strengthen our community and the world, seemed like a great fit for us.”

In the past, the festival showed films at the Civic as well as OCC and the Holocaust Memorial Center, but this year, all seven selections will be screened at the Civic throughout three days.

“It always has much more of an impact when you see something on the big screen, and when you see it with others in your community,” says Hayes. “It’s almost like attending a religious service. … That communal aspect changes the experience. And from the beginning of the film fest, when we’d identified what we wanted to do with it, we felt it was important to give people ways of getting involved with the issues raised by the films immediately. That’s taken form in various ways. In the past, we paired each film with nonprofits and given them a chance to talk about what they do. We don’t have that freedom at the Civic because of time and space. … But we will have materials available, with information about the ways people can get involved. It’s important to us that people don’t just come to films and say, ‘Oh, that was nice.’” READ THE REST HERE