MSAA promotes walkable social district in downtown Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor’s Main Street runs right through the heart of downtown and has been home to a steady flow of activity since the 19th century. While street signs can distinguish a north and south main street, the Main Street Area Association connects the two and brings the community of Ann Arbor together.

Still, many community members don’t know what the MSAA does. Founded in 2004, the MSAA is focused on supporting local Main Street businesses and enhancing the vitality of downtown Ann Arbor. MSAA Executive Officer Sandra Andrade told The Michigan Daily the organization’s ultimate goal is to be “the best high street in Michigan.”

“Part of our thing is that we try to connect our Main Street area with nonprofits in the area… Just the things that make the community work, like the University of Michigan, students, faculty, staff,” said andrade “We try to continuously connect the city center with municipal facilities to be part of the community.”

Downtown Ann Arbor is divided into four boroughs – Main Street, State Street, Kerrytown and South University. Not every Main Street company is a member of the MSAA, and not every member is a company; Ann Arbor residents are welcome to join the association, as are law firms and insurance companies operating in the Main Street area.

According to Andrade, MSAA supports its members primarily by providing networking opportunities for the local businesses in the association.

“We offer them opportunities to network with each other,” said Andrade. “If one of our retailers wanted to host a fun Valentine’s Day event, they could email me, and I would email all of our members and say, ‘Who’s interested in partnering?’ and so it’s a way for them to connect.”

MSAA also provides advertising to its members through various social media sites, including Facebook and Instagram. Rita Jourdan, executive director of Cherry Republic on Main Street, spoke to The Daily about how the MSAA’s social media presence helps promote businesses and special events.

“The promotion — Facebook, Instagram — all the social media sites have been super helpful,” Jourdan said. “When there’s an event downtown, every single store can advertise what’s happening.”

Beyond networking, the MSAA also seeks to serve its members by filing complaints with the appropriate authorities on behalf of downtown businesses facing a common issue.

MSAA is also responsible for working with association members alongside local government to close portions of Main Street and nearby areas during the summer to provide expanded outdoor seating for diners. Jourdan said she believes outdoor seating benefits all businesses, not just restaurants.

“(Closing the streets off to outdoor seating) creates a fun, walkable downtown social neighborhood that has been a huge help to Cherry Republic and, I think, other businesses as well,” Jourdan said. “They were able to expand their restaurants onto the street for a few nights.”

Le Bon Macaron, a French macaron café, is another participating MSAA company. Owner Kelly Toland told The Daily that joining the MSAA has given her access to many valuable resources to support her business.

“(MSAA) has been a wonderful resource and really a constant support for the small businesses in the area,” Toland said. “They really support us and make sure the community knows what’s going on with all companies. You are doing a great job.”

In addition to working with businesses, the association is also responsible for tending the flower beds along Main Street and helping with the Christmas lights that Andrade puts on each winter, or “downtown beautification,” as Andrade calls it.

The MSAA was also responsible for a downtown Ann Arbor social district established in 2021 that allows customers to transport alcoholic beverages within marked boundaries in the Main Street area between 10 a.m. and 11 p.m. The MSAA also organizes annual Main Street events. including Ann Arbor Restaurant Week, Artoberfest and more.

LSA newcomer Nolan Pesci told The Daily he appreciates the work MSAA is doing to make downtown more social and vibrant, especially in the winter.

“The open social districts are super fun,” said Pesci. “Main Street always looks pretty with all the Christmas lights at this time of winter and it’s great for family and friends to enjoy food and drinks on the street.”

Daily Staff Reporters Mary Corey and Emma Spring can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected].

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