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#OTGYpsi: Ypsilanti's small business owners give back to the community


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Rylee Barnsdale's Feature Article: From charity events to community building, Ypsi's small business owners give back

734 Brewing Company

Jones Chance & Co.

Star Studio

Back Office Studio

Association of Businesses of Color


Josh Hakala: You're listening to 89 one WEMU. I'm Josh Hakala, and this is On the Ground Ypsi. It's a program intended to bring you the stories of the Ypsilanti community, and we bring you On the Ground Ypsi, in partnership with the reporting team at Concentrate Media. Today, we are talking about small businesses. And they are the lifeblood of any community, and Ypsilanti is no exception to that. Today, I am joined by Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnsdale, whose online news site is reporting this week on all of what makes small business in Ypsilanti special. And, Rylee, thanks so much for being with us.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks, Josh.

Josh Hakala: And joining us on the phone is Brian Jones-Chance. He is the CEO of 734 Brewing Company, and he runs his own real estate business. He really does a million things. Those are the two main ones. We decided to stick with that. Jones Chance and Company is the name of the real estate business, and he is a former Ypsilanti City Council member. And those, like I said, just a few things. Brian, thanks for stopping by and being with us.

Brian Jones-Chance: Thanks for having me.

Josh Hakala: Well, Rylee, you wrote the article, and I have to say I credit you and your editor for not having this article be like 20,000 words because you're talking about small business.

Rylee Barnsdale: There's a lot to say.

Josh Hakala: There's a lot of angles you could take, a lot of challenges, a lot of successes, a lot of different issues that small business owners deal with. What did you decided to focus on with this article?

Rylee Barnsdale: Well, we really wanted to focus on with this particular article because, like we said, there's a lot you can say about small businesses in general. But what we really honed in on was the work that business owners are doing for the Ypsi community outside of their brick-and-mortar establishment. And something that I found really interesting through speaking with Brian here, as well as Angel Vanas at Star Studio and Kristen Danko at the Back Office Studio, was how the small business owners around here really have a passion to give back to the community that they've set up shop in.

Josh Hakala: And I think this is a good question to pose to Brian as well. But I will pose it to you first as someone who's really plugged in with what's going on, dare I say, on the ground in Ypsi. But what do you think makes the small business community in Ypsilanti unique?

Rylee Barnsdale: One of the parts of the small business community here in Ypsi that really makes it stand out from other communities, even around the area, is how interconnected all of those business owners are. There is a really strong sense of community, of course, but also support for not just the city and the area, but also each other. And they are, you know, pretty much constantly in communication. They are always trying to uplift one another and make sure that businesses are staying in business and, in addition to that, also helping out the community around them in lots of different ways that aren't necessarily what they're doing at their business, which I thought was pretty cool.

Josh Hakala: So, Brian, how did you get started as a business owner in Ypsi? And for those who might not be familiar, tell us about your two establishments.

Brian Jones-Chance: Well, my family's been involved in real estate for a long time, and it started with my great grandparents. And even before that, I was about seven generations here in town. And so, I think I pretty much was always going to wind up in business here in Ypsi in some form or fashion. Yeah, and the two businesses that I have are real estate brokerage and asset management firm called Jones Chance and Company, and I'm also a part owner of a brewery--734 Brewing in Depot Town, which was just started by a Ypsi high grant. So very local.

Josh Hakala: So, I'll pose the same question to you as someone who's been involved as a business owner and as someone who has worked in city government, what do you think makes the small business community in Ypsi unique?

Brian Jones-Chance: Well, really, that it's small. The community is very small, which means that, you know, if you were dropped in here from out of town or something, I think within a matter of a couple of weeks, you would probably know everyone in the business community. And also, because we're small in number, it means that a lot of us have to wear a lot of hats in order to be civically engaged.

Josh Hakala: You're listening to On the Ground Ypsi on WEMU. I'm joined by Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale and former Ypsilanti City Council member and small business owner Brian Jones-Chance. And one of the themes that I've heard people talk about so much and, of course, in this article is collaboration. You've been a long time Ypsi native. Has it always been like this as far as you know, or was this an era of the city's recent history in where that has really started to ramp up?

Brian Jones-Chance: I think it's pretty much always been this way. I think, like any other small town-feeling place, everyone really becomes very close just because, you know, you're in small numbers to get anything done. We absolutely got to work together because there aren't a lot of people to outsource things to.

Josh Hakala: Well, some of the people who Rylee talked to for the article spoke about the value of being involved in local causes and really trying to improve the community that these businesses exist in. But I would say that's probably not a new concept for a business owner anywhere. But how do you see Ypsi's business community playing a role in trying to just make things better for the community?

Brian Jones-Chance: I think there's a unique attitude here where business owners really value what I view as a social contract and that we're allowed to exist because of the community. They shop at all establishments. They use our services. And because of that, we owe something back other than the products and services that we sell. And I think small business owners here really take that to heart. And because so many of us live here, we have a strong desire to really make this city work and make this a place that we want to continue to live as well. And so, that sort of lends itself to more engagement and more community awareness among the business community.

Josh Hakala: Is there any particular partnership or anything that you can point to that really stands out as a great example of this collaboration that we see between Ypsilanti businesses and the organizations that are trying to make things better?

Brian Jones-Chance: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, anything from setting up like Angel Vanas has done setting up, you know, sort of independent downtown district community groups to supporting things like Neighborhood Theater Group or Meals on Wheels, which 734 Brewing does, or even starting organizations like myself and two other business owners have done with the Association of Businesses of Color, or just being involved in local politics and government at a lot of levels. You know, I serve on the Planning Commission, and, obviously, most of us on the Downtown Development Authority are business owners. And so, yeah. There's a lot of giving back that happens here.

Josh Hakala: We mentioned, of course, the ways that the businesses try to give back and try to improve the community. But also, you've been part of, as you referenced there, with the Association of Businesses of Color and trying to make things more open and more diverse in the community. Can you tell us about the Association of Businesses of Color and where you've seen successes in trying to accomplish the group's goals? And what are some of the challenges still at play?

Brian Jones-Chance: Yeah, we really are striving to improve equity for racial minorities and the business community here in Ypsi. And we've seen a lot of improvement in a lot of things that we've been able to do as far as getting more of those business owners potential opportunities both for funding and for networking and actually just becoming better connected with the overall community and also getting seats at the table, whether that be on the DDA, the Planning Commission, or even the Board of the Chamber of Commerce.

Josh Hakala: So, as I mentioned, you also spent time as a member of the Ypsilanti City Council. You were also a member of the Planning Commission. How do you see your role in city government? Does that give you a different point of view when it comes to trying to improve the small business community?

Brian Jones-Chance: You know, really, when I'm serving in those capacities, with the exception of the Downtown Development Authority, which is business-oriented, but when I was on Council on planning, really, I'm just there as a citizen who, you know, comes from seven generations of Ypsilantians. And I'm really just there trying to make things better for future generations to come after me, because, odds are, we will still continue to live here. And so, I just wanted to be a place worth living.

Josh Hakala: So, if you were to sell Ypsilanti to a business owner looking to set up shop somewhere, how would you sell it to him? What's your elevator pitch?

Brian Jones-Chance: Really, if you're community-oriented, if you're somewhat outgoing, maybe a little bit weird, this is definitely the place for you.

Josh Hakala: I feel like that comes along a lot--the word "weird"--but in a mostly positive way. Is that really kind of at the core of it? I hear "Keep Ypsi Weird!" as a slogan.

Brian Jones-Chance: Well, of course, having grown up here for most, I guess, for the first half of my life, I thought it was all normal. But, you know, once you get out in the world, you discover that it's actually pretty special. Yeah, it's a little bit weird. But I agree. It's in in the best of ways.

Josh Hakala: So, what is your outlook for the small business community in Ypsi? I know there's a lot happening in the downtown area, and it just seems like there's been some momentum in recent months and the last few years. How do you see things going forward?

Brian Jones-Chance: I think things are good. In some ways, it feels like an even stronger business community, and folks are willing to work together to tackle some pretty big issues. Yeah, I think Ypsi's a little town with big city problems sometimes. And really, in the last year or so or really just post-COVID, it's felt like the business community is really joining hands together and trying to solve some of the issues that we have. So, I'd say, overall, it's looking pretty good.

Josh Hakala: Brian Jones-Chance from 734 Brewing Company and Jones Chance and Company and, as always, Rylee Barnsdale from Concentrate Media. Thanks so much for joining us today on On the Ground Ypsi.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks, Josh.

Brian Jones-Chance: Thanks.

Josh Hakala: If you would like to listen to past episodes of On the Ground Ypsi or would like to listen to an extended version of today's interview, you can find it on our website at WEMU dot org. This is On the Ground Ypsi. I'm Josh Hakala, and this is 89 one WEMU-FM, Ypsilanti. Public radio from Eastern Michigan University.

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Josh Hakala is the general assignment reporter for the WEMU news department.
Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.
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