MSAA promotes a 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 constant flow of activity since the 19th century. While street signs may differentiate a North Main Street and a South Main Street, the Main Street Area Association brings the two together, bringing the Ann Arbor community together.

However, many members of the community do not know what the MSAA does. Founded in 2004, the MSAA focuses on supporting local businesses on Main St. and enhance the vibrancy of downtown Ann Arbor. MSAA Executive Director Sandra Andrade told The Michigan Daily that the organization’s ultimate goal is to be “the best Main Street in Michigan.”

“Part of ours is we try to connect our Main Street area with the nonprofits in the area… Just the things that make the community work, like the University of Michigan, students, faculty, staff” , Andrade said. “We try to continually connect downtown with community entities to become part of the community.”

Downtown Ann Arbor is divided into four districts: Main Street, State Street, Kerrytown, and South University. Not every Main Street business is a member of MSAA, and not every member is a business; Ann Arbor residents can join the association, as can law firms and insurance companies operating in the Main Street area.

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

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

MSAA also provides advertising to its members through various social media pages, including Facebook and Instagram. Rita Jourdan, general manager of Cherry Republic, located on Main Street, spoke with The Daily about how the MSAA’s social media presence helps promote business and special events.

“Advertising, Facebook, Instagram, all the social media pages have been very helpful,” Jourdan said. “When there’s an event happening downtown, each individual store is able to promote what’s going on.”

Beyond networking, the MSAA also aims to advocate for its members by filing complaints with the appropriate authorities on behalf of downtown businesses facing a common problem.

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

“(Closing the streets to outdoor seating) creates a fun, walkable social district downtown, which has been a big help for Cherry Republic and, I think, for other businesses as well,” he said Jordan. “They’ve been able to expand their restaurants into the streets for some of the nights.”

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

“(MSAA) has been a wonderful resource and really a constant support for small businesses in the area,” Toland said. “They’re supportive, making sure the community knows what’s going on with all the businesses. They do a great job.”

In addition to working with businesses, the association is responsible for maintaining the flowerbeds that line Carrer Major and helping with the holiday lights that are turned on each winter, or “downtown beautification,” such as the Andrade calls.

MSAA has also commissioned a social district in downtown Ann Arbor launched in 2021 where patrons can bring alcoholic beverages within labeled limits to the area around Main Street between 10 am and 11 pm The MSAA also hosts annual Main Street events, including Ann Arbor Restaurant Week, Artoberfest and more.

LSA freshman Nolan Pesci told The Daily he appreciates the work MSAA does to make the downtown area more social and lively, especially during the winter.

“Open social districts are a lot of fun,” Pesci said. “High Street always looks beautiful with all the holiday lights this time of year in the winter and it’s great for families and friends to enjoy food and drinks outside.”

Daily staff reporters Mary Corey and Emma Spring can be reached at [email protected] i [email protected].