Main Streets 2016: Michigan
If you’re a fan of higher education and top-level college sports, Ann Arbor belongs on your list of most desirable communities. East Liberty Street is a centerpiece of this quintessential college town.
Just a few blocks long, East Liberty leads to State Street, on which fronts the main campus of the University of Michigan, one of America’s premier state universities. Along with its high-quality academics, U-M is a leading research university — and its Wolverines have captured more than 56 NCAA and other athletic championships.
Sports are big in Ann Arbor, but they’re far from everything people value about this city of 114,000. Ann Arbor has long been a hotbed for progressive politics, and in recent years, it has become more and more of a high-tech town, with companies drawn here by the university’s research assets and the quality of its graduates.
East Liberty Street is one of downtown’s most popular meeting places. Shopping highlights include Liberty Street Robot Supply and Repair (that’s right, robots) and Underground Sounds, where you can pore through a well-curated selection of music LPs and CDs. But East Liberty’s chief glory is the Michigan Theater, a beautifully restored venue that started life in 1928 as a vaudeville and movie palace and a “shrine to the arts.”
In later decades, dubious modernization covered over its historic features, and by 1979, the place was vacant. City leaders and theatre lovers formed a foundation and saved the Michigan, which today is an eye-catching centerpiece of Ann Arbor’s cultural and community life. It hosts a rich schedule of musical and theater events, and is home to the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra.
There’s more live entertainment on or near East Liberty. Since 1965, the Ark has been a popular venue for acoustic music; it’s just around the corner on South Main Street. The nearby Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase on South 4th Street has given a stage to hundreds of rising talents over the years, including Tim Allen, Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O’Donnell. Annual festivals bring even more energy to downtown: summertime highlights include the Ann Arbor Art Fair, the Book Festival, and the three-week Ann Arbor Summer Festival.
One thing that’s sure about downtown Ann Arbor. You can be almost anyone here; but it’s very hard to be bored.