‘It was just terrific.’ Business owners talk Ann Arbor Art Fair successes

A sale happening outside of State Street shop Bivouac. (Main Street Ann Arbor)

ANN ARBOR – We’re fresh out of Art Fair weekend and already hearing about what a vital event it was for artists, fair organizers and local business owners.

Aside from one very rainy day, the streets were packed with shoppers eager to get out and experience the fair and all that the local merchants have to offer.

In early May, A4 interviewed three store owners in the State Street District just after the fair’s cancelation had been announced. At the time, they said losing Art Fair for a second year in a row would be a huge blow to business.

A4 caught up with them to see the what type of impact the fair had on sales.

“It was very good,” said owner of Bivouac Ed Davidson. “It was as good as 2019 and we were very, very happy.”

Davidson said he was especially impressed with sales because the fair was one day shorter this year. While he said he wishes this year’s fair was its usual four days, he felt lucky that it took place at all.

Bivouac owner Ed Davidson opened his store across from U-M's central campus in 1971. (Meredith Bruckner)

“It was really a shot in the arm for the restaurateurs and retailers -- we really needed it,” he said. “I (also) think people were just so excited to be outside during an event.”

The Ann Arbor Art Fair attracts nearly half a million visitors to town each summer, and it created foot traffic the college town hadn’t seen in over a year.

Aside from moving inventory, Davidson said the fair also acted as a long overdue reunion.

“It was just terrific,” he said. “It was fun for me to meet my customers I haven’t seen in a year. And even neighbors that I hadn’t seen.”

Lindsey Leyland, co-owner of The Getup Vintage, said it was her shop’s top-performing Art Fair.

“It was our best Art Fair ever and it was only three days long,” said Leyland, who has been selling vintage clothing at Art Fair for the past 15 years. “It was definitely worth it to do it and, honestly, three days is fine by me. You’re there from 9:30 in the morning until 9:30 at night.”

As for bad weather, Leyland said she and her team were prepared.

“I had so much fun, even on the rainy day,” she said. “Honestly, there is no Art Fair without a rainstorm. I don’t know why you would expect otherwise, ever.”

Back in May, Leyland told A4 that she was sitting on two years of inventory set aside for Art Fair. Throughout the year, she and business partner Kaylan Mitchell purchase items from individuals and estate sales with the massive summer event in mind.

“We ended up only with a bag and a half of stuff left,” said Leyland. “For me, that is a great success. We’re very, very happy to have a lot of that stuff gone now.”

She and Mitchell donated the remaining items to the Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop.

Historically, Art Fair is an opportunity for retailers to sell leftover inventory from the previous year at a discount to make way for fall orders.

One of the retailers most looking forward to fall -- and the return of University of Michigan students -- is The M Den owner Scott Hirth.

The M Den sets up the largest retail footprint at Art Fair, with 700 square feet of street space.

Crews begin to set up tents for The M Den's Art Fair sale on July 17, 2019. (Meredith Bruckner)

Read: M-Den partners with University of Michigan to sell custom jerseys for first time

Hirth said the consistent rain on Friday caused a sharp drop in foot traffic, but that Thursday and Saturday more than made up for it.

“We had Desmond Howard in our store signing autographs (on Saturday), so that helped,” said Hirth. “It was really good to have the Art Fair again and to have something that looked like normal. We appreciate the artists and all the people and the guilds and various committees downtown that made it happen.”

Hirth and his staff don’t waste time between summer events. He said they begin preparing all of their stores for students and the first home game the day after Art Fair.

“That’s what we’re going to be doing the next six weeks,” he said.

This story was first published in the A4 newsletter. To get local stories and insights straight into your inbox, sign up for our newsletter below:

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.