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A4 Top 10: Our favorite interviews of 2021

A giraffe birthday display for clients in Ann Arbor. (Pop! Designs and Creations)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – 2021 was a rough year for the Ann Arbor community—and so far, 2022 hasn’t been much better.

Schools were forced to go virtual due to staffing shortages, beloved businesses closed and popular events were canceled.

Despite what last year threw at us, good things did happen within our community thanks to the awesome people that call Tree Town home.

Here are 10 of our favorite interviews from 2021:

1. Ann Arbor cafe owner launches effort to revive small businesses lost to pandemic

From April: When coffee chain Espresso Royale closed the doors to its Ann Arbor locations, it was questionable if Tree Town’s coffee scene would recover.

But David Lin, the previous owner of South U’s Bubble Island and Espresso Royale CEO, decided enough was enough. Lin launched the COVID Rescue Fund to help revive small businesses lost to the pandemic. Read more here.

2. Former homeless woman hands out phone charger kits to those in need in Ann Arbor

From February: This one made our hearts soar!

After briefly experiencing homelessness herself, Ariah Schugat realized that a cellphone was a lifeline for many experiencing homelessness. She and her partner Michelle started putting together and handing out Kyndness Packs to those in need.

“There’s really no reason to not help people,” Schugat said. “It’s the easiest thing in the world. I think being kind to each other is a gift.” Read about the Kyndness Pacts.

3. Ann Arbor balloon artist spreads joy during pandemic

From July: Carolynn Hayman is known for her famous Conrad the Unicorn balloon costume, but during the COVID-19 pandemic her balloon creations could be seen in yards all around Ann Arbor.

“There were days when I was being inundated with emails,” said Hayman. “I tried to make it my mission to not say ‘no,’” she said. Read this if you want a smile.

4. Inside the bystander rescue from Saturday’s massive house fire in Ann Arbor

From September: Some heroes don’t wear capes.

“It was also really remarkable to see my dad in action like that. It was a real proud moment for me as a daughter because he really was like a hero,” said Rachel Harvey about her father, Michael Harvey, a former firefighter with Farmington Hills Fire Department.

The Harveys, along with three other bystanders, rescued an elderly man from a devastating house fire in September. Read Meredith’s chat with Rachel Harvey here.

The five good samaritans were later awarded medals by Ann Arbor Fire Department in October.

5. Small Biz Saturday: Collaborations at YORK lift up small businesses amid pandemic

From February: YORK has served the Ann Arbor community for decades but during the pandemic, it became synonymous with collaboration, cool pop-ups and good food.

I sat down (virtually) with Tommy York himself to discuss how the Packard Street business pivoted, how it became a hub of collaborative pop-ups and how YORK Yard became THE spot for outdoor hangouts. Read more here.

6. Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit talks vision, policy change in first weeks in office

From January: From scrapping cash bail to rescinding Washtenaw County’s no-tolerance policy, Eli Savit started making his mark on the county’s justice system right away.

“I am a believer in the justice system based on what you did and not who you are,” said Savit. “I ran because I thought that the prosecutor’s office—and the justice system more broadly—was perpetuating injustice.”

Meredith talked with Savit about his vision for the future. See what he had to say.

7. Ann Arbor teacher named quarterfinalist for music educator award by Grammy Museum

From July: “I was a little shellshocked, I guess. It wasn’t something I was expecting. I was checking my email right before a yoga class and I happened to just see it,” said Yael Rothfeld about her nomination for the 2022 Music Education Award.

The Thurston Elementary School music teacher was one of a few hundred teachers across the US in the running for the award from the Grammy Museum and the Recording Academy.

In July, Rothfeld was named a quarterfinalist and later moved on to the semifinals. Read my interview with her, or check out Meredith’s update on the story.

8. Longtime owners of Four Directions on Ann Arbor’s Main Street to retire

From January: This one was bittersweet.

After 27 years, Four Directions owners Alan and Karen Freedman announced their plans to retire and pass the store on.

“We had a long run and we’ve enjoyed every minute of it, but it’s just kind of time to go now,” said Karen. “At this age now, our grandchildren are in Florida with our daughter. We have a place down there and we want to spend more time with them.”

Although the Freedman’s won’t be around, Four Directions will continue on in the hands of a younger couple. Here’s what Karen told Meredith.

9. Afghan journalist, former University of Michigan fellow returns to Ann Arbor after escaping Kabul

From October: “If someone tells you that this is what’s going to happen and then you will be there, you won’t believe it,” said Jawad Sukhanyar as he recalled his harrowing evacuation from Afghanistan.

Like hundreds of thousands of Afghans, Sukhanyar was trying to get his family to safety away from the country as the Taliban took over this past fall. He recounted what he, and thousands of others, went through. Read more here.

10. Ann Arbor area songwriter creates, releases new music amid pandemic

From February: The pandemic has been very hard on musicians. With concert venues and recording studios closing their doors, new music has been on the back burner for many artists.

That said, Washtenaw County songwriter Chris DuPont used the time to explore a darker side of his music. His 2021 album “Floodplains” was inspired by a trip to Ann Arbor’s Parker Mill County Park when out on a walk. Here’s what he had to say about the album.


About the Author:

Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.