Washtenaw Dairy to celebrate 85 years of business with birthday block party in Ann Arbor

Celebrate July 4 with ice cream, music, dancing at old-fashioned street party

By Sarah M. Parlette - Associated Producer

The Washtenaw Dairy is located at 602 S Ashley St. Photo | Sarah M. Parlette

ANN ARBOR, Mich - On July 4, the Washtenaw Dairy will celebrate a lifetime of community involvement and business during its 85th birthday party.

An Ann Arbor icon, the Washtenaw Dairy has been an integral part in creating happy memories for Ann Arborites, their families and visitors to the city.

Taking place after the July 4 parade in downtown Ann Arbor, the birthday bash is anticipated to run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. with music, dancing and a party that spills out onto the street.

Since its creation in the mid-1930s (the exact date is unclear), the family business has seen decades of Ann Arbor history starting with the home delivery of milk (before pasteurization) up to today as a dairy product (and donut!) supplier.

Along with its many varieties of ice cream and dairy products, the Washtenaw Dairy also serves doughnuts. Photo | Sarah M. Parlette

Sitting with Mary Raab, the president of Washtenaw Dairy, and Monique Sluymers, who does social media work for the downtown business, we asked Raab why she thought the Washtenaw Dairy has had such prosperous longevity.

“Well, it’s a community business, and I think that’s the commonality over all the years of, you know, being able to serve the neighborhood and the community and the customers that live nearby -- and remaining relevant to whatever the changing needs have been over the years, " Raab said. "It’s [Washtenaw Dairy] one of the few examples, I think, around Ann Arbor of a business that’s really gone through a lot of transition and change.”

Raab said that since the Dairy hasn’t been able to celebrate since its 75th birthday due to hard work and loss of figures instrumental to the dairy, its 85th birthday is going to be big and will have the birthday theme of “We are Legend-Dairy.” It's a theme that Raab thinks fits the dairy as, over the years, the business has become ingrained to the community from it’s consistent philanthropic support of local organizations to welcoming interns and students from the University of Michigan. 

A look inside the Washtenaw Dairy. Photo | Sarah M. Parlette

To her, “We are Legend-Dairy” embodies “the secret sauce” behind the Washtenaw Dairy brand. But the play on words harkens not only to the Washtenaw Dairy’s popularity within Ann Arbor but to its notoriety as an Ann Arbor generational icon.

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Sluymers told us that the general plan is to “take what we have here and to bust it [the party] out into the streets, which is a place where people can come together, have fun, see friends -- maybe friends they haven’t seen in a long time.”

Sluymers said that there will also be music, hopefully from local youth bands and music programs that the dairy is connected to. She’s heard that some classic cars may show up and that there will be an old-fashioned ice cream social with games, food and socializing.

She added that over 3,600 people on the birthday bash Facebook event have already responded to the event and the number keeps growing.

Photo | Sarah M. Parlette

The hope is that parade crowds will meander down to the Washtenaw Dairy to keep partying and celebrating throughout the early afternoon.

Raab told us that she keeps albums of thank you cards sent to the dairy, and she showed us a humongous album full of Washtenaw Dairy history, from articles about the business to photos of its various owners and associates. Artwork of the dairy, anything drawn, painted or printed over the years, is likely to end up in the album, which has chronicled the business's history from its incorporation of donuts to becoming one of the earliest shops in the area to sell lottery tickets. The albums are likely to make an appearance during the birthday party.

The Washtenaw Dairy has also asked that people send 85 birthday cards that it plans to display around the shop. So far, around 20 cards have come from locals, Ann Arborites who have moved away and those with various ties and memories related to the Dairy.

Sluymers told us that employees have been trying to respond with handwritten thank yous to those who have already sent in their birthday wishes and memories.

To learn more about Washtenaw Dairy’s history or it’s philanthropic giving to the community and to reach out with your birthday wishes, visit the Washtenaw Dairy website or Facebook page.

Photo | Sarah M. Parlette

The Washtenaw Dairy is located at 602 S. Ashley St.

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