Depot Town- 'see what all the love's about'

Depot Town offers plenty of places to go, things to do.

Sure you might’ve been to Sticks or Aubrey’s, hopefully Sidetrack — but have you really explored all Depot Town has to offer?

The neighborhood, officially recognized as the area of East Cross Street from the Huron River to River Street, often is thought to include the adjoining residential streets. Lined with beautiful historic buildings and gardens, it is truly a community-oriented district. Where else can you honestly claim there are 100% locally owned and operated businesses?

From farmers and artisans to sports and bikers, Depot Town has it all. Summer is the best time to be around, with “cruise nights” every Thursday beginning in June, Saturday markets
and all kinds of festivals.

Many of the structures, which originally sprung up in the thirty years following the train
stop’s establishment in 1838, still remain, as do numerous homes. The most glaringly obvious notable structure, steeped in history is the infamous Thompson Block, formerly used a barracks in the Civil War.

Construction finally seems to be moving forward and the owner plans to salvage as much as possible from the fire damage to convert the space to residential. Opposite stands the last Hudson dealership, built as the expansion of many Thompson family’s successful businesses.

The depot building itself is not the original station, which crumbled by pieces through a few disasters, but the freight house, built in 1878 remains intact.

The “freight-house courtyard” displays the Caboose, a favorite with kids of all ages – and hosts the seasonal Depot Town Farmer’s Market among other events. The market’s kick off for 2011 was this past Saturday, and will run weekly until the fall from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

A new event this year, run by Kim’s Resale Shop, will be a twice-monthly antiques/flea market. The first will take place this coming Sunday (May 15) and will feature many local artisans.

Across the (free!) parking area is Frog Island Park, connected by way of awesome bridges to Riverside Park. Elvisfest (held July 9-10, 2011), beer and music fests, multiple car shows, fundraisers and other community events take place in the aptly named green space.

The Ypsilanti Heritage Festival, held in August (8/19-8/21, 2011), is hosting YpsiFest Idol this year – auditions are June 4!

If you’re looking for a party but in a different scene, check out Woodruff’s, opened this winter, which hosts local music performances. Quickly rising in popularity and notoriety as a great venue, it was guest host to the first BANG! (a popular monthly themed dance party usually at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor) held in Ypsilanti.

If sports and burgers are what you prefer, check out Aubree’s and Sticks (with a great balcony) or Sidetracks. Sidetracks is almost guaranteed to be packed, but it’s worth the wait – their burger was voted by GQ (among others) as one of the 20 best in the nation, and vegetarians have excellent options too!

Alternative great food can be found at Cafe Ollie, which has options for the omnivore, vegetarian and vegan – all as local, fresh and organic as possible. Don’t forget to peruse the local music shelf and check out all the community flyers and media while enjoying an ice cream cone or other delicious treat from the newly opened Cafe.

Another option for coffee is Cafe Racer, again supporting the local business web by serving Roos Roast (roasted in Ann Arbor) in a quirky but fitting match of espresso and motorcycles.

Check out the bikes for sale or get yours fixed and be sure to come on Tuesday nights for the memorial rides.

The Ypsilanti Food Co-op and its River Street Bakery & Sweets provide the city with the best food available, with in house fresh bread, cupcakes and other treats.

Right along the train tracks, find many local vendors and shop sustainably – or stop by and check out “Honey Bee Alley,” where the Local Honey project houses two hives, be sure to get a glimpse of the 36 total solar panels on the roof. Thirty power the bakery completely, selling back to the utility company every month, supplying alternative energy as part of the Solar Ypsi initiative (

Depot Town continues to draw innovative entrepreneurs, with two new businesses opening doors in April alone. Harvest Kitchen, a prepared foods provider following a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model, relocated from Ann Arbor to E. Cross and offers nutritious delicious food for members or pick-up – open Tuesday and Thursday evening and worth stopping in just for the smells, let alone the recipe ideas!

Massage Mechanics, just a few buildings down, offers affordable relief, from $30 to $90 you can get tuned up, or dialed down. Opened by former EMU student Andrea Gruber, she says they came back to the area because the “ideal dream spot is Depot Town.”

To me, the very best part of the block is it’s cooperative nature. Every business works to support the others and include other small regional operations. The galleries and shops all carry multitudes of local crafts and creations, from Kida folk art at Kim’s Resale to Chocolate Butter Toffee Peanut Butter (made in Traverse City MI by Naturally Nutty, try their other amazing flavors) found in at the Food Co-op.

When you spend time exploring the friendly and diverse area, you’ll find out much more than can be fit in any article – including a warmth and culture that isn’t stifled by a bit of construction, sometimes loudly, improving the walkability of the area through Ypsilanti’s walkability initiative.

Families mix with students, locals right along with visitors of all ages – accessible to all interests, E. Cross Street still holds the feel of a real downtown Main Street to gather and socialize while buying what is needed. Living within walking distance you share not only the pleasant sound of the trains, but all the commerce and events of the district. Recent graduate Shawn Gancarz, newly employed by YFC, says he “[loves] Depot Town for the bars, especially Sidetracks and the affordable awesome food at the co-op.”

No matter your motivation, be it the beer or the books, get on down to Depot Town and see what all the love’s about.

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