Fleetwood Diner, Ann Arbor, MI - Photo by S. Sheridan

In today’s Experience Economy, experiences are often judged in terms of being real or fake.  The assumption is that real is good and fake is bad.  Experiences in Ann Arbor fill the continuum from real to fake … while all remain truly authentic.

Let’s start with one of the most real and most authentic Ann Arbor experiences … the Fleetwood Diner.  It is still on its present site at the corner of Ashley and West Liberty since Donald Reid built it from a kit in 1948. Before 1948 the City building code required masonry for all new restaurant construction. In July of that year Reid petitioned the city for a change in the building code and a month later the City Council passed an amendment that allowed metal construction for new buildings of 1000 square feet or less and no more than a single story, but only for restaurants and stores.

Construction was started in the fall of 1948 and the cost totaled $14,000.  The diner opened on March 17, 1949 as the Dag-Wood Diner. Two months later Reid placed tables on the sidewalk and opened Ann Arbor’s first sidewalk cafe.  It has continuously served Ann Arbor ever since.  It is one of the few remaining examples of the classic diner manufactured by the Dag-Wood Diner Company of Toledo, Ohio.  It is as real and authentic as it gets.

Fairy Door on East Liberty, Ann Arbor, MI - Photo by S. Sheridan

Ann Arbor can also boast one of the most authentic fake experiences around.  I am speaking of the city’s mysterious Fairy Doors.  The downtown is dotted with them.  They began appearing in 2005 and were noteworthy enough to be covered by NPR the following year.  One appeared in my office several years ago and multiple neighborhoods have reported appearances.

For those under the age of 6, there is a ritual of leaving small gifts or tokens for the fairies in hopes of good luck or better yet, catching one peeking out.  Tucker, a golden lab, visits the fairy door in the base of a tree a few doors down and “borrows” some of the offerings from time to time to the horror of his owners … so far, the fairies have not seemed to mind.  Ask most of the residents of Ann Arbor and they will swear our smallest citizens are as real and authentic as they get.

So, we can be real and we can be fake … and in either case we are classic Ann Arbor authentic.

What are the authentic “real” and “fake” experiences in your community?

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