Edison Neighborhood

Experienced, long time businesses and those getting started all call Edison home

Kalamazoo’s largest community keeps plugging away.
Political primaries? Rising health care costs? Higher taxes? Global warming? The Coronavirus?
 
Yeah. Those are worrisome. But it’s business as usual for people who live and work in the Edison Neighborhood. People like Jack Furr.

“We try to give them (our customers) options,” says longtime mechanic Jack Furr, “and tell them what’s most important to do and other things they can let slide.”

In a neighborhood with a median income of about $27,500, Furr Auto Service helps people on a budget -- single moms, do-it-yourselfers and everyday working people – keep their cars on the road long after 10-year and 10,000-mile warranties have expired.

But the 76-year-old owner of the never-changing car shop at 2009 Portage St. says, “We are just struggling to hang on ourselves now.”

This is the slow season for a small car repair shop.

“Business is typically down in January/February anyway,” Furr says. “But this year has been much worse because if the weather is mild, which it was, cars don’t break. And at this time of year, people have other things to spend their money on like property taxes and things like that.”
Jack Furr works inside his well-worn auto repair shop at 2009 Portage St.
At the same time, advancements in technology are making it tougher for independent shops to fully serve the latest cars, Furr says.

“Technology is such that sometimes things can only be fixed by a dealer,” he says. Tune-ups and some of the small work he and longtime fellow mechanic Steve Leversee used to do, is required less frequently.

“We used to do spark plugs every two years in a car,” Furr says. “Nowadays they’re going 130,000 miles. A lot of the stuff, they make it very difficult for the aftermarket to work on.”

Things have changed remarkably in the neighborhood since Furr became the owner of his auto repair shop in 1968. He has lived or worked in the neighborhood for most of the years since he was in third grade.

People have struggled economically since factories and paper mills that once dotted the Edison Neighborhood -- like the Bryant Mill and Illinois Envelope – closed in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s. That has meant fewer customers from the immediate area.

But Furr says he has never considered relocating from his longtime location on Portage Street because, “I have no reason to. All of our customers know where we are.”

He estimated that less than 15 percent are from the immediate area. “We have customers who would work here in town but live in outlying areas like Bloomingdale, Plainwell, Allegan, that kind of thing.”

There are a lot of good people here, he says, and many are trying to make the neighborhood better.

“They’re trying,” Furr says. “I think there are a lot of people trying to make it good.”

And he’ll keep working.

“I think they’ll probably carry me out because I don’t have any big nest egg,” he says when asked if he has retirement plans. Referring to him and Leversee, he says, “We haven’t got any solid plans. Steve and I are going to try to struggle it out as best we can.”  
Fido Motors Cafe wants everyone to come in and have a cup of coffee. 
Edison is home not only to experienced businesses like Furr’s 52-year-old auto shop it's a place for up-and-coming enterprises such as Ry Charter’s 5-year-old custom guitar shop about two minutes away.

“We’re getting ready to come out with our first little advertising/media push and we also have some new Kal-Tone guitars that are going to be available to play and try out and for sale in our new retail area,” says Charters. “So we’re finally going to start having Kal-Tone guitars on the shelf that you can walk in and buy.”

Charters is co-owner of Kal-Tone Musical Instruments Co., a custom maker, fixer and restorer of guitars in Jericho Town, a community of “makers, doers and artists” that is using three rustic factory buildings at 1501 Fulford St. (at Stockbridge Avenue) in the Edison Neighborhood.

Kal-Tone, which does repair work on acoustic and electric guitars, mandolins, banjos, and other stringed instruments, has stayed busy since it was started several years ago in downtown Kalamazoo based on word-of-mouth advertising.
 
“You see a lot more familiar faces more often,” Charters says of the Edison Neighborhood and growth at Jericho Town. “It’s a kind of a nice little neighborhood vibe over here. Kids are playing basketball across the street, the Fido Motors Cafe is expanding a little bit and they’re just trying to get everyone to come on in and have a cup of coffee if nothing else.”

Kal-Tone Musical Instruments Co. has stayed busy based on word-of-mouth advertising. In November, it opened a retail that will make instruments available for customers to play and try out. Soon they will have Kal-Tone guitars on the shelf.

Fido Motors Cafe is a specialty coffee shop that was developed as the three old buildings were reclaimed by an enterprising couple, Jeb and Krystal Gast, about four years ago. It became home to the Gast’s electric scooter shop, Fido Motors, and went on to become home to a growing number of artists and tradespeople.

Charters says the number of tenants in Jericho Town has grown over the last two years from six (not counting Fido Motors and its cafe) to 23 today.
 
“My HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) guy is here,” Charters says. “My electrician is here. My mechanic is here. If we ever have to do any kind of sound recording/video editing, those people are here. Anything you can imagine seems to be down here if you need it. … There are a lot of craftsmen down here in addition to art studios and everything else.”
Kal-Tone Musical Instruments Co. is a custom maker, fixer and restorer of guitars in Jericho Town, a community of “makers, doers and artists” that is using three rustic factory buildings at 1501 Fulford St. (at Stockbridge Avenue) in Edison.
They include: Damn Handsome Grooming Co., a soap, shaving essentials and candle company; Black Thread Studio, an art, craftwork and printmaking studio run by Eana Apple Agopian; Stuffed Brain Studio, a branding and graphics studio; Argenta Park, an industrial and user experience design consultancy; and Metric Motorworks, an import auto repair shop.

Along with some new guitar models, Kal-Tone’s new advertising push will try to call attention to a new retail area it opened in November adjacent to its luthier shop. Overall, Charters says, “It’s great. People are coming and going. It’s like hustle and bustle.”

Photos by Fran Dwight. See more of her work here.
 

Read more articles by Al Jones.

Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.