You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 5:59 a.m.

What deficit? Obama's University of Michigan appearance boosts Ann Arbor economy

By Nathan Bomey

Baracky Road Gelato.JPG

Zingerman's is selling Baracky Road Gelato, a flavor sold briefly during President Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration and reintroduced this month in honor of his May 1 commencement address at the University of Michigan.

Nathan Bomey |

University of Michigan senior Laura VandenBosch leaned over the glass-encased gelato counter at Zingerman’s on Monday, briefly considering the implications of a limited-edition presidential flavor: Baracky Road Gelato.

“I wonder if 'Baracky' will come in here,” said VandenBosch, who is graduating Saturday with an architectural degree. “He should come in here.”

Perhaps he will. When then-President Bill Clinton delivered the commencement address at Eastern Michigan University in 2000, he famously visited Abe’s Coney Island in downtown Ypsilanti.

Regardless, President Barack Obama’s appearance Saturday at U-M’s spring commencement ceremony is sure to give the region a big economic boost.

Some 80,000 people will fill Michigan Stadium for the commencement address, although the ultimate figure could be even higher. The Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau estimates some 60,000 of those visitors will come from out of town.

More coverage: Obama in A2

Washtenaw County hotels are nearly out of rooms, and restaurants are fielding more reservations than usual for a U-M commencement weekend. And some businesses have created products specifically to capitalize on the president’s Ann Arbor trip.

Zingerman’s, for one, reintroduced Baracky Road Gelato, a flavor the iconic Ann Arbor restaurant sold briefly during Obama’s inauguration in 2009. It’s based on vanilla beans from Bourbon Island, Madagascar; Virginian butter-roasted peanuts; marshmallows; caramel; and handmade chocolate chips.

How much does it cost? At $11.99 for 12 ounces, let’s just be glad it won’t add to the federal budget deficit.

For $15, though, you can purchase a special Obama commencement T-shirt from downtown Ann Arbor shop Elmo’s Main Street T-Shirts.

The store is offering to print the commemorative shirts on demand - pick your size and color.

Elmo Morales, owner of Elmo’s Main Street T-shirts, said he placed an order for Obama products on the day the university announced Obama would speak in Ann Arbor.

So far, he’s only sold one commemorative T-shirt - but he expects demand to kick up this week.

“It’s been there, but nobody has been purchasing it yet,” Morales said. “It’s a perfect gift for a graduate. It’s something that they can keep forever.”

Demand for T-shirts and trinkets may be iffy, but demand for local hotel rooms and restaurant reservations is far from soft.

AACVB President Mary Kerr said Washtenaw County’s 4,000 hotel rooms and 60 bed-and-breakfast rooms are effectively sold out for Friday and Saturday. She said travelers still in need of a hotel room this weekend can check with the AACVB. (Update at 2:40 p.m. Tuesday: Some 50 rooms are now available at two different hotels, Kerr says.)

“We check with our hotels on a regular basis for availability, so if someone cancels a room or a room becomes available, our hotels notify us right away,” Kerr said.

A typical U-M football Saturday - when local hotels are sold out and restaurants experience heavy traffic - funnels about $10 million into the local economy, Kerr said.

But she said the AACVB projected that U-M’s typical spring commencement weekend injects about $12.3 million into the local economy.

“This one, I’m sure, is a little bit higher because of the fact that the president is speaking at commencement,” Kerr said.

The AACVB’s “conservative estimate,” Kerr said, is that the average travel party of 2.5 people will spend about $257 a night in the Ann Arbor area. 

Some visitors make hotel reservations for commencement weekend four years in advance, Kerr said.

That’s not quite the case for local restaurants, but suffice it to say that you might have to wait a while for a table this weekend - if you’re able to get one at all.

H.T. Riekels, manager of Mediterrano Restaurant in Ann Arbor, said Mediterrano has about 300 dinner reservations for Friday night and Saturday night, as well as 100 lunch reservations for Saturday. He said the restaurant plans to open up its banquet facility to seat additional customers and is hiring a few temporary employees to keep up with demand.

“The restaurant is packed and has been for a while,” Riekels said. “It is a bigger deal that Obama is here, but U-M graduation is such a big deal anyway that we’d be packed regardless.”

Matt Foyteck, general manager of Gandy Dancer, said his restaurant has some 2,000 reservations for Saturday, though there were still a few slots available Monday. He said reservations for this weekend are up about 25 percent over the 2009 commencement weekend, when Google co-founder and U-M grad Larry Page addressed graduates.

It’s not entirely clear when the post-commencement meal rush will hit its peak. That’s because traffic congestion could affect the mass exodus from the stadium, not to mention the possibility that Obama’s motorcade could cause additional backups. The university also bumped the commencement address from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. -- which alters the outlook for some restaurants.

"When they moved back the time, it made it a little more difficult," Foyteck said.

Despite the rush to reap revenue from the president’s Ann Arbor trip, one area will be largely devoid of commercialism: the space immediately surrounding the stadium.

Security officials plan to prevent upstart entrepreneurs from trying to sell goods in the area around Michigan Stadium.

But at least one entrepreneur believes he can convince the president himself to boost his product. Former U-M basketball player David Merritt, CEO of startup apparel firm I Miss You Inc., is campaigning for the president to wear one of his company’s IMU T-shirts.

“The purpose is just to simply spread our message of happiness and the importance of giving back on a larger level in connecting with President Obama,” Merritt said. “It would be mind-boggling - the impact it would probably have on our brand.”

Then again, the president may just settle for some Baracky Road Gelato.

Contact’s Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or or follow him on Twitter. You can also subscribe to Business Review's weekly e-newsletter and breaking business news e-newsletter.



Wed, Apr 28, 2010 : 4:43 p.m.

@tracyann, didn't mean to say ALL U of M students don't have a real world view...forgive me. Just meant the traditional 18-21 years olds. Even within them, I'm sure there are some mature kids that have their head on straight, and can see though all of Obama's professor-like teleprompter ramblings.


Wed, Apr 28, 2010 : 4:12 p.m.

Clinton ate at Abe's in Ypsi, if I remember correctly he had the Chicken Gyro.


Wed, Apr 28, 2010 : 2:01 p.m.

@jlcmich- Please don't lump all U-M students as not having lived in the real world. I am a non-traditional Michigan student, going back to school after having worked in a Ford factory for 13 years, so I have lived in the real world and, frankly, I couldn't care less about Obama being in Ann Arbor. I'm just glad I don't live on-campus so I won't have to deal with it!


Wed, Apr 28, 2010 : 9:59 a.m.

Ya'll might as well buy some of that Baracky Road Gelato-since some of you already drank the kool-aid!


Wed, Apr 28, 2010 : 7:22 a.m.

This is just one big advertising for Zingerman's and y'all just bought it hook, line, and sinker. LOL!

Anonymous Due to Bigotry

Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 8:29 p.m.

The title of this article is ridiculous. Obama might provide a little boost over the usual graduation time boost, but not THAT much. Of course the people who support Obama in a cult-like manner don't describe him as "the messiah", they just treat him like one. Calling him "the messiah" is less intended to mock Obama and more intended to mock the personality cult followers who turn off any critical thinking functions and chant vague slogans about hope and change. It's more like what you'd expect in South America than the US. I don't hate Obama, but please... Just from a political analysis point of view it's quite obvious what the message and the followers are like. Allow me to quote some of the laws from the book 48 Laws of Power that Obama seems to follow: Law 27 Play on People's Need to Believe to Create a Cultlike Following Law 32 Play to People's Fantasies Law 34 Be Royal in your Own Fashion: Act like a King to be treated like one Law 45 Preach the Need for Change, but Never Reform too much at Once I think the slogan "Change we can believe in" really captures the messianic message and captures two of those laws pretty well. Well anyway, you have to admit that the cult following is good for business!

David Briegel

Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 6:44 p.m.

bunny, Oh PLEASE tell us of your lost freedoms! We can't wait!!


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 6:34 p.m.

Atticus: We're still in Iraq, aren't we?


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 4:46 p.m.

Perhaps the Big O can stop by and congratulate Ed Whiticare on his recent GM ad spouting the payback of a loan with interest free TARP funds. Two of the biggest liars that ever crossed our state line. I can't wait till they are both out of here.

Atticus F.

Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 2:38 p.m.

Also RAM, you might want to check your facts when you make statements like "Obama and McCain are more alike than different when you think about it...both would have us at war in the Middle East". If you check your facts, You'll find that Obama was one of the few senators to vote against the invasion of Iraq. There's a big difference between starting a war, and ending a war responsibly.

Atticus F.

Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 2:19 p.m.

topcat, alot of people have made sacrifices for this country...alot have even given the ultimate sacrifice, their life. And just because someone is a war hero doesn't necesarily make them qualified to be president. Also, who's to say that one of Obama's relatives didn't sacrifice their life so that their great great grandchild, or great nephew could be president of this country?

David Jesse

Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 1:55 p.m.

@DagnyJ: Members of the U-M community may receive up to two tickets each. The must bring their MCards to receive tickets. Tickets may be picked up at the Michigan Union Ticket Office, Michigan Union, ground floor, 530 S. State St., as follows: University community: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. April 29 General public and university community: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. April 30


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 1:46 p.m.

Can let people know whether they are any tix left for UM community and general public after the grads get theirs? Also, any advice for the latter two groups about how early line up, etc?


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 1:45 p.m.

"Zingerman's Baracky Road Gelato" With a name like that, it has to be awful. In the true spirit of the product, does Zingerman's have to charge some customers extra tax on their purchase, only to give the gelato free to others?

Nathan Bomey

Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 1:44 p.m.

I've updated the story to reflect new information from the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. The AACVB says that 50 hotel rooms are now available at two different hotels. Call 734-995-8688 for more information.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 1:05 p.m.

funny how some think Bush eroded our freedoms, yet they don't see that the O has done that very thing


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 12:56 p.m.

Old West Sider: You are spot on. I'll save a seat for you at the bar at Knights and we can sip a mint julep and watch the Derby on Saturday.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 12:47 p.m.

UWM, I felt the heat through the internet on that one.;) Well said.

Old West Sider

Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 12:42 p.m.

With or without a President as guest speaker Graduation Weekend is now and always has been the busiest weekend in Ann Arbor, ask any hotel or restaurant owner.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 12:30 p.m.

I agree with others who ask 'other than graduating students, who cares?' It's fine that students are pumped-up about this, but all the fawning and gushing about Obama is really embarrassing to hear from people who think of themselves as intelligent and worldly. From what I can tell, they're simply star-struck and naive. For example, folks call him "really intelligent," especially compared to G.W. Bush, but if this is so then how come B.O. hasn't released his school transcripts? What's he hiding? At least Bush released his. And further, why didn't B.O. publish anything while he was editor of the Harvard Law Review? Or who could forget B.O.'s statement regarding the "57 states" in the U.S.? The same folks also like portray Palin as a dimwitted Bimbo, but the fact remains that arguably she was more qualified to be president than B.O.: At least S.P. had experience as a mayor and then Governor of Alaska, someone who had to meet payrolls, manage numerous departments, budgets, etc. B.O. was, what, a community organizer and a college lecturer before he was fast-tracked into the Illinois Senate and then U.S. Senate. Yes, B.O. reads a teleprompter very well, but IMO that doesn't make him smart, and in fact from what I've seen of him he's not very smart. Scheming, manipulative, narcissistic and arrogant, yes, but smart - nope. Go ahead and worship him if you want but I sure won't. As for his visit to AA, I hope that they allow opponents to protest his visit and heckle him the way many here on this board cheered on Rick Keith for his performance at the Tea Party. That said, I won't hold my breath.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 11:51 a.m.

"Nice that some people have nothing better to do than mock a war hero. Whether you voted for him or not, agree with him politically or not, John McCain's sacrifice, duty and service to his country dwarfs that of the current president." Sorry I couldn't disagree more. He was a prisoner of war, and was tortured. Now most people will tell you torture doesn't yield any actuall information, yet he is in favor of using such methods to obtain information from captives in the war on terror. Which means he must know these methods actually work, whicdh mean he talked in captivity and gave credible information. Which makes him a traitor to the Amercian people and should be executed.

David Briegel

Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 11:06 a.m.

Bob, Paula, Vera, JakeC, bedrog, you are all so correct! I am truly happy and proud that he is coming to our town. I hope it is a wonderful graduation experience untainted by the contrarians! He is an honest, hard working, decent, intelligent, family values man who has earned everything in his entire life! His detractors (ditto heads) and malcontents who lost an election support people who get ahead as a birthright while extolling the virtues of a meritocracy that only exists in their imaginations. At least I have never, ever heard Obama supporters refer to the malcontents as "America hatin', terrist luvin' defeatists who want our soldiers dead." That is their "ilk"! We have behaved better and simply pointed out the fact that the complainers are wrong.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 10:56 a.m.

Anyone think that people who didn't vote for Obama could have voted for someone actually different, like Bob Barr? Obama and McCain are more alike than different when you think about it...both would have us at war in the Middle East, both would keep adding onto the deficit, both would carry out big bailouts in one hand while lecturing about overzealous greed with the other hand...


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 10:33 a.m.

re all the 'obama as messiah' snarkery from those who viscerally hate him: i don't know any obama supporter who views him as anything other than a bright, decent and articulate alternative to the no-nothings ( palin) and flip-floppers ( mccain, as in correctly castigating the religious right and then embracing them)who opposed say nothing of the former pres who handed him a perfect storm on multiple fronts to try to fix. it's those who call themselves "ditto-heads" and act as trained, lock-step seals to the FOX network who seem to be the misguided 'true believers'.. anyway glad he's coming,although i will avoid downtown at all costs ( and overpaying for a cutely named ice-cream flavor...ben and jerry seem to have local competition on that score)


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 10:26 a.m.

Jeffersom Mkt & Cakery has been running a petition to have Obama come there for lunch! They've had Obama cookies and a cookie contest during the election!


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 10:25 a.m.

I am thrilled the sitting president will speak at my commencement. He is not a messiah but a person who is trying to get the country back on track after 8 years of real freedom erosion (where were you Nobama guys back when the Patriot Act was signed?).


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 10:20 a.m.

Yay. The circus is coming to town! I'm sorry but the T-shirts and gelato is so cheesy. I guess I cant blame them for trying to make a quick buck off the Prez but seems a little over done at this point. People act as if he is some Pop star that sold a ten billion records and deserves all this 16 year old school girl fan mentality. To Ann, here is a story idea: Lets see some stats for how many persons came into town when Clinton came through? And how much it boosted the Econ for that time frame? Id pay to read that. Stories that provide free advertising for local business is not pay for news worthy.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 9:57 a.m.

If you "really don't care" about stories about Obama coming to Ann Arbor (which is a huge deal whether you'd like to acknowledge it or not), I don't understand why you insist on posting negative comments on the story. No one forced you to read the article and there are plenty of other online news sources available. Contrary to the thoughts of various commenters on this site, we do not view Obama as our "savior," but are simply ecstatic that the current president of the United States is speaking at our graduation. It is an absolute honor. Related to the story, I am super glad I made reservations at the Gandy Dancer in February but I had no idea there were going to be 1,999 other parties there as well! After watching a special on the White House where the President went on a burger run, I think he should definitely make a trip to Blimpy Burger over Zingerman's, delish!

Jake C

Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 9:45 a.m.

The only people who seem to describe the President in "messiah"-style language are those who oppose him... wonder why that is. The rest of us realize that he's doing the best he can with an incredibly difficult economic and political situation. And the more we argue, the less will get done. Whatever happened to "It doesn't matter if you voted for him or not, we're in a War (or two) and you need to support the President just like you support the Troops"? I seem to remember that being said a whole lot in the last decade. All of which is irrelevant to the topic of this article, which is the economic impact of the President's visit to Ann Arbor. Which will almost certainly be a positive impact, considering restaurant reservations are higher than usual for a graduation weekend. If you don't want to be around the graduation activities, go ahead and take a trip to Detroit or Flint or Jackson for the weekend and let the rest of us enjoy it.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 9:32 a.m.

Thank you David still amazes me how many of our own citizens want to slam our president and say he's done nothing...

Top Cat

Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 9:27 a.m.

Nice that some people have nothing better to do than mock a war hero. Whether you voted for him or not, agree with him politically or not, John McCain's sacrifice, duty and service to his country dwarfs that of the current president. I cannot think of many Americans that serve as a better example and finer role model to our graduates.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 9:14 a.m.

Seriously? Are people still in such awe about this empty suit? You would think he was going to part the heavens. I'll have make sure I'm not around when he shows up, he's only a disruption.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 9:12 a.m.

David Briegal, I don't have an attitude...just stating the facts. Facts that are upsetting a huge portion of the population....Obama's poll numbers have fallen fast...he's been under 50% approval for some time it's not just me. Ann Arbor is a city that is very much out of touch with mainstream America. Nope, not leaving...staying here. At this point, I'm still free to do that. And for the record, the tax cut's many of us were enjoying have not been renewed...that is a tax increase. Healthcare will result in a tax increase in many ways to middle class consumers. Those are facts...look it up on a non-partisan website. I don't remember saying anything about whatever. Seems like you assume much, like Obama assumes he knows best for America, instead of listening. The people are speaking, and come November you will see that. Until then, go ahead and live in your Ann Arbor bubble.

David Briegel

Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 9:06 a.m.

Or the McCain "family values!?"

David Briegel

Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 8:59 a.m.

jlcmich, He's not our savior, he's our President! Get over it! Do you prefer the Palin family values to the Obame family? seriously! He cut your taxes and our military is doing quite nicely ruling and protecting our "empire"! And please, tell everyone what freedoms you have lost. Besides an election! I hope the students have a wonderful graduation and you get out of town to "reflect" on your attitude!


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 8:52 a.m.

Thank you "jlcmich", I couldn't have said it better!!!!!!Only in Ann Arbor would this be front page news for weeks.....believe it or not many people in Ann Arbor wouldn't walk across the street to listen to Barack!


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 8:39 a.m.

Ann, can we please get some other lead story besides something about Mr. Obama? I mean, forgive me, but many middle-class, normal, mainstream, working(if blessed enough to have a job) families really don't care that he is gonna swing by Ann Arbor. Everyone knows and expects U of M students, who haven't lived in the real world, who are easily impressed by Obama's seemingly eloquent, academia (but empty) speech, to be excited. Many of us who understand what is important in life, are praying the USA resembles the free, industrious, family and moral-based, nation that the founders established at the end of his 4 years. He hasn't accomplished anything worth mentioning, yet U of M hails him as though he is America's savior. Why praise a man that wants to increase our tax burden, weaken our military, apologize to the world because we are a "superpower", force healthcare on people who don't want it, ect... Please, Ann on something worth mentioning as your big story. Thanks.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 8:34 a.m.

Now why would I pay top dollar for a bologna sandwhich?I get enough bologna from this administration as it is.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 8:11 a.m.

Yay Zingermans! Proud that my hometown is hosting the President~


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 8:05 a.m.

This is not much different from most graduation years. Hotels book and eateries are overcrowded. The impact from Obama is minimal at best.


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 7:47 a.m.

Thank God! opps Thank Barrack he is finally helping


Tue, Apr 27, 2010 : 5:09 a.m.

Bravo Zingermans! What a cute idea.