There may be few families that have more maize and blue running through their collective veins than the Linn family of Detroit. Parents Thom and Diane graduated from the University of Michigan and sent all three of their children – Emily, Andy and Rob – to Ann Arbor to study as well.
All three siblings live, breathe and work in and for Detroit, just like their Mom and Dad. Emily, Andy and Rob proudly proclaim themselves as seventh-generation Detroiters. Rob works as assistant director at the Detroit Land Bank. He graduated from U-M in 2009 with a Bachelor’s in social science and in 2011 with a Master’s in Land Use and Economic Development Planning.
Andy works at Zachary and Associates as an urban planner and historic preservation consultant. He received his Bachelor’s from in 2006. And Emily, who received her Bachelor in Fine Arts in 2000, is an illustrator, photographer and graphic designer.
Moreover, Andy and Emily are the heart behind Detroit’s popular City Bird. The store, which opened in 2009, has become one of the city’s most beloved art and home good stores. In 2011, they expanded the company and its eclectic yet accessible design aesthetic by opening Nest on the same block in Midtown.
The trio also are the authors of “Belle Isle to 8 Mile: An Insider’s Guide to Detroit,” which features more than 1,000 places to experience within the city limits. The book, which first came out in 2012, was an instant success, giving people near and far insights into the city, its institutions, bars, shops and more. The most recent edition, which came out in December 2018, expanded the book to more than 1,500 locations that the Linns and friends found through their explorations of the city.
Andy Linn offered his take on how the siblings work together, how they’ve created Linn Enterprises and how their years in Ann Arbor impacted their lives.
How has being siblings and business/writing partners helped? How has it been challenging, and how do you manage that?
ANDY: Working together and collaborating as siblings is very special. We’ve found that our various strengths, weaknesses, and interests mesh well and act as great foils and inspirations for our many collaborations together. In our experience, there aren’t many challenges presented by being sibling-collaborators, but one specific hurdle that we’ve worked to overcome is striving to cultivate ideas outside of our own inner circle. We believe this can be a challenge for any tight-knit group of collaborators.
For us, the solution has manifested itself in the broad range of co-authors and contributors that we tapped and worked with to create both the first and second editions of “Belle Isle to 8 Mile,” as well as the talented and creative team we have at City Bird and Nest.
How do you create the Linn aesthetic? How does that mesh with Detroit’s long history and the products you offer?
ANDY: We draw our aesthetic from several sources. We greatly appreciate history, whether that manifests itself in personal stories, written histories, gritty industrial relics, or historic Detroit detritus—or is that Detroitus? In City Bird and Nest—which are located in neighboring industrial spaces in a former Buick factory—we’ve pulled together seemingly disparate displays, including enormous 100-year old industrial carts; oak library shelves from the long lost historic Cass Technical High School; industrial pendant lamps from Detroit factories; and tiered carts from a turn-of-the-century shoe factory. We punctuate this grit and character with art, design, flavor, color, and a touch of whimsey in the many products we offer.
What is the City Bird philosophy in terms of offering retail to Detroiters and suburbanites?
ANDY: We’re lifelong, seventh-generation Detroiters. We came to retail from an unexpected direction, as a way to combine our seemingly disparate backgrounds in urban planning and fine art, our mutual love for design, and our desire to contribute to the vitality of our city and neighborhood. Though today, our corner of the neighborhood is a bustling retail district, when we opened City Bird in 2009, it was a much different place. We wanted there to be independent retail options in the city, and we were inspired to open our store for this reason. We were motivated more by being able to create an amenity in the Cass Corridor, and an incubator for local artists and makers, than we were by potential business opportunities.
We originally envisioned City Bird—and later Nest—as local Cass Corridor amenities, but we’re equally thrilled to meet regional visitors who come to the shop while exploring the city. Daily, we meet customers from outlying stretches of Metro Detroit who remark that they haven’t been downtown in decades. We find these interactions exciting, because we love to show off the city, and tell newcomers about the boundless destinations and amenities from the essential to the obscure. In fact, it was interactions like these that inspired the creation of “Belle Isle to 8 Mile.” We found ourselves drawing maps on the back of City Bird receipts with recommendations for everything from restaurants to speakeasies, and secret blues jams to folk art, we were moved to publish a book that detailed so many of the things that make the city such a unique and inspiring place.