Personal Impressions: Kalamazoo Is Harmoniously Diverse
An early and lasting impression for me has been that Kalamazoo, as I've experienced it, is harmoniously racially integrated. That might differ by neighborhood. When I went for a stroll, I saw racially and ethnically different neighbors mowing their lawns, raking fallen leaves, or shoveling snow (depending on the season); watching their children play, and walking their dogs. I'm not saying that systemic racism has evaporated from Kalamazoo society. Statistics and many personal stories say otherwise. The trend, it seemed to me, has been for Kalamazooians of whatever race and ethnicity to relate to one another as fellow humans and neighbors, with equitable fellow feeling, without suspicion or bias.
Kalamazoo neighborhoods range the gamut from wealthy to well-to-do to middle-middle-class to lower-middle-class to poor, with few if any neighborhoods being all of one wealth-level class. My then wife and I lived at the south edge of the Westnedge Hill neighborhood in a tiny one-bedroom apartment. It was a lucky find. Our rent, cheaper than we would pay for subsidized senior housing, was affordable on our lower-middle-class retirement budget. (She was working part-time as a hospice chaplain.) From home, we could stroll up and about the hill, past large, charming houses owned and occupied by university professors and other professionals.
Kalamazoo is culturally diverse and cosmopolitan yet has a small-town feel. The many annual festivals give a sense of its diversity.
Kalamazoo Annual Festivals
|Name of Festival||Time of Year||Theme|
Maple Sugar Festival
at the Nature Center
WMU International Festival
at Western Michigan University
Cinco De Mayo Festival
Black Arts Festival
Boiling Pot Music Festival
Music, food and culture of various nations
Taste of Kalamazoo
Personal Impressions: I Loved to Hang Out in Downtown Kalamazoo
Kalamazoo's downtown is a vibrant place for shopping, entertainment, work, and leisure. My wife and I especially each enjoyed spending time at:
Kalamazoo Central Public Library, where we could browse through and check out books, movies, and music, shop in the Friends of the Library Book Store, use reference works, attend lectures, and meet local authors.
Water Street Coffee Joint, to lounge with a good cup of plain or specialty coffee and a choice of bakery and deli snacks while we read, wrote, or chatted—the charm of the place enhanced by the fact that, when she was little, that building was Kayle's grandfather's gas station.
Kalamazoo Mall, to shop and window shop. This isn't a mall at all. It's a north-south street that outside of downtown is called Burdick Street. Starting in 1959, four blocks got closed to cars and turned into a pedestrian unenclosed "mall." In 1998, two blocks were reopened to car traffic, one lane one way. This is an enjoyable place to stroll and shop, especially in the warm weather months. The sidewalks are extra-wide, and there are lots of outdoor benches and tables with seats.
My ex-wife's favorite Kalamazoo Mall shop—even a keto diet gave her extra energy and, in her sixties, she became a running enthusiast—is Gazelle Sports.
We both liked to stop for lunch or a snack at Irving's Market and Deli.
The Spirit of Kalamazoo is a shop specializing in touristy stuff related to Kalamazoo and Western Michigan University. They sell Plainwell ice cream cones, which I highly recommend.
Caffe Casa is a favorite place for a coffee break.
And Kalamazoo Mall has boutiques, special interest shops, fancy and plain restaurants, and more. The Kalamazoo Mall blocks that are still closed to car traffic go past the Radisson Hotel and the Kalamazoo Valley Community College Arcadia Commons Campus.
Education in Kalamazoo
Kalamazoo is a university town. It is the home of Western Michigan University (WMU), Kalamazoo College, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College (KVCC).
In the Kalamazoo public school system, there are 17 elementary schools, including some magnet schools—one focusing on international studies, a Montessori school, another focusing on writing, and another focusing on science and technology. There are five middle schools, of which one is an alternative learning school and two are magnet schools. There are four high schools, one of which is a "mathematics and science center."
Thanks to anonymous local philanthropists, the "Kalamazoo promise" is a scholarship program whereby every student who completes K-12 grades in the Kalamazoo public school system gets to go to any Michigan state college or university or to any member of the Michigan College Alliance or to any Michigan public community college for free, tuition and required fees paid, with a smaller percent paid if a student moves to town after starting school elsewhere—65% if they go through high school in Kalamazoo.
Kalamazoo also has two Catholic elementary schools and a Catholic high school. The Kalamazoo Christian Schools Association has an elementary school, a middle school, and a high school. There are additional Christian schools and other private schools, such as Gagie School. And there are more than one Kalamazoo homeschooling associations.
With tens of thousands of college and university students needing housing each school year, the rental market in Kalamazoo tends to be tight. Many students live in apartment buildings built for students. Others live in "student ghetto" neighborhoods where old houses, often owned by far-away corporations, have been divided up into apartments or in which a student rents a bedroom and shares the kitchen and bathroom with other students. Early and lucky lookers find better rentals. Some students live in cooperative housing. The coming of the college and university students in late august and their departure in early June is part of the rhythm of life in Kalamazoo.
Health Care and Senior Care
The city of Kalamazoo has two full-service hospitals, Bronson Methodist Hospital and, in Kalamazoo Township, Borgess Hospital, each with over 300 beds for patients. Bronson has branch hospitals, clinics, and labs all over the county. Borgess Hospital is now owned by Ascension, a Catholic non-profit health system.
Kalamazoo County has at least four continuum of care senior campuses:
1. Brookdale Senior Living in Portage, the small city adjacent to Kalamazoo's southern edge
2. The Fountains at Bronson Place
3. Friendship Village Senior Living Community
4. Heritage Community of Kalamazoo
In Kalamazoo County, including the four senior campuses listed above and with some overlap, there are at least twenty nursing homes or memory care facilities, at least two dozen home care agencies, more than two dozen adult day care services, and at least half a dozen hospice services. If and when senior care is needed in Kalamazoo County, there is likely something available for every budget and level of need.
7 Reasons to Retire in Kalamazoo
1. Thinking ahead to the circumstance of being over 80, over 90, or even over 100, with ever-increasing odds of experiencing infirmity, a chronic disease, and dementia, Kalamazoo "has your back" (and the rest of you) with its health care and senior care facilities and services, described in the above capsule, and with Senior Services of Southwest Michigan.
2. According to Payscale, the cost of living in Kalamazoo, especially housing, is significantly lower than the national average and that of many other cities. There are ample housing options in Kalamazoo and the vicinity for those with a middling or high income. (Begin to explore these by searching the Web for Kalamazoo house OR apartment OR condo OR farm OR land.) For low-income seniors, there are multiple affordable and subsidized senior housing options, such as Sunrise Elderly Apartments, Washington Square Co-op Apartments, The Village of Sage Grove, and more.
3. Kalamazoo, located midway between Chicago and Detroit, is a transportation hub that is convenient for all ages. It has an airport, an Amtrak train station, a Greyhound and Indian Trails interstate bus station, and Interstate 94. For retirees, that makes it a convenient location from which to go visit adult children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, other relations, and friends and to host visitors. Locally, Metro is an excellent Kalamazoo city and county bus service.
4. ChurchFinder lists well over 100 Christian churches representing a wide variety of denominations in Kalamazoo. The city also has religious gatherings of Buddhists, Jews (reform; traditional; Hasidic), Muslims, Unitarian Universalists, and more. During my years in Kalamazoo (all within my retirement years), I was active in the Unitarian Universalist Community Church in Portage. Attending Sunday services, participating on committees and in interest groups, volunteering to help with social justice and concerns projects, and attending church social events kept me busy and engaged. I expect that other Kalamazoo area religious communities offer members, including retirees, similar opportunities. To find many of the secular organizations and services offering Kalamazoo seniors opportunities for social and civic engagement, have a look at Meetup, at Senior Services of Southwest Michigan's comprehensive guide (the Activities, Advocacy, Community Centers, Fitness, and Volunteer Opportunities chapters), and at THE PUBLIC LIBRARY'S ORGANIZATIONS DATABASE/////
5. Looking for others who share your hobbies and pastimes? There are over 100 Kalamazoo Meetup groups, including groups whose members are interested in board games, Christianity, creative writing, euchre, hiking, homeschooling, Humanism, kayaking, keto eating, knitting, meditation, nontheism, permaculture, "pub theology," pug dogs, racquetball, Scrabble, Tai Chi, vegan eating, Zen, and much more. And that's just one way to meet people with similar interests. The downtown public library has a database (available online) of local organizations. Many churches have their own special interest small groups. (The church I attend has or has had groups for persons interested in gardening, memoir writing, needlepoint, and more.)
6. Indications of culture and quality of life in Kalamazoo and other cities and towns of Kalamazoo County include public libraries, public parks, and preserves, lakes with boating and fishing, municipal and private golf courses and driving ranges, hiking and bicycling trails, live plays theaters, live music auditoriums and venues, art galleries and an art museum, sports arenas, restaurants and taverns for most budgets and tastes, and more.
7. Kalamazoo is home to Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College, with opportunities for continuing education for retirees and opportunities to attend free and inexpensive lectures, recitals, and other cultural events. KVCC offers a Senior Tuition Waver. WMU is home to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
As you consider the many advantages of Kalamazoo, Michigan, as a place to retire, keep in mind that the city is surrounded by the rest of Kalamazoo county. Your ideal retirement home may be in or outside of the city.
Adjacent to the city, to its south, is Kalamazoo's sister city, Portage, which is larger in area but about a third smaller in population—Kalamazoo: 75,984; Portage: 48,508, as of 2016.
Beyond the two cities, scattered about the county, are numerous small towns. Between them are forests, lakes, and farms. Southwest Michigan, including Kalamazoo County, is known for its fruit farms, producing blueberries, strawberries, peaches, pears, plums, and grapes for eating and for making wine, apples, and more. Live in retirement in a city, small town, or countryside? Each choice has its appeal.
Check It Out!
Kalamazoo city and county have much to offer persons of all ages. I recommend Kalamazoo as a place to grow up, attend school, have a career, raise a family, host out-of-town visitors, be an active community member, and retire.
What We and Friends Have Enjoyed Doing in Kalamazoo and Vicinity
- Visiting Kalamazoo Valley Museum
- Visiting the Kalamazoo Nature Center to walk the trails
- Visiting the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts.
- Watching Kalamazoo Growlers baseball games
- Attending summertime Saturday afternoons free concerts in Bronson Park
- Dining in local restaurants, such as Crow's Nest, Cosmo's Cucina, O'Duffy's Pub, Food Dance, and El Gallo Blanco, to mention a few among the many we liked
- Going occasionally to Kalamazoo Art Hop, which happens monthly on first Fridays from 5 PM to 9 PM—many downtown businesses, along with various art galleries and studios, exhibit works by local artists
- Participating in such social concerns and justice organizations as ISAAC, Michigan United, Kalamazoo Climate Crisis Coalition, Ministry with Community, and Loaves & Fishes
Questions & Answers
Question: Is Michigan an affordable place to live?
Answer: Yes, relatively speaking. For instance, the site Best Places says Kalamazoo is 40% less expensive than Chicago overall, with housing nearly 150% less expensive. On the other hand, Kalamazoo is 4% more expensive than Tohatchi, NM, with housing nearly 25% more expensive. There are a number of websites that compare the cost of living. Of course, a low cost of living can still be expensive for someone with a low income when compared to things like the percentage of income paid for rent, etc.
© 2011 Brian Leekley
Brian Leekley (author) from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on December 18, 2017:
It is! Thanks, Peggy.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 11, 2017:
Thanks for telling us so much about Kalamazoo in terms of statistics as well as your experiences in living there. Enjoyed your wife's photos. Sounds like a great place to live!
Brian Leekley (author) from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on December 11, 2017:
Thanks, Bill. I'm past due updating that hub. I'm still living in Kalamazoo and loving it.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 07, 2017:
I'm not sure how I missed this one. I always enjoy travelogues, and since my total Michigan experience lasted one hour, it was nice to read about a city I've never seen and probably never will see. Thanks for the tour, my friend.
Brian Leekley (author) from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on December 15, 2016:
Amy from East Coast on November 22, 2016:
It's always nice to read Hubs about other places to live in the U.S. Your Hub is very well outlined and written. You hit a lot good points about the place you live. I look forward to reading more of your work!
Brian Leekley (author) from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on April 06, 2016:
Thanks for your nice comment, Alun. I am embarrassed that I have not updated my Kalamazoo hub in a long time and am glad that, even so, you have found it useful and interesting. I like living here more than ever. But I am easy to please and have liked every place I have lived. That's interesting that you were born in Trinidad and lived there long enough to have memories of it.
Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on April 03, 2016:
It's a joy to see the pride that you, and more especially your wife, have in this 'small town' city. The information and descriptions you provide, as well as the links, would be invaluable to anyone visiting for the first time and spending any time there.
And what a name! A name which ensures that the city is known throughout the world. I'd love to live in a place with a name like Kalamazoo! I'd have to work it into every conversation I had with anyone I met. The best I can do is my birth place - though British, I was born on the island of Trinidad in a district called Gasparillo (I used to think it was Sasparilla - sounding like the drink), so I have to work the exotic sounding Gasparillo Trinidad into any conversation I have - just as I've done here :)
Seriously, a useful page about what sounds like a nice place to live. I like the song too! Alun
Brian Leekley (author) from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on July 22, 2014:
Let us know when you'll be in town, ologsinquito, and maybe Kayle and I will take you to a Growlers baseball game or a Wings hockey game or to a nearby pick-your-own blueberries farm.
ologsinquito from USA on July 18, 2014:
I'd really love to visit Michigan someday, and, if I do, Kalamazoo will likely be on the list.
Brian Leekley (author) from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on July 09, 2014:
Thanks, Arun Kanti.
Brian Leekley (author) from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on July 09, 2014:
Thanks for your comment, Au fait. Your feedback will be helpful when I now and then update this hug. I'll emphasize personal experiences and original photos. Texas sounds like a very hot place. This summer is a little cooler than usual here in Kalamazoo. Our window air conditioner is still stored in the basement.
ARUN KANTI CHATTERJEE from KOLKATA on July 07, 2014:
How nicely you have portrayed the wonderful township with beautiful photographs and necessary information! Thank you very much for sharing.
C E Clark from North Texas on July 05, 2014:
Lots of statistics and details about Kalamazoo! You're only 50,000 population less than here where I live in North Texas about 45 miles north of Dallas/Fort Worth, but you have a Greyhound bus station and we don't, but of course we're just a half hour or so from DFW Airport, depending on traffic. You have one more public library than we have, too.
I know most of this information is easily accessible for most cities of any size, but I found it interesting that you have collected it all into one place. I don't begin to know all those things about here where I'm living and I know I should after all these years. Of course some of it was from yours and your wife's own experience, which was best of all. The photos were excellent. Knowing you enjoy living there makes Kalamazoo look better than anything else you could say about it. Learning about a place one has never been from a credible person can make all the difference in how people think about a business, restaurant, city, etc. Certainly far better than cold statistics.
I miss the cool temperatures of Wisconsin where I'm from. Not the below zero temps, mind you, that are common in winter up there, but the usually civilized temperatures of summer and fall.
Today it is only 90 F. but my a/c acts like it's 100. It's been very strange this year, cooler than usual according to the meteorologists. My a/c doesn't usually get tired until late afternoon around 99 F., but this year it's getting tired around 89 F, and the hottest recorded temperature has been only 94 this year, and rarely that high. I'm wondering if they have a different way of measuring the temperature to make it seem cooler than it is? If so, my a/c isn't fooled.
A very nice article and I enjoyed reading it and seeing the pictures. Voted up!
Brian Leekley (author) from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on April 10, 2014:
Thanks for reading and commenting, Sherry. I have relations in CA and have visited there a few times and like it a lot. A sister and a brother both lived for many years in LA county. Now the one is in San Francisco and the other is in Soquel, near Santa Cruz. I look forward to visiting CA again one of these years. I've been content in Kalamazoo.
Sherry Hewins from Sierra Foothills, CA on April 07, 2014:
It sounds like a wonderful place. I've never been to that part of the country much.
Brian Leekley (author) from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on February 10, 2014:
sujaya venkatesh on February 08, 2014:
good account of a place lee
Brian Leekley (author) from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on February 08, 2014:
Thanks, word55. I like Kalamazoo a lot, but Chicago is still my favorite city of all.
Al Wordlaw from Chicago on February 08, 2014:
Looks good, sounds good, good educational system and nice things to do. I've been through Kal once. It's as amazing as you have said. I've been to Barren Springs a few times too and even Three Rivers a few times. I know people in Grand Rapids. Of course, Michigan's Detroit was labeled The Motor City back in the days of car making. I like the Kalamazoo song too. Thanks for sharing. Yep, not too far from Chy-town. Great hub! voted up!
Brian Leekley (author) from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on September 26, 2013:
Thanks for your nice comment, CraftytotheCore. I hope you like Michigan when you get around to visiting. My favorite area is the upper peninsula. I included a little about it in my hub about Marquette. Southwest Michigan, where I live now, has, besides Kalamazoo and Portage, lots of quaint little country towns, touristy towns along Lake Michigan, and fruit orchards.
CraftytotheCore on September 26, 2013:
Very nicely written. I've never visited Michigan before but have often thought about doing so.
Brian Leekley (author) from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on September 25, 2013:
Thanks, Marie. Kazoo is a favorite nickname for Kalamazoo. For instance, a book store in town with two shops is Kazoo Books.
Marie Flint from Jacksonville, FL USA on September 24, 2013:
Inasmuch as Michigan is my home state, I chose to read this one. Lots of information! (Whew!)
My favorite part of the hub was when you began to set aside the statistics and began talking about the history through your wife's knowledge. And, your title expresses this type of slant.
By the way, a thought just came to me . . . Kalamazoo rhymes with kazoo, the little instrument for humming. (How fun!)
Thank you for sharing.
Brian Leekley (author) from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on July 17, 2013:
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on July 16, 2013:
Great article, and lovely pictures by your wife. I have seen a little of Kalamazoo (always loved the name), and appreciate the interesting information you give. Voted Up!
Brian Leekley (author) from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on December 31, 2012:
Thanks, unknown spy. I hope you will write about the beautiful places you do experience. Some places are obviously and inescapably beautiful -- quaint towns set in awesome landscapes --, while in other towns, like Kalamazoo, beauty is there if you watch for it.
DragonBallSuper on December 31, 2012:
sounds like an amazing place.. wished i could visit all beautiful palces in the world :)
Brian Leekley (author) from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on September 11, 2012:
Thanks very much, Global-Chica. I've got to be conscientious about keeping that hub up to date.
Anna from New York, NY on September 04, 2012:
Kalamzoo seems like a nice small town - I really enjoyed reading your take on it, your pictures, and the quiz is both funny and informative. Voted up and awesome!
Brian Leekley (author) from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on July 28, 2012:
Thanks, theraggededge. Small world. I wonder if a printing company in Kalamazoo specializes in printing payslips? Or if one of those companies that handle the payroll details for small companies is in Kalamazoo? Or if you worked for subsidiaries of a company with its head office in Kalamazoo? Or?
Bev G from Wales, UK on July 27, 2012:
I used to wonder why, in the several companies I worked for in the 70s and 80s (here in the UK) always had 'Kalamazoo' printed on the payslips. I used to ask but no-one knew. Thank goodness for the internet! Lovely hub. Voted up.
Brian Leekley (author) from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on July 24, 2012:
rjsadowski on July 19, 2012:
I used to live in Michigan and I frequently drove by Kalamazoo but I never had any good reason to stop. Your Hub is awesome.
Brian Leekley (author) from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on April 07, 2012:
Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on April 05, 2012:
I've always wanted to visit Kalamazoo, just because it's part of the saying "Timbuktu to Kalamazoo." I love the train station since model trains are a hobby of mine. Voting this Up and Interesting.
Brian Leekley (author) from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on November 26, 2011:
Thanks, Finnegan. I'm thinking of doing an "Introduction To ..." series. I hope you like that whole group as I add pages to it. One problem I'm having is budgeting my time between writing notes on all the ideas I have for hubs and getting hubs written, polished, and published.
Finnegan Dinow on November 26, 2011:
Loved it! The quiz had me laughing out loud. Write more, please.
Brian Leekley (author) from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on November 23, 2011:
Keith Matyi from Denton, TX on November 23, 2011:
I've been in Kalamazoo being I am from Toledo, Ohio. Good pictures and good story!
Brian Leekley (author) from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on November 23, 2011:
Thanks for commenting,dahoglund. Maybe when I get to it I'll add some more residential streets in Kalamazoo photos.
Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on November 22, 2011:
I like the looks of the houses, Michigan is a neighbor to us in Wisconsin.