Move to and Live in Kalamazoo, Michigan? I'm Glad I Did

Updated on April 15, 2020
B. Leekley profile image

Brian and his wife moved to Kalamazoo MI in July 2011. Brian moved in fall 2018 to 98110. He hopes eventually to live in Kalamazoo again.

Kalamazoo city and county have much to offer persons of all ages. I recommend it as a place to grow up, attend school, have a career, raise a family, host visitors, be an active citizen and community member, and retire. I say why in this article (and in a separate article on retiring here) using personal and observed examples.

Looking toward downtown Kalamazoo from Arcadia Festival Park
Looking toward downtown Kalamazoo from Arcadia Festival Park | Source

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. When I go for a stroll, I see neighbors both of pale skin 'white' European descent and of dark skin 'black' African descent, as well as biracial couples, mowing their lawns or raking fallen leaves or shoveling snow (depending on the season), watching their children playing outside, walking their dogs, and patronizing nearby eateries and shops. I'm not saying that systemic racism has evaporated from Kalamazoo society. Statistics and many personal stories say otherwise. I'm just pleased by my impression that to a substantial (less than 100%) degree Kalamazooians, whatever their race and ethnicity, 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 the poor, with few if any neighborhoods being all of one wealth-level class. Kayle and I live 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, is affordable on our lower-middle-class budget. From home, we can stroll up and about the hill, past large, charming houses owned and occupied by professors, other professionals, and businesspersons.

One of my wife's relations owns two businesses and lives with her retired engineer-manager husband in a neighborhood of mansions and huge yards. They are good-hearted, and their house and its interior decorations are beautiful.

Kalamazoo is ethnically and culturally diverse and cosmopolitan, and yet it has a small-town feel. The many annual festivals give a sense of this diversity.

Kalamazoo Annual Festivals

Name of Festival
Time of Year
Maple Sugar Festival
at the Nature Center
WMU International Festival
at Western Michigan University
Cinco De Mayo Festival
Mexican culture
Kalamazoo Pride
celebrates diversity
Irish Fest
Irish culture
Black Arts Festival
Black culture
Blues Festival
Blues music
Boiling Pot Music Festival
Music, food and culture of various nations
Taste of Kalamazoo
Food festival
Arc fundraiser
Collectible cars
Russian Festival
Russian culture

Personal Impressions: I Love to Hangout in Downtown Kalamazoo

Kalamazoo's downtown is a vibrant place for shopping, entertainment, work, and leisure. My wife and I each enjoy spending time at:

the central public library, whether to browse and borrow books, movies, or music, use a computer, shop in the Friends of the Library bookshop, attend a lecture, meet an author, or get help finding information.

Kalamazoo Central Public Library
Kalamazoo Central Public Library | Source

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, write, or chat, the charm enhanced by the fact that, when she was little, this very building was Kayle's grandfather's gas station—though we like lounging in other coffeehouses and coffee shops downtown almost as much.

cup from Water Street Coffee Joint in Kalamazoo
cup from Water Street Coffee Joint in Kalamazoo | Source

Kalamazoo Mall, to shop and window shop. This isn't a mall at all. It's a north-south street that north and south 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.

Ever since she got on a keto diet and became a running enthusiast, Kayle's favorite Kalamazoo Mall shop has been Gazelle Sports.

We both like 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. And 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 eateries, 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.

One side of a portion of Kalamazoo Mall
One side of a portion of Kalamazoo Mall | Source

Many (not all) of the views in the following video are of downtown Kalamazoo:

The Kalamazoo Promise

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, another of which is 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 is more than one Kalamazoo home schooling association.

Professionals—teachers, counselors, librarians, social workers, psychologists, and so on—employed by the Kalamazoo Public School District are represented by the Kalamazoo Education Association.

What to Do in Kalamazoo and Vicinity

  • Visit Air Zoo theme park and aircraft museum.
  • Visit Kalamazoo Valley Museum.
  • Visit the Kalamazoo Nature Center.
  • Watch a Kalamazoo Growlers baseball game.
  • Watch a Kalamazoo Wings hockey game.
  • Attend summertime Saturday afternoons free concerts downtown in Bronson Park
  • Dine in local restaurants reviewed in the Kalamazoo Foodies blog.
  • Go occasionally to Art Hop, which happens monthly on first Fridays 5 to 9 p.m.. (Many downtown businesses exhibit works by local artists, as do various art galleries and studios.My favorite place to visit during Kalamazoo Art Hop is the Park Trades Center, formerly a factory and now home to many artist studios.) Learn more at the Art Hop webpage of the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo.
  • Visit the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts.
  • Get season tickets to the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra and tickets to the biennial Gilmore Keyboard Festival events.
  • Visit the Gilmore Car Museum.
  • Join the Kalamazoo Public Library and use any of its many branches to borrow books, music, and movies, to attend events for children and adults, such as storytelling and author appearances, and to research local history and organizations.
  • Get season tickets to any of the several live theatres in Kalamazoo.
  • Attend a Western Michigan University sports, educational, or cultural event.

Kalamazoo by Bryan Klinesteker

Questions & Answers

  • Is Michigan an affordable place to live?

    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


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    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      2 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      It is! Thanks, Peggy.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      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!

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      2 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks, Bill. I'm past due updating that hub. I'm still living in Kalamazoo and loving it.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      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.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      3 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks, Happymommy

    • Happymommy2520 profile image


      3 years ago from East Coast

      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!

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      4 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      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 profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      4 years ago from Essex, UK

      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

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      5 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      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 profile image


      5 years ago from USA

      I'd really love to visit Michigan someday, and, if I do, Kalamazoo will likely be on the list.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      6 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks, Arun Kanti.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      6 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      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 profile image


      6 years ago from KOLKATA

      How nicely you have portrayed the wonderful township with beautiful photographs and necessary information! Thank you very much for sharing.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 

      6 years ago from North Texas

      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!

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      6 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      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 profile image

      Sherry Hewins 

      6 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      It sounds like a wonderful place. I've never been to that part of the country much.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      6 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks, Sujaya.

    • sujaya venkatesh profile image

      sujaya venkatesh 

      6 years ago

      good account of a place lee

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      6 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks, word55. I like Kalamazoo a lot, but Chicago is still my favorite city of all.

    • word55 profile image

      Al Wordlaw 

      6 years ago from Chicago

      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!

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      6 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      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 profile image


      6 years ago

      Very nicely written. I've never visited Michigan before but have often thought about doing so.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      6 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks, Marie. Kazoo is a favorite nickname for Kalamazoo. For instance, a book store in town with two shops is Kazoo Books.

    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 

      6 years ago from Jacksonville, FL USA

      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.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      6 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks, McDora.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      7 years ago from The Caribbean

      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!

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      7 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      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.

    • unknown spy profile image

      Life Under Construction 

      7 years ago from Neverland

      sounds like an amazing place.. wished i could visit all beautiful palces in the world :)

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      7 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks very much, Global-Chica. I've got to be conscientious about keeping that hub up to date.

    • Global-Chica profile image


      7 years ago from New York, NY

      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!

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      7 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      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?

    • theraggededge profile image

      Bev G 

      7 years ago from Wales, UK

      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.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      7 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks, rjsadowski.

    • rjsadowski profile image


      7 years ago

      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.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      8 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks alocsin.

    • alocsin profile image

      Aurelio Locsin 

      8 years ago from Orange County, CA

      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.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      8 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      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.

    • profile image

      Finnegan Dinow 

      8 years ago

      Loved it! The quiz had me laughing out loud. Write more, please.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      8 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Keith, thanks!

    • Keith Matyi profile image

      Keith Matyi 

      8 years ago from Denton, TX

      I've been in Kalamazoo being I am from Toledo, Ohio. Good pictures and good story!

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      8 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks for commenting,dahoglund. Maybe when I get to it I'll add some more residential streets in Kalamazoo photos.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I like the looks of the houses, Michigan is a neighbor to us in Wisconsin.


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