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

Brian and his wife lived together in Kalamazoo from 7-2011 to 10-2018. He moved to 98110; she stayed. They divorced and remain friends.

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.

Looking toward downtown Kalamazoo from Arcadia Festival Park

Looking toward downtown Kalamazoo from Arcadia Festival Park

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 in 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 FestivalTime of YearTheme

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 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

Kalamazoo Central Public Library

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

cup from Water Street Coffee Joint in Kalamazoo

cup from Water Street Coffee Joint in Kalamazoo

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

One side of a portion of Kalamazoo Mall

One side of a portion of Kalamazoo Mall

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—ever 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.

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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.

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 are more than one Kalamazoo home schooling 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 4 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 of housing, is significantly lower than the national average and than many other cities. There are ample housing options in Kalamazoo and vicinity for those with a middling or high income. (Begin to explore these by searching the Web on: 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, which 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, raquetball, Scrabble, Tai Chi, vegan eating, Zen, and much more. And that's just one way to meet with 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, grapes for eating and for making wine, apples, and more. Live in retirement in city, small town, or countryside? Each choice has appeals.

What We and Friends Have Enjoyed Doing in Kalamazoo and Vicinity

Kalamazoo by Bryan Klinesteker

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:

Thanks, Happymommy

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.


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.