On the cutting edge

. June 26, 2013.
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Bob Sparrow is a son, a brother, a father, a grandfather, your local butcher, a hunter/trapper, a boss, and a fitness fanatic—not to mention quite the conversationalist. While he wraps up skirt steak for four, he’ll ask you about where you grew up and what your parents do; he’ll talk finances and politics and have you on your way in two minutes.

Bob and his wife Lisa grew up in Willis, Michigan, and worked together at a market in Ypsilanti during their high school years. After years of hunting and trapping, a skill he learned from his parents and grandparents, Bob took his self-proclaimed “real good and fast knife skills” behind the meat counter. Lisa worked in the front of the shop, and as their romance blossomed, so did a business idea. After they were married, they opened a meat market of their own on South Main Street in Ann Arbor.

In 1985, Bob and Lisa moved their operation to the Kerrytown Shops on Fifth Avenue & Kingsley Street, leaving the family business on South Main to Bob’s mother. Hard work and consistency are the tenets that Bob follows and it’s paid off considering in the past five years the Sparrow business has expanded to include a produce and dry goods market, as well as a gym.

The Kerrytown shop is a two-story building. The first story is an open market where different businesses lease space. The central area has historically been a produce market although it’s changed ownership several different times. Each time a different business (including a Zingerman’s-owned store) went under, it would drag down other businesses in the market.

“Taking over was more of a survival tactic than anything else,” says Bob. A few years after he took over the produce, Bob opened a gym across the courtyard. Sparrow Gym has over 300 members that come to a 3000 square foot space to train with Josh Johnson, a full-time trainer and partner in the business. On the subject of fitness, Bob says “it’s something I believe in. It’s not a quick fix, but a lifestyle change that has worked for a whole bunch of people.”

The changes Bob and Lisa created within the market have had a far reach in the neighborhood. Kerrytown is now one of the most happening spots in Ann Arbor, and every storefront in the 407 building where Sparrow is located is currently leased. “I don’t know if you could say that about anywhere else in the country,” says Bob. In their 25 years in the market, the Sparrows have seen the clientele diversify, meat consumption increase, and an overall boost of confidence and investment in the neighborhood.

In addition to growing an empire of businesses, the Sparrows have also raised three children.  Their oldest, Chelsea, lives in Deluth and has a ten-month old named Dominick, the newest in the Sparrow clan. Their middle son, Jordan, graduated this past spring from Michigan Tech and is working with his father behind the meat counter these days. Their youngest, Adrian, also helps out in the market and is beginning his senior year at Dexter High School. The Sparrows’ family business extends beyond their children to include college and high school students in and around Ann Arbor. They treat their employees as no less than family, which makes for a strong sense of community for workers and shoppers alike. 

One of Bob’s favorite sayings is “every day is game day,” and he lives up to it. He still works six days a week at his business and hustles so that all of his employees will. Asked what he loves most about his job, Bob answered: “The freedom. Freedom of not having a boss, choosing your own path and knowing that your success is your responsibility”