Monday, November 28, 2011

First Citizen Larry Neal leads Bloomfield Hills' library effort

Larry Neal, this year's Birmingham Eccentric First Citizen, knows something about libraries. And he loves them.

So when Bloomfield Hills, his hometown for 29 years, broke with the Bloomfield Township library eight years ago, he, like many residents, felt adrift. And when opponents of a library agreement spread information that he felt was incorrect, he was moved to act.

“That sort of started it for me,” Neal said. He met with some like-minded neighbors, including then-mayor Dave Kellett, approached the Bloomfield Hills City Commission and the township library board to possibly hammer out an agreement.

“We did come up with a proposal in 2009,” said Neal. That was in March of that year and by May it was on the ballot. “I was organizer of the millage process,” Neal said. He brought friends and neighbors into the process, but there just wasn't enough time between March and the election in May to sell the proposal to the community. It lost by just 90 votes.

Still, Neal said, “I was thrilled to see that this could progress this far.” And he was encouraged not to give up.

“People have a very strong interest in the library,” he said. “They see it as an integral part of the community.” And he worried. “I saw a generation of kids growing up without a connection to the library,” he said.

That led to the second millage effort, a massive (by Bloomfield Hills standards) campaign effort, including lawn signs and door-to-door visits. “I hate lawns signs,” Neal said. “But I ended up designing one.”

It all came to a head at Northern Lakes seafood restaurant on Tuesday, Nov. 8, where Neal gathered with a small group of friends to anxiously await the results of the millage vote. And anxious it was, early result were extremely close, with the yes votes slightly ahead. The tension was lifted a short while later when the results came in — the three-year .39 mill question had passed. It wasn't an overwhelming victory — 548 to 509 votes — but it was enough to allow the city to execute a contract with the Baldwin Public Library. At last, the city had its own library again.

“I'd like to say I was relieved,” Neal said. “But three years is not a long time.” He's advised millage supporters to keep their lawn signs handy for the next go-round.

That 84,000-square-foot facility is state of the art, even offering services for the blind. Some days the library is so packed that there isn't room for cars in the lot. That alone, he said, shows that libraries aren't obsolete or even threatened by today's modern technology.

Still he plans to make people aware of what the Baldwin Library has to offer. That shouldn't be too difficult. Bloomfield Hills residents already have flooded over to Baldwin to get their library cards. And they thank Neal.

“City residents have use of Birmingham's Baldwin Public Library because of Larry's outstanding leadership and perseverance,” said Mary Joseph, “a proud Baldwin library card holder,” in her nomination of Neal for First Citizen.

“He has improved the quality of life in our community through his tireless volunteer efforts to lead the “Library YES” vote and should be recognized for his exceptional service to our residents. Because of Larry, we have a happy ending to the Bloomfield Hills library story.”

Her comments were typical in the dozens of nominations for Neal that were submitted.

“Without Larry's dedication to the cause he so firmly believed in, I do not think that we would have a contract with the Baldwin Library today,” said Carol Young, in her nomination of Neal. “My family and I would like to recognize Larry with the prestigious First Citizen award because he truly led (in first position) the team that worked with him to get the contract with Baldwin. I signed up for my library card on Nov. 15 at 11 a.m., the first day of our contract.”

That tied into exactly the message Neal plans to deliver: “Get your library card, and I'll see you at the library.”

Written by: Greg Kowalski Eccentric Staff Writer

Monday, November 21, 2011

Richard Astrein: This year's leading business person

It is hard to believe the holidays are upon us and 2011 is crashing toward a conclusion. It has been a very busy year here at the Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber, and we are grateful to our members and sponsors for helping to make it a memorable and successful year.

We have lots of exciting plans for 2012, all geared toward helping our members increase their spheres of influence and ultimately grow their business. And we will continue to support the many charitable organizations that comprise our Nonprofit Network to help them realize their goals, develop relationships with the private sector, and continue to improve the quality of life in the “Five Bs and beyond.”

Before we shift our focus to 2012, there still is some important business to be completed this year; namely, thanking our volunteers who give so generously of their time, talent and treasure on behalf of the BBC, and to recognize the 2011 Business Person of the Year. We do this at the chamber's annual meeting, scheduled for 8-9:30 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 1, at The Community House in downtown Birmingham.

Those attending the breakfast meeting (and we hope to see all of our members and friends there) likely will immediately recognize this year's Business Person of the Year. And that is exactly why Richard Astrein is so richly deserving of the recognition.

Richard, along with his brother, Gary, has operated Astrein's Creative Jewelers on Maple Road in the heart of downtown Birmingham for nearly 35 years. Richard always has shared his family's business success with the community, supporting a multitude of charities including the pediatric cancer programs at Beaumont Children's Hospital, the Alzheimer's Association, Common Ground and the Birmingham Bloomfield Community Coalition, to name a few.

Astrein also is a tireless promoter of Birmingham, and is a founding board member of the Birmingham Principal Shopping District, and a former director and still ardent supporter of the Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber. He truly loves this community, and has gone light years beyond many of his peers in supporting the community, its residents and its institutions.

With the holiday shopping season upon us, Astrein will be easy to spot in his store and in downtown Birmingham. If you find yourself near his business, stop in and thank him for all of his hard work and efforts. And please consider coming to the annual meeting to share in his well-deserved accolades. Visit the chamber's website at for more details.

Joe Bauman is president of the Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber. He welcomes feedback at