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The first businesses naturally were those that met the immediate needs of a frontier settlement. In the early 1830's there was S. Cook's saddlery, which noted that hides and deerskins were as good as cash. Barter was common on the frontier where money was scarce. Brown and Co. Flour Mill operated on the Huron. George Prussia advertised his tannery and his availability as a shoe and boot maker. Three general stores offered groceries, hardware, crockery, medicines, and "buffalo robes." Detroit and Ypsilanti firms also advertised in Ann Arbor papers.

By the middle '30's business was expanding, the economic outlook was bright, and citizens were talking of bringing the railroad into town. Also, the business community became more diverse and the available goods more sophisticated. To be sure, firms like Dennis and Goodspeed still sold nails, scythes, spades, shovels, saws, gates, and general hardware; and there was John White's rifle shop. But, now there was also Mills and Irish clothing store offering "ready made clothes." McKinney and Davidson had opened a brick kiln and Reuben Moore in Lower Ann Arbor offered luxury items like "Boston style Hats." D. W. and C. Bliss opened a jewelry store in 1837 and E. P. Dwight started a book store. There was an Ann Arbor brewery operated by Bandwell and Brown. The Bank of Ann Arbor and the Bank of Washtenaw were chartered. Typical of frontier financial institutions, the Bank of Washtenaw issued its own beautifully engraved notes to reduce the currency shortage. Like most Michigan banks, it failed in the years following the Panic of 1837. Undoubtedly, the climax of business activity in the '30's came on October 17, 1839, when to the accompaniment of fanfare and speeches, the first train steamed into town and linked Ann Arbor with Ypsilanti and Detroit.

The pattern of business set in the 1830's continued in the 1840's and '50's with minor modification reflecting better transportation, more affluence and greater demand for luxury goods. Bach and Abel's offered not only school books, but "classical works" as well. H. Schlack advertised a confectionery store in 1845 and D. Tyler announced in 1845 that he had been appointed Ann Arbor agent for "Beal's Hair Restorative which will effectually restore a luxuriant growth of Hair to Bald Heads..." Music was sold by 1843, and Mrs. E. S. Rawson advertised "fancy goods" from New York and "hesitates not to say that her hats, flowers and ribbons surpass anything heretofore offered in this vicinity, both in newness of style and richness of materials."

In 1843 Christian Eberbach "thoroughly educated as a chemist and apothecary in Germany" opened his own drug business. A confidential credit rating for 1845 noted that he was "a very prudent, economical and industrious man...who lives very economically and will continue to save after the true German fashion."

The '40's saw the beginning of another traditional Ann Arbor business, the boarding house catering to students. A. Hickcox told Ann Arborites that "he has taken the house on Huron Street, recently occupied by John Allen, Esq., which he opened as a Boarding House... Students at the University will be accommodated with board at his house upon as reasonable terms as elsewhere."