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The Larry J. Bell Library Foundation will be housed at 401 E. Michigan Ave. in Kalamazoo. The Larry J. Bell Library Foundation will be housed at 401 E. Michigan Ave. in Kalamazoo. COURTESY OF FOOD DANCE FACEBOOK PAGE.

Larry J. Bell Library Foundation ‘two years ahead of schedule’ after purchasing Food Dance building 

BY Friday, August 26, 2022 12:55pm

KALAMAZOO — After exiting from the brewery he founded in 1985, Larry Bell initially planned to create a new downtown space to house his collection of Michigan history books, jazz artifacts and historic brewery industry memorabilia. 

When the 26,000-square-foot former Food Dance building at 401 E. Michigan Ave. became available, Bell decided it was too good of a fit to pass up, so he scrapped plans to design and build a new building. 

The Larry J. Bell Library Foundation now has a physical home, which has pushed Bell into high gear to finalize his plans for how the library and museum will operate. 

“I’m two years ahead of schedule, as far as the property is concerned. Operations and some of that thought is not there yet,” Bell told MiBiz. “I’ve been out visiting museums and I’ve got a couple more to go visit. I’ve been traveling around trying to see how people do things, figure out best practices, and learn.” 

The foundation closed on the $3.5 million transaction with Kalamazoo-based Catalyst Development Co. on July 14, according to property records. 


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While the plans are still in flux, Bell envisions the space will have a research library to house the more than 40,000 books he acquired from the collection of historian Larry Massie, as well as other historical books. The jazz aficionado said “there’s a good shot” the facility will include some performance space for intimate concerts. 

Bell also expects to convert a warehouse he currently owns in Kalamazoo to become a display hall for his vast collection of breweriana, or brewery industry memorabilia. 

“I’m not going to have room for everything,” he said, noting that he continues to visit auctions to pick up new pieces for the collection. 

Bell sold Bell’s Brewery Inc. in December 2021 to Australian brewing conglomerate Lion Little World Beverages. Since exiting the business, he’s remained active in local philanthropy, making more than $14 million in donations to local organizations, including Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo College, and The Irving S. Gilmore International Piano Festival, where he established the annual Larry J. Bell Jazz Artist Award for jazz pianists.

“I’m hoping in the future to be able to offer internships to K (College) students over at the Library Foundation,” Bell said. “Certainly with our collection of books on Michigan history and other history, there are countless numbers of senior projects that could be done or other research. The Library has also been collecting jazz stuff. With my contribution to The Gillmore for the Bell Jazz Award, we may get to a point where we’re looking at people doing research into the history of jazz and various items.” 

Given the long history of local business leaders giving back to the Kalamazoo community, being philanthropic “kind of gets baked into your DNA,” Bell said. 

As he finalizes plans for Larry J. Bell Library Foundation building, Bell said he’s hearing a growing interest in the venture, but acknowledges that it could take some time to come to fruition because he’s still adjusting to the transition from running a large company. 

“To go from having a big company with lots of support staff to not having that — now it’s all me — that’s a little difficult,” Bell said. 

He added, with his signature deadpan wittiness: “I was really good at what I did. Now I’ve got another chapter in life to do and I’m trying to figure out how to be good at that, too. And I’m not there yet.”

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Read 2298 times Last modified on Friday, 26 August 2022 13:12
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