In 1927, Ray E. Collins bought the Blue Front Cigar Store at the corner of Packard & State, and the rest, as they say, is history. Ray was a legend in Ann Arbor, sitting behind his counter stacked with newspapers, gruffly answering questions and keeping his eyes peeled for ne'er-do-wells. Ray had some troubles with the law himself, getting cited over the years for fire hazards that were a result of his commitment to carrying every newspaper he could find and putting it anywhere he could find.
Ray died in 1974, willing the Blue Front to his long-time employee Jill Warren. Jill kept the Blue Front pretty much the same, widening the aisles a little, organizing the papers a bit more but leaving the hanging bulbs, thank you. In 1981, Jill sold the Blue Front to William Graving while maintaining ownership of the building. Ray started out as an employee of the Blue Front, so did Jill, and later employees would continue to have a fierce loyalty to the store and its traditions.
We may never know how the Blue Front got its name (Ray didn't know). We know the name was first used in the 1922 Polk City Directory. We were able to trace ownership back to 1908 when 701 Packard first appears in the City Directory with James R. Reed, News Depot followed by Davis & Konold in 1913, Clinton H. Davis in 1915, and Ernest C. Rumbelow in 1916. In 1921 it became Reynolds & Webb Cigars, the first time cigars overtakes newspapers in the store's name. In 1922 R. M. Housel bought the store, hired Ray sometime after that, changed the name to the Blue Front and then sold it to Ray. Goodbye, Blue Front.