Small new stuff on the south side, State Street

Join me, won’t you, for a quick drive up a couple blocks of State Street?

If you live in Michigan, you have no doubt stored beverages on your patio or deck, in your garage, or otherwise taken advantage of the winter climate to rapidly chill them. And you know what it’s like – if it’s warm enough or you don’t forget about them for too long, it’s nice and cold. If it’s too cold for too long, they freeze up and burst. But once in a while you manage to dance the line between liquid and frozen, and when you open the super-cooled drink it instantly chills into a slush right in the bottle. There are YouTube videos about this but leave it to the innovative beverage scientists at Coke to reproduce this effect on demand: behold, the Arctic Coke Machine.

“Arctic Coke” cooler at Speedway, State and Ellsworth. (C)A2R.S

This skirting of the laws of physics is now available as a value-add for Coke, Sprite, and Powerade at the State and Ellsworth Speedway store. It is right next to 12 taps of ICEE beverages, including Coke, but I guess sometimes it’s worth extra to drink it out of a plastic bottle? Oooookay. At least you get the science-experiment part.

Ellsworth west of State Street. From left: Timbits, tenantless, Tireman. (C)A2R.S

Across Ellsworth from Speedway, at the northeast corner of the roundabout, a lot was accidentally left vacant when Tim Horton’s and Belle Tire crammed into the area behind the oil change place. Fortunately, this oversight is quickly being corrected. A sign at the Jimmy John’s driveway says “Join Jimmy John’s and Pearle Vision,” so count on Pearle showing up in this building when it’s finished, and possibly leaving Briarwood? Pearle is currently next to Apple; does Apple take the empty Pearle shell over and finally get that Somerset-size store? …nah.

Burger King and Hyatt Place signs adjacent to northbound State Street. (C)A2R.S

This small, lit “Burger King” sign recently showed up by the side of State Street. While the Hyatt Place sign behind it is right next to the new Hyatt’s driveway, this Burger King sign is not really next to anything. (I was near the gas pumps of the overpriced Mobil station here when I snapped this photo.) I believe it was placed here to advertise the presence of a Burger King on Victors Way, behind the Mobil station, but if you tried to turn at this sign, you would be a little lost, because the BK parking lot is not connected to the other parking lots. Not that this would stop Mark Borchardt (warning, language):

Burger King’s investment in a permanent sign, no matter how low-profile, leads me to think its distinctive Victors Way location is here to stay. That building in front of the Hyatt is currently being finished and now displays a “Retail For Lease” sign. No drive-thru. Still not sure what it’s going to be.

I haven’t spent much time in Briarwood lately, although I did photograph a small change to a big part of the mall last time I was there, and friend-of-the-blog Chris was good enough to remind me to mention it. When I first noticed it last month, I thought it was an oversight, or an odd joke — the winking neon “OPEN” sign, in the window of the hollowed-out shell of MC Sports.

Parking lot entrance of former MC Sports, currently Colby Bounce. (C)A2R.S

However, it turns out the space has been filled with a bouncery and minigolf establishment, Colby Bounce.

Mall entrance of Colby Bounce, Briarwood Mall. (C)A2R.S
“Colby Bounce” entrance with policy sign. (C)A2R.S

Which returns this space’s purpose to, once again, an ephemeral enterainment destination. Can movie screens be far off? Is “bouncery” a real word?

(pɹoʍ ןɐǝɹ ɐ ʇou sı ʇı ‘ou ؛uɹnʇǝɹ ɹǝʌǝu ʎןǝʞıן ןןıʍ puɐ ɟɟo ɹɐɟ ǝq ʇɔɐɟ uı uɐɔ ʎǝɥʇ ‘sǝʎ :sɹǝʍsuɐ)


FIRST OF ALL: Please revisit last week’s post about the State Theater and Urban Outfitters. I have updated it to include Russ Collins’ assertion that UO is negotiating a new lease and not necessarily leaving.

READERS WRITE: Jeremy recently asked what I know about the history of the current Pretzel Bell, on Liberty and Main. You may have realized by now that I pretty much only do research for this thing to find old photos, so hopefully you won’t be too disappointed if I just recall this for a moment.

Prior to the current, less-divey Pretzel Bell, this space was Lena and Habana, a Cuban restaurant upstairs and a bar downstairs. Cafe Habana was originally on Washington Street below the Blue Tractor and proved so popular it was spun out into its own space. I never dined at Lena, but Habana had good chips and salsa and a couple of their own-label beers that were drinkable and I suppose I’m sorry to see them gone.

“Parthenon Restaurant, May 1995.” (C) The Ann Arbor News.

Before it was Lena and Habana, it was the Parthenon, a Greek restaurant. I took a little ribbing last week for saying UO was open for “zillions” of years on State Street, so I’m going to be more conservative this time and note that Parthenon was open for at least five but not more than one hundred years.

“Cunningham Drug Stores, 1940s.” Bentley Historical Library, used with permission. (Just kidding, I didn’t ask)

Before that it was a Cunningham Drugs, a Detroit-based chain which, long after this location became the Parthenon, would eventually become part of another Detroit chain, Arbor Drugs. Arbor Drugs would eventually be acquired by CVS Health.

I’m Of A Certain Age and, though I’m largely used to it now, I still can’t quite describe the je-ne-sais-quoi of CVS as a legit drugstore. CVS was originally introduced to the Detroit area as a drugstore substitute in all the local malls. They had the general-merchandise, health-and-beauty, and snack stuff you find in a CVS of today, though they did not have a pharmacy. They are open later than the mall now, and actually fill prescriptions! You kids don’t even know how “okay, I guess” you have it!

Dead-Drop Gorgeous

Here’s the first Amazon Locker I have observed in Ann Arbor. It’s outside the Speedway fuel station/convenience store at North Maple Road and Miller Avenue, near Skyline High.

Amazon Locker at Maple-Miller Speedway. (C)A2R.S

You can specify this Locker, one of many throughout the world, as your ship-to location instead of your home or office; when your order is delivered you receive a code via text that lets you open a door and retrieve the shipment at your convenience.

If this sounds familiar to you as an Ann Arbor resident, it’s because you are a patron of the Pittsfield or Malletts Creek branches of AADL, who have offered this service for hold requests for years.

This is Speedway’s latest foray into self-service colocation at one of their always-open stores;; in the twilight of Blockbuster Video a few years back, they placed a Blockbuster Express — essentially a Redbox, but blue — just inside their State and Ellsworth location, near the front door and the ATM. Unlike that kiosk, this Amazon Locker is located outside the building. Its touch screen was not yet operational today, but the protective plastic bubble over its security camera has already been shattered.

Mahalo Aloha to Urban Outfitters (or, “a2retail.scooped/by/Mark-Maynard”)

UPDATE: Russ Collins, Executive Director and CEO of the Michigan Theater Foundation, believes reports of UO’s departure are exaggerated. His post below:

MTF owns the State Theater upstairs, so Russ has particular insight. He can’t be talking about me, of course — nothing about this site should be construed as journalism — but I stand by the historical portions of my post. Please continue to treat the world-burrito-shops part as speculation. Thank you for reading, A2R.S

Wednesday night, news that Urban Outfitters is leaving State Street after about a zillion years hit the streets, from, of all places, Ypresario Mark Maynard.

I consider this a seismic shift for State Street retail. UO’s space was originally the main floor of the State Theater, a single-giant-screen movie palace built in the early forties, then converted to four screens in the late seventies. (If inside the store, I believe, the giant “URBAN” logo on the back wall is where the big screen used to be.)

Although the ground floor was completely renovated for Urban Outfitters’ opening in the early 90s, the two upstairs theaters were left as-was, and were reopened by Aloha Entertainment as a second-run bargain theater in the 90s.

“Billie Spurlin, renovating the State Theater, September 1992.” (C) The Ann Arbor News.

A few years later they pivoted to more Michigan-Theateresque indie and arthouse fare. I caught “Clerks,” “Kids,” and “The Blair Witch Project” here during their original releases. Those are the first three that come to mind. Finally, they joined the Michigan Theater Foundation and became part of their programming schedule, with additional classic midnight-movie selections.

The State is presently closed for renovation to make it ability-friendly and to restore its original 40s look. I kind of hope they fix it so you don’t have to look slightly to the left at the screen all the time.

Urban Outfitters’ space might be the first in a while big enough to open one of those too-small mini Target stores with no selection, but I can’t imagine how they will manage the deliveries. Apple could make it work, but Briarwood will never let them leave. I predict that it will be divided into at least two storefronts, and each space will be a different regional-cuisine take on the burrito or wrap sandwich. State Street doesn’t have enough sandwich places.

There’s always the possibility these days that U-M or a dot-com will take it for office space too. But I’m still betting on the sandwich places.

It is well worth your time to click through to Mark Maynard’s post, he and his commenters ask some great questions about what’s going to happen to local retail. In general, I predict a continuing shift to services and experiences, the kind of things you can’t get in a box that comes tomorrow from Amazon — though I still think a little Target store will come here eventually, for students who enjoy the shopping experience as well as the unprepared who can’t wait for Prime.

Pizza changes on Liberty

Big changes in a small world, Liberty between downtown and Scio Township: a sudden closing and an omen of things to come.

A reader reports that Pizza Pino is now closed on Liberty at First Street. Despite the name, Pizza Pino was one of those shops that had pretty much everything on the menu, including sandwiches and seafood. They were open until ridiculously late, which made them an ideal after-party destination for nearby bars and clubs.

Their single-slice sales were usually cold pizza under glass, which they would put back in the oven and warm up — not my favorite way to eat pizza, though for some reason I’m usually okay with it when NYPD does it. Still, I will miss this place’s garlic knots at 2am after a good show at the Blind Pig (just like, someday soon, I’m sure I will miss the Blind Pig).

“But their site is still up, B-Dub,” you’re saying. This seems to be a common malady among independently owned takeout shops. Bell’s Pizza has been gone for a year, and yet if you google, there are still sites that will gladly take your money to order from them. The end, no moral.

“Mobil Paint, 1967.” Ann Arbor District Library, CC BY-NC-SA


Pino’s location was apparently a house once upon a time, later a gas station. Eventually it became a paint store, which outlasted its beloved but bygone neighbor Schlenker Hardware on the block, but finally moved to South Industrial. This opened the space for Pizza Pino about ten years back, a harbinger of Downtown’s shift from service businesses to dining and retail.

Further west on Liberty, Buster’s convenience store is becoming Buscemi’s, a legendary Detroit area chain:

Depending on how you look at it, Buscemi’s are either party stores with exceptionally good pizza, or very well-stocked pizza and sub shops. There’s been a convenience store here for years. When we were younger, it was called Liberty Market, but was eventually rebranded Buster’s after the owners closed the original Buster’s Market closed at Packard and Platt. (The site is now a Rite Aid.)

I would provide further details, but I have a problem. Every time I turn into this shopping center, I have to go to Chela’s. Sorry.

English Gardens is growing out of Maple Village

On the west side, this week’s big announcement: City Council approved LA Fitness joining the discount department stores, and Plum Market, at Maple Village. Their 35,000ish square foot facility will be a new build, on the site of the current English Gardens.

Longtime Detroit area residents know English Gardens is a higher-end garden shop, and Frank’s Nursery was a multi-state discount garden and craft supply chain. Frank’s folded in the late 2000s, and English Gardens assumed its space in Maple Village not too long after. With a covered but open-air area, another garden shop was a logical choice.

“Frank’s Nursery & Crafts, 1970s.” AADL. (CC: BY-NC-SA)

English Gardens, according to the Ann Arbor News, is doing great business at Maple Village, but MV’s new owner Brixmor is aggressively making it over. It’s been reported that Radio Shack’s Maple Village store was forced to close – perhaps just hastening an inevitable demise. Sofia’s Tailoring recently told the AA Observer interesting stories of dealing with the management there, as well.

English Gardens hopes to relocate in the Ann Arbor area. They have other locations throughout the Detroit area (West Bloomfield above) and I am confident they will continue their seasonal sales at Briarwood.

“Frank’s Nursery & Crafts,” 1976, AADL (CC BY-NC-SA)

The impending destruction of the former Frank’s store at Maple Village signals the end of its retail footprint in Ann Arbor, after Dollar Tree moved into Frank’s old Washtenaw location across from Arborland. Below, see the store before the shopping center was reenvisioned, and its open-air section was flattened to make room on the end for DXL Big & Tall and Olga’s Kitchen.

I’m not exactly sure where the next-closest Frank’s was, or what it is now, but I recently drove past the Frank’s on Haggerty Road in West Bloomfield, and it is still occupied only by temporary stores like fireworks merchants and halloween outfitters. Three moves later, we still use many of the tools we picked up for cheap near the end of that location’s liquidation sale. The below Street View is worth clicking through if you like annoyed geese, as well as a Street View Car selfie courtesy of the store windows.

State Street roundup for August

This is what our good friends in the United Association for Plumbers, Pipefitters, HVAC, etc. are seeing when they descend on State Street this month after their annual training events.

Facing West on State Street between North U and Liberty. (C)A2R.S

Game vendor Get Your Game On has expanded into phone repair, a niche that is likely underserved by downtown’s existing wireless carrier stores on Liberty, Main, and Fourth-Washington. (Carrier stores mostly want to get you to extend your contract and are less likely to repair existing equipment when they could offer you a new phone with a re-up.) The last phone repair store downtown was on Liberty between Maynard and Division and closed, I think, last year. You may remember its creepy rocking-mannequin porch decoration.

Joining it next door is Roasting Plant coffee, ready to try to crack the State Street block. They have an uphill battle being located between Espresso Royale, Starbucks, and the newly relaunched Michigan Creamery (formerly Stucchi’s), which incorporated Bearclaw Coffee into its new menu.

Sandwiched between them is FICO, also known as Fair Isaac. Fair Isaac is not actually Poor Richard’s fairer brother, but is in fact one of the US’ big three credit reporting agencies. I cannot vouch for the quality of their coffee, and never will.

Restored State Theatre Marquee. (C)A2R.S

Restoration and updates continue on the State Theater. The marquee looks shiny and new and some kind of construction is also happening:

The State Theatre building’s getting a shoulder pad. Likely a new elevator. (C)A2R.S

Meanwhile, further south near 94, construction continues unabated on Whatever’s Going In Front of The New Hyatt.

Facing East on South State Street near Victors Way. (C)A2R.S

I originally thought this was gonna be a restaurant, but the drive-thru lane appears to host a big concrete block with a door behind it instead of a signboard and a window, so I have this pegged as some kind of banking institution now. Most area banks have a location within a block or two of Briarwood already. A number of them are within Briarwood Circle, in fact. But I suppose one could choose a more visible location, or more convenient to the highway, for quicker getaway after a robbery. Banks are about convenience more than ever these days.

Bagger Dave Takes His Bag And Goes

Bagger Dave's has departed the Colonnade center on Eisenhower Parkway. Ann Arbor was the second location for the chain, originally founded in Berkley (near Royal Oak). Bagger Dave's was created by a Buffalo Wild Wings franchisee interested in creating their own restaurant concept. They originally opened as "Bagger Dave's Legendary Burgers and Fries," which was a little bit Will Smith and a little bit Barney from HIMYM. They had good beers, good burgers with interesting toppings like basil, and perhaps most importantly, an enchanting electric train that continuously ambled around the perimeter of the restaurant, high above our heads. We got them for takeout fairly regularly when we lived nearby, too.

In recent years, they changed their burger recipe to a single, larger patty instead of double-stacking smaller ones, and ditched Coke to offer their own "craft-brewed" sodas alongside the craft beer. They made a bad mistake on my wife's burger last time we went, and the listless service on top of that was bad enough to skip it from then on.

They are survived locally by their neighbors Moe's, whose customers will miss borrowing their wifi, and Applebee's, who continue to do the beer and burger thing next door to the Colonnade.

The whole chain hasn't closed at this point. They're still numerous north of Detroit, and there are a few outliers in southern Ohio and Indiana.

[Closeup of Bagger Dave's closing announcement from store window. (C)A2R.S]


(DISCLOSURE: U-M is my employer, until I cash out and sell this project to Axios or Oath or something.)

The University of Michigan is the institution of note in Ann Arbor. Its various research, medicine, and entertainment concerns bring attention from all over the world… BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE MY WORD FOR IT!

U-M has the largest alumni association, as well as a popular sports program you might have heard of. The block-M logo is one of the most in-demand trademarks in apparel. I worked at a theme park far out of state for a while and met many visitors in U-M hats, sweatshirts, and jackets. I would always ask “Are you a student or alumni or just a fan?” (I would say “just a fan,” because it was half my life ago and I could be kind of a little jerk without even trying. They would smile and say “just a fan!”)

U-M’s sports trademarks are managed by IMG, part of superagency William Morris Endeavor. WME’s co-owner is the real-life version of Ari from Entourage, and its IMG website helpfully lists the royalty percentages its member institutions take. Michigan is at 12%, on par with other Big Ten schools and football powerhouse Alabama, and 20% higher than the College of William and Mary (10%). Lower, though, than Brigham Young University’s 14%. OSU is not represented by IMG, and who cares? They don’t give a damn about our whole state, you know. They have a song about it!

Anyway, can you blame a local store for wanting some hail-by-association?

First example: The Washtenaw Marathon

Up until the late 2000s, this looked like any other run-of-the-mill Marathon. The gable roof makes me think maybe this was a Shell before, but I can’t confirm right now because… because I won’t confirm right now. But the owners had big dreams and they rebuilt the fuel islands and convenience store with high windows, in handsome brick. They envisioned their station as the first piece of Michigan a visitor might see, I imagine. So they put a big, glorious maize block M over the entrance.

That didn’t last long. Can you blame the U for protecting their hail?

First the store owners tried to get square by changing the color to a stars-and-stripes pattern. Not enough. They ended up taking the lower blocks, but not the upper ones, off of the block-M, creating a weird little sans-serif M with shoulder pads or Bozo The Clown scalp- wings:

Shopper’s advisory: A Yelp reviewer, the self-identified “first reviewer of a gas station,” notes that this place has great booze prices.

Second example: Stadium Party Shoppe/The Big House of Liquor

This photo of the Stadium Party Shoppe and Stadium Pharmacy dates from about ten years back. I can only conclude that back then the trademark wasn’t policed so carefully. Although the Pharmacy stayed open continuously, the Party Shoppe closed for a few years and was eventually purchased and reopened by another family member, as I understand it.

Above, here it is a year ago after its reopening. The swooshes redone a little more droopy and less reminiscent of the Winged Helmet Design, and everything in a stars and stripes motif.

I don’t know how forthcoming these shopkeepers are about their signage decisions, though it would be a great thing for literally anyone else to ask them. A local business that is very forthcoming about their branding struggle is BTB Burrito, which was originally known as Big Ten Burrito until the athletic conference found out and put the kibosh on (link goes to their salty about-us page).

The Big Ten Party Store on Packard Road was named in 1939 and apparently established before having to contend with the conference attorneys.

“Big Ten continues to score by stocking rare, exotic goods,” November 1989. (C) The Ann Arbor News.

Most people know it now as Morgan and York, the bad-weather dining room for Ricewood.