Here’s the scene in front of the Packard Dairy Queen at 9:40pm on Wednesday night, March 20. The store officially closed forty minutes ago and its signs are turned off, but is apparently serving a dozen or so people still standing outside in sub-freezing weather waiting for a free soft serve cone.
Where do you get your car washed downtown? Nowhere, anymore. There are barely even gas stations, and those are trying to appeal to foot traffic.
After the coin-operated manual car wash on Liberty closed to make way for more apartments, the Soft Cloth Car Wash on Main Street was the last bastion. But then nearly the whole block, from Madison to Mosley Street got bought to build… yup, more apartments. The Clark station was allowed to stay for some reason, but everything else came down.
The Back Alley Gourmet, By The Pound, Anthony’s Pizza, and San Fu all closed instantly, which eliminated half the lunch options near my office (By the Pound and Anthony’s moved to new locations on South Industrial and Packard Road; the family who owned San Fu retired from the restaurant business; Back Alley Gourmet is now catering-only, I guess). I didn’t manage to get photos of those, but I was walking past the Car Wash one day after it had closed and thought it looked eerie:
Yes, I took these photos like a year before I started the blog, because I thought I would do… something… with them someday.
The construction of the complex is ongoing. Here’s a shot from last summer:
On the other hand, the Shell station at William and Main has relaunched as a Mobil station. Here it is forty years ago as “Grapp and Reed’s Amoco:”
Here it is a little later in color. Remember when service stations fixed cars?
See below for when it was a BP, click through to see it as a Shell last year:
The new convenience store does not have a soda fountain, but it does have — get this — beer taps, where you can bring a growler and fill up:
There are still a few places to get your car repaired downtown, but you pretty much have to get out to Packard or Plymouth to get a shine on it.
Until this site achieves its ultimate goal of being acquired by Univision and being folded into a vertical under Deadspin for the storied “dot-com bucks,” I have a career that finances my family’s needs for food, potable water, and lip-dub videos. Sometimes this career sends me to beautiful places with colleagues who are empathetic, but do not know about this blog, and therefore do not understand why Oh My God Look At That 7-Eleven Over There, I Need To Go See It.
You may have noticed that although the convenience store is a 7-Eleven, they sell gasoline from Shell Oil and therefore participate in Kroger Fuel Rewards, here known as Smith’s Fuel Rewards. Kroger is based in Columbus, Ohio — actually a suburb of Ann Arbor — but they achieved a nationwide footprint by acquiring many other comparable chains in other regions, like Ralph’s, King Soopers, and Fred Meyer, which is no relation to Frederik Meijer. If you go into any of these I bet you a 2-liter of Big K Cola that it looks just like one of the four Kroger stores in Ann Arbor. This is an easy bet because they will have Big K, no matter what their local name is. They have a consistency of presentation that limits creativity, but is efficient and comforting to travelers.
Much like Dillon, CO (as reported here last summer), Park City has community standards that result in everything from banks to Walmart pretty much looking like a ski chalet. Gaylord, in the upper lower peninsula of Michigan, is another good example of this phenomenon, as is probably every city with a ski resort in the known universe.
When you go on a ski vacation, you want a break from feeling, all the time, like you live in a mashup of “Idiocracy” and “Minority Report.” You want to feel like you’re a carefree outdoor adventurer, stepping away from the danger and excitement of skiing or minding the bonfire to run into town for some peanut butter, eggs, and dice. Anything that takes you out of that is reality, infringing on your downtime. So even Mister Goodwrench is gonna have some cedar accents over the big rolly door.
The thing you notice first is that this doesn’t look a whole lot like a 7-Eleven on the outside. The green box that squares up the 7 logo is missing, as is the red bars on either side that stretch across the storefront. Probably the most distinctive thing about this 7-Eleven is its foyer, not usually found in 7-Eleven stores. Usually you open one door and you’re in. I imagine it gets cold quickly without one in a windy, elevated place like this.
The Big Gulp dispenser in this store does not have flavor syrups. The syrups are in Monin pumps next to the machine. The soft drink station at the professional event I was attending, as well as the fountain at Maverik, a Utah convenience chain comparable to Speedway in Michigan, also had these coffeehouse-style pumps. Is this a regional thing? It’s not bad, but it’s not as good as the Pilot syrup.
The creamers and extra-caffeine shots all looked slightly inflated. I suspected this was a side effect of the altitude and lower air pressure in Park City.
I wondered how the snack bags must look, and was not disappointed:
This station was conveniently located near the Park City bus line, which gets you free to all the nearby resorts as well as to downtown Park City. It’s a short walk up those steps to a Cabriolet, an open-air bucket ride like the Cedar Point Sky Ride, that gets you part of the way up the mountain to Canyons Village, one of several ski resorts on these mountains.
Some other things we discovered about Park City:
The downtown area is basically Mackinac Island near the docks, only instead of fudge, there are lots of outerwear stores, and instead of horses, there are cars allowed.
The city has limits on idling, which you can’t really place on horses, so on balance, I would say it smells a little better than Mackinac Island near the docks.
Park City is perhaps most famous for the annual Sundance film festival, so of course we looked for a movie theater, but there were none to be found. (I think there was a multiplex out on the edge of town.) The only theater we noticed in the downtown area was the Egyptian, a live performance space like The Ark in A2. We asked, and it turns out that during the festival, in January, they turn anything with a wall bigger than a TV into a screening room.
I watched “Blade Runner” in a generator-powered screening tent one night during Burning Man a while back, so I assure you that with the right preparation, improvised projection is not a bad way to see a film.
Here’s a bonus 7-Eleven nestled in a residential neighborhood. No gasoline at this location and the sign is particularly wordy by 7-Eleven standards, in case you just flew in from Russia, Africa, or Europe and don’t know what a 7-Eleven is:
But it wasn’t all skis and Slurpees, Park City has the same problems any city has:
Over the past few days I had noticed lights on within the cozy confines of the Packard Road Dairy Queen store, a sure sign it was preparing to begin another season.
The Packard Road location stays open weeks after other seasonal locations close and traditionally opens up right about now, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to see people at the window as I drove home from work tonight. Here, I’ll let my favorite social-media-savvy cryptid (Northern Division), the North Campus Turkey, explain:
Dairy Queens in Michigan are majestic beasts that often hibernate for the long winter months. Some of the stronger bulls will burn stored fat to stay open, while the more diminutive of the species grow a protective shell. Those ones regain their plumage around this time of year.
I called the store after dinner, as soon as I had a minute alone, to confirm it really was open and this wasn’t some kind of softlaunch or something. The person on the phone confirmed it was true and the season had begun!
My next step was to go to my last Dairy Queen email. I had a coupon for BOGO Blizzards, and I wasn’t going to go without it, BUT:
By now, I just wanted a Blizzard, as did my spouse. And we didn’t care if we had to pay for both of them.
I identified myself as the guy who had called to make sure, welcomed DQ back to the neighborhood, and told them what the website said. It turns out that franchised stores can specify whether they’re open or not on the corporate website, and in fact, MUST do so — otherwise nearby customers who place orders for ice-cream cakes would have their orders routed to this store. Which makes perfect sense.
Anyway, in Southeastern Michigan, we love standing outside in 40 degree weather for ice cream, if there’s a store nearby that will do it. And this one will.
I paid full price for both our blizzards. This was not a paid post. I can’t be bought. This is not ACTUALLY true, I can totally be bought, but nobody has bought THIS (points to self) yet. can you believe it? me either.
And I joke about how insipid this is, but lately it feels even more insipid. So that, plus the twelve inches of snow, then the subsequent twelve inches of water on the ground when it got warmer and rained, have kept me from my usual rounds. Sorry these updates are not illustrated, but I’ll at least try to make them read good.
The Carpenter/Ellsworth section is starting to see changes. The Toys R Us and Babies R Us stores are beginning their closing sales, but I’ve only really noticed the typical going-out-of-business trappings at Babies R Us, where there is a huge banner next to the building sign and those guys who stand at the nearest intersection holding and subtly waving “30% OFF” signs. Remember that these 30% OFF prices are not necessarily based on the store’s original prices, but on prices set by the firm that’s running the sale.
A friend who knows management at an area R-Us store tells me that business actually isn’t that bad at Arborland, but that the rent was too high. (The initial list of R-Us store closures hinted that some locations might not close if lower rents could be negotiated with landlords. Reality-TV entrepreneur Marcus Lemonis made lease re-negotiations like this a daily drama when his firm acquired Gander Mountain; he updated various locations’ status every day on his Twitter account.)
Anyway, my friend-of-a-friend says TRU hopes to return to Ann Arbor in a co-branded TRU/BRU store with a more favorable lease.
In the outlot of Babies R Us, there’s an AT&T sign on the outlot building where Pier 1 was and Aspen Dental now is; but the inside still has a long way to go. Not sure if this is a move or new competition for the existing AT&T reseller store on the end of the strip next to Target, Lane Bryant, and Fun 4 All.
Across town, a friend on the west side says Sun & Snow Sports seems to have closed on Wagner Road. As part of AADL’s dramatic Westgate Branch + Sweetwaters expansion, Sun & Snow exited Westgate and split into two nearby locations; the Wagner Road store would concentrate on swimming and water recreation, while the Jackson Road location near the Quality 16 theater would serve the skiing and snowsports community. A bicycle shop would eventually join S&S on Jackson Road, rounding out its offerings and serving customers left without a nearby option since the sudden closure of Two Wheel Tango.
In about the past year, a national sporting-goods chain (Sports Authority), a regional chain (MC Sports), and a specialty chain (Total Hockey) have all imploded, so without the volume these chains could take advantage of, you’d better be creative to survive. You also have to keep overhead low, and differentiate yourself with service and attention to the customer.
Barnes and Noble just fires almost every single receiving manager as a cost cutting measure. I worked with them for over 17 years and my weekly Storytimes are massively popular. And in the blink of an eye, I'm fired.
I haven’t noticed a lot new in the past few days, sorry for the lack of updates. But I really wanted to write and post something, so here are some photos I recently resurfaced of the closing of the Kroger store at Stadium and South Industrial, circa 2014.
At the time of its closing, South Industrial was the smallest Kroger store in town and probably one of the very smallest in the Detroit metro area. Small enough that it only had a single entrance/exit. Small enough that you could get from one end to the other in a minute or less without rushing. Too small to survive in the era of ever-larger-footprint Kroger stores. The Traver Village store, on Plymouth Road, was the largest store in the Kroger chain at its 1992 opening; though it has only grown larger from there, other territories have Kroger stores that dwarf it. Some take a run at Meijer or Walmart and stock general merchandise.
The South Industrial Kroger was the closest supermarket, and nearly the closest business, to nearly all of the U-M athletic campus, including all the stadia and arenas, a truth reflected in its decor. Each corner of the store had a mural depicting Wolverines excelling in a particular sport.
I personally liked this Kroger because it was very conveniently located between my work and my house, it was open until at least 11 most nights, and it was priced competitively with other grocery stores in the area despite being conveniently located and small enough to quickly navigate. Did I occasionally accidentally buy something that was past its freshness date? Sure, but they always cheerfully exchanged it.
You get the idea. This was a small Kroger.
I was still sorry to see it go. So were many other people who sent farewell cards, and signed a giant banner on the front of the store.
In the ensuing weeks and months, the building would be debranded. Here it was soon after it closed, but before the announcement of its future tenant, Lucky’s Market.
And here we are today. Lucky’s has been a reasonably good neighbor. Their prices, especially their sale prices and private-label items, are often competitive with larger supermarkets, and they have a pretty good beer and wine selection. Not to mention, you can walk around with a dang glass of beer, if you feel like that helps you shop (it does).
I’m sure it is not a coincidence that Kroger owns a share of Lucky’s Market. Thanks for reading!
Tonight seems like a good time to follow up on a few things I didn’t get to address in longer-form pieces, throughout the month.
Meijer Optical, an independent glasses retailer who licenses the Meijer name and operates within Meijer stores, recently closed their Ann Arbor-Saline Road location. Signage in front of the store advises customers to visit their Jackson store – it has been amended twice to specify Jackson, Michigan (about forty-five minutes west). This is because, to get to the next closest location, you would have to drive past their Scio Township location, located on Jackson Road — a modification clearly borne of customer error. Heck of it is, I go to the Scio store from time to time — it has a beer selection unlike any any other Meijer, or probably any chain supermarket — and I clearly remember an optical store in the front by the checkouts, just like Saline Road. So I guess the retailer is exiting the Ann Arbor market. There are a number of other glasses stores near the Saline Road store — one right in its own outlot, and several at the State Street exit a quick drive away — so I see why they might get out of Saline Road. But Zeeb and Jackson is still primarily niche retail, from Dancers Boutique to home-improvement stores, so I don’t know what compelled them to bail here, and I’m probably not going to find out tonight.
Here’s a cursed image from the ongoing redevelopment of Circle K:
My frequent co-conspirator Patti Smith noted that, like, right after I published the Washtenaw Commons piece, signage for BetterHealth Market appeared in the largest open space. Originally known as The Vitamin Outlet, BetterHealth’s outgrowth into produce and groceries will provide more grocery competition to Washtenaw Avenue and possibly siphon some frustrated parking-lot cruisers from the Whole Foods Market a block west. And the space it’s leaving behind at Lamp Post Plaza presents a prime expansion opportunity for its neighbor, WARHAMMER:
Miniature Gaming combines the excitement of, uh, gaming with the accomplishment of, um, crafts. The tiny, detailed figurines used for play cry out for custom paint jobs. Games Workshop is the most popular manufacturer of these games and accessories, and a few years ago they centered their retail presence around WARHAMMER, their signature IP. This delighted, confused, angered, and bemused many of their fans with blogs. Their “real” logo looks like a delicious hot dog topping, so this makes sense to me. (I honestly don’t think they’re going to expand into the old BetterHealth space, but I’ve wanted to mention WARHAMMER for a while.)
And finally a(nother) photo that will make townies cry. Here’s a familiar stretch of South University this past August:
And here it is today:
The buildings comprising Safer Sex Store and Middle Earth have been demolished. The walled-up tunnels on the side of Sweeting, formerly Middle Earth East, were formerly entrances between the east (dirty greeting cards and tacky gifts) and west (jewelry and home furnishings) sides of Middle Earth. I don’t know what this is, but I’m sure it’s part of that ambitious plan to remake South University to finally attract and maintain a successful Jamba Juice store. Laugh at me now, buy me my extra wheatgrass shot later.
After a holiday season in bankruptcy, Toys Я Us has announced they are closing nearly 200 stores nationwide, bankruptcy court permission pending — including both the Arborland TЯU store and the Babies Я Us on Carpenter Road. (Babies Я Us sells baby clothing, toys, accessories, and furniture, as well as consumables like formula, diapers, and baby food. Once in a while they carry a hot toy with crossover potential, like the Nintendo Wii.)
TЯU promised the footprint consolidation would lead to co-branded stores in some markets, but according to a PDF in the linked article, they are giving up on Ann Arbor entirely. Which is poignant, because TЯU C∃O David Brandon is a Michigan Man:
Though every aisle of the store was a well-stocked treat — I even grudgingly respected its selection of toys for EEEEW, GIRRRRLS — my favorite memories of TЯU as a kid involved visiting the massive wall of video game box photos, flipping them up to see the photo of the back of the box, then grabbing a ticket to buy the game. Once in a very great while I would even take the ticket to the register and buy the game, though most of the time I would just take the ticket home and glance at it from time to time, because games cost $49.99 back then and while I could usually rely on one for a birthday or Christmas present, I rarely had that much lettuce gathered at once.
In the late 90s, Arborland was “de-malled.” After decades as an enclosed mall, nearly all the structures were demolished and paved for parking, and the remaining stores relocated to the big boxes you shop today. (The building that houses OfficeMax, Jos. A Bank, and Potbelly is the sole holdover from that era. Toys Я Us originally sat in the space currently unoccupied by a furniture store, directly north of OfficeMax.) Its current big-box location is so far back from Washtenaw Avenue, and obscured by the empty furniture store, that you might not even know it’s there. That can’t help things. In recent years I have occasionally visited to buy a toy or gift that was on special or clearance; they sometimes had good deals on iTunes cards. Last year I was looking for Dixit card expansion packs and TЯU had nothin’ for me. (I ended up buying local at Fun 4 All on Carpenter Road.)
Old people with long memories like me may remember when TЯU branched out into apparel with Kids Я Us stores. As a young person, I was kind of jazzed when they first opened, and then confused when the store had not even one aisle of toys. Who needs that? Ann Arbor’s KЯU store was on Eisenhower at the Cranbrook Shopping Center. After KЯU folded, the building began its second life as Office Depot; it has recently reopened as Airtime Trampoline Park.
Arborland’s original developer, John J. Sharemet, shared his vision with the Ann Arbor News upon its 1959 announcement: “a one-stop center where all consumer items may be purchased.” With that in mind, the exo-“Ɑ”-us of Toys Я Us is a major setback to the center’s assortment — but Sharemet could probably never have conceived of a store like Five Below.
A brief note on a change spotted yesterday: closing signage at Jordan Lovell Picture Framing, the last/only store at Hoover and Greene. Nestled among the many rental houses, the remaining businesses include U-M offices, a DTE Energy substation, the Kenville dance studio, and Hoover Street Auto Repair garage.
Jordan Lovell shared this building with Project Green, a division of J.S. Vig Construction of Taylor, and a couple of other businesses on the Greene Street side. The building is due to be cleared out of the way for a new mixed-use development at the corner that has been reported on in greater detail by a less-handsome blog.
That project is slated to include street-level retail, though no vendors or businesses have yet been announced. It is known that all of the most important of U-M’s 220,000 employees work in these two blocks, and they all tell me that they would really like a ready-to-eat food option, please and thank you.
Ann Arbor has always had a generous selection of bookstores, but few of them specialized in comics. It’s cold and grey outside, so I’m going to spend some time remembering those today.
Dave’s Comics & Collectibles was situated a couple floors above what is currently a Jimmy John’s at the corner of State and William. It took a twisty flight of stairs to get up but the climb was worth it. Besides the big companies’ comics, they had a wide selection of independent comics and zines — they led me to Milk & Cheese AND X Magazine, which (eventually) led me to Burning Man.
[There I am at Burning Man. Seems like a lifetime ago. I still have the shirt. (C)A2RS]
Dave Hutzley, the proprietor of the Ann Arbor and Royal Oak Dave’s stores, now lives in Arizona. He says he sometimes starts “to lose my mind and think about opening a new shop,” but he seems pretty comfortable selling vintage memorabilia and fan merch on eBay.
On South University, the classic Dawn Treader store (I feel like Dawn Treader deserves a longer post of its own) was replaced in the late 90s/early oughts by The Underworld, which focused on comics, RPG, and tabletop games. Eventually Underworld moved to street level, in the Galleria shopping mall above Pinball Pete’s and below Tower Records. (Its space is now part of the Kaplan Test Prep space.)
Of course, today’s modern comic fan most likely picks up her monthly subs from Vault of Midnight. Before its establishment on Main Street, it moved around a bit within a few blocks. Vault originally opened in a house on Ashley Street, of which no photographs are easily located, then moved to Fourth Street and Huron into that distinctive white building that was apparently a gas station long ago.
(One thing this store had that no Vault before or since did, was actual parking. I think I wrecked my car’s AC driving into the remnants of a fuel-pump island at this location. NO RAGRETS.)
They moved from this location to the underground shops on Liberty Street across from the Federal Building.
In 2010, my disappointment at the closure of After Words (a really good discount book outlet that specialized in remainders and overstocks of quality books) was tempered by the announcement that Vault of Midnight was moving into its space.
(ABOVE: Ext. Vault of Midnight by Joe Fusion, CC-BY-NC 2.0)
Though Vault has expanded to both Grand Rapids and downtown Detroit since that time, it is a linchpin of Main Street and provides some local color to the increasingly upscale corridor. What good is a two thousand dollar backpack if you don’t have some great comics to put in it? (Personally, I always keep a copy of the My New Filing Technique Is Unstoppable collection in whatever bag my laptop is in, just in case.)
Anyway, I bet I’m missing a comic store or two that I didn’t make it to over the years. Please feel free to share your memories below, as well as whatever book you keep in your bag at all times.