State Street & Oak Valley latest

South of I-94 on State Street, work continues on Black Rock Bar & Grill. Here’s the exterior as it appeared this weekend, before the past two days of rain.

This site was a Chi-Chi’s for decades, before Chi-Chi’s succumbed to debt and a Hepatitis scare in the early 2000s. After Chi-Chi’s retreated to supermarket shelves and, um, Belgium, the space became a Japanese restaurant called Cherry Blossom for a brief time. Finally, a coat of blue paint on the adobe facade signaled the arrival of Passport, an ambitious world-cuisine concept from beloved campus Chinese take-out spot Lucky Kitchen. After Passport’s border closed, the space was blue and still until Black Rock arrived.

Black Rock originally opened in Hartland, about an hour north of this location, a few years back, and quickly expanded to several locations around Detroit and, in parallel, Orlando, Florida. A friend who has visited one explained to me that the name comes from a stone slab, heated to a high temperature and presented alongside your meal . Then, you use the stone and its retained heat to cook your steak, so each bite is “hot off the grill.” (They offer pre-cooked entrees also.)

Spotted at Oak Valley: the former Famous Footwear space near Target is Xfinity. In many Comcast markets, the local service centers are located in shopping centers and take the form of Xfinity Store, a casual shopping experience, rather than the traditional South Industrial waiting room where you may have gotten your new cable box from in the past. Here, they can also get you signed up for Xfinity Mobile, their wireless phone plan. (Although Xfinity branded, it is secretly Verizon, so you know it will be consistent nationwide, even in markets where other cable companies have the monopoly. I didn’t get a picture because it was grey and rainy tonight, sorry.

To answer a question frequently asked this summer: it doesn’t look like they did much of anything to the corner of Waters Road and Ann Arbor-Saline Road, except introduce a lane out of the parking lot directly onto southbound Saline Road. For decades, the only ways out have been either onto Waters Road near Target, or driving behind Chuck E. Cheese and getting onto Oak Valley Drive, so I guess I consider this an improvement, because what was all that stupid foliage doing there anyway? Time to pound sand, plants.

Finally, an update on the Hyatt Place lot. The hotel is now open for business (travelers), but the outlot building in front is still unoccupied and apparently available for lease. My owl friend Arbor Annie recently took a closer look and confided to me that the small, solar-roofed accessory structure by the street is a bike lock, and there is also one of those adorable water fountains that have one bowl for people and one bowl for dogs. Which, cool, but I still have no idea what this building is supposed to be. I can already tell that this will keep me up all ni💤

Updates from east side and downtown

Sorry about the lack of recent posts. Something something irons, something something fire. Here are some developments I noticed on Carpenter Road, and was told about at 4th and Liberty downtown.

Carpenter And Ellsworth’s shopping center is getting a new facade. This was snapped a few weeks back, the work has progressed since then. The stores that were previously open all appear to still be open.

The former Pier 1 Imports on Carpenter Road has been split into two storefronts. One of them is now open — an Aspen Dental location (a chain, like Subway, only for dentists, not Sandwich Artists).

The other store was still stripped to the walls when I took this photo, but there were literally people in there making plans, so expect something soon. Last year this was a pop-up Halloween store, so this is something like progress.

The photos below, from the Fourth and Liberty corridor, were provided by Lex, a Friend of A2RS.

Le Bon Macaron is an eastward expansion of a bakery and coffeehouse with previous locations in Grand Rapids and Lansing. Though their pride is their Macaron, the french sandwich cookie, they are sadly unaffiliated with the lead singer or any other members of the band Duran Duran. (“Le Bon” literally means “The Good” in French. I didn’t even have to look that up.)

La Taqueria arrives on Liberty in the back section of the former Selo/Shevel Gallery, a spot recently occupied by Maize & Blue Delicatessen’s ill-fated expansion into Shinolaville. People love tacos and if the bar is good and the prices decent, this should be a winner.

Drought is a Detroit-based raw juice company with six retail locations.
Lex has some thoughts on this particular store:

Although it’s nice that some Detroit-based businesses are successful enough to branch out to other locations, I can’t say that I will be utilizing the Ann Arbor location of “Drought” anytime soon. The premise is that there is a clean, stark store with a case of expensive juice. The juice isn’t made in the store. It’s literally just a case of juice. It comes in glass bottles, and most of the bottles seem to be around $9-13 each bottle.

Maybe I am just getting old, but I found the concept of having an entire empty store with just a case of juice to be incredibly bizarre. Another thing is this isn’t on Main Street, or even Liberty Street, it’s on Washington Street — not exactly a high traffic area. I wish them luck, of course, because I am not a jerk, but I just don’t think they’ll make it.

I welcome your thoughts via the usual channels.

Mahalo to UO

Today from @TreeDowntown, an account that didn’t make my radar before today but which is so relevant to my readers’ interest that I probably wouldn’t have started this if I’d known about it:

It looks like Mark Maynard was correct after all. Farewell Urban Outfitters – hate to see you go, but love to watch you move out.

Carpenter Road update with a couple of photos tomorrow or Saturday.

Buffett Is My Co-Pilot

Huge news today out of Knoxville as Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett’s firm, announces a buy into Pilot Flying J, a chain of travel centers — not travel agencies, another industry nearly driven out of existence by online, but “travel centers,” which is a high-falutin’ word for truck stops.

Pilot and Flying J stores can be found lining the major interstates in the Midwest and throughout the country. The farthest away I’ve encountered one is in Arizona, near the Meteor Crater. The closest ones to Ann Arbor are in Dexter off of I-94, at either side of the Baker Road exit. Yes, there are Pilots on either side of I-94 at the same exit. The northern one was a Speedway fuel station years ago, albeit an oversized one that catered to truckers — Speedway sold their truck-stop business to Pilot a few years before Pilot merged with Flying J.

Today’s travel centers tend to have at least one restaurant attached, sometimes a whole food court. They cultivate brand loyalty among professional drivers with fuel discounts, wifi memberships, and free showers. Their convenience stores are more like mini department stores for the professional driver, selling everything from roller-grill hot dogs, to furniture and entertainment equipment for the little bedroom inside your truck, to cheap toys and local gift merchandise to pick up for your family on the way home.

This seems like a brave time for BH to get into roadside services, as the freight industry begins to experiment with electric and self-driving trucks. So why is Warren Buffett investing in Pilot Flying J? The answer, I suspect, is simpler than you might think.

Buffett chose to acquire Dairy Queen because he loved Dairy Queen, but that’s not the only thing he and I have in common. We also both love Cherry Coca-Cola. Buffett is famous for drinking several cans every day. BH is a Coca-Cola investor and last year, when Coke finally introduced Cherry Coke in China, they put a cartoon of him on the packaging.

Cherry Coke packaging from China, where Warren Buffett is also considered a rockstar. (C) The Coca-Cola Company

I used to drink a lot of fountain Coke. I mean, a lot of fountain Coke. The first time I ever visited a Flying J I bought a giant, ludicrous, 52oz. trucker mug to increase my Coke consumption. It was unsustainable; I have retired it and switched to smaller servings, mostly of of Coke Zero Sugar.

But when I’m out on the interstate, and even sometimes just on the west side of town, I still want a Cherry Coke from a Pilot or a Flying J, because they have the best cherry syrup in the known universe. It is bright red, super sweet with that wild-cherry flavor you usually encounter in second-tier bubble gums, and just a little viscous. They let you put in as much as you want. You could fill the whole cup with cherry syrup, although that would be really gross. It doesn’t have a medicinal aftertaste the way some other chains’ cherry syrup add-ins do (looking at you, Speedway). The right kind of cherry syrup makes all the difference.

Warren, if you ever read this, I am a fraternity brother of your cousin Jimmy and I would love to drink a Cherry Coke with you. We don’t even have to talk shop.