A2RS Investigates: Washtenaw Commons

Don’t get excited, I investigated this about as much as I investigate anything for this site.

I realized we haven’t talked about Washtenaw Commons (the strip mall across from Arborland) in a while. I think the last time was when I wrote about Frank’s Nursery and Crafts, a location of which anchored this land in an earlier time.

I had dinner at the Commons the other night, and took a little time to examine its former and upcoming tenants.

The original layout of this complex was several discrete, free-standing buildings — Frank’s, a big-&-tall men’s store, a thrift shop, a Norgetown cleaners (loooong gone), a drive thru bank branch. Most of the buildings were flattened – I think only the original Frank’s building remained. By now, Dollar Tree was well-established there. They demolished the outdoor section of Frank’s, relocated the big & tall, and added Olga’s Kitchen on the end. The effect: the alleys between the buildings were turned into usable storefronts.

The website can tell you what’s there now, but I was interested in what’s gone, and what’s coming. Let’s start with the blended, fruity elephant that has just left the awkward, metaphorical room.

A view inside the now closed but still pristine Jamba Juice Ann Arbor store. (C)A2RS.

The other nearest locations are both within Meijer stores, in Livonia and Shelby Township. SHELBY TOWNSHIP? THAT’S NORTH OF CANADA.

Shelby Township, seen here with Canada for comparison. NO COPYRIGHT INTENDED ALL RIGHTS BELONG TO THE OWNER

Jamba Juice stores tend to locate in areas with better foot traffic, so I don’t think this is the last we’ve seen of them. I would wager they will return to the street-level retail space in one the buildings that are being built right now on South University. In the meantime, both of the above “nearest locations” are inside Meijer stores, and the far-west-side Meijer at Jackson and Zeeb has at least one open unit up front. And it’s near the produce department, so… uh… synergy. See you there, Jamba? Maybe.

POKE FISH is the signage directly adjacent to the former Jamba space.

“POKE FISH, Sushi Burrito & Ramen Noodle.” (C)A2RS.

Blog friend Steve gave me the headsup there was new signage to look for. Precious little action on the space so it’s probably too early to guess when this will open. Everything can come in a tortilla now, but I feel like this was tried recently downtown and abandoned pretty quickly.

The other food concepts in here seem to be doing okay. Blaze’s prices have gone up about 50c from when they opened, but they have also introduced one-topping and two-topping prices, besides the “unlimited toppings” and “cheese only” pies they launched with. Check with your community schools and nonprofits for Restaurant Night fundraisers, Blaze seems to do them quite regularly.

Dickey’s BBQ, a chain, recently opened next to Blaze. People I know who have eaten there say it is fine, smaller portions but cheaper than Satchel’s, but offers all-you-can-eat soft serve ice cream for dessert, which honestly sounds kind of fun. I have an affinity for Satchel’s but one of these days I’ll try to get over to Dickey’s.

Walgreens has staked a claim to one of the spaces:

“Washtenhaw.” (C)A2RS.

I’m not sure why Walgreens wants a tiny storefront a couple of blocks away from their Washtenaw and Huron location — you know, the one you park at to walk to Whole Foods — but maybe they’re opening one of their specialty pharmacies here. If it is a regular Walgreens, it would be the smallest Walgreens store I’ve ever seen, but not by much. There’s a store a few blocks south of Disneyland that’s the size of a small bank branch or a convenience store.

Look at it. It’s the length of three cars and not much wider either.  This whole area is kind of a funhouse mirror. There’s a Target store right behind this Walgreens that’s as wide as a Meijer, or a Walmart Supercenter, but the building is only as deep as a small supermarket. You can walk to the back (that’s where the Jarritos are) in about ten seconds. Incidentally, if you’re going to Disneyland, you might as well get a Target RedCard and use it to buy Disney Gift Cards, you get them for a 5% discount off face value and it’s as close as you’re going to get to a discount at Disney.

Anyway, back in Ann Arbor, next door to the Undetermined Walgreens Space will be a dentist, which will come in handy when you drink too many smoothies and eat too much soft-serve:

#aesthetic. (C)A2RS.

I assume the other spaces will fill up soon with small service-businesses, like the ink-cartridge refiller and the spa that have also recently opened. But not Jamba Juice.

Ann Arbor, you blew it. We don’t DESERVE nice things.

Re-Marked

The 20-screen theater at Carpenter and Packard appears finally to have completed its glacially-paced rebranding to its current corporate parent, Cinemark.

The theater was originally built in the late 80s on the site of the University Drive-In. Showcase Cinemas opened with 14 screens, a concession stand of then-unprecedented size – at least four counters, and a lobby “art gallery”– matted and framed, mostly kitschy, mass-produced prints.

To keep up with industry trends, Showcase expanded in the late 90s. They built a larger lobby, with hot food options you could construct an unhealthy but comforting dinner from, and more natural light, facing Carpenter Road. This lobby led to the original fourteen theaters to the south, and six brand new theatres with stadium seating to the north. (I very vividly remember sitting upstairs in a lengthy wait line to enter one of the first showings of “Star Wars Episode I, The Phantom Menace,” in 1999. We were so excited to get new Star Wars stories then! We didn’t know about midichlorians, Gungans, or the machinations of the Galactic Senate.)

In 2006, the former lobby space was renovated and relaunched as CyGamZ, a networked-gaming competition space with high-powered PCs and game consoles. Like an arcade alternative, or a turnkey LAN party. Its joyous and photo-packed Facebook page is still very occasionally updated, despite its closure over eight years ago.

In 2009, Showcase gave up on CyGamZ, retreated to the Northeast U.S., and closed or sold all of its Michigan locations. Ann Arbor, along with Flint and Kalamazoo, were sold to Rave Motion Pictures, then a relative upstart in theatrical exhibition. (Their sister location in Westland was completely leveled.)

Showcase Cinemas Westland

[“Showcase Cinemas Westland,” (C)2011 Michael Lavander.]

Rave’s first act was to update the exterior paint and signage, while debranding the roadside sign just enough to not get sued, leaving it as the appealingly minimal “CINEMAS.” Below, here’s the sign in 2011.


Rave was acquired by movie behemoth Cinemark in 2013. Though the Rave exterior signage remained, interior livery including staff uniforms started displaying the Cinemark logo soon after — then the Cinemark logo made its way to the roadside sign. Here it is in 2016 with a teeny Cinemark logo:


By 2016, people were getting movies and showtimes on their phones, so they’d stopped putting up film titles and just added two blank panels, presumably in anticipation of outlot restaurants that still haven’t materialized.

Exterior, Cinemark Ann Arbor 20. (C)A2RS.

And now, it seems, the branding is complete, at least until Alibaba acquires Cinemark, in an effort to match the growth of its Chinese contemporary the Wanda Group, owner of the monolithic AMC exhibitor. (NOTE: This is speculation, not advice, and I am not a shareholder in any firm mentioned above.)