State Street Hotel & Outlot Update

I swear the Hyatt Place has barely opened its doors, and now another hotel is coming to South State Street. Decades-long SSS fixture Computer Medic closed its doors last summer:

Finally, its building was fenced off for impending demolition, with Homewood Suites signs on the fences. I predict this will be Arbor Networks’ and some of the Wolverines’ new favorite hotel, as it is going up across State Street from the brand new Athletic Campus (specifically the Lacrosse Stadium).

Speaking of Hyatt Place, its outlot building continues to be available for lease and unfinished inside, waiting for a fast-casual or retail establishment to come in and put a stamp on it. The options are limited a little by a lack of drive-thru, which even coffee shops are getting now. But you know what it DOES have? A bike repair station and a doggie water fountain:

The bike repair station has a green roof with solar panels… I think for the lighting? (C)A2RS.
A ped-and-pet-friendly fixture for one of the least walkable places in town. (C)A2RS
The repair station is covered and boasts a power outlet for quick recharges. (C)A2RS

Finally, a little ways south of here, the Staybridge Suites is getting a similar outbuilding very close to the corner of State Street and Research Park Drive.

Its sign suggests “restaurant, retail, bank,” which… that’s vague. (C)A2RS

It looks like it’s at least two floors so maybe they’ll house multiple businesses. Black Rock Bar & Grill opens across the street this weekend, so it probably won’t be a steak place.

Black Rock opened earlier this month, kitty-corner from this building (you can see its lights through the windows of the partially-completed building in the photo above). They stripped the squat and unassuming Chi-Chi’s down to its bare walls, then re-envisioned it with high ceilings and huge windows for natural light. There are eye-catching fixtures on the outside that look like torches. People who have visited really like it, but personally when I eat out, I want a professional to cook my food (and a self-taught amateur retail analyst to do my blogging).

A2RS: Your Personal loCation Scout

The Internet was recently captivated by “Cat Person,” published in the New Yorker earlier this month. Although a work of fiction, its story of an ephemeral relationship moving from public flirting to confessional texts to a dismaying physical encounter was extremely relatable to today’s women and extremely noooope-that’s-not-me to today’s men.

The author, Kristen Roupenian, is a graduate of U-M, and there are just enough Ann Arbor specific details to make it clear that the story is set here. So, here are the venues where I imagine the events of the story to take place. Was anyone asking for this? Of course not — but a year ago, nobody was asking for an opinionated blog about store openings and closings in Ann Arbor, either, and, well, here we all are!

The story begins at “the artsy movie theatre downtown.” This is almost certainly the Michigan Theater:

The Michigan Theater

“The Michigan Theater,” Molly Kleinman, CC BY-NC 2.0.

The Michigan’s quadroplex neighbor The State, recently reopened a few steps up Liberty Street, presents a similar selection of arthouse fare among the midnight movies and Star Wars series — but only the Michigan served wine, as Robert jokes about (and even then, only to members of its nonprofit parent). The Michigan Theater Foundation programs both venues. In August, MTF sought an alcohol license for the State for its reopening, but it was not open by the New Yorker’s time of publication, so the Michigan is most certainly the theater where Margot and Robert meet.

Their Red Vines study-break takes place at a 7-Eleven. There are now three of them downtown. Two of them — State Street and South Forest — are within a block of residence halls. In the story, Margot is a dorm dweller — this is actually kind of rare because U-M’s residence capacity is far below its enrollment, which is why high-rise apartment buildings have sprung up everywhere downtown in the past decade. Anyway, one of these is where Robert bought Margot her Cherry-Coke Slurpee™, which was almost certainly made by layering cherry and Coke flavors. Although you can sometimes find Wild Cherry Pepsi, they don’t really make a Cherry Coke flavor right out of the Slurpee tap.

Here’s the State Street store right after it opened (well, here’s me, and it’s in the background):

And here’s the South U store, courtesy of Google Street View:

If you’ve been away for a while, this is roughly where the Student Bike Shop was. And if you click through to GMaps, you can go back to 2007 and see it before it and Village Corner were leveled and Landmark was erected.

For their movie date after the holiday, Robert suggests they visit “the big multiplex just outside town.” Later in the story it is identified as the Quality 16. The Q16 is a real 16-screen theater, operated by regional exhibitor Goodrich Quality Theaters. It’s in Scio Township, which is only about a ten minute drive west of downtown and doesn’t actually require the highway miles alluded to in the story, but I suppose it’s still a difficult row to hoe if your parents didn’t send a Lexus with you.

Goodrich Quality 16. (C)GQTI/Yelp.

After the depressing film at the Quality 16, Robert takes Margot out for a drink. She suggests a bar familiar to her, and to be honest, I’m not sure which one this is. A popular bar near the Michigan Theater used to have a reputation for serving students and not looking too close at the ID, but has become so popular in recent years that it can afford to turn them away. Feel free to nominate which one you think it is in the comments. I am a boring dude and didn’t drink before I was legal, so I honestly don’t know, but Robert dismisses this bar’s neighborhood as “the student ghetto,” which is your first clue to where it is, and also your first clue that Robert is ta-rash.

Robert ends up taking Margot to “an underground speakeasy type of place, with no sign announcing its presence.” Obviously the author is referring to Bab’s Underground Lounge, located in the basement of an otherwise nondescript building on Ashley Street.


“This photo of Babs’ Underground is courtesy of TripAdvisor”

As a young professional, I frequented Bab’s when it was around the corner on Liberty in a street-level space, with one pinball machine, live jazz, and copious amounts of cigarette smoke. Its space was previously the final location of The Flame and is now the Alley Bar.  At some point Bab moved around the corner and downstairs. I have visited the Underground once or twice, and was utterly confused, which is pretty depressing, because it probably means I am older than Robert.

EDIT: It has been pointed out to me that the bar could also be The Last Word, which would be right on their way into downtown from the Q16. Here it is below.

When Bab’s the underground speakeasy type of place turned Margot away, Robert “took her hand firmly and led her to a different bar, where there were pool tables and pinball machines…” The downmarket description of this bar suggests the beloved 8-Ball Saloon, about a block from either Bab’s or the Last Word.

Eight Ball Alley

“Eight Ball Alley,” Ross, CC BY-NC-2.0.

The 8-Ball is the bar below the Blind Pig, which everyone in Ann Arbor will tell you is Nirvana’s Favorite Place to Play. As unpretentious as the Pig is, the 8-Ball really is even less so. Both bars were recently purchased by a local investment group who says they intend to keep them as-is, so that’s a relief.

From this point on, it’s a little difficult to identify particular venues where the story goes. There is a moment in Margot’s favorite bar, but we don’t get quite enough info to say “oh yeah, that’s definitely Good Time Charley’s” or “…the Brown Jug” or “…Rick’s.” Although the notion that Robert could be reading a book in there definitely rules out a few of the places in the student neighborhoods.

I wholeheartedly recommend reading “Cat Person,” though be forewarned it contains explicit sex and trenchant misogyny. If you are a woman, it has probably happened to you, and if you are a man, you should read it for tips, because IT COSTS $0.00 NOT TO BE LIKE ROBERT.

P.S. Let’s make 2018 the year we stop calling things “ghetto.” Not an attack on the author, just a shot across the stout, hairy bow of men like Robert.

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.
(UPDATE: In the comments, Molly notes that there is a cafe deep within the bowels of University Hospital that serves Jamba Juice drinks.)

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.)