Better The Union U Know

Profile, Michigan Union, April 2018. (C)A2RS

Saturday’s U-M Graduation ceremony brought the end of the Winter 2018 term, and with it, the closure of the Michigan Union for two years of renovation. Although the ground level of the Union was renovated only five years ago, and the first floor’s University Club was closed only a couple of years ago to introduce another franchise to campus, U-M has decided to make sweeping changes to future-proof the Union complex.

North entrance to the Michigan Union. Doesn’t look like much, does it? (C)A2RS

One of the most dramatic plans is to open up this north entrance to the Union. Expect more windows and lots of natural light. This will complement the new LSA Opportunity Hub next door and make the most of Michigan’s six to eight weeks of sunlight each year.

This digital sign was set to a poignant black to commemorate the closing of the Union, totally not turned off to save energy, and why would you even say such a thing? (C)A2RS

They also plan to improve accessibility and eliminate some of the multiple small flights of steps, like the ones you see right after you enter that north entrance. This historic building is riddled with twisty steps and tiny landings that hearken back to a time when everything was designed for bipeds.

Interior entrance to Michigan Union. Only three more stairs to go! (C)A2RS

The sign above the second set of doors at the end of the third set of steps tells the story. The ground floor of the Union, at its close, was host to a Barnes & Noble campus bookstore, a convenience store operated by U-M Dining, the Computer Showcase, a U-M Credit Union Branch, and a passel of quick-service restaurants. Open computer stations ringed the edges of the dining area, although their numbers have dwindled as personal devices have become more common. (Incidentally, the only part of the Union to remain open during this construction is the Union Computing Site, which is actually located in a basement area shared with West Quad.)

Ext. Subway, still serving until the very end, Apr 2018. (C)A2RS

The Subway franchise in the basement of the Michigan Union is the Busiest Subway Restaurant in North America, a title held by the Subway franchise at Michigan State, Notre Dame, UC Irvine, and basically any R1 institution. Go ahead, ask any of them.

Ext. Second Subway Counter, Apr 2018. (C)A2RS

The Second Subway Counter debuted as part of the 2012 Renovation and, if we’re being honest, has seldom been used since. I imagine the stock explanation is that the original counter has been streamlined and optimized to meet increased demand, but honestly, have you seen Wendy’s Twitter?

Ext. Wendy’s, Apr 2018. Note Freestyle machine at right. (C)A2RS

And here she is. A chain based in the heart of Buckeye Country is the only mass-market burger joint in the heart of Ann Arbor. It is a fitting bookend to the heartwarming story of the Columbus Domino’s and could only be more poetic if it turned out Urban Meyer was a partner in the franchise.

Ext. Panda Express gone dark. (C)A2RS

Panda Express premiered following the 2012 reno, but was only the latest in a string of local and franchised “Asian cuisine” takeout concepts within the Union. Previous purveyors of parabolic-pan-fried protein with sweetened sauces and sticky starches included Bangkok II, about which I don’t recall much more; and Magic Wok, which continues to thrive in Northwest Ohio, Downriver, and, uh, Bahrain.

Ahmo’s Gyros, Apr. 2018. (C)A2RS

Ahmo’s is the Issa family’s successful pivot away from convenience stores into dining and is something like a local fixture now. This Ahmo’s location did street tacos on its other counter and I think also offered a fro-yo bar.

Ext. U-Go’s Convenience Store, Apr 2018. (C)A2RS

This U-Go’s used to offer sixty cent fountain refills if you brought your own cup, which was apparently too cheap to last forever. They also had tons of other ready-to-eat snacks and a bulk section. Now that this is gone and By The Pound has moved to South Industrial, People’s Food Co-Op is about the only place you can purchase precisely 1.25 pounds of yogurt pretzels.

Exterior, Barnes & Noble College Bookstore at Michigan Union. (C)A2RS
Ugh, I can see my reflection in the chrome sign stand. I should have shot this more off-center. (C)A2RS
UMCU Branch at Michigan Union. Way back in the day, this was a video arcade. (C)A2RS

UMCU loses a convenient point of presence with the Union’s closure – a full0-service branch right on central campus. Remember when those video teller consoles with the vacuum tubes were gonna be the future of banking? They mounted iPads in front of the video monitors a few years ago, and I haven’t seen them in use in a while at all.

Front entrance for the Computer Showcase at the Union. (C)A2RS

Like several of the other stores mentioned in this article, the Computer Showcase has another location on North Campus. But unlike the others, the Showcase will maintain a presence nearby during construction. The first floor of the Shapiro Library (“The UGLi”) has been fortified with point-of-sale infrastructure and secure storage to host computer and peripheral sales, which makes me kind of glad I don’t work for the Library, because the only thing that would be more fun than a gadget store in my building, would be a gadget store that silently deducts the payments right out of my check.

Display window for U-M Computer Showcase at the Union. Through it you can view the Tech Repair service desk and ITS walk-in support desk. (C)A2RS

That takes care of the Ground Floor – this leaves only two retail establishments upstairs, Starbucks and Au Bon Pain.

Main entrance to Au Bon Pain at Michigan Union. (C)A2RS

I have no idea whether Au Bon Pain is working out for campus. I do know that, since this location opened, the chain has been acquired by Panera Bread, which has had a location at North U and Thayer for years. These two stores seem a little bit close together to me…

Exterior, Starbucks Coffee at Michigan Union. (C)A2RS

…although this Starbucks franchise replaced Amer’s Deli a few years ago and seems to always be working, despite three other locations (State & Liberty, South University Galleria, and Ross School of Business) within two blocks.

I should have gotten a photo of the Billiards Room, I realized this weekend it’s gone for good:

A2RS Predictions:

  • The Union is scheduled to reopen for Winter term 2020, and I expect Wendy’s, Subway, and Starbucks to be back and largely unchanged when it returns.
  • I expect the bookstore to be smaller, with textbooks stored offsite.
  • I’m pretty sure that an unmanned convenience store will be attempted. It could be an Amazon Go or a Market Twenty Four Seven.
  • Jamba Juice, calling it now. Could be a corporate store, might be a franchise operated by Picasso like the one in UHospital.
  • I do not expect the tap room to return to the Union, though that would be pretty cool.

Go ahead, tell me what I screwed up, that’s why I keep the comments turned on.

Buildouts and teardowns at Maple Village

You may recall that English Gardens closed after the holiday season. If you don’t, there’s a lot of stuff about it on Mlive and other reputable sources. My previous article had a number of exterior shots of former Frank’s stores, but A3RS never had a cutaway view… until this weekend:

Checkpoint Frankie… I mean, the English border. (C)A2RS

The fence is there for our protection, but there’s a gap just big enough to squeeze an arm through and shoot a pano:

Click above for a closer look, 1900×644. (C)A2RS

The east portion of the lot is where Hardee’s was when we were young, later Golden Chef. At one point I think this was going to be a Tim Horton’s but that never came to fruition (but Timmy’s isn’t a fruit place, it’s a donut shop — so, it never came to donution?).

East portion of future LA Fitness lot. (C)A2RS
Interior of partially-demolished former English Gardens store at Maple Village. (C)A2RS

Now, maybe you think I anthropomorphize inanimate objects too often — and this too-smart-for-its-own-good computer I’m typing on would probably agree with you — but the Westgate sign popping over the wall like a noisy neighbor in the below shot just slays me every time.

Partially demolished store and west lot of future LA Fitness location at Maple Village. “OHAY GUYZ, IT’S ME WESTGATE. WHATCHA DOOIN?” (C)A2RS

As a freestanding garden center comes down, the site of the former Kmart’s garden center is now being built upon with something else, as though the HomeGoods on Kmart’s site was born with a phantom limb and is now making the curious sensation real:

Exterior of new construction in southwest corner of Maple Village shopping center. (C)A2RS
A close look into the gaping maw of the new construction. (C)A2RS
HomeGoods entrance shown for scale and location cue. (C)A2RS

What do I think is going in here? Well there’s no AT&T store at Maple Village yet and there’s a shopping center on the east side with TWO AT&T stores. So that’s, I would say, a shoo-in.

You know what this shopping center DOES have though? Johnny Leggs is in the house:

Exterior of east outlot building at Maple Village — formerly Radio Shack, formerly the Kmart Tire and Auto Center. (C)A2RS

I imagine it’s only a matter of time before the other outlot building gets a makeover to match the above building’s aesthetic:

Could be a while though. This building contains a number of useful, profitable businesses, and also a GNC. (C)A2RS

This space below — formerly Village Pharmacy — looks ready to put something in. I don’t know what. I would suggest a Kirkland’s, but that’s literally next door already.

Old Navy? There’s a Five Below nearby too, so, synergy, I guess. (C)A2RS

A Secretary of State office and a self-storage complex continue to operate at the back of the shopping center, and Plum Market is well into its second decade up front. One of these days I’ll finish the post I began a while back, about the movie theater that used to be here.

Fourth and Br…iarwood?

The temporary wall is up at the old Pearle. I anticipated an expansion last week, and I was correct. But not the expansion I anticipated. The Apple Store will still be minuscule. Instead, it’s the neighbor on the other side, the M Den, that’s expanding.

“Hail to Style.” Victors Collection coming soon, Briarwood Mall. (C)A2RS

If you’ve visited the flagship M Den on State Street, you have probably wandered into its upscale storefront, The Victors Collection. Maybe even on purpose. Victors eschews Jordan, Champion, and the other mass-market sportswear brands that the M Den moves, to stock business-casual and semi-formal apparel with the block M, along with Wall Street-y specialty items like a ballcap with both the Block-M and the New York Yankees logos. So basically the aesthetic I hope to maintain once I get the big check, and A2RS joins Maxim Magazine and Steak-N-Shake in the Biglari portfolio.

Empty building at Stadium and Main. (C)A2RS

Speaking of spiritwear,  the corner across from the Big House is still open and seems like an obvious choice for a U-M apparel shop to me…

SiteA2RS SpeculationWhat It Became
The Thing at State and Ellsworth Behind Jimmy John'sQuizno's, Hair Salon, Vape ShopEmpty
Pearle Vision, BriarwoodApple StoreVictors Collection
Hyatt Place Outlot BuildingDrive Thru restaurantEmpty
Babies-R-Us OutlotNot fast-food Aspen Dental and an AT&T Wireless dealer

But I wouldn’t bet on A2RS’ predictions. Anyway, this site was previously a Sprint authorized retailer. Before that it was an art studio that hosted parties, and before that it was Schneider’s Amoco:

“Schneider’s Standard Service, 1974.” Ann Arbor District Library (CC BY-NC-SA).

(…who later dropped the gasoline sales and became Schneider’s Party Store, where I bought glass bottles of soda while waiting for my transfer school-bus home.)

Speaking of things that have sat empty for a long time, the Burger Fi restaurant on the ground floor of University Towers is still preserved in time and now there’s an investigative podcast about it. It’s called BurgerFIND, it’s produced by a group of U-M students who still mourn its closing, and it’s a lot like “Missing Richard Simmons,” only this time, THE HOSTS are the ones who wear pajamas in the daytime.

Exterior of Aunt Agatha’s Mystery & Crime Book Shop. (C)A2RS

Speaking of mysteries, Aunt Agatha’s recently announced its closure at the end of the summer. They are offloading their inventory and moving online. They are closing up in the face of downloads. They are selling The Big Sleep from a storefront that never closes.

Unique stores like this help us feel better about our community and we are sorry to see them go. At least it isn’t sudden, they will be around through Art Fair, the union electricians’ training, and I think the union plumbers/pipe-fitters’ training too. I would love to see the pipe-fitters/mystery buffs Venn diagram.

Speaking of bookstores, there is a new used bookstore opening on Ellsworth. This isn’t exactly Ann Arbor, but enough friends of the blog have commented on this (and also I recently did a post about Utah, so clearly I don’t care that much) that I want to mention Think Outside The Books, which also offers games, collectibles, and many photos like this one below, which together document the store’s genesis from the shell of a Blockbuster.

Speaking of busted blocks, here’s Fourth Avenue between Washington and Liberty, where only the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase is able to thrive.

Fourth Avenue north of Liberty, facing west. (C)A2RS

Speaking of nightlife, there’s a DJ coming to Packard and Platt. DJ Bakery. That’s literally all I know right now.

Exterior of “DJ Bakery,” coming soon. (C)A2RS

This site was most recently a dealer of leaf guards for residential gutters. Before that, it was a laundromat and Craft Appliance, a beloved, locally-owned appliance store.

Speaking of local craft, Lucky’s Market has a bar with four or five local or regionally-brewed beers for $2 a pint every day ($1.50 on Thursdays).

Lagunitas Pils glass at Lucky’s Market. (C)A2RS

They also sell slices of pizza, and other various hot entrees on different days. The deli section of Lucky’s is not exactly Bill’s-Beer-Garden level ambience, but you can’t beat the price, and you can actually hold a conversation in there, unlike many popular watering holes.

These are beer tanks… right? (C)A2RS

Speaking of watering holes, back to Fourth Street for a second. Here’s a look inside the window of the ground floor of Courthouse Square Senior Apartments, formerly the Ann Arbor Inn. Looks like fresh beer is coming. Hopefully this will raise the boats of extant Arbor Brewing, Haymaker, and Blue Tractor, all nearby.

Transitions; Lenses

Spotted at Briarwood the other morning (Starbucks opens hours before the rest of the mall): the longtime Pearle Vision store has closed in the JC Penney corridor.

I bet someone at Apple Retail is figuring out how to expand the store into the empty Pearle and that firehose hallway right now. “Annex the firehose” is the 2018 version of “just make it thinner.” (C)A2RS

If you have read this site for a bit you probably figure this is in anticipation of their move out to State and Ellsworth. but But BUT:

A site for sore eyes, hot-cha-cha-cha (C)A2RS

This location is right in center court. If you had a good arm you could probably throw a rock from the old location, skip the rock off the roof of the Starbucks, and hit the new one. What does this mean?

I have driven past that State and Ellsworth shopping center recently, and it appears complete from the exterior but still unbranded. Maybe Pearle backed out in favor of this new mall space (this was a jewelry shop, a Body Shop, a wireless accessory store, and I think a fancy sock store, at various points in recent history). Maybe Pearle is going to have two locations, one in the mall and one outside the mall. Pearle is but one of many brands of the world’s largest eyewear firm, one with several other retail locations already in Briarwood. (And it’s not like people’s eyes are getting better or anything. Although Wired has to make up their minds.)

The Michigan Union is closing for two years for a dramatic renovation, only five years after the downstairs MUG food court was renovated and less than that since the University Club buffet restaurant was closed and Au Bon Pain opened in its first-floor space. During the MUG closure a few years back, we came to depend on the Wendy’s location in the Michigan League for our Frosties.

What will we do now that the Union is closed again?

Get a mylar balloon, I guess. (C)A2RS

Immediately after Wendy’s closed a couple of years ago, the spot became a guest restaurant counter with a different area restaurant (Palm Palace, Satchel’s BBQ, Jamaican Jerk Pit, etc.) each day. Now it is the offices of SORC, the Student Organizations Resource Center, offering support to student groups and societies, apparently including decorative favors.

The guest-restaurant concept continues at the adjacent counter, which used to be the fabled Michigan League Taco Bell. (Don’t miss this guide to healthy Taco Bell items {PDF} that someone at MHealthy was at one time compelled to create.) You can see the guestarant’s menuboard as a digital sign on the wall adjacent to the counter — today it was Ray’s Red Hots.

Across town, the old Creekside Grill on Jackson Road is open — or about to open — as The Standard, a bistro-y kind of place with a chef who came from Zingerman’s.

Just your Standard windshield shot. (C)A2RS

As I understand it, this restaurant is owned by the same group that runs The Sports Bar, down Jackson at Zeeb Road. A long time ago this was a bar called Paul Bunyan’s — after that it was Banfield’s Westside, a second location for the longtime South Packard gathering place.

The Sports Bar owners kept the excellent neon “Westside” sign all these years, but I have heard rumors — RUMORS, MIND YOU — that the Westside is destined to fall to make way for a major chain fueling station. On the one hand it seems like a great idea — this is the closest spot to access 94 East, much closer than either the Meijer or the Citgo a block or so west of Zeeb on Jackson Road. (The Meijer in particular is set back from the road and takes a little more getting-to than other Meijer gas stations in town.) But on the other hand, it’s gonna be a drag getting out of there.

Basically the only way is to go west on Jackson, then turn around in front of Meijer and go east on Jackson, then cross Zeeb, then turn around at Weingartz and go west on Jackson again, then turn right onto Zeeb to get back to 94.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because the Carpenter and Packard Speedway has a similarly byzantine traffic pattern, enforced by concrete dividers that prevent you from turning left onto either street at its intersection. After stopping at the Carpenter Speedway, I usually turn right onto Carpenter, drive into the Kroger parking lot, then come back out of the Kroger parking lot at its traffic light so I can turn left onto Carpenter. A little piece of my soul dies every time I do this, so I try not to stop at that Speedway unless I’m not on my way home.

If you made it this far, congratulations. Here is a photo of the Jamba Juice counter at University Hospital. Although operated by a franchisee and nearly inaccessible unless you’re walking between buildings at UHosp, this is the only place you can get an actual Jamba Juice smoothie in Ann Arbor.

I have never had a Jamba Juice, I only talk about it here because everywhere else seems to have them. (C)A2RS

Also, Vogel’s Locks closed on Washington Street last week. Sounds like they were nice folks who stayed there as long as they did because they owned their building, and probably got an offer from Dr. Lasik or Smashburger or something that they couldn’t refuse.

I never went there. (I can’t afford to live in Ann Arbor and shop downtown very often, apart from catching a bus to central campus from my office. Parking is a nontrivial expense for me, and there are only so many hours in the day you can park in bank parking lots after they close.) But many friends of the blog mentioned it to me, so here it is.