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.

First Day of Spring (observed)

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.

You people are nuts*, and I appreciate you.

*nuts not included in free cone offer

Washed Away

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:

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Yes, I took these photos like a year before I started the blog, because I thought I would do… something… with them someday.

Teardown of 111 E. Mosley through its front window, facing Main Street. (C)A2RS

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Timelapse of the 111 E. Mosley teardown as seen from Clark parking lot. (C)A2RS

The construction of the complex is ongoing. Here’s a shot from last summer:

I assume cars go in here. (C)A2RS

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:”

“Grapp and Reed’s Amoco, 1975.” AADL (CC BY-NC-SA)

Here it is a little later in color. Remember when service stations fixed cars?

“Amoco station (year unknown).” AADL (CC BY-NC-SA)

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:

Actually, all of my best miles were Train Hopper miles. (C)A2RS

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.

A2RS Trip Report: Park City, UT

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.

This fuel island roof is more sturdy than some entire gas stations in Michigan. (C)A2RS

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.

The sign seems more old-westy to me than ski lodge but whatever. (C)A2RS

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.

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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.

How much for the firelogs? Wooden you like to know? (C)A2RS

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.

“We left out the ‘C’ for Cu-wality.” That’s a slogan they can have for free. (C)A2RS

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.

Monin syrup pumps by the Big Gulp machine. (C)A2RS

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.

Bursting with non-dairy goodness. (C)A2RS

I wondered how the snack bags must look, and was not disappointed:

At 7,000 feet above sea level, “Puffs” becomes a verb. (C)A2RS

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.

The buses are free, but “Donations encouraged and appreciated.” (C)A2RS

Some other things we discovered about Park City:

You will find the Wasatch Brewery up at the end of this street, and the climb will make you feel like you have EARNED a “Polygamy Porter.” Yes, they went there. (C)A2RS

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.

If you idle for longer than sixty seconds, an idle Park City officer will ticket you. (C)A2RS

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.

A Park City Library branch. A bunch of people probably watched a movie you really love in here, once. (C)A2RS

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.

Snowboard tables at a fro-yo stand inside the local Rite Aid. (C)A2RS

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:

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But it wasn’t all skis and Slurpees, Park City has the same problems any city has:

(இ﹏இ`。) maeks u cry everytim. (C)A2RS

The First Day of Spring

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:

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:

Packard DQ still “closed for the season” per dq.com. (C)Dairy Queen, probably

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.

8:30PM on a Monday night in February. Temperature 40 degrees Fahrenheit. (C)A2RS

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.

Stuff I heard

Tonight, as with many nights recently, I’ve been watching young people from Florida like Sam Zeif:

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.

Or you could just can your lifers, like Barnes & Noble did this week.

Something something “interesting times.”

 

Here’s a shot of Old Carolina, one of my very first posts, as seen this past weekend:

Former Old Carolina BBQ being gutted, Feb 2018. (C)A2RS

I’m tired, but feel free to tell me what you think below, or Facebook or tweet me. I’ll read it in the morning.

The Little Kroger That Got Lucky

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.

Interior, Stadium/South Industrial Kroger, looking east from checkouts toward the deli and bakery.. (C)A2RS

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.

Closing announcement floor sign at South Industrial Kroger store. (C)A2RS

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.

The Wolverines pull ahead (of lettuce) of Ohio State. This was back pre-renovation, when you could only fit maybe 105,000 people in the Big House. (C)A2RS
You know what’s always a slam-dunk? Donuts (just out of frame). (C)A2RS
It’s natatorium, it’s the cold cuts section. (C)A2RS
From Jesse Owens’ long run, to my beer run. (C)A2RS
Yost for the taste of it. (C)A2RS
There’s a runner on third. Dairy try to steal home? If he can touch the bag-uette might mean the winning run. (C)A2RS

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.

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You get the idea. This was a small Kroger.

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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.

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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.

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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).

Interior, Lucky’s Market, looking east from the produce section toward the checkouts and the bakery. (C)A2RS

I’m sure it is not a coincidence that Kroger owns a share of Lucky’s Market. Thanks for reading!

Gathering Some Loose Threads at the end of January

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.

The closed Meijer Optical store at the Ann Arbor-Saline Road location. (C)A2RS

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.

Coming Soon signs for SPENGA Gym at Colonnade. (C)A2RS

As reported by blogfriend Dave, the new tenant in the former Bagger Dave’s space in the Colonnade is SPENGA, a gym. The unique roll-up windows in its storefront are probably to allow the place some fresh air from time to time.

Here’s a cursed image from the ongoing redevelopment of Circle K:

It’s honestly better without context. (C)A2RS

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:

Better Health and WARHAMMER Stores at Lamp Post Plaza. (C)A2RS

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 latest flat spot on South U. (C)A2RS

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.

TЯU AWOL И A2

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:

David Brandon as a Michigan Wolverine in 1973. (C) U-M Athletics
Your author, pictured here in the Brandon Center at U-M. (C)A2RS

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.

“Toys R Us, Marshalls, and Bed Bath & Beyond at Arborland,” October 1999. (C) The Ann Arbor News.

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.)

Still from a TV ad for “Kids R Us.” (C) …somebody, probably.

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.