Business is flat, businesses flat: A2R.S investigates M | city

(This is a photo-heavy post. Readers on dialup or 2G, please bear with us, it’s worth it!)

This past week, the University of Michigan held an open house at M | city, their connected-vehicle testing grounds adjacent to North Campus and UMTRI (the U-M Transportation Research Institute).
Representatives of the Chamber of M | commerce led walking tours of the grounds showing the various terrains of this microcosm, including highways, train tracks, and Kerrytown-style brick roads.


There was also a tent featuring exhibits from member companies that pay for access to the grounds. It’s a 24×7 operation, since manufacturers and equipment developers need to test their vehicles in all conditions and at all times.


Unfortunately, there were no vehicles on the roads during our visit. Understandable, since crowds of pedestrians are a risky test environment, but some of my fellow visitors were disappointed that they didn’t get to actually ride in an autonomous vehicle.


If you’re reading this here, though, I know what you really want to know about. The retail space.


Although street signage identifies it as State Street and Liberty, longtime townies (and probably some of the short-time townies) will instantly recognize downtown M | city as a bizarro version of Washington Street between Fourth and Fifth.


A fractured timeline where The Arena not only paid its taxes, but it bookends the block with Arbor Brewing Company.


Between them, Amadeus offers finer dining and Literati is the sole purveyor of culture. Dare one assume its coffee bar is open? Because I don’t see any other coffee places in this town.


Upstairs, Ingenex is the final survivor of the digital wars. Also, apparently there is a school across from these two bars.

Around the corner, Zingerman’s occupies a single unit with two windows and a door. Presumably its popular mail order business is cranking along in the nondescript storefronts across the street, behind a lonely but functional iron bench. (I sat on it, it worked.)

I think the thing that delighted me the most was catching a glimpse of this neighboring building’s roof across M | city’s pretend I-75:


You can almost imagine the K I N G E N G I N E E R I N G C O R P letters on it.

TV Warehouse is looking permanent on Packard

Several readers have noted that TV Warehouse has spruced up their space on Packard Road. The fresh coat of paint went up over Memorial Day weekend and has alleviated the “they’re a front for something” vibe I heard from a couple of area residents.


TVW originally opened a few years ago on South Industrial, right next door to the Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop, in a large building of many small storefronts and office spaces. You could be forgiven for thinking they were the TV department of the PTO shop. Their sets aren’t donated, though, they buy returned sets in bulk from big box retailers, test them, and sell the good ones. 

The original location sold only sets and HDMI cables (cables were cheaper than big box stores, but still not as cheap as, like, Monoprice). They did not have complementary items like game consoles or bluray players, though I’ve heard their sister stores do. This new location apparently also offers open-box appliances.

Out television is a 40″ Samsung I bought six years ago. We were hooked on “LOST” from the very beginning, and I pledged we would watch the ending in high definition. (I thought the ending was fine, but let’s debate this over a beer somewhere if you disagree.) I sweated the details and comparison shopped for weeks, and finally picked up our set from Sears at Briarwood Mall, for about $800 after tax (which was a pretty good deal for a name-brand set in 2011).

Our set still works almost perfectly – I correctly decided that set top boxes would supplant “apps” shipped in the TV’s firmware and that they weren’t worth the money. I’m still trying to stave off the notorious Samsung logic board problem by occasionally taking it apart and reseating connectors, but at some point this won’t be fixable, and at least I know a much larger and clearer screen will be a fraction of the price when I finally give up on this one.

This space used to be an auto parts store, part of Carquest, one of those association chains where the local stores have their own identity. I think this store had a machine shop and could fulfill other special orders. Carquest was acquired by a conventional chain of auto parts stores who already had a location around the corner on Carpenter Road, so this store was declared redundant and closed.

It’s getting difficult to find locally owned aftermarket parts. I think S-G on Liberty might be the last one. Not like I buy car parts all that much (maybe I’m part of the problem).

Keeping out the riff-raff

I know, I was pretty quiet last weekend. Not a holiday, but I spent a lot of time driving. Sorry about the lack of posts.

Remember those desperate tweets from Radio Shack we noticed at the end of May, encouraging you to buy anything and everything? Turns out they closed all of their corporate-owned stores in Michigan and most of the Midwest. They instantly contracted from 1200 stores, to about 70 stores in Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts. I guess I have that joy of discovery to look forward to when I travel now. (“OMG A RADIO SHACK, gotta go in and… I don’t know… get a pack of batteries… can I put those in a carry-on bag?”) I suppose I should go visit the franchised Radio Shack store in Saline soon just to satisfy my curiosity.

While driving around last weekend, I noticed several signs for a “FREE” GARAGE SALE near my neighborhood:


I’m still scratching my head about this one. Does this mean the stuff at the garage sale was free, like walk up and carry it away? Possible, but not likely. Who DOES that? My hypothesis is that “FREE” meant free admission. I mean, I like our neighborhood, but it’s not fancy enough to charge cover for a garage sale. Going to pre-answer a couple of questions I know you have, here:

  • Why didn’t I drive over there and ask them? I gave it some thought, but I was always either taking someone someplace or bringing someone home. I am a Results Oriented Team Player with a lot of irons in the fire. 
  • Why didn’t I ask on Nextdoor? That would start to look too much like Journalism.

A2R.S Fidget Spinner Price Index

The Fidget Spinner craze: fleeting or here to stay? I don’t get how a spinny shiny thing helps you concentrate on anything else, but you know what? I don’t, a hundred percent, get Li’l Yachty, either. I am not as highly-prized a target market anymore. I got over it, because I’m a white guy in a place with running water and cheap gasoline and, suddenly, no goals to reduce carbon emissions anymore. Bootstraps!

Anyway, as I (or you) notice Fidget Spinners for sale in the area, I’ll note prices here.

Target, Oak Valley Drive: $3

CVS Fidget Spinner display, courtesy @hammbh
CVS, State Street (downtown, btw. Washington and Liberty) – $7.99 (thanks, reader @hammbh)

Pilot Travel Center, Baker Road (north of I-94) -Virtually highway robbery at a whopping $12.99. Taking advantage of the harried traveler-with-kids.

7-Eleven, Main St. – $7.99, or $11.99 for a light-up one

TCBY, Washtenaw Ave – $8.99

Five Below – $5 or less, assuming they are in stock (they were out last I checked)

Rural King, M-59 and US-23, Hartland – $6.99 (cheapest, but also, not really Ann Arbor)

screenshot of wish.com fidget spinner listings with prices before shipping. (C)wish.com, I guess
Wish.com – $2-5 shipped (Totally not local. Shipped on the slow boat across the Pacific. The craze will be over by the time they get here. But come on, two dollars?)

Please hit me up, @britain on Twitter, or leave a comment below, if you have further details about local merchants selling fidget spinners.  Or message me on Facebook. There aren’t that many Britains, I bet you can work it out.

Together we can all save some money, or help someone else save some money, which is almost the same thing.

Former bike shop on Wells is renovating for Argus Farm Stop; Coffee Works Ann Arbor opening on Packard

The long-closed Ann Arbor Cyclery, at Packard and Wells, has recently seen some freshening up. Photo below taken yesterday morning during my commute:

Exterior of future Argus Farm Stop site, with Toarmina’s/Burrito Joint in background. (C)A2R.S.

 

The new issue of the Ann Arbor Observer, which you should seek out every month for actual reporting on openings and closings, reports that this will be a second location for Argus Farm Stop, a locally-grown produce/meat/dairy store. That’s simplifying it a lot, you might want to hit the link for details.

Here’s the space in 2011 when Ann Arbor Cyclery was still open:

At the other end of the block, Real Baked Goods is becoming Coffee Works Ann Arbor:

This is an Ann Arbor location of Coffee Works (in Milan). Roos Roast calls their original Rosewood location Roos Roast Coffee Works but are a separate concern. “Coffee Works” just sounds cool. It implies craftsmanship.

When we were kids this little flatiron spot was a Chinese takeout/delivery place called China on the Run, then Bev’s Caribbean Kitchen, and then Wise Guys, who specialized in Chicago hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches. I am sure I missed some things between Bev’s and Wise Guys when I didn’t live here. (Thank you FB friend Melissa for the heads-up!)

There’s also a vacuum store, that was here before I was born and will probably be here after I die, because vacuums are a perpetual need. I often remark that I should have become a database administrator, but real talk — this vacuum place is still there! Do you remember when there was a 7-Eleven at Carpenter & Packard? (You would have to remember quite a ways back.) It lasted a few short years, but that building has thrived ever since as, yes, a vacuum cleaner store! Possibly another branch of this store.

Internet shopping has laid waste to music/DVD and bookstores, electronics stores, mattress stores, but not vacuum stores. Yet. I’m sure there are engineers in Palo Alto right now figuring out how to store household dust in cloud arrays. They will monetize by offering affordable subscription plans and create the “Chore as a Service” market.

Here is a logo I made for such a firm. Surely I am not the first to conceive of this, there are a lot of people on this planet. But just in case: (C) A2R.S

Bare walls at Cranbrook

Noticed tonight that 800 West Eisenhower, the easternmost building at Cranbrook, has something going on in there:

This building originally opened as a “Kids ‘Я’ Us” store. Kids ‘Я’ Us sought to bring the excitement of Toys ‘Я’ Us to children’s apparel, but just ended up being the disappointing, toyless cousin of Toys ‘Я’ Us. Eventually the separate locations were closed, and when Arborland was converted to its current outdoor shopping center format, the Toys ‘Я’ Us store actually had a Kids ‘Я’ Us section inside it. This was short lived, as you know if you have visited there since. (Babies ‘Я’ Us is still a thing, though.)

After the closure of Kids ‘Я’ Us, the building had a successful run as an Office Depot. In 2013, Office Depot merged with OfficeMax, and the combined chain now had two large stores very close by, and this one was wound down. (OfficeMax’s west-side location is in Oak Valley Center, between Target and Chuck E Cheese.)

In the ensuing years, this location has primarily served as the seasonal home of a Halloween costume store. But that might be about to change. What’s coming to this space? I haven’t the slightest idea, but I feel like the sudden collapse of Old Country Buffet left a buffet vacuum, so I’m going with MCL Cafeteria. You heard it here first. And last.

Radio Shack Facebook Frenzy

Okay, so this isn’t strictly relevant, because there are no more Radio Shack stores in the city limits. (The last one’s lease, at Maple Village, was not renewed by the owners of the center. Either they had something else in mind or they saw the writing on the wall.)

But right now THE SHACK’S social media team is in overdrive, posting about a dozen posts a day on their wall. Many of them for remaining merchandise, now UP TO 90% OFF a high price in the grand tradition of chain store bankruptcies:


But also hyping leftover fixtures and supplies:

Radio Shack’s bankruptcy FAQ from March states that about 180 of their 1200 stores are closing, with options for more in the future. I have a feeling it’s way more than 180 with posts like these.

The only corporate-owned store left in the area is in Ypsilanti next to Walmart. It is affirmatively flagged as a “✅ Grab-Bag Store” on the locator:

Screenshot, Radio Shack store locator, May 2017; radioshack.com.

What’s a Grab-Bag store? An answer arrived later today:

Ypsi is the only store flagged as a “Grab-Bag Store” within 25 miles from A2, so I presume that means other corporate-owned locations like Canton and Novi will carry on? (UPDATE: Nope, they’re all gone.)

I think this would be a nice place to note that Saline’s location is franchised by Alpha Wireless, who carry Radio Shack products in several of their area stores and are NOT going out of business.

Saline Road changes

The new restaurant going in the Meijer outlot is Buddy’s Pizza, a Detroit institution but new to our neighborhood. Square crust. Probably grownup drinks, call it a hunch. I think they put sesame seeds on their crust, so if you get the hankering for square pizza but hate seeds (or your kids hate seeds), Jet’s Pizza is still across Saline Road.

The McDonald’s on Lohr Road recently reopened from a renovation. LOTS of details at Ann Arbor with Kids, including photos of the Playplace and details on daily specials through June 30.

Fountain Etiquette sign, McDonald’s, Lohr Rd. (C) Manchurian Global d/b/a Yelp

When I lived near here a few years ago, I used to drive, like, three times further than the distance to this McDonald’s to visit the State Street location. Every order here took forever, and was never right, and the crew usually seemed miserable. According to Ann Arbor with Kids, it changed ownership in 2015, so maybe I need to give this one another try when I’m around there and I didn’t just eat Buddy’s.

Finally, the lot in Oak Valley Center right by the intersection of Waters, Lohr, and Saline roads is currently all tore up. It looks like something is being built there. Another restaurant? What food concept does this side of town need? Chik-Fil-A?

East side: Staples removers getting a workout

The Staples store in the shopping center at Carpenter and Packard is completely gutted (I think it closed after Christmas).

Here’s its entrance as of Saturday night:


Pretty cool, huh? No idea what it’s going to be yet. I’m sorry to see this Staples location go, but it seemed to have some challenges – an extremely fortified entrance to deter night visitors, not to mention weird hours. At one point last year, they were closing at 7pm weeknights and 5pm Sundays.

I often shop at the Kroger here, and sometimes I check out the phone accessory racks at the TJ Maxx next door to Kroger. I hate to sound like a TJ Maxx ad, but they have a much better phone accessory collection than you probably think. Amongst the off-brands that are made for discount stores like iHome and MVMT, you can often find Speck, Incase, and other brands that sell for $30+ at the carrier or manufacturer stores. Well, at most locations you can. At the Carpenter Road store, someone who knows brand names frequently opens the premium brands’ packages, pockets the goods, and leaves the empty boxes in the clearance section further back in the store. (The Westgate TJ Maxx doesn’t seem to have this problem as badly.)

Back in the day this shopping center was anchored by beloved, obsolete Detroit area grocery Farmer Jack; and Best, a discount department store chain that, like Service Merchandise, vanished almost immediately after Target and Walmart expanded to the Detroit market.

Farmer Jack was in the Staples space, and Best was in the area currently occupied by The Tile Shop, if I recall correctly. 

Our Best store’s exterior was nothing special by Best standards (this retrospective of their unique commissions, from the architectural firm SITE, is mandatory viewing).

Northside observations: SVdP, Orange Leaf, Blockbuster

Noticed this week along Plymouth Road/Broadway:

Exterior, St. Vincent DePaul Store. (C) A2R.S

St. Vincent DePaul’s store is closed indefinitely due to a fire in the building.

Orange Leaf fro-yo in Traver Village has “relocated” to another location across town that originally opened the same time as this location:

Exterior, Orange Leaf, Traver Village. (C) A2R.S.
Interior through window, Orange Leaf Yogurt. (C) A2R.S

“We moved…” is the same phrasing that Pizza Hut used when they closed the Jackson Road location and “moved” to Carpenter Road, as well as fellow former Traver tenant Blockbuster when they “moved to blockbuster.com.” I guess it sounds more upbeat than just saying it closed.
Incidentally, blockbuster.com was just a “We’re closed” site for almost four years. It recently updated with a suggestion to subscribe to its parent, Dish Network, and an up-to-date list of the franchised stores that still prosper in areas like Alaska, where internet access is too expensive to make streaming practical.

CBS Sunday Morning’s April 23 update on these stores is a lovely, mellow four minutes, with lots of lingering shelf shots:

Do you miss browsing the rows and rows of choices? Sometimes I do, until I remember having to call my wife to agree on a few to bring home, and that was like pulling teeth some nights. What I really miss about Blockbuster is a good and often-changing selection of very cheap previously played games with “lifetime guarantees.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯