Senioritis Stadium Site Synopsis (2018!!!)

Hey, young world. It’s been an exciting month filled with actually wanting to be outdoors some of the time, and also with speaking at Penguicon. Attendees of the talk learned about the budget for this project (it is smaller than you can possibly imagine) and about some things that inspired me to write this (Found Magazine, Uni Watch, “Stopped. Watched.” from the old Ann Arbor Chronicle). I also performed a reading of the Mcity article with the photo illustrations. And I got a discount on my registration, so all four of us won! Sigh.

Anyway, it’s been quiet here, mainly because of work (you can catch a glimpse on Twitter of what I’m doing when not blogging) but also because I just haven’t seen a lot going on lately, until this week. Let’s take a leisurely drive down Stadium Boulevard — quickly, before football season starts again. We’ll start at Stadium and Packard, where construction has ramped up on the Circle K.

Demolition of Circle K store at Packard and Stadium, January 2018. (C) A2RS

When it closed in November, the signage targeted an April reopening, but we really never got April. We got December, Apruary, and now Maypril. They didn’t even knock the old building down until a couple of weeks into the new year. Now that it’s not freezing every day, they’re putting in a lot of work.

New sheltered pump islands at Circle K site, Packard and Stadium. (C)A2RS

Eight pumps very close to Stadium Boulevard, which frankly is gonna be kind of a hike from the actual building once Apruary is upon us again, and the rain is cold and the air is dark.

You think maybe they’ll stretch an awning or something out to the pump islands? (C)A2RS

The convenience store building is crammed into the corner of the lot near Packard Road and backs up close to the backyards of the houses on Iroquois Street. Hopefully it will not be very lit back there, to reduce light pollution. The new building appears to have a similar footprint to the old building, but will likely be much more efficiently laid out and has a much taller roof than the old store. It also appeared to have a basement, from what I could glimpse when the foundation was dug during the winter.

The Circle K convenience store as seen from Packard Road. Iroquois Street backyards are directly behind this building. (C)A2RS

This Circle K Brand Story video was created by its Quebeçois parent company, the multinational convenience cartel Couche-Tard, and narrated by a pleasant voice of indeterminate origin. It is a lot of fun, if examining every frame of a brand video and imagining what kind of alternate-reality game you would create behind it is your idea of fun. This three-minute motion graphics logo-development video is also pretty interesting, even if I could have summed it up in ten seconds as “we made the K not-puffy, and the orange stripe is from our overseas counterpart’s logo. For the people of the world.” Call me sentimental, but I really hope a new-style Circle K store figures in a time-travel scene in the new-style Bill & Ted movie.

Further down Stadium, another former gas station convenience store site is also seeing new construction. Here’s the old Sunoco (before that, a 76 station with a Hop-In store, if I recall correctly) on Stadium Boulevard. Seen here from the parking lot of its neighbor, Hot Pot Chen restaurant:

Stadium Blvd Sunoco site, leveled, December 2017. (C)A2RS

Here it is this week, with construction in full swing:

Something’s finally going up on this space. Only a couple of tall walls, so far, so it’s difficult to guess right now what this will ultimately be and whether it will have Kerosene and DVD rentals.

They leveled the site but left the sign up, just like Circle K. (C)A2RS

Finally, a reader asked me in person, as readers often do, whether I had any idea what was going into the remaining empty storefronts at Maple Village. I just noticed Tuesday that another retailer has been announced as COMING SOON:

Intersection, North Maple Road and Maple Village shopping center, as seen from Veterans Park. (C)A2RS

COMPUTER, ZOOM IN AND ENHANCE.

It’s… it’s… (C)A2RS

…it’s strip-mall stalwart ULTA BEAUTY?!? People who like funny, streaming-only TV shows may remember the final story arc on Hulu’s “Difficult People,” where the entire block of Dee’s restaurant was targeted to build a giant Sephora. Meanwhile, Ulta has established eyelash caches, bases for foundations, and bulkheads against blackheads on three sides of town so far — Arborland, Eisenhower, and now Maple Village. NO ONE IS READY FOR ULTA.

While I do accept suggestions, postings are mostly based on what I notice as I travel around town on errands and such. I hope and anticipate that more frequent updates will resume as family schedules become increasingly busy and I have to drive more places. I have a couple of trips planned this summer too so there may be a “trip report” or two if I see anything worth posting. As always, thank you for reading.

If you crave more hyper-local reporting and have already finished with Mlive’s articles, don’t forget to check out Edward Vielmetti’s Vacuum, TreeDowntown, and the Michigan Daily.

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.

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.

State and Packard intersection getting another change with Craft Breww City

(EDITED Wednesday to add details about the previous uses of this space.)

Looks like the large-ish restaurant space on State and Packard is changing hands/brands again. The Happy's Pizza signage is down and "Craft Breww City" is coming soon, according to new banners facing State and Packard Streets.

This appears to be a second location for a popular Farmington Hills spot. CBwwC opened about three years ago at 12 Mile and Orchard Lake road, formerly home to a beloved but dive-y place called Roosevelts. The right idea at the right time, I think. There are no shortage of places to find great beers in Ann Arbor, but it can't hurt to have another, especially if they can get some rare ones. (Website promised a Founders barrel-aged series, so that seems promising.)

They will need to have a great hook to be able to sustain business outside of football Saturdays. There's no parking, save for street parking, anywhere near this intersection. Before Happy's came to this space, it was the unexceptional Packard Pub. Before that it was Artisan Bistro, and before that it was an Atlanta Bread Company franchise. Before that, Espresso Royale had a location here. If you want to go even further back, there was an arcade here called Double Focus in the 80s and early 90s. They stubbornly insisted on tokens, until Pinball Pete's took over the space and converted the machines to legal tender, and added their then-ubiquitous 25 cent automatic fountain-pop and snack vending machines.

I don't know why CBC spells Breww with two W's. I suspect it was easier to trademark and also carries a mystique, like how Buffalo Wild Wings was originally called "bw-3." (It's because they served sandwiches on Weck rolls, another Buffalo-specific food item. "Buffalo Wild Wings and Weck.")

Downtown thoughts and opinions

I spent some time downtown this week, thanks in part to NerdNiteA2, so here’s what’s doin’ down that way.

Work is progressing on whatever they’re building in the middle of the Main Street block between Liberty and William. The eye doctor owns it, because of course he does, and it’s gonna be wonderful of course. I predict a Hard Rock Cafe. (I’m just kidding! I think! Maybe the M Den will move back in.)

Be Hair Now (the third best Oasis-named hair salon in town, besides “Don’t Look Back In Bangs” and “Whatev-hair”) has sadly disappeared from Ashley and Miller. The space is becoming a cycling studio. My daughter was in the car and cannily asked how they were gonna do cycling in a building so small. I agreed and told her to “imagine a bike, like, on a treadmill.”

It’s summer and the Beer Grotto has expanded its seating to the boulevard, that is to say, the area between the sidewalk and the curb. Not a moment too soon.

Finally, we went and got Blimpyburger, as a victory lap after my NerdNiteA2 talk. It was like ten after nine, and we walked right up to the counter and they still gave me crap for not immediately grabbing a tray, and made my brother apologize for not saying cheese when he was supposed to say cheese or something.

Look, I get the rules during lunch rush, when you are most efficient if you can keep a consistent routine, but giving people a hard time at 9pm when nobody’s here? Do you want to ensure nobody will continue to be here? I feel like they’re high on their own reputation. The weirdest part is that the whole “order right or we’ll roast you” routine is a relatively new conceit. I don’t remember it like this when I was a kid, or a student. It was when they got nationwide famous when this Ed Debevic’s routine started. Ed’s is just a website now, guys. Still love your fried broccoli, just maybe dial it down.

(If they ever read this, I’m sure I’ll get booed out of there ever after, and THEN where will I get my fried broccoli?)

Cinder Block Grey is the color of May

On Main Street this week, the owner of 116 S. Main removed the metal paneling on the side of the building, expecting to find some brick to refurbish.

No dice:

Cinder block facade was behind metal panels on the old Kai Garden. (C) MLive.
Just a wall of cinder blocks. They plan to put some office space in here, so expect some complementary new-brick going up. Further details at MLive. (Personally, I wish this would have happened to a less-sympathetic landlord, like the eye doctor, while preparing to put a Big Johnson shop in here, but what can you do? Thanks Pete for the tip!)

Meanwhile, across town, another building, another facade, more cinder block.

Above, please observe the former Chi-Chi’s restaurant at State Street and Airport Circle. It closed suddenly in 2004 alongside its entire chain, after a deadly bacteria spread through cilantro served in some of its sister restaurants, wiping out consumer confidence. Licensed products continue to be available in supermarkets; the salsa tastes just like I remember, fine with whatever chips you got. There are also a handful of franchised restaurants outside of North America. I have a friend who visited one when she was in Luxembourg. I got the impression it might be worth visiting if you were already in Luxembourg.

Subsequent tenants kept the adobe-pyramid exterior, with modifications. Cherry Blossom added some square accents; Passport, a “world foods” restaurant, painted the whole thing a royal blue. (Click through the image to see Passport.) Coming up next: Black Rock Bar & Grill, where the steaks are served on a 700+ degree heated mineral, and the old facade is gone. I’ll update this with a photo next time I drive by.

(Update: here it is!)