My business, my business: Mark’s Carts Roll Out

Next month it’s time to say goodbye to Mark’s Carts, the food-truck court located off Washington Street between Ashley and First — not just for the winter, like most years, but forever. The space is going to be converted to overflow seating for Bill’s Beer Garden and display space for Downtown Home and Garden, to which Mark’s Carts are physically connected. (All three businesses are Mark Hodesh projects; he sold DHG to an employee a few years back to concentrate on the carts and the beer garden, while still maintaining its continuity.)

While many of Mark’s mainstays were dedicated to truck life, several of them grew out of the court and into permanent locations, including eat. (now a Packard Road mainstay), San Street (now Miss Kim in Kerrytown), and The Lunch Room, which has expanded to two Lunch Room locations and the Detroit Street Filling Station. Other local restaurants, like Hut-K Cha’ats and Satchel’s BBQ, used Mark’s to reach into downtown from their permanent locations.

Where will the food trucks park now? Sometimes they pop up around town before football games and other specials (they were an advertised feature at a recent Michigan Soccer event). After the old Pinball Pete’s building burned down, there was a plan at one point to locate trucks in the resulting alley between Middle Earth and University Towers. Before all of these things, though, you know what this town had? Food courts.

Ann Arbor’s longest-running food court, of course, is the basement of the Michigan Union, a popular crash pad for all U-M students, and some of the staff, not that I would know, har-har-har.

The Michigan Union. (C) The Regents of the University of Michigan

The Union is home to a bevy of quick-service (the alternative phrasing for “fast food”) restaurants, including a Wendy’s that has a breakfast menu (but does not sell Kids’ Meals) and the World’s Busiest Subway Restaurant. (Every school of a certain size makes this claim, especially Notre Dame. What do you want, a medal?) It has been this way since at least the 80s.

Upstairs there has been a coffee shop of some sort for at least a generation. A few years ago, Amer’s (of the delis on State Street and Church Street) left in a rush and was quickly replaced with Starbucks; its neighbor on the same floor, the U-Club buffet restaurant, was closed with great fanfare and replaced with an Au Bon Pain. This was a win-win because:

  • the U-Club’s dining room was reserved for patrons and only open during the restaurant’s hours; the new design opened up a lot of flexible study space in a high traffic area
  • The nearest Panera is, like, a block away, and that’s a bit of a hike

(Although this is an Ann Arbor-focused blog, I need to pay tribute to Eastern Michigan University’s well-appointed food courts. When I was a student, lo those many years ago, we had all kinds of options, many of them names you would recognize. U-M can’t keep one afloat, but at EMU we had two Taco Bells — one on the north side of campus near residence halls and the other on the south side of campus near Cross Street — and a “Domino’s Pizzazz” experimental store that sold personal-sized pizzas. Thor may be able to summon lightning from the sky with his mighty hammer, but thanks to the A&W restaurant in Hill Hall, I could use my EMU Dining plan to buy a freshly poured gallon-sized jug of A&W Root Beer whenever I wanted. FROST GIANTS? FROSTY MUGS? I ASK YOU, SON OF ODIN, WHO IS THE TRUE HERO NOW?

Today’s Eagles may be thrilled about their new Chik-Fil-A, but what do they do on Sundays? Probably their laundry, at their parents’ house, same as it ever was.)

Anyway, north of the Union and east of Mark’s Carts, Ann Arbor made a tentative step into downtown indoor retail when Tally Hall opened in the 80s, sort of modeled after a successful indoor mall in Farmington Hills by the same name.

“Tally Hall Food Court, July 23, 1986.” (C) The Ann Arbor News.

Tally Hall never achieved full occupancy, and nearly half the food court’s tenants closed within a year. A name change, to Liberty Square, didn’t help. After the original retailers and the food court closed, the ground floor became a pop-art gallery, and eventually U-M offices; the basement, where the above photo was originally taken thirty one years ago, is today shared by Menlo Innovations and TechArb.

On South University, the Galleria opened a couple of years later, with a food court as well. The basement hosted several quick-service food counters, but the only one I remember was Cretan Cafe, which originally the gyro counter at Arborland when Arborland. This attempt at underground dining also never took off, and the space was eventually hollowed out to fill with arcade machines when Pinball Pete’s consolidated its William St., Packard St., and South University locations in the space.

As mentioned above, Arborland had an often-vibrant food court during its years as an enclosed mall. The only names I remember anymore, though, have pleasing alliteration, like Cretan Cafe and Kruse’s Kreamy Kreations. Am I imagining that there was an Arby’s in there? (I’ll update this when someone tells me in my Facebook comments.)

Briarwood Center Court, undated. (C)VCC Global IP, NO COPYRIGHT INTENDED ALL RIGHTS BELONG TO TEH HOLDER

Finally, Briarwood. Briarwood has always had an interesting lineup of restaurants, including a Farrell’s and a Sanders (and I know it had an Arby’s), but it’s never had a food court. When the fountains were removed in the late ’00s, food stands were introduced into center court to create a food-court vibe, but it never really achieved the density you expect from a Detroit-area food court. Most of the tenants — Starbucks, Mrs. Fields, Wetzel’s Pretzels, Pinkberry, Tatsu Sushi — are more like pick-me-ups or snacks than proper meals (though I did enjoy many one-dollar hot dogs from Fruit Monster Smoothies, when that was a thing).

Friend of the Blog Josh Charson recently posited in my comments that the time was right for a Food Hall in Ann Arbor. After reading this Eater article, I am pleased to report that Josh’s never-wrong streak remains unbroken. Please feel free to comment below, or find me elsewhere online to share your thoughts.

De-]\/[-phasized

(DISCLOSURE: U-M is my employer, until I cash out and sell this project to Axios or Oath or something.)

The University of Michigan is the institution of note in Ann Arbor. Its various research, medicine, and entertainment concerns bring attention from all over the world… BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE MY WORD FOR IT!

U-M has the largest alumni association, as well as a popular sports program you might have heard of. The block-M logo is one of the most in-demand trademarks in apparel. I worked at a theme park far out of state for a while and met many visitors in U-M hats, sweatshirts, and jackets. I would always ask “Are you a student or alumni or just a fan?” (I would say “just a fan,” because it was half my life ago and I could be kind of a little jerk without even trying. They would smile and say “just a fan!”)

U-M’s sports trademarks are managed by IMG, part of superagency William Morris Endeavor. WME’s co-owner is the real-life version of Ari from Entourage, and its IMG website helpfully lists the royalty percentages its member institutions take. Michigan is at 12%, on par with other Big Ten schools and football powerhouse Alabama, and 20% higher than the College of William and Mary (10%). Lower, though, than Brigham Young University’s 14%. OSU is not represented by IMG, and who cares? They don’t give a damn about our whole state, you know. They have a song about it!

Anyway, can you blame a local store for wanting some hail-by-association?

First example: The Washtenaw Marathon

Up until the late 2000s, this looked like any other run-of-the-mill Marathon. The gable roof makes me think maybe this was a Shell before, but I can’t confirm right now because… because I won’t confirm right now. But the owners had big dreams and they rebuilt the fuel islands and convenience store with high windows, in handsome brick. They envisioned their station as the first piece of Michigan a visitor might see, I imagine. So they put a big, glorious maize block M over the entrance.

That didn’t last long. Can you blame the U for protecting their hail?

First the store owners tried to get square by changing the color to a stars-and-stripes pattern. Not enough. They ended up taking the lower blocks, but not the upper ones, off of the block-M, creating a weird little sans-serif M with shoulder pads or Bozo The Clown scalp- wings:

Shopper’s advisory: A Yelp reviewer, the self-identified “first reviewer of a gas station,” notes that this place has great booze prices.

Second example: Stadium Party Shoppe/The Big House of Liquor

This photo of the Stadium Party Shoppe and Stadium Pharmacy dates from about ten years back. I can only conclude that back then the trademark wasn’t policed so carefully. Although the Pharmacy stayed open continuously, the Party Shoppe closed for a few years and was eventually purchased and reopened by another family member, as I understand it.

Above, here it is a year ago after its reopening. The swooshes redone a little more droopy and less reminiscent of the Winged Helmet Design, and everything in a stars and stripes motif.

I don’t know how forthcoming these shopkeepers are about their signage decisions, though it would be a great thing for literally anyone else to ask them. A local business that is very forthcoming about their branding struggle is BTB Burrito, which was originally known as Big Ten Burrito until the athletic conference found out and put the kibosh on (link goes to their salty about-us page).

The Big Ten Party Store on Packard Road was named in 1939 and apparently established before having to contend with the conference attorneys.

“Big Ten continues to score by stocking rare, exotic goods,” November 1989. (C) The Ann Arbor News.

Most people know it now as Morgan and York, the bad-weather dining room for Ricewood.

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.")

Arbor Hills Crossing: Not Your Father’s Buick Dealer

(UPDATE: ANN ARBOR BUICK WAS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD. A CADILLAC DEALER WAS ON THE SITE. I WILL CORRECT THIS AND FLESH OUT DETAILS SOON. A2R.S STANDS BY EVERYTHING ELSE. THANKS FOR READING.)

Have you been to Arbor Hills Crossing? If you haven’t been in town for a few years, you might not know what I’m talking about. Arbor Hills Crossing is an outdoor shopping center on Washtenaw and Platt, near Whole Foods Market and the county recreation center.

“Auto Firm Begins New Building Work,” Ann Arbor News, August 21, 1963. (C) The Ann Arbor News.
The Arbor Hills Crossing site is a composite of several sites that originally hosted Ann Arbor Buick (which eventually also sold Cadillac and Saab before its closure), a car and truck rental, an independently owned furniture store, a pet daycare, and a small shopping center that contained, at various times, a Stucchi’s ice cream, an Edward Jones investment office, and a Doughboys Bakery. (Doughboys was a beloved, long-gone locally-owned chain of bake shops.)

“Ann Arbor Buick – 3165 Washtenaw, June 1964.” (C) The Ann Arbor News.
Nearly all of the stores that moved into Arbor Hills Crossing were chains that had not otherwise been in Ann Arbor before. They include Brooks Brothers, Lululemon, Anthropologie, The North Face, Sur La Table, Madewell, and Evereve (a maternity store originally known as “Hot Mama”). Arhaus Furniture had been in Ann Arbor for a few years, at Arborland down the road, but left Arborland to move to AHC. Arhaus’ building at Arborland was eventually relabeled “Arbor House Furniture,” but the space has never been occupied since.

(Click through above to see the space in Google Street View. Go back to 2011 and before to see the old buildings I mentioned at the beginning of the article — except the Buick dealer, which was gone by the time Google began cruising Washtenaw.)

The locally-owned stores include longtime staple Running Fit, My Urban Toddler (baby clothing, supplies, and a playspace), and the restaurants. They include Bigalora (a hot-fast pizza place as is the current rage but with an exceptional tap and drink selection); Zola Bistro (from the owners of downtown breakfast spot Cafe Zola); and Mighty Good Coffee.

The Mighty Good Coffee shop was originally a Glassbox, a high-end coffee and juice shop. It, and its sister location at Washtenaw and South University, both closed suddenly a year or two ago when their backer pulled out. Mighty Good quickly acquired the locations and expanded. As far as I know, this is the closest thing to a failure this shopping center has experienced.

That’s pretty much everything I know about this place. I drove through the parking lot once without stopping. Honestly, I haven’t been able to afford any of these stores since I had kids. Feel free to tell me what I’m missing below.

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?)

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)_/¯

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!)

West side fast-food update

Spotted on a westside drive:

Taco Bell near Jackson and Zeeb is closed for renovation. (Above, a Google Street View of the exterior from ten years ago — it remained this way with only color and logo changes until now.) It’s stripped to the frame now. Expect big interior and exterior changes that play off of T-Bell’s current “something instagrammable could happen at any moment” aesthetic, while still being pretty easy to clean.

Meijer exterior with “Quiznos Sub” sign, May 2017. (C) a2retail.space

Meanwhile, across the street:

The Quizno’s inside the Jackson/Zeeb Meijer has been closed for a minute but the sign is still up there. I can’t imagine the disappointment of a weary I-94 traveler who enters this Meijer looking for a toasty sammie, mostly because I’m uncomfortable imagining anyone “looking for a toasty sammie.” If this hypothetical sammie-looker is you, happening to read this right now, please know that Jimmy John’s is in the outlot here next to Starbucks, Subway and Arby’s are within a block, and the Eastside Meijer at Packard and Carpenter still has a functioning Quizno’s (but it seems to close pretty early).

When we were young, and Quizno’s was the brash upstart, their first store in the area was at Fifth and Liberty. They offered delivery back then, as well as being only three and a half blocks from campus.

Quizno’s Classic Subs, Nov. 1993, Agenda Publications (CC-NC-SA)

The Fifth and Liberty store eventually closed. Quizno’s later returned to the area in a few other locations, most of which have closed again. Fifth and Liberty, of course, is now a Which Wich sandwich shop. The more things change… Below, find a Street View from last summer where Mitch Ryder was performing at Sonic Lunch, a block up Liberty. I call it “Which Wich and Mitch.”

A long time ago, in a nearby neighborhood…

“Star Wars Etc.” feature from Ann Arbor News, May 1983. © The Ann Arbor News.

It’s no surprise that Ann Arbor loves Star Wars, and always has. This saga, that crosses generations, has Ann Arbor woven into its DNA. Darth Vader, one of the handful of characters who spans the entire series, is voiced by U-M graduate James Earl Jones. Another U-M graduate, Lawrence Kasdan, wrote several of the best-loved Star Wars films. And, a small Lucasfilm crew filmed many of “Star Wars'” corridor scenes in the Hatcher Graduate Library.

Lucas’ body of work started with THX-1138, a feature of the closing night of the 1968 Ann Arbor Film Festival.

A few years later, Rich Quackenbush of the Ann Arbor News tried to warn viewers away from “Star Wars:”

“‘Star Wars’: Some Slick Tricks That Entertain,” June 1976. (C) The Ann Arbor News.

His words went unheeded:

Star Wars line at Briarwood, June 1977. (C) The Ann Arbor News.

Here’s the old ticket booth, in the hallway outside the theater. This is where the line would start to buy tickets. It stretched out to the court in front of JC Penney:

Star Wars line at Briarwood, June 1977. (C) The Ann Arbor News.

(Standing in this spot today, you would find Cinnabon where Thom McAn (yesteryear shoe store) was. and Bakers was where Claire’s Accessories is now. Happy Hero, down the hall, was a regional sub-sandwich restaurant also found in other area malls.)

Even nearly a month after its release it was pulling lines like this and compelling theatres to set up special policies for sales:

Star Wars ad, June 15, 1977. (C) The Ann Arbor News.

It was showing at the Campus Theater on South University too, at that time the largest screen in town.

When “The Empire Strikes Back” hit screens, South University was ready with a tie-in:

South University Merchants Association. (C) The Ann Arbor News.

I implore you, click on the above ad to see both pages. Even Rich Quackenbush, who’d panned the previous installment, praised it, due in large part to beloved U-M professor Ralph Williams’ supporting role as the hero’s mentor, Yoda.

“‘The Empire’ is a winner.” June 20, 1980. (C) The Ann Arbor News.

By 1983, Commie Kids and MYA Miscreants were all camping out to be the first to see “Jedi:”

“Getting ready for ‘Jedi’: a long night,” May 25, 1983. (C) The Ann Arbor News.

I was in third grade, so on release day, I got the the junior novelization in my school book orders, and of course I immediately read it to spoil the story.

Briarwood countered South U and Community Newscenter with their own Darth Vader appearance. WAS IT THE REAL VADER? Click the photo below for some of that smashmouth journalism you won’t get in a “mobile app.”

“Guess Who,” June 26, 1983. (C) The Ann Arbor News.

Happy Star Wars Day everyone! The next scheduled Star Wars film screening in town is “The Force Awakens,” at Top of the Park on June 29.

  • CORRECTION: “Star Wars” was not filmed in the Hatcher Graduate Library. The film in question was “Answer This!” (2011). A2R.S regrets the error.
  • CORRECTION STRIKES BACK: Professor Ralph Williams did not play the hero’s mentor in “The Empire Strikes Back” (1983). He played the hero’s mentor in “Answer This!” (2011). A2R.S regrets the error.

Drake’s Sandwich Shop

For generations of Ann Arbor people, Drake’s was the first place they ever drank limeade, and the last place they saw selling loose Oreos out of a jar. If you need a Deep Dive Into Drake’s, there is a treasure trove of photos and scanned articles on AADL’s Old News site.

Drake’s Sandwich Shop, 1965. (C) The Ann Arbor News.

Did you know the Bloomfield Candy Shop originally opened at that space, in 1914? Neither did I. Mr. Bloomfield sold it in 1918. Truman Tibbals, the beloved proprietor of Drake’s, acquired it in 1935. No, I don’t know who owned it in the 17 years between. What am I, Wystan?

Drakes, Ann Arbor MI, counter

Above: a wonderful gallery of Drake’s in the early 90s, prior to its closing, on Flickr.

Drake’s closed in the mid-90s. I was on the Ann Arbor email listserv (I think there was only the one back then?) and word hit the list that Drake’s booths were being removed but would be provided free to a good home. I angled to get one, but couldn’t pick it up soon enough, and it went to Datastat for their employee break room.

This is what it looks like today, as a Bruegger’s. Yes, expatriates, Michigan Book & Supply is a nice two-floor Walgreens now. I’ll write about that space at a future date.