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.

A2RS: Your Personal loCation Scout

The Internet was recently captivated by “Cat Person,” published in the New Yorker earlier this month. Although a work of fiction, its story of an ephemeral relationship moving from public flirting to confessional texts to a dismaying physical encounter was extremely relatable to today’s women and extremely noooope-that’s-not-me to today’s men.

The author, Kristen Roupenian, is a graduate of U-M, and there are just enough Ann Arbor specific details to make it clear that the story is set here. So, here are the venues where I imagine the events of the story to take place. Was anyone asking for this? Of course not — but a year ago, nobody was asking for an opinionated blog about store openings and closings in Ann Arbor, either, and, well, here we all are!

The story begins at “the artsy movie theatre downtown.” This is almost certainly the Michigan Theater:

The Michigan Theater

“The Michigan Theater,” Molly Kleinman, CC BY-NC 2.0.

The Michigan’s quadroplex neighbor The State, recently reopened a few steps up Liberty Street, presents a similar selection of arthouse fare among the midnight movies and Star Wars series — but only the Michigan served wine, as Robert jokes about (and even then, only to members of its nonprofit parent). The Michigan Theater Foundation programs both venues. In August, MTF sought an alcohol license for the State for its reopening, but it was not open by the New Yorker’s time of publication, so the Michigan is most certainly the theater where Margot and Robert meet.

Their Red Vines study-break takes place at a 7-Eleven. There are now three of them downtown. Two of them — State Street and South Forest — are within a block of residence halls. In the story, Margot is a dorm dweller — this is actually kind of rare because U-M’s residence capacity is far below its enrollment, which is why high-rise apartment buildings have sprung up everywhere downtown in the past decade. Anyway, one of these is where Robert bought Margot her Cherry-Coke Slurpee™, which was almost certainly made by layering cherry and Coke flavors. Although you can sometimes find Wild Cherry Pepsi, they don’t really make a Cherry Coke flavor right out of the Slurpee tap.

Here’s the State Street store right after it opened (well, here’s me, and it’s in the background):

And here’s the South U store, courtesy of Google Street View:

If you’ve been away for a while, this is roughly where the Student Bike Shop was. And if you click through to GMaps, you can go back to 2007 and see it before it and Village Corner were leveled and Landmark was erected.

For their movie date after the holiday, Robert suggests they visit “the big multiplex just outside town.” Later in the story it is identified as the Quality 16. The Q16 is a real 16-screen theater, operated by regional exhibitor Goodrich Quality Theaters. It’s in Scio Township, which is only about a ten minute drive west of downtown and doesn’t actually require the highway miles alluded to in the story, but I suppose it’s still a difficult row to hoe if your parents didn’t send a Lexus with you.

Goodrich Quality 16. (C)GQTI/Yelp.

After the depressing film at the Quality 16, Robert takes Margot out for a drink. She suggests a bar familiar to her, and to be honest, I’m not sure which one this is. A popular bar near the Michigan Theater used to have a reputation for serving students and not looking too close at the ID, but has become so popular in recent years that it can afford to turn them away. Feel free to nominate which one you think it is in the comments. I am a boring dude and didn’t drink before I was legal, so I honestly don’t know, but Robert dismisses this bar’s neighborhood as “the student ghetto,” which is your first clue to where it is, and also your first clue that Robert is ta-rash.

Robert ends up taking Margot to “an underground speakeasy type of place, with no sign announcing its presence.” Obviously the author is referring to Bab’s Underground Lounge, located in the basement of an otherwise nondescript building on Ashley Street.


“This photo of Babs’ Underground is courtesy of TripAdvisor”

As a young professional, I frequented Bab’s when it was around the corner on Liberty in a street-level space, with one pinball machine, live jazz, and copious amounts of cigarette smoke. Its space was previously the final location of The Flame and is now the Alley Bar.  At some point Bab moved around the corner and downstairs. I have visited the Underground once or twice, and was utterly confused, which is pretty depressing, because it probably means I am older than Robert.

EDIT: It has been pointed out to me that the bar could also be The Last Word, which would be right on their way into downtown from the Q16. Here it is below.

When Bab’s the underground speakeasy type of place turned Margot away, Robert “took her hand firmly and led her to a different bar, where there were pool tables and pinball machines…” The downmarket description of this bar suggests the beloved 8-Ball Saloon, about a block from either Bab’s or the Last Word.

Eight Ball Alley

“Eight Ball Alley,” Ross, CC BY-NC-2.0.

The 8-Ball is the bar below the Blind Pig, which everyone in Ann Arbor will tell you is Nirvana’s Favorite Place to Play. As unpretentious as the Pig is, the 8-Ball really is even less so. Both bars were recently purchased by a local investment group who says they intend to keep them as-is, so that’s a relief.

From this point on, it’s a little difficult to identify particular venues where the story goes. There is a moment in Margot’s favorite bar, but we don’t get quite enough info to say “oh yeah, that’s definitely Good Time Charley’s” or “…the Brown Jug” or “…Rick’s.” Although the notion that Robert could be reading a book in there definitely rules out a few of the places in the student neighborhoods.

I wholeheartedly recommend reading “Cat Person,” though be forewarned it contains explicit sex and trenchant misogyny. If you are a woman, it has probably happened to you, and if you are a man, you should read it for tips, because IT COSTS $0.00 NOT TO BE LIKE ROBERT.

P.S. Let’s make 2018 the year we stop calling things “ghetto.” Not an attack on the author, just a shot across the stout, hairy bow of men like Robert.

Carpenter and Ellsworth Facade update; Party Store Part 3: They Thought U Wouldn’t Notice

Work continues on Arbor Square Plaza, the small shopping center at Carpenter and Ellsworth. All stores appear still to be open. I had heard from a blog friend that Bread Basket Deli was closed, but maybe that was temporary, because they appeared to be open today (we had eaten already).

Arbor Square Plaza shopping center, facade work facing west. (C)A2RS.
Arbor Square Plaza shopping center storefronts. Bread Basket at left, Lai Lai at right, a bunch of other stores. (C)A2RS

Subway is still kicking here too. How does a Subway survive, two doors down from Bread Basket? Does Bread Basket get a line at lunchtime that scares some people away, and they say “heck with it, I’m getting A SANDWICH, I don’t care where?”

Following up on the ongoing saga of Party Stores That Imply Affiliation With U-M: the two stores I highlighted in September have both walked it back.

Stadium Liquor facing south. The sign is stars-&-stripes instead of U-M colors. (C)A2RS

Stadium Liquor’s helmet sign has reinstalled its red/white/blue livery. I sort of wonder if they don’t just maize it up for game weekends. How easy is it to replace the lenses in these backlit signs?

“Mike’s Big House of Liquor,” the party store inside the Exxon station at Packard and Platt, has almost completely debadged, leaving behind a handsome brick building known simply as “OF LIQUOR.”

Remember the halcyon days when gasolline was only 2.45 a gallon? Feels like only a couple of weeks ago. (C)A2RS

This is only about a block and a half away from “I ❤️ LIQUOR,” of course. I look forward to all SoPac merchants eventually assuming this brutalist naming convention. Fraser Bicycle rechristens itself as “BICYCLE,” Pointless Brewery tries on “DRINK IMPROV,” The TV Warehouse becomes “TV WAREHOUSE.” Banfield’s is exempt from everything, of course.

Sincerely,
? RETAIL

Packard Pharm closure, new Victors Way roadside signage for Hyatt, a closer look at Xfinity Store

It’s hard out here for an indy pharmacy trying to make a go of it in SoPac. It was surrounded by chain and other specialty pharmacies (Rite Aid a block west, CVS not much further away to the east, not to mention Kroger, Meijer, and CVS Inside Target a little ways south. I haven’t even gotten to Walgreens and Clark Pharmacy, to the north.

Exterior of pharmacy on Packard Road, Golam Produce at right. (C)A2RS

The pharmacy opened last winter emphasizing service and a personal touch that would differentiate them from the chains. Unfortunately the competition may have been too much. I hope it was a soft landing, there’s certainly no shortage of demand for pharmacists.

In lighter news, remember when I noticed the low-profile Burger King sign by the Hyatt on State Street? It has a counterpart on Victors Way now:

Exterior of Executive Burger King, with new “Hyatt Place” sign in foreground. (C)A2RS

This all makes sense now because the parking lots for Burger King and Hyatt Place have been connected. Finally you can get a king-size Hyatt bed AND flame broiling without having to navigate State Street traffic.

Xterior, Xfinity Xtore. (C)A2RS

An exit to the West off of I-94, the Xfinity Store has opened in Oak Valley shopping center. It’s near Target, between Men’s Wearhouse and Sally Beauty Supply. (Previously, this spot was Famous Footwear for decades.)

I’m still not super-comfortable taking photos inside a store, like some kind of creep, so instead I hung out by a planter and zoomed in on the windows, like some kind of bigger creep.

Interior of Xfinity Xtore, xhot from the xterior. (C)A2RS

In the window you can see that, although there is plenty of TV and internet information to be had, a lot of the store is devoted to wireless phones and accessories, Xfinity’s newest service. With the recent launch of Xfinity Mobile,  it was clear that Comcast needed more of a retail presence than the service counter in their longtime transmission facility on South Industrial.

Xfinity Mobile is what is known in the industry as a Virtual Network Operator — that’s when another company resells service from one of the big wireless companies like AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, or T-Mobile. Sometimes they pass their volume savings onto the customer as a cheaper alternative to the Big Four, like Ting, Cricket, or Straight Talk do. In other cases there are value-adds like assurances of charitable giving, as Credo Mobile does, or extra timely sports content, like when Disney offered ESPN Mobile a few years ago. Once you start researching these things for yourself you can easily wind up down a rabbit-hole of obscure prepaid vendors and ad-hoc “family plans” that makes Cord Cutting look mainstream. (I am personally a Cricket customer — they are actually a division of AT&T, they use AT&T’s network, and they work fine for the price. Let me know if you want to sign up, it works out well for both of us and is an excellent way to support citizen journal-ish.)

In Xfinity Mobile’s case, they offer the convenience of bundling your mobile service with your cable bill (and resell Verizon’s service). One slightly controversial aspect of their service is that you have to buy your phone from them. You can’t buy your phone from somewhere else, even if it’s the same kind of phone, and just put an Xfinity SIM in it. They say this is to ensure compatibility and reduce troubleshooting, and I’m sure that’s part of it, but I think they want some of that sweet, sweet phone hardware money, too.

They are two doors down from Target, who has this handsome display to get you to sign up for Xfinity home internet service, but does not offer Xfinity Mobile service at this time.

Xfinity internet xervice dixplay inxide Target. (C)A2RS

See that Netgear cable modem in the above photo? (Not an affiliate link, just for information.) It costs $180.00. It has twice as many channels as my Arris, but costs three times as much. Honestly, though? Still probably cheaper than renting your cable modem, in the long run.

Houses of the Wholly Hydrated

A few weeks back we covered local party stores that had branded themselves to indicate an affiliation with U-M that wasn’t actually there, then walked it back after obviously receiving a letter from South Campus.

I have come to realize that two, AND POSSIBLY MORE, party stores in town are not avid A2R.S readers.

“Big House Of Liquors,” Stadium Blvd. (C)A2R.S

This past Saturday we discovered that one of the stores we profiled has gotten bold and redone their sign. In recent years this sign has been a red-white-and-blue motif with a generic helmet-shaped object, but now it’s fully winged once again.

Meanwhile, down in SoPac:

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The recently reopened Exxon station has gone in hard on the Block M. I could kind of understand this at the West Stadium location above, which is actually a short walk from Michigan Stadium, but Packard and Platt is kind of a hike for tailgating! Though the parking rates have to be pretty reasonable.

At this point it’s up to the Packard and Stadium Circle K store to raise the ante. Over the summer they suggested that the rebuilding would begin in September, but now that they can sell beer, I think they’re waiting until football season is over.

SPECIAL COMMENT: alcohol consumption actually dehydrates you. I know this, but I had to go for that alliterative headline.

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)_/¯

I ❤ LIQUOR now open on Packard

Exterior, I ❤ LIQUOR. Provided to A2R.S by @PeteDRW.

The longtime party store near Packard and Fernwood recently rebranded. LIQUOR now joins “NY,” “Huckabees,” “Radio,” and “U” as a thing I ❤. Nice backlighting on the building sign.
For years this store was known as Chiparu’s:

My friends in the neighborhood always pronounced it “Cheap-a-Roo’s.” Perfect if you need some booze but are broke-a-roo.

No, I said “broke-a-roo,” not “Polkaroo.”
#justborderkidsthings

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.”