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:
Yes, I took these photos like a year before I started the blog, because I thought I would do… something… with them someday.
The construction of the complex is ongoing. Here’s a shot from last summer:
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:”
Here it is a little later in color. Remember when service stations fixed cars?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I wondered how the snack bags must look, and was not disappointed:
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.
Some other things we discovered about Park City:
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.
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.
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.
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:
But it wasn’t all skis and Slurpees, Park City has the same problems any city has:
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:
Dairy Queens in Michigan are majestic beasts that often hibernate for the long winter months. Some of the stronger bulls will burn stored fat to stay open, while the more diminutive of the species grow a protective shell. Those ones regain their plumage around this time of year.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Barnes and Noble just fires almost every single receiving manager as a cost cutting measure. I worked with them for over 17 years and my weekly Storytimes are massively popular. And in the blink of an eye, I'm fired.
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’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.
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.
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.
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).
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
(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.
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.)
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.
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?)