The Little Kroger That Got Lucky

I haven’t noticed a lot new in the past few days, sorry for the lack of updates. But I really wanted to write and post something, so here are some photos I recently resurfaced of the closing of the Kroger store at Stadium and South Industrial, circa 2014.

Interior, Stadium/South Industrial Kroger, looking east from checkouts toward the deli and bakery.. (C)A2RS

At the time of its closing, South Industrial was the smallest Kroger store in town and probably one of the very smallest in the Detroit metro area. Small enough that it only had a single entrance/exit. Small enough that you could get from one end to the other in a minute or less without rushing. Too small to survive in the era of ever-larger-footprint Kroger stores. The Traver Village store, on Plymouth Road, was the largest store in the Kroger chain at its 1992 opening; though it has only grown larger from there, other territories have Kroger stores that dwarf it. Some take a run at Meijer or Walmart and stock general merchandise.

Closing announcement floor sign at South Industrial Kroger store. (C)A2RS

The South Industrial Kroger was the closest supermarket, and nearly the closest business, to nearly all of the U-M athletic campus, including all the stadia and arenas, a truth reflected in its decor. Each corner of the store had a mural depicting Wolverines excelling in a particular sport.

The Wolverines pull ahead (of lettuce) of Ohio State. This was back pre-renovation, when you could only fit maybe 105,000 people in the Big House. (C)A2RS
You know what’s always a slam-dunk? Donuts (just out of frame). (C)A2RS
It’s natatorium, it’s the cold cuts section. (C)A2RS
From Jesse Owens’ long run, to my beer run. (C)A2RS
Yost for the taste of it. (C)A2RS
There’s a runner on third. Dairy try to steal home? If he can touch the bag-uette might mean the winning run. (C)A2RS

I personally liked this Kroger because it was very conveniently located between my work and my house, it was open until at least 11 most nights, and it was priced competitively with other grocery stores in the area despite being conveniently located and small enough to quickly navigate. Did I occasionally accidentally buy something that was past its freshness date? Sure, but they always cheerfully exchanged it.

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You get the idea. This was a small Kroger.

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I was still sorry to see it go. So were many other people who sent farewell cards, and signed a giant banner on the front of the store.

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In the ensuing weeks and months, the building would be debranded. Here it was soon after it closed, but before the announcement of its future tenant, Lucky’s Market.

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And here we are today. Lucky’s has been a reasonably good neighbor. Their prices, especially their sale prices and private-label items, are often competitive with larger supermarkets, and they have a pretty good beer and wine selection. Not to mention, you can walk around with a dang glass of beer, if you feel like that helps you shop (it does).

Interior, Lucky’s Market, looking east from the produce section toward the checkouts and the bakery. (C)A2RS

I’m sure it is not a coincidence that Kroger owns a share of Lucky’s Market. Thanks for reading!

Gathering Some Loose Threads at the end of January

Tonight seems like a good time to follow up on a few things I didn’t get to address in longer-form pieces, throughout the month.

The closed Meijer Optical store at the Ann Arbor-Saline Road location. (C)A2RS

Meijer Optical, an independent glasses retailer who licenses the Meijer name and operates within Meijer stores, recently closed their Ann Arbor-Saline Road location. Signage in front of the store advises customers to visit their Jackson store – it has been amended twice to specify Jackson, Michigan (about forty-five minutes west). This is because, to get to the next closest location, you would have to drive past their Scio Township location, located on Jackson Road — a modification clearly borne of customer error. Heck of it is, I go to the Scio store from time to time — it has a beer selection unlike any any other Meijer, or probably any chain supermarket — and I clearly remember an optical store in the front by the checkouts, just like Saline Road. So I guess the retailer is exiting the Ann Arbor market. There are a number of other glasses stores near the Saline Road store — one right in its own outlot, and several at the State Street exit a quick drive away — so I see why they might get out of Saline Road. But Zeeb and Jackson is still primarily niche retail, from Dancers Boutique to home-improvement stores, so I don’t know what compelled them to bail here, and I’m probably not going to find out tonight.

Coming Soon signs for SPENGA Gym at Colonnade. (C)A2RS

As reported by blogfriend Dave, the new tenant in the former Bagger Dave’s space in the Colonnade is SPENGA, a gym. The unique roll-up windows in its storefront are probably to allow the place some fresh air from time to time.

Here’s a cursed image from the ongoing redevelopment of Circle K:

It’s honestly better without context. (C)A2RS

My frequent co-conspirator Patti Smith noted that, like, right after I published the Washtenaw Commons piece, signage for BetterHealth Market appeared in the largest open space. Originally known as The Vitamin Outlet, BetterHealth’s outgrowth into produce and groceries will provide more grocery competition to Washtenaw Avenue and possibly siphon some frustrated parking-lot cruisers from the Whole Foods Market a block west. And the space it’s leaving behind at Lamp Post Plaza presents a prime expansion opportunity for its neighbor, WARHAMMER:

Better Health and WARHAMMER Stores at Lamp Post Plaza. (C)A2RS

Miniature Gaming combines the excitement of, uh, gaming with the accomplishment of, um, crafts. The tiny, detailed figurines used for play cry out for custom paint jobs. Games Workshop is the most popular manufacturer of these games and accessories, and a few years ago they centered their retail presence around WARHAMMER, their signature IP. This delighted, confused, angered, and bemused many of their fans with blogs. Their “real” logo looks like a delicious hot dog topping, so this makes sense to me. (I honestly don’t think they’re going to expand into the old BetterHealth space, but I’ve wanted to mention WARHAMMER for a while.)

And finally a(nother) photo that will make townies cry. Here’s a familiar stretch of South University this past August:

And here it is today:

The latest flat spot on South U. (C)A2RS

The buildings comprising Safer Sex Store and Middle Earth have been demolished. The walled-up tunnels on the side of Sweeting, formerly Middle Earth East, were formerly entrances between the east (dirty greeting cards and tacky gifts) and west (jewelry and home furnishings) sides of Middle Earth. I don’t know what this is, but I’m sure it’s part of that ambitious plan to remake South University to finally attract and maintain a successful Jamba Juice store. Laugh at me now, buy me my extra wheatgrass shot later.

TЯU AWOL И A2

After a holiday season in bankruptcy, Toys Я Us has announced they are closing nearly 200 stores nationwide, bankruptcy court permission pending — including both the Arborland TЯU store and the Babies Я Us on Carpenter Road. (Babies Я Us sells baby clothing, toys, accessories, and furniture, as well as consumables like formula, diapers, and baby food. Once in a while they carry a hot toy with crossover potential, like the Nintendo Wii.)

TЯU promised the footprint consolidation would lead to co-branded stores in some markets, but according to a PDF in the linked article, they are giving up on Ann Arbor entirely. Which is poignant, because TЯU C∃O David Brandon is a Michigan Man:

David Brandon as a Michigan Wolverine in 1973. (C) U-M Athletics
Your author, pictured here in the Brandon Center at U-M. (C)A2RS

Though every aisle of the store was a well-stocked treat — I even grudgingly respected its selection of toys for EEEEW, GIRRRRLS — my favorite memories of TЯU as a kid involved visiting the massive wall of video game box photos, flipping them up to see the photo of the back of the box, then grabbing a ticket to buy the game. Once in a very great while I would even take the ticket to the register and buy the game, though most of the time I would just take the ticket home and glance at it from time to time, because games cost $49.99 back then and while I could usually rely on one for a birthday or Christmas present, I rarely had that much lettuce gathered at once.

“Toys R Us, Marshalls, and Bed Bath & Beyond at Arborland,” October 1999. (C) The Ann Arbor News.

In the late 90s, Arborland was “de-malled.” After decades as an enclosed mall, nearly all the structures were demolished and paved for parking, and the remaining stores relocated to the big boxes you shop today. (The building that houses OfficeMax, Jos. A Bank, and Potbelly is the sole holdover from that era. Toys Я Us originally sat in the space currently unoccupied by a furniture store, directly north of OfficeMax.) Its current big-box location is so far back from Washtenaw Avenue, and obscured by the empty furniture store, that you might not even know it’s there. That can’t help things. In recent years I have occasionally visited to buy a toy or gift that was on special or clearance; they sometimes had good deals on iTunes cards. Last year I was looking for Dixit card expansion packs and TЯU had nothin’ for me. (I ended up buying local at Fun 4 All on Carpenter Road.)

Still from a TV ad for “Kids R Us.” (C) …somebody, probably.

Old people with long memories like me may remember when TЯU branched out into apparel with Kids Я Us stores. As a young person, I was kind of jazzed when they first opened, and then confused when the store had not even one aisle of toys. Who needs that? Ann Arbor’s KЯU store was on Eisenhower at the Cranbrook Shopping Center. After KЯU folded, the building began its second life as Office Depot; it has recently reopened as Airtime Trampoline Park.

Arborland’s original developer, John J. Sharemet, shared his vision with the Ann Arbor News upon its 1959 announcement: “a one-stop center where all consumer items may be purchased.” With that in mind, the exo-“Ɑ”-us of Toys Я Us is a major setback to the center’s assortment — but Sharemet could probably never have conceived of a store like Five Below.

Jordan Lovell is closing

A brief note on a change spotted yesterday: closing signage at Jordan Lovell Picture Framing, the last/only store at Hoover and Greene. Nestled among the many rental houses, the remaining businesses include U-M offices, a DTE Energy substation, the Kenville dance studio, and Hoover Street Auto Repair garage.

Jordan Lovell shared this building with Project Green, a division of J.S. Vig Construction of Taylor, and a couple of other businesses on the Greene Street side. The building is due to be cleared out of the way for a new mixed-use development at the corner that has been reported on in greater detail by a less-handsome blog.

That project is slated to include street-level retail, though no vendors or businesses have yet been announced. It is known that all of the most important of U-M’s 220,000 employees work in these two blocks, and they all tell me that they would really like a ready-to-eat food option, please and thank you.

Fan-tastic and Ink-credible

Ann Arbor has always had a generous selection of bookstores, but few of them specialized in comics. It’s cold and grey outside, so I’m going to spend some time remembering those today.

Dave’s Comics & Collectibles was situated a couple floors above what is currently a Jimmy John’s at the corner of State and William. It took a twisty flight of stairs to get up but the climb was worth it. Besides the big companies’ comics, they had a wide selection of independent comics and zines — they led me to Milk & Cheese AND X Magazine, which (eventually) led me to Burning Man.

Me and Heather MacDiva

[There I am at Burning Man. Seems like a lifetime ago. I still have the shirt. (C)A2RS]

Dave Hutzley, the proprietor of the Ann Arbor and Royal Oak Dave’s stores, now lives in Arizona. He says he sometimes starts “to lose my mind and think about opening a new shop,” but he seems pretty comfortable selling vintage memorabilia and fan merch on eBay.

On South University, the classic Dawn Treader store (I feel like Dawn Treader deserves a longer post of its own) was replaced in the late 90s/early oughts by The Underworld, which focused on comics, RPG, and tabletop games. Eventually Underworld moved to street level, in the Galleria shopping mall above Pinball Pete’s and below Tower Records. (Its space is now part of the Kaplan Test Prep space.)

Interior, The Underworld (Galleria). (C)Timothy Nanzer.

Of course, today’s modern comic fan most likely picks up her monthly subs from Vault of Midnight. Before its establishment on Main Street, it moved around a bit within a few blocks. Vault originally opened in a house on Ashley Street, of which no photographs are easily located, then moved to Fourth Street and Huron into that distinctive white building that was apparently a gas station long ago.

(One thing this store had that no Vault before or since did, was actual parking. I think I wrecked my car’s AC driving into the remnants of a fuel-pump island at this location. NO RAGRETS.)

They moved from this location to the underground shops on Liberty Street across from the Federal Building.

In 2010, my disappointment at the closure of After Words (a really good discount book outlet that specialized in remainders and overstocks of quality books) was tempered by the announcement that Vault of Midnight was moving into its space.

Liberty and Main

(ABOVE: Ext. Vault of Midnight by Joe Fusion, CC-BY-NC 2.0)

Though Vault has expanded to both Grand Rapids and downtown Detroit since that time, it is a linchpin of Main Street and provides some local color to the increasingly upscale corridor. What good is a two thousand dollar backpack if you don’t have some great comics to put in it? (Personally, I always keep a copy of the My New Filing Technique Is Unstoppable collection in whatever bag my laptop is in, just in case.)

Anyway, I bet I’m missing a comic store or two that I didn’t make it to over the years. Please feel free to share your memories below, as well as whatever book you keep in your bag at all times.

What’s Not Closing at Briarwood

The more things change, the more some things stay the same, so I thought it might be fun to highlight some things that aren’t changing, for once.

Tonight’s entry is illustrated by vintage photos of Briarwood Mall I took about four to five years ago, which I will republish in a collection if I can ever figure out how to suck the 150-odd photos, and the captions I lovingly composed for each, out of the one-way content tar pit that is Instagram. When, lord, will someone create a Mastodon, but for photos?

Exiting Sears: “This isn’t goodbye.” (C) A2RS

Sears isn’t closing. As the Sears/Kmart empire continues to contract, one hundred more stores nationwide got their papers today. Among them, NOT the Briarwood store. To be sure, Briarwood has gone through some changes recently — it’s gotten almost completely out of the home electronics trade. The aisles of TVs, stereos, games, and accessories are now one rack of inexpensive headphones. Small appliances and vacuums have filled the space. The appliance, hardware, and outdoor sections are still somewhat substantial. Maybe Sears’ downsizing will finally lead to a right-sizing where this is one of a lean regional chain of department stores. Who truly can say?

There’s only one store in Briarwood that sells Macs, and it isn’t Macy’s. (C) A2RS

Macy’s isn’t closing. They announced seven more closures today — one in Michigan, but not at Briarwood. Macy’s expansion was driven by acquiring other regional chains. As a southeastern Michigan kid, I have vague memories of the Downtown Detroit Hudson’s store (and much more vivid memories of other area locations closer to home). Right around the time I’d finally made peace with Marshall Field acquiring Hudson’s, Macy’s swooped in and assimilated Field’s and there’s nothing particularly endearing about them to me anymore. They can’t even do nostalgia right. (That’s a link from their website that says “Miss Marshall Field’s? Get a t-shirt.”) If they folded this year, I guess I’d still call the Amazon Thanksgiving Day Parade the “Macy’s Parade” for a few years.

If you look real close there’s a Teavana behind the monolith, next to Brookstone, which is kind of poignant. (C)A2RS

Teavana isn’t closing. Which, I think, is the craziest story. Teavana was an independent tea retailer for fifteen years before becoming the Tea Division of Starbucks in 2012. Since then, Teavana has become the tea brand brewed and sold in Starbucks stores.

Last year, Starbucks decided they were going to pull the plug on the stand-alone Teavana retail stores. But Simon Property Group, owner of Briarwood among many other malls, said “no, you can’t close the stores in our malls, you signed a lease.” Now, many stores have closed in Briarwood, and many of them before their leases were up. But those stores were usually bankrupt and ceasing all operations. Teavana is a subsidiary of Starbucks, and Starbucks can’t claim it can’t afford it. So Simon sued Starbucks to make them keep the stores open, and a superior court in Indiana agreed! Starbucks appealed, and the case is headed to Indiana Supreme Court.

Reno at the Colonnade

Good news for the Colonnade, on Eisenhower, is that the Bagger Dave’s space is under active renovation. Stripped to the bare walls, all traces of the train-friendly burger and beer spot have been obliterated, save for the distinctive dark backing for their sign.

Ext. of the former Bagger Dave’s space at the Colonnade. (C)A2RS

Note that the new plan apparently includes some garage-door-style retracting windows to let some fresh air in — but only halfway. Here’s a close-up:

Detail of retracting windows at former Bagger Dave’s. (C)A2RS

Bagger Dave’s was an original concept from a company that franchises a number of Buffalo Wild Wings locations in Michigan – an attempt to branch out from licensing and create their own concept. It continues to prosper in other areas, but ultimately folded in Ann Arbor this summer, after they made their patties larger.

What’s moving in here to utilize those windows? Heck if I know. But it happens to be next to Moe’s, my second favorite burrito spot (first is BTB), so I’ll keep you posted.

State Street Hotel & Outlot Update

I swear the Hyatt Place has barely opened its doors, and now another hotel is coming to South State Street. Decades-long SSS fixture Computer Medic closed its doors last summer:

Finally, its building was fenced off for impending demolition, with Homewood Suites signs on the fences. I predict this will be Arbor Networks’ and some of the Wolverines’ new favorite hotel, as it is going up across State Street from the brand new Athletic Campus (specifically the Lacrosse Stadium).

Speaking of Hyatt Place, its outlot building continues to be available for lease and unfinished inside, waiting for a fast-casual or retail establishment to come in and put a stamp on it. The options are limited a little by a lack of drive-thru, which even coffee shops are getting now. But you know what it DOES have? A bike repair station and a doggie water fountain:

The bike repair station has a green roof with solar panels… I think for the lighting? (C)A2RS.
A ped-and-pet-friendly fixture for one of the least walkable places in town. (C)A2RS
The repair station is covered and boasts a power outlet for quick recharges. (C)A2RS

Finally, a little ways south of here, the Staybridge Suites is getting a similar outbuilding very close to the corner of State Street and Research Park Drive.

Its sign suggests “restaurant, retail, bank,” which… that’s vague. (C)A2RS

It looks like it’s at least two floors so maybe they’ll house multiple businesses. Black Rock Bar & Grill opens across the street this weekend, so it probably won’t be a steak place.

Black Rock opened earlier this month, kitty-corner from this building (you can see its lights through the windows of the partially-completed building in the photo above). They stripped the squat and unassuming Chi-Chi’s down to its bare walls, then re-envisioned it with high ceilings and huge windows for natural light. There are eye-catching fixtures on the outside that look like torches. People who have visited really like it, but personally when I eat out, I want a professional to cook my food (and a self-taught amateur retail analyst to do my blogging).

A2RS Investigates: Washtenaw Commons

Don’t get excited, I investigated this about as much as I investigate anything for this site.

I realized we haven’t talked about Washtenaw Commons (the strip mall across from Arborland) in a while. I think the last time was when I wrote about Frank’s Nursery and Crafts, a location of which anchored this land in an earlier time.

I had dinner at the Commons the other night, and took a little time to examine its former and upcoming tenants.

The original layout of this complex was several discrete, free-standing buildings — Frank’s, a big-&-tall men’s store, a thrift shop, a Norgetown cleaners (loooong gone), a drive thru bank branch. Most of the buildings were flattened – I think only the original Frank’s building remained. By now, Dollar Tree was well-established there. They demolished the outdoor section of Frank’s, relocated the big & tall, and added Olga’s Kitchen on the end. The effect: the alleys between the buildings were turned into usable storefronts.

The website can tell you what’s there now, but I was interested in what’s gone, and what’s coming. Let’s start with the blended, fruity elephant that has just left the awkward, metaphorical room.

A view inside the now closed but still pristine Jamba Juice Ann Arbor store. (C)A2RS.

The other nearest locations are both within Meijer stores, in Livonia and Shelby Township. SHELBY TOWNSHIP? THAT’S NORTH OF CANADA.

Shelby Township, seen here with Canada for comparison. NO COPYRIGHT INTENDED ALL RIGHTS BELONG TO THE OWNER

Jamba Juice stores tend to locate in areas with better foot traffic, so I don’t think this is the last we’ve seen of them. I would wager they will return to the street-level retail space in one the buildings that are being built right now on South University. In the meantime, both of the above “nearest locations” are inside Meijer stores, and the far-west-side Meijer at Jackson and Zeeb has at least one open unit up front. And it’s near the produce department, so… uh… synergy. See you there, Jamba? Maybe.
(UPDATE: In the comments, Molly notes that there is a cafe deep within the bowels of University Hospital that serves Jamba Juice drinks.)

POKE FISH is the signage directly adjacent to the former Jamba space.

“POKE FISH, Sushi Burrito & Ramen Noodle.” (C)A2RS.

Blog friend Steve gave me the headsup there was new signage to look for. Precious little action on the space so it’s probably too early to guess when this will open. Everything can come in a tortilla now, but I feel like this was tried recently downtown and abandoned pretty quickly.

The other food concepts in here seem to be doing okay. Blaze’s prices have gone up about 50c from when they opened, but they have also introduced one-topping and two-topping prices, besides the “unlimited toppings” and “cheese only” pies they launched with. Check with your community schools and nonprofits for Restaurant Night fundraisers, Blaze seems to do them quite regularly.

Dickey’s BBQ, a chain, recently opened next to Blaze. People I know who have eaten there say it is fine, smaller portions but cheaper than Satchel’s, but offers all-you-can-eat soft serve ice cream for dessert, which honestly sounds kind of fun. I have an affinity for Satchel’s but one of these days I’ll try to get over to Dickey’s.

Walgreens has staked a claim to one of the spaces:

“Washtenhaw.” (C)A2RS.

I’m not sure why Walgreens wants a tiny storefront a couple of blocks away from their Washtenaw and Huron location — you know, the one you park at to walk to Whole Foods — but maybe they’re opening one of their specialty pharmacies here. If it is a regular Walgreens, it would be the smallest Walgreens store I’ve ever seen, but not by much. There’s a store a few blocks south of Disneyland that’s the size of a small bank branch or a convenience store.

Look at it. It’s the length of three cars and not much wider either.  This whole area is kind of a funhouse mirror. There’s a Target store right behind this Walgreens that’s as wide as a Meijer, or a Walmart Supercenter, but the building is only as deep as a small supermarket. You can walk to the back (that’s where the Jarritos are) in about ten seconds. Incidentally, if you’re going to Disneyland, you might as well get a Target RedCard and use it to buy Disney Gift Cards, you get them for a 5% discount off face value and it’s as close as you’re going to get to a discount at Disney.

Anyway, back in Ann Arbor, next door to the Undetermined Walgreens Space will be a dentist, which will come in handy when you drink too many smoothies and eat too much soft-serve:

#aesthetic. (C)A2RS.

I assume the other spaces will fill up soon with small service-businesses, like the ink-cartridge refiller and the spa that have also recently opened. But not Jamba Juice.

Ann Arbor, you blew it. We don’t DESERVE nice things.

Re-Marked

The 20-screen theater at Carpenter and Packard appears finally to have completed its glacially-paced rebranding to its current corporate parent, Cinemark.

The theater was originally built in the late 80s on the site of the University Drive-In. Showcase Cinemas opened with 14 screens, a concession stand of then-unprecedented size – at least four counters, and a lobby “art gallery”– matted and framed, mostly kitschy, mass-produced prints.

To keep up with industry trends, Showcase expanded in the late 90s. They built a larger lobby, with hot food options you could construct an unhealthy but comforting dinner from, and more natural light, facing Carpenter Road. This lobby led to the original fourteen theaters to the south, and six brand new theatres with stadium seating to the north. (I very vividly remember sitting upstairs in a lengthy wait line to enter one of the first showings of “Star Wars Episode I, The Phantom Menace,” in 1999. We were so excited to get new Star Wars stories then! We didn’t know about midichlorians, Gungans, or the machinations of the Galactic Senate.)

In 2006, the former lobby space was renovated and relaunched as CyGamZ, a networked-gaming competition space with high-powered PCs and game consoles. Like an arcade alternative, or a turnkey LAN party. Its joyous and photo-packed Facebook page is still very occasionally updated, despite its closure over eight years ago.

In 2009, Showcase gave up on CyGamZ, retreated to the Northeast U.S., and closed or sold all of its Michigan locations. Ann Arbor, along with Flint and Kalamazoo, were sold to Rave Motion Pictures, then a relative upstart in theatrical exhibition. (Their sister location in Westland was completely leveled.)

Showcase Cinemas Westland

[“Showcase Cinemas Westland,” (C)2011 Michael Lavander.]

Rave’s first act was to update the exterior paint and signage, while debranding the roadside sign just enough to not get sued, leaving it as the appealingly minimal “CINEMAS.” Below, here’s the sign in 2011.


Rave was acquired by movie behemoth Cinemark in 2013. Though the Rave exterior signage remained, interior livery including staff uniforms started displaying the Cinemark logo soon after — then the Cinemark logo made its way to the roadside sign. Here it is in 2016 with a teeny Cinemark logo:


By 2016, people were getting movies and showtimes on their phones, so they’d stopped putting up film titles and just added two blank panels, presumably in anticipation of outlot restaurants that still haven’t materialized.

Exterior, Cinemark Ann Arbor 20. (C)A2RS.

And now, it seems, the branding is complete, at least until Alibaba acquires Cinemark, in an effort to match the growth of its Chinese contemporary the Wanda Group, owner of the monolithic AMC exhibitor. (NOTE: This is speculation, not advice, and I am not a shareholder in any firm mentioned above.)