Pizza changes on Liberty

Big changes in a small world, Liberty between downtown and Scio Township: a sudden closing and an omen of things to come.

A reader reports that Pizza Pino is now closed on Liberty at First Street. Despite the name, Pizza Pino was one of those shops that had pretty much everything on the menu, including sandwiches and seafood. They were open until ridiculously late, which made them an ideal after-party destination for nearby bars and clubs.

Their single-slice sales were usually cold pizza under glass, which they would put back in the oven and warm up — not my favorite way to eat pizza, though for some reason I’m usually okay with it when NYPD does it. Still, I will miss this place’s garlic knots at 2am after a good show at the Blind Pig (just like, someday soon, I’m sure I will miss the Blind Pig).

“But their site is still up, B-Dub,” you’re saying. This seems to be a common malady among independently owned takeout shops. Bell’s Pizza has been gone for a year, and yet if you google, there are still sites that will gladly take your money to order from them. The end, no moral.

“Mobil Paint, 1967.” Ann Arbor District Library, CC BY-NC-SA


Pino’s location was apparently a house once upon a time, later a gas station. Eventually it became a paint store, which outlasted its beloved but bygone neighbor Schlenker Hardware on the block, but finally moved to South Industrial. This opened the space for Pizza Pino about ten years back, a harbinger of Downtown’s shift from service businesses to dining and retail.

Further west on Liberty, Buster’s convenience store is becoming Buscemi’s, a legendary Detroit area chain:

Depending on how you look at it, Buscemi’s are either party stores with exceptionally good pizza, or very well-stocked pizza and sub shops. There’s been a convenience store here for years. When we were younger, it was called Liberty Market, but was eventually rebranded Buster’s after the owners closed the original Buster’s Market closed at Packard and Platt. (The site is now a Rite Aid.)

I would provide further details, but I have a problem. Every time I turn into this shopping center, I have to go to Chela’s. Sorry.

English Gardens is growing out of Maple Village

On the west side, this week’s big announcement: City Council approved LA Fitness joining the discount department stores, and Plum Market, at Maple Village. Their 35,000ish square foot facility will be a new build, on the site of the current English Gardens.

Longtime Detroit area residents know English Gardens is a higher-end garden shop, and Frank’s Nursery was a multi-state discount garden and craft supply chain. Frank’s folded in the late 2000s, and English Gardens assumed its space in Maple Village not too long after. With a covered but open-air area, another garden shop was a logical choice.

“Frank’s Nursery & Crafts, 1970s.” AADL. (CC: BY-NC-SA)

English Gardens, according to the Ann Arbor News, is doing great business at Maple Village, but MV’s new owner Brixmor is aggressively making it over. It’s been reported that Radio Shack’s Maple Village store was forced to close – perhaps just hastening an inevitable demise. Sofia’s Tailoring recently told the AA Observer interesting stories of dealing with the management there, as well.

English Gardens hopes to relocate in the Ann Arbor area. They have other locations throughout the Detroit area (West Bloomfield above) and I am confident they will continue their seasonal sales at Briarwood.

“Frank’s Nursery & Crafts,” 1976, AADL (CC BY-NC-SA)

The impending destruction of the former Frank’s store at Maple Village signals the end of its retail footprint in Ann Arbor, after Dollar Tree moved into Frank’s old Washtenaw location across from Arborland. Below, see the store before the shopping center was reenvisioned, and its open-air section was flattened to make room on the end for DXL Big & Tall and Olga’s Kitchen.

I’m not exactly sure where the next-closest Frank’s was, or what it is now, but I recently drove past the Frank’s on Haggerty Road in West Bloomfield, and it is still occupied only by temporary stores like fireworks merchants and halloween outfitters. Three moves later, we still use many of the tools we picked up for cheap near the end of that location’s liquidation sale. The below Street View is worth clicking through if you like annoyed geese, as well as a Street View Car selfie courtesy of the store windows.

State Street roundup for August

This is what our good friends in the United Association for Plumbers, Pipefitters, HVAC, etc. are seeing when they descend on State Street this month after their annual training events.

Facing West on State Street between North U and Liberty. (C)A2R.S

Game vendor Get Your Game On has expanded into phone repair, a niche that is likely underserved by downtown’s existing wireless carrier stores on Liberty, Main, and Fourth-Washington. (Carrier stores mostly want to get you to extend your contract and are less likely to repair existing equipment when they could offer you a new phone with a re-up.) The last phone repair store downtown was on Liberty between Maynard and Division and closed, I think, last year. You may remember its creepy rocking-mannequin porch decoration.

Joining it next door is Roasting Plant coffee, ready to try to crack the State Street block. They have an uphill battle being located between Espresso Royale, Starbucks, and the newly relaunched Michigan Creamery (formerly Stucchi’s), which incorporated Bearclaw Coffee into its new menu.

Sandwiched between them is FICO, also known as Fair Isaac. Fair Isaac is not actually Poor Richard’s fairer brother, but is in fact one of the US’ big three credit reporting agencies. I cannot vouch for the quality of their coffee, and never will.

Restored State Theatre Marquee. (C)A2R.S

Restoration and updates continue on the State Theater. The marquee looks shiny and new and some kind of construction is also happening:

The State Theatre building’s getting a shoulder pad. Likely a new elevator. (C)A2R.S

Meanwhile, further south near 94, construction continues unabated on Whatever’s Going In Front of The New Hyatt.

Facing East on South State Street near Victors Way. (C)A2R.S

I originally thought this was gonna be a restaurant, but the drive-thru lane appears to host a big concrete block with a door behind it instead of a signboard and a window, so I have this pegged as some kind of banking institution now. Most area banks have a location within a block or two of Briarwood already. A number of them are within Briarwood Circle, in fact. But I suppose one could choose a more visible location, or more convenient to the highway, for quicker getaway after a robbery. Banks are about convenience more than ever these days.

Bagger Dave Takes His Bag And Goes

Bagger Dave's has departed the Colonnade center on Eisenhower Parkway. Ann Arbor was the second location for the chain, originally founded in Berkley (near Royal Oak). Bagger Dave's was created by a Buffalo Wild Wings franchisee interested in creating their own restaurant concept. They originally opened as "Bagger Dave's Legendary Burgers and Fries," which was a little bit Will Smith and a little bit Barney from HIMYM. They had good beers, good burgers with interesting toppings like basil, and perhaps most importantly, an enchanting electric train that continuously ambled around the perimeter of the restaurant, high above our heads. We got them for takeout fairly regularly when we lived nearby, too.

In recent years, they changed their burger recipe to a single, larger patty instead of double-stacking smaller ones, and ditched Coke to offer their own "craft-brewed" sodas alongside the craft beer. They made a bad mistake on my wife's burger last time we went, and the listless service on top of that was bad enough to skip it from then on.

They are survived locally by their neighbors Moe's, whose customers will miss borrowing their wifi, and Applebee's, who continue to do the beer and burger thing next door to the Colonnade.

The whole chain hasn't closed at this point. They're still numerous north of Detroit, and there are a few outliers in southern Ohio and Indiana.

[Closeup of Bagger Dave's closing announcement from store window. (C)A2R.S]


(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.

A2R.S Road Trip: Dillon, Colorado Exorcises Its Authority (groan)

I wrote last week’s update about Craft Brewwwww City on the way out of town. I shot the photo of their coming soon banner literally out of the AirRide bus window (only TWELVE DOLLARS!).

I was headed to a work conference in the mountains west of Denver, about eight thousand feet up. I was fortunate to attend this conference last year too. The area is best known for its ski resorts (Keystone, A-Basin, Breckenridge) but in the summer it’s a quiet and lovely place to relax and learn about the latest innovations in instructional technology.

Last year when I attended this conference I misjudged the dress standard and packed slacks. I quickly realized that it was less business and more casual and regretted not bringing some shorts. On the way in, I had noticed a Sports Authority on Route 6.

That’s it above, in the boom times of 2008. Unlike Ann Arbor, Google doesn’t send Street View trucks into the mountains every couple of years.

By the time I arrived for my conference, the Sports Authority chain was well into its bankruptcy sale, but there were still some decent men’s shorts to be had for a pretty good price. I think I paid $16 for two pairs. Still wear them all the time.

I drove the same route this year and was happy to discover that this big box was quickly renovated into an REI store, the first in the area (the next closest location is 67 miles away in Denver – read the linked article for some of that local sporting goods retail drama you crave).

Another fun thing about this area is that everything looks like a ski lodge. I assume there is municipal guidance to ensure this. (There is! Kudos to A2 Commr. Weatherbee for pointing me to Dillon’s documentation. Checking it out is worth the 56k-esque download time.)

Here’s City Market, next door to REI:

City Market is a division of Kroger and once you get inside this store it looks like every other Kroger you’ve ever seen. Same layout, Kroger brand products. I even swapped my Kroger Plus keytag for a City Market one, with a big red strawberry. It is the most mundane souvenir I have ever taken from a trip, but I think of the mountains every time I go to Kroger now. (PROTIP: If you just hand your keys to the clerk at your local Kroger, they won’t necessarily recognize a City Market keytag as, but it scans just fine. It appears in my Kroger account as a “Sooper Card,” derived from another Western Kroger division, King Soopers, but again, it is totally valid in Ann Arbor.)

Here’s a Target for good measure.

As I always say, I sure wish Ann Arbor had a few mountains in the distance, but we do okay in terms of rivers and lakes.

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.")

More new things on State near I-94

Looks like they’re cramming in one more building off of the State and Ellsworth roundabout, behind the recently opened Jimmy John’s and Belle Tire.

This looks a little too wide and narrow to be one thing, and there doesn’t appear to be a drive-up window. Given the proximity to new hotel development and current business presence, I’m going to guess it’s a small strip mall, and it’s going to have a Quizno’s, a hair salon, and a vape shop. FreezingColdTakes, come at me in a few months.

North of I-94, the Hyatt Place is just about complete. Its outbuilding, less so. Still not sure what this building is gonna be:

Squarish. Slightly higher ceiling in back. Drive Thru signboard facing State Street. Probably a fast food restaurant.

No logos or design elements that I recognize. Maybe it will be a new concept to the area, but it seems more likely that a familiar name is getting a new location nearby.

The Wendy’s on Boardwalk Drive exists within this block, albeit not necessarily connected by a driveway.

It’s existed largely unchanged for decades, albeit with minor branding updates. It has a huge queue area for the counter, though I imagine it’s full most weekday lunch times.

The Burger King on Victors Way is not far away, around the corner. It’s a very unique building, especially for a fast food restaurant.

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Ringed with conifers, exposed rafters, porthole windows, and an atrium help distract you from the usual fast-food-restaurant molded plastic furniture. At one point the BK regional headquarters was attached to the back, though it’s offices for an insurance firm now.

Am I really telling you to go eat a Whopper just for the building? If we’re being honest, I would have told you to go eat one anyway, because I give terrible advice. But this location is still worth checking out before they inevitably conform it to current brand guidelines.

Some Stuff to Taco Bout, Maynard Street, and Finally Getting Round to a Proper Squarewell


Exterior of Taco Bell on Jackson Road. (C)A2R.S

Taco Bell has made a triumphant return to Jackson Road on the west side. None of its area locations are exactly what I would characterize as outdated, but this store closed for a dramatic renovation that has made it look like a real-life version of the Taco Bell mobile app.

Chela’s is expanding downtown! Coming-soon signage spotted on Fifth Ave. between the old Jerusalem Garden space and Earthen Jar. I really enjoy the steak and chorizo combo tacos from their original location at Liberty and Maple, and the owner, Adrian, was very nice to my kids last time I took them, so I’m happy to see Chela’s growing.

On Maynard a couple of times last week, and took the opportunity to examine the small convenience store at the base of Tower Plaza. The most recent incarnation did not survive long, despite having an eye-catching brand with arguably the street’s best use of Microsoft Word’s “Word Art” zoom.

Set in Courier, no less. (C)A2R.S

There are a glut of similar stores in these two blocks, including two national drug chains experimenting with take-and-go meals, and the venerable Diag Liquor. Just across the street in Nickels Arcade, babo also recently threw in the towel. I’m not an expert, but I think you need to be able to sell booze if you’re gonna survive here.

Are those new network cables hanging from the drop ceiling? (C)A2R.S

I hope they’re coming up with an interesting new use for the storefront, and that they announce it really soon, so I have something else to write about. There’s no shortage of new neighbors. The new owners of Maynard House apartments literally taped a new name over the old sign. They didn’t even get Clippy’s help like the people across the street did.

“It looks like you’re attempting a hasty and generic rebranding campaign.” (C)A2R.S

Speaking of Nickels Arcade, they are currently celebrating their hundredth anniversary. The current merchants are hosting little exhibits of signage and collateral from tenants of yore. And the front door of each store tells you who was there before. Gonna stop typing because my thumbs are sore.

Closeup of Apples & Oranges’ door. (C)A2R.S

One last disappointing update. A few weeks ago I spoke at Nerd Nite Ann Arbor about starting this blog and some other previous projects in this vein, and I shared a few photos I had taken of Circle Cube, a golden sculpture that used to stand in one of the public areas of Briarwood Mall, but which I hadn’t seen since its renovation was completed a few years ago.

It hurts me to see you like this buddy. (C)A2R.S

Next morning, I got a hot tip from a current mall employee that CC was still on premises, still in the shipping crate it’d been packaged for sale in years before. I headed over at lunchtime and there it was:

A few days later I got word that CC had been destroyed and disposed of.

Nothing gold can stay.