Cinder Block Grey is the color of May

On Main Street this week, the owner of 116 S. Main removed the metal paneling on the side of the building, expecting to find some brick to refurbish.

No dice:

Cinder block facade was behind metal panels on the old Kai Garden. (C) MLive.
Just a wall of cinder blocks. They plan to put some office space in here, so expect some complementary new-brick going up. Further details at MLive. (Personally, I wish this would have happened to a less-sympathetic landlord, like the eye doctor, while preparing to put a Big Johnson shop in here, but what can you do? Thanks Pete for the tip!)

Meanwhile, across town, another building, another facade, more cinder block.

Above, please observe the former Chi-Chi’s restaurant at State Street and Airport Circle. It closed suddenly in 2004 alongside its entire chain, after a deadly bacteria spread through cilantro served in some of its sister restaurants, wiping out consumer confidence. Licensed products continue to be available in supermarkets; the salsa tastes just like I remember, fine with whatever chips you got. There are also a handful of franchised restaurants outside of North America. I have a friend who visited one when she was in Luxembourg. I got the impression it might be worth visiting if you were already in Luxembourg.

Subsequent tenants kept the adobe-pyramid exterior, with modifications. Cherry Blossom added some square accents; Passport, a “world foods” restaurant, painted the whole thing a royal blue. (Click through the image to see Passport.) Coming up next: Black Rock Bar & Grill, where the steaks are served on a 700+ degree heated mineral, and the old facade is gone. I’ll update this with a photo next time I drive by.

(Update: here it is!)

West side fast-food update

Spotted on a westside drive:

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

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

Meanwhile, across the street:

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

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

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

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

Another thing about the OCBC building…

…it was originally built as a single Pier 1 imports store in the 90s. Pier 1 left the area for a while, and the building was quartered into the restaurant spaces occupying it now. With Tony Sacco’s replaced by Blaze Pizza, that makes Potbelly the grizzled veteran that will presumably “show the ropes” to whoever the new tenant is. I cannot wait for this area to finally get the Jamba Juice it deserves.

Old Carolina Barbecue is “in transition”

The Old Carolina Barbecue Company has closed their storefront on Eisenhower in the Whole foods outlot. Signage is down and their Facebook page promises a “one step at a time transition.”

I’m as interested as you are as to what that means. I suspect scaling back to catering, or to a food truck/outdoor location. You may remember their residency at Mark’s Carts a few summers back.

OCBC were fine and relatively inexpensive as BBQ goes, especially if you used the popular-with-students Hooked Deals app. They had offers every day, though it seemed sometimes the phone-order help didn’t understand what that was. I tried to explain it three times on the phone one night and gave up when they kept telling me it would be full price.

There are a number of great BBQ options around town:

  • Satchel’s (near the other Whole Foods) is probably the cheapest now, and very reliable.
  • Westside BBQ (next to Fingerle Lumber) is tasty and they’re always testing new stuff, like a burrito-style rolled BBQ sandwich.
  • Ricewood (behind Morgan & York on Packard) is very popular with my friends. Last time I asked them to leave the tomato out and it was the best bowl I’ve ever had. Gonna try the sandwich next time.
  • And of course there are the well regarded table-service BBQ restaurants like Blue Tractor, Red Rock, Zingerman’s Roadhouse.

I still miss the BBQ places of my youth like Mr. Rib and DeLong’s. A side of bbq-soaked fries was pretty much my ultimate indulgence as a Community High School student. I remember how annoyed the fellow at the counter would get when I asked for a second fork to share with a friend.

One thing I really enjoyed at OCBC that none of the other local places have is Cheerwine, a super-sweet cherry soda that’s not commonly available north of about Tennessee. I’m nearly positive I’ve noticed glass-bottle Cheerwine four packs at Cracker Barrel in the merch shop. Next time you go, please bring me some back.

The group that franchised OCBC here also owns Black Diesel Coffee on Packard. BDC hasn’t posted any recent items on their Facebook, but I assume that’s a good sign. They always seem to be busy when I drive past.

A long time ago, in a nearby neighborhood…

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

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

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

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

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

His words went unheeded:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drake’s Sandwich Shop

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

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

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

Drakes, Ann Arbor MI, counter

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

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

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

Bank of America Packard/Eisenhower is closed.

I noticed last weekend that the Bank of America branch at the Packard/Eisenhower flatiron is permanently closed. Signage down, paper signs in windows.

The branch has been there for years. I believe it was a LaSalle before Bank of America, then Standard Federal, and a Michigan National Bank waaay back. Lately, it seemed to be a frequent robbery target.

If you click that Google Maps image up top (in a desktop browser), you can go back to 2007 and see it as a LaSalle Bank branch if you like. I couldn’t find any photos older than that, but check out this Michigan National Bank branch from a black-and-white 1979:

(Michigan National Bank, 1979 - rights held by AADL, CC: BY-NC-SA)
(Image: Ann Arbor District Library)

Sure, I’d totally trust a little house on State Street with my filthy riches.

 

Ulrich’s is moving

Spotted today on South University: fixture since time immemorial, Ulrich’s bookstore is moving, according to all of their windows. A web address is listed for more information but it was raining and I don’t remember what it was. (UPDATE: it’s “ulrichs.com/email” and it just goes to the parent company’s website.)

The store announcements section of the website says NOW HIRING, but the last time I saw a store “moving” with a website, it was Blockbuster Video, saying they were “moving to Blockbuster.com.” Hopefully Ulrich’s maintains a local presence? Are we still rooting for college textbook stores these days? More news as I make it up.

(SFX: Record Scratch) Yup. That’s Me. You’re probably wondering…

I usually just post about quirky local retail stuff on Facebook, which is private, and my friend Melissa said I should write a blog. I didn’t want to put this stuff on my personal site and Namecheap had a special on the domain, so, well, here we are now.

I have a degree in Communications, and pretty much everything I know about retail I learned from retail second-jobs. So expect a lot of townie reminiscing and not much insight.