Lots to Learn (or, “Big News”)

There it is, there’s that self-referential title pun. I’m back, baby. Alexa, play “Spread My Wings” by Troop.

With increased activity comes increased noticing stuff, and that’s how I’m discovering that both of the Big Lots in town are consolidating into one Bigger Lots. (They’re not calling it that.) The new location is on Washtenaw Avenue in Ypsilanti in the Fountain Plaza, where Dunham’s used to be. (Dunham’s doesn’t have a location in Ypsi now, I think the closest ones are Maple Village and… Canton. Probably Canton. Canton has one of everything these days.)

The new tenant of the former Ann Arbor Big Lots location, on Lohr Road, is a chain called Total Wine that sells wine, booze, beer, and some party supplies and snacks you would eat with said wine, booze, and beer. I recalled that I visited one, in California, the same morning I visited Daiso. I took like a zillion photos at Daiso but I only took one at Total Wine:

Was gonna buy this beer — for a friend, I swear — but then realized I’d have to check a bag to fly it home with me. Sorry friend. (C)A2RS

From this photo you can make some inferences about the store’s motif. Warehouse-y with a focus on selection over frills. It was a few years ago, but that was the vibe I remember.

Let’s talk more about Big Lots. It’s my blog and I can do what I want. Big Lots is a discount department store that occupies the tier between dollar stores and, say, Target. Back in the day they, like dollar stores, used to sell name-brand stuff that was overstock, past season, or had minor flaws, but in recent years, more and more of the product offering is made exclusively to sell in these stores at that price point. They have been in Roundtree Plaza (yes, I am breaking the “Ann Arbor only” rule today) for decades. Here is a photo of Big Lots’ predecessor, Odd-Lot, in 1984:

“Roundtree Shopping Center,” May 1984. (C)The Ann Arbor News.

I am nearly positive I visited an Odd Lot on the west side, part of Maple Village in its 1980s K-Mart/Fox Village Theater/Church’s Lumber heyday, but I am going to have to confirm this and update later.

As time went by, the Odd Lot you see above moved to a larger space in Roundtree, then changed its name to Big Lots after merging with a similar discount chain.

How it ended: “Borders store closing Pittsfield Township Michigan.JPG.” Dwight Burdette, CC-BY 3.0

Fast-forward to when Borders Books wound down and The Borders Of The Future closed, it stayed empty for a while but was eventually occupied by Big Lots, making a powerful entrance among three other big-box stores (Kohl’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Best Buy). They left Borders’ fancy pinstripe marquee intact and simply placed “BIG LOTS!” over the entrance. Inside, the tony, warm browsing space gave way to your usual Big Lots layout, but with a higher ceiling. I assume this is the shape the new store will have when it opens.

How it restarted. (C) Yelp

Now, the Roundtree location sports signage that says they’re moving to Washtenaw. This was the last business in the shopping center to sell mass market grocery-adjacent items. Years ago Roundtree and its adjacent Roundtree Place shopping center were anchored by a Busch’s grocery and a Walmart, The Walmart expanded and added grocery to become a Supercenter, which put the other grocery out of business. Then the Walmart closed just as the pandemic was revving up. So now if you live in the apartments or off the side street over there and want a loaf of bread or a can of beans, the 7-Eleven or the Speedway probably have a couple but Meijer or Target is your best bet. (There might be a small cultural grocery in Roundtree, I forget.)

The Busch’s went on to become Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, which at its surface is very similar to Big Lots but which actually seems to have more of the random stuff you go to these stores for. Overstocks, past-season, factory refurbs, and a surprising selection of books and board games below many images of Ollie, the sheepishly-grinning namesake:

I wouldn’t go there to look for a specific title, but would totally browse for something new and cheap to take to a friend’s party.

I think both these shopping centers are managed by Brixmor, who have done pretty well with keeping Maple Village busy even after Kmart pulled out. Hopefully they find something to fill the boxes.

Oh, and speaking of Kmart — you know how there was one left in Michigan, in Marshall (between Jackson and Battle Creek)? Well, that location is beginning its closing sale. This report from WWMT-TV that I can’t embed here includes a city official speculating that the space will be subdivided.

Past-me had the foresight to go in and grab some photos last spring:

The exterior never received updates some other, long-closed locations got. Though it says there’s a Little Caesar’s inside, the restaurant has been converted to storage and pickup space as other discount chains have done in the midst of the Pandango. (C)A2RS
Extremely tidy store, though the ceiling signage didn’t always match up with what was actually in the aisles below. (C)A2RS
This shelf of DVDs was all they had for an electronics section, besides a couple of pegs on the facing racks that had, like, a co-ax F connector. All your favorites in Glorious 480p, especially if Peppa Pig is your favorite. (C)A2RS
The grey-shaded area was once an electronics section. Imagine TVs mounted on the walls and racks and racks of games and gadgets. Today, the store boundaries are corraled by merchandise racks to reduce the amount of floorspace. A few Kenmore appliances are available for examination. (C)A2RS
The center of the store is kind of a mixed bag of deals and highlights from other parts of the store. Planogram Roulette. (C)A2RS

Although I strive to leave people out of my photos and am careful not to alarm store workers, it wasn’t that hard to do this particular Friday afternoon. The store was not empty but also not bustling. There’s a nice looking supermarket at the other end of the shopping center so I don’t foresee a big box trying to make a go of it here. Maybe Big Lots, though. Which seems poignant.

State of Pay

I know a lot of stuff has closed and a few things have opened and then closed again. And I missed a lot of it. It was a lot easier to write about stuff going on downtown and on campus when I was downtown and on campus every day. I can’t hope to catch up, but I miss writing for fun, so here I am thinking about the new State Street Target store. (Sorry for not making a Target pun in the title, just seemed too obvious)

All About Ann Arbor has some photos on their website and embedded below:


The close-ups of the merchandise racks made it hard for me to imagine how a Target fit into the old Urban Outfitters (and before that, the original State Theater) space.
The U-M Student Yearbook posted a couple more that helped me out a little bit:

That brick wall, that the Target logo is painted on, is the back wall of the space. This is obviously a much smaller space than your typical Target.

That’s an excellent question. When Target opens a small-format store in a city space like this, they tend to concentrate on grocery and household items to serve apartment and dorm dwellers. Here’s the map from Target’s website:

A map of the Ann Arbor State Street Target store.

State Street is on the right of that map, the back wall is on the left. The way the captions of the various icons crowd together and overlap on this map doesn’t do this layout any favors.

Judging by the “toys/games” icon, this store may well sell some Lego sets, but probably won’t keep a lot of them in stock. Downtown and campus has kind of needed a grocery since White Market closed a few years ago. For general merchandise, I bet when they have a designer exclusive clothing line they will make room for those items. I might go check it out and take some photos sometime soon. In the meantime, here are a bunch more photos and an article from MLive.

When the State Theater originally opened in the 40s, it was one enormous screen for 1700 seats.

State Theatre Under Renovation, February 1979.” (C) The Ann Arbor News

The Ann Arbor News photo above dates from 1979, when they split the theater into four smaller screens.

When the theater originally closed a few years after the screen split, the ground floor theaters were gutted and became the space where Urban Outfitters opened in the late 80s. (The two upstairs theaters were preserved, we’ve talked about them before. The current incarnation of the State Theater contains four screens but I think they’re all 2010s built — will update when someone corrects me.) The wall retained the natural brick, but with an enormous, painted “urban outfitters” brand mark that loomed over the fitting rooms.

As for Urban Outfitters — it moved to Briarwood. I don’t spend much time at Briarwood these days, but I’ve been in there enough to take a glance at the new space, which is where Hollister used to be, in the long corridor between Center Court and Sears. It looks a lot like other Urban Outfitters stores in malls in other cities, like Somerset and Great Lakes Crossing. I’m not really the core demographic for UO, but it’s kind of cool that Briarwood has a place that sells vinyl records, right?

Meanwhile, across town on Carpenter Road, the Ypsilanti Target store dropped its facade in February, right around the same time the Meijer store next door started to receive its exterior refresh. The dark-wood finish and bullseye I captured a few years ago quickly vanished:

I love the labelscar and the beige of the original entrance visible here. (C)A2RS

It was replaced with a vinyl banner that reads “target” and remains over the entrance to this day.

Yes, this is an old photo, but it still looks like this today and probably will in a month or so when that Halloween snowfall drops. (C)A2RS

So where was BW, anyway?

Earlier this year, I took a break from blogging to write for The Ann Arbor Observer. It was a lot of fun and much more work, in different ways, than writing A2RS or the book. With both of those, I mostly drew on previously recorded information and reindexing it. With A2RS, it’s frequently a social-media post for a recently opened or recently closed business; with the book, it was usually newspaper archives (thanks again AADL!).

On the other hand, the articles I wrote for the Observer, an actual printed publication with decades of history, demanded more than just reindexing information and posting my photos — more than what Tom Dodd, our newspaper advisor at Community High, called “butt reporting.” I had to go into stores and call people on the actual telephone. Sometimes this was a lot of fun, like ordering bubble teas as research; other times you have to ask proprietors uncomfortable questions, like what they expect to do now that their building has been sold. I feel like I grew as a writer and flexed some muscles I hadn’t worked since high school or college, I really appreciate the Observer giving me the shot, then letting me withdraw gracefully when my day job became busier than I could have imagined…

Last year I joined the training team for a company that makes a very popular system many colleges and schools use to hold classes online. (Look me up on LinkedIn if you care that much, suffice to say it is not the system AAPS chose for this year.) As stay-home orders took effect across the nation and it became clear that the pandemic would last into the fall, many school districts and institutions that were considering adopting my company’s solution suddenly threw those plans into immediate action. In an ordinary world, that would have meant a lot of travel and a lot of Trip Reports here, but being around strangers was suddenly a very questionable activity. My company went 100% remote (I already was remote, but they instituted the policy for all employees) and quickly repositioned all of my in-person trainings as virtual sessions.

This was great on one level, because it gave me a lot of practice much more quickly than if I had had to travel to each customer. It was exhausting, because this practice was four to six hours a day, five days a week, all conducted over Zoom. If you’ve been in a remote video meeting, you probably agree that one hour online is at least 90 minutes’ worth of concentration and fatigue.


With all this in mind, the Observer allowed me to step back from writing for Marketplace Changes, just as a wave of closings washed over Ann Arbor. It began with some longtime favorites like the Prickly Pear Café, and eventually led to a number of other businesses contracting. In some cases, several restaurants with shared ownership consolidated into a single kitchen for takeout orders during the early days; some of them didn’t reopen when indoor dining was permitted again in June.

Most recently, BTB Burrito announced they were closing their State Street location — which, while it didn’t have the history of its neighbors Mr. Spot’s or Pizza Bob’s, was a reliable, relatively cheap lunch spot and locally-owned alternative toTex Mex fast casual chains. BTB started out on State Street, eventually expanded to South Packard (where eat. is now), then opened the BTB Cantina on South University in a spot once known as Wherehouse Records and later occupied by an upper-floor of Good Time Charley’s. The Cantina brought BTB burritos together with a full bar and music in the evenings, and offered a number of large booths during lunchtime. The single long table in the State Street location’s dining room was cozy before the pandemic, but seems positively dangerous in a time before a vaccine becomes widespread.

Meanwhile, Pizza Bob’s (mentioned above) moved up the block to the corner of State and Hill — previously Red Light Rotisserie, and before that Quickie Burger. In fact, this is actually a return to a piizzeria for that space – it was Geppetto’s Pizza in the 80s when I first came to town. It’s definitely worth reading more about Pizza Bob’s here in the Observer, and reading further to hear about Underground Sounds moving to Main Street. (I did not write either of these profiles, though I adore Underground Sounds.)

The exterior of Pizza Bob’s restaurant, 1974.

Let’s make this really meta, and show you this storefront of Pizza Bob’s in 1974, thirty years before BTB opened in the same space. (C) The Ann Arbor News.

So as you can see, I’ve missed writing, and have some free time again, I can’t promise I’ll capture every single thing, especially with so much uncertainly, and especially as I am unwilling to spend much time indoors with strangers, But let’s try it. And f you made it this far and are still wondering what exactly I wrote for the Observer — here it all is.

2020, am I right?

I hate to come back on these terms, but I’m worried about Banfield’s.

In March, when bars and restaurants were closed in response to the pandemic, they marked down their souvenir shirts, shipped a carful of extra produce to Food Gatherers, and pivoted to full-takeout. For a week, they updated their Facebook daily with specials and hours. On March 23, the updates ended.

As other Packard fixtures like York Ann Arbor and Fraser’s Pub reopened with outdoor seating and distanced indoor space – as the Brown Jug became a campus hotspot in multiple ways – I would drive past Banfield’s hoping to spy cars parked in the lot in front of their space, maybe some tables out front. It hasn’t happened yet.

Friends are telling me that Google identifies them as having closed. Although the Facebook posts are still up, they didn’t respond to a Facebook request for confirmation. Their stand-alone website is offline, and dialing their phone number returns a phone-company out of service recording. These are the extent of my efforts — which is a fair amount of work, for this blog — and I would love nothing more than to retract this as soon as possible.

Of all the things I’ve seen closed, and written about being closed, this one, if true, hits a little harder — because it was at Banfield’s, one night in April 2017, when I revealed to some friends I had registered a domain, set up a WordPress site, and was working on my first couple of posts for a2retail.space. They gently mocked me, even though one of them was the one who had been urging me to set up a blog. I had no idea where it would go, but I felt pretty great about it because I was sitting at one of those tables in the center of Banfield’s big wood-paneled dining room and I had one of their enormous glasses of beer in front of me, probably filled with Soft Parade.

Some longtime townies may recall the expansion to Scio Township, when Banfield’s took over the onetime Paul Bunyan’s restaurant at Jackson and Zeeb, and rechristened it “Banfield’s West Side.” It has operated continuously since, and although its current ownership just calls it “The Sports Bar,” they kept the lovely neon “West Side” sign over the front door.

Banfield’s was always happy to help host fundraisers for the nonprofit that owns my neighborhood pool, and I’m sure many other local orgs. I enjoyed bringing the occasional out-of-town visitor in to check it out. I’ve seen a lot of businesses close this year, but this time the survivor guilt is particularly strong. Again, I look forward to writing a retraction.

Struggling Digital Writer Pivots to Exciting New “Print” Medium

Happy February, all. It’s been quiet here on the blog because I’ve been busy contributing to the Ann Arbor Observer‘s “Marketplace Changes” column. Here’s my first piece — it’s about the recently reopened Michigan Union.

Though I have cited the Ann Arbor Chronicle, Paul Lukas, and Moses Gates’ casual writing as inspirations for A2RS, Marketplace Changes is perhaps the most clear influence. For decades the Observer has been documenting the opening and closings of area businesses and profiling the entrepreneurs and franchisees that choose to serve Ann Arbor.

Though I’ve spent many hours in comfy chairs reading the Observer’s longform articles and trying to find the Fake Ad, I pretty much always flipped to Marketplace Changes first to see what was new — until I began writing A2RS, because I didn’t want to consciously, or subconsciously, copy their reporters’ work. Now, as a stringer, I can finally read it free of guilt.

To read my latest writings, please read the Observer. You can find it… in your mailbox, if you live in the city of Ann Arbor, every month. Otherwise you can sign up for a subscription or find it at area businesses.

If you can’t find the Observer on paper, you can also subscribe at annarborobserver.com. After a period of time, my Observer work will appear here, and I hope to post stuff here from time to time that doesn’t quite fit the Observer’s parameters (opinions, trip reports).

Sneakers, Smokers, and Suckers

Due to some immature humor at the very end, this post is recommended only for mature audiences. Thanks.

Sorry for the delay. Nothing like a couple weeks of travel, followed by a holiday where you care for a sick loved one and then get sick from the same thing, to make you not get around to sorting through all the photos you took and then making posts out of them. At least we have a lot to talk about this time. Let’s start with…

Motel 6’s Accelerated Slide Into Disrepair

In early December, the driveway chain was down at the old Motel 6 site on State Street; the in-room air conditioner units were gone; and the buildings were beginning to show signs of deterioration.

Since I took these, a demolition crew has begun to level the complex.

Dickey’s Barbeque’s Sudden Closure

Recently I had the urge for some BBQ and soft serve ice cream, a combination unique to Dickey’s, the chain that was located on Washtenaw Avenue, when I discovered that, despite the “NOW OPEN” banner up high over their entrance since their original opening, they were in fact closed:

Closeup of closing announcement and eviction notice at Dickey’s. (C)A2RS

Mr. Alan’s on Washtenaw has rebranded to “Snipes”

I caught the day the Mr. Alan’s sign came down on Washtenaw:

Exterior of Mr. Alan’s with sign coming down. (C)A2RS

For a couple of days the store had only an “Open” banner over the door, but that was soon supplanted with a new permanent sign for its new owner: “SNIPES.” I assume it’s a portmanteau of sneakers and stripes, but as you know, I try not to do too much research for this blog.

Snipes is a German chain specializing in American streetwear, that expanded into the US last year by buying Mr. Alan’s and a similar regional giant, Kicks USA. American streetwear is huge business overseas. For my first few years on Twitter, most of my my mistagged tweets were not from overly enthusiastic July 4 partiers, but from Dutch sneakerheads peeping the latest styles at “Britain,” a similar chain based in the Netherlands. The chain eventually changed their name to “Go-Britain.”

Mr. Alan’s will be remembered for its ubiquitous local-TV ads and 2-for-$50 pricing:

Belleville KMart is closing/maybe closed by now

Exterior of the Belleville Big K. (C)A2RS

I stopped by the liquidation sale at the Belleville KMart between Thanksgiving and Christmas. As with most of these sales the store was now being run by a dedicated liquidation firm, was not honoring gift cards, and the food counter was closed. Retail Flickr has a million photo sets of Kmarts in their death throes — two or three of them are my own sets — and I wouldn’t have had much to add by taking a bunch of photos in this one. I did snap a couple, to show you the vast, empty sales floor:

Everything the light touches. (C)A2RS

Can you see that enormous poster of hitmaker Adam Levine by the door to the Garden Center? Here’s a closeup because I know you love him. I’m pretty sure this is him despite the fact that he’s wearing a shirt:

“The Adam Shop” was a sticker to cover up a contest announcement, so Adam’s portrait could continue to be used after the contest ended. (C)A2RS

Though the store advertised all toys discounted 60%, I spotted this Nerf Star Wars Chewbacca Blaster Rifle ($26 on Amazon at time of research) marked with an original price of $44.00, which brings it to about the same price as Amazon with the discount. (The preceding link is not an affiliate link, I don’t make any money off this blog– I provide it only for price comparison.)

For those keeping track, there is exactly one KMart left in Michigan. As with other stories of “hey look, this KMart is still open,” it’s flourishing in an area with no other competition nearby and residents that distrust Amazon. It’s about an hour west of us on I-94 in Marshall, home of Dark Horse Brewing and Win Schuler’s.Frankly, this all screams “TRIIIIIP REEEEPOOOOORT” to me, so look forward to that sometime this spring.

Speaking of Trip Reports: Is the Chelsea SoS really worth it?

For years I had heard that the Chelsea SoS was a line-free oasis and a viable alternative to waiting for service at the Ann Arbor office. I tried it in October when I had to reup for work (I fly frequently for my new job, so I figured I should get a new license with the RealID Star now and get it out of the way).

So I texted in and got in the Virtual Line for the A2 location, then drove to Chelsea, because it’s three exits/20 minutes from the Ann Arbor one. (Chelsea’s office allows you to make an appointment some weeks in advance, but does not offer the Virtual Line option that Ann Arbor does.) It’s in the back of a little shopping center with a Post Office, a bike shop, a locally owned pharmacy, a locally-owned computer store, a hair salon, and the Chelsea Tree House play center (“You know, for kids”).

Anyway, the Chelsea SOS’ actual office is a little smaller office than Ann Arbor, but it seemed to contain almost as many waiting people. I imagined at least half of them coming from Ann Arbor to “avoid the line.” I ended up going back to A2 and killing a little time browsing in the newer Maple Village stores near the Ann Arbor SoS, though I did not go in Dollar Tree.

If you decide to visit the Chelsea SoS, I recommend you book an appointment online and then make a day of it. Tour the Jiffy Mix factory. Eat at Smokehouse 52 or the Chelsea Jet’s Pizza, which, like all Jet’s locations, serves “Sicilian-by-way-of-Detroit” pizza but is otherwise much different from other Jet’s locations in three important ways:

  • Dine-In Seating
  • Ridiculous selection of beers on tap
  • TV with “Star Wars” on loop in all restrooms

Leo’s Heads West

Exterior of Meijer outlot building with “Coming Soon: Leo’s Coney” banner. (C)A2RS

They’re finishing the second outlot building between Meijer and Zeeb Road, and it’s going to have a Leo’s Coney Island. OOOOOOOOPA!

When Arbor Vacuum Needed to Fix Their Sign

It’s fixed now, but for a minute there I thought Jeff Daniels was making a sequel to “Super Sucker.”

Marque Deux (a Trip Report from Draper, Utah)

If you go to movies at our local Cinemark, but also notice Cinemarks in other cities, you might wonder two things:

  1. Why their movie theater listings include locations that have been closed for years, labeled “NOW CLOSED:”
  2. What is  a Cinemark “XD” and/or “NEXTGEN” theater, and are we missing out by not having those in Ann Arbor

Well, I have answers.

This screenshot from Cinemark.com depicts the Universal Mall location, which closed with the mall in the late 2000s, but is nonetheless “Always accepting applications.”

Universal Mall was an indoor mall in Warren that got Arborlanded (i.e. torn down and replaced by blocks of stores with outdoor entrances) in, like, 2008. MJR, a Detroit area chain (that was locally-owned until very recently), built a new theater on the site of the old Cinemark Movies 16. My hunch is that Cinemark keeps these locations up in their listings, with the “NOW CLOSED” flag, to steer traffic to their other area theaters. A quick search for “Universal Mall movie theater” has MJR’s current theater at the top of results, but if you remember that the old theater was a Cinemark and try to review its showtimes at their site, you would be forgiven for thinking there was no movie theater there anymore.

NEXTGEN is a theater layout and branding scheme that Cinemark adopted a few years ago. I have been to opening-week screenings of a couple of franchise action films at these theaters while traveling out west in recent monts, and I suspect by the time Cinemark rebranded and were ready to update the Ann Arbor 20, that was the current-gen look of their theaters and no longer an experiment warranting the “NEXTGEN” brand.

One of the theaters I visited is the Cinemark in Draper, Utah, a few miles south of Salt Lake City.

Exterior of Cinemark Draper and XD, Draper, UT

This theater is about half the size of our 20-screen Ann Arbor location but looks quite a bit like it inside. The lobby has one entrance, one ticket counter, and one concessions queue.

At this and the other location I visited, the concessions queue takes a right turn into the ticket-taker’s position instead of going straight to the middle of the lobby. All the dumb photos I took in here and I didn’t get a shot of this, so you’re gonna have to take my word for it. Sorry. Anyway, here’s the XD auditorium:


The XD room is the biggest theater in the complex. I didn’t measure the screen but it’s a floor to ceiling style presentation, similar to IMAX but not as square as the IMAX ratio. The sound system is THX-certified, apparently 11 clusters.

The XD audience layout. I went to a weeknight show on a non-discount night, and got there early enough to be first into the theater. (C)A2RS

The Draper theater has the same reclining seats as our Ann Arbor theater, though the theater I visited in southern California over the summer did not and I surprised myself by how nose-in-the-air I was about it. When you spend enough time watching movies in a La-Z-Boy, regular movie seats start to seem quaint, if not charmingly tacky. I think the recline button module in my seat in Draper might have had differently shaped buttons, maybe a little harder to find, but also harder to recline or incline by accident.

I took a picture of this horrible M&M’s ad because I wanted to show you the screen, and they really don’t like it when you take pictures of the actual movie. (C)A2RS

The picture looked great and the sound was good too. I saw Terminator Dark Fate, which I was very satisfied with. Nobody comes here for the movie reviews.

Summary: If you are in Ann Arbor, you should go see a movie at the Michigan or the State. If not there, then Cinemark is a good choice. (Some people will insist I mention Emagine but I’m leaving that to my counterpart at salineretail.uno.) If you are not in Ann Arbor and you are used to Cinemark, you should definitely visit a Cinemark. It is full-featured and probably smaller and easier to navigate than the Ann Arbor one. The End, no moral.

Wake, Shake, ‘n Vacant

A new coffee shop at Main and Stadium

Ext. of future coffee shop at Stadium and Main Streets. (C)A2RS

The little building across from Michigan Stadium and Pioneer High is changing purposes again. I assume it was a gas station decades ago — the placement on the lot and the garage-door-sized windows on the east wall are strong signs. I remember it first as Schneider’s convenience store, where I would get Mountain Dew in a glass bottle while waiting for my transfer bus home from school. Since then it has been a paint-n-pour type creative party space, a mobile phone store, and an indoor tanning salon, and is now about to become a coffee shop.

Legend* tells that the MDen owns this land and building. As the closest retail anything to Michigan Stadium, it’s usually host to an MDen pop-up store on game days, though the MDen has enough physical locations for the other 357 days of the year to not need this year round. Hopefully this is the use that sticks? Not that I have any affinity for coffee, it’d just be nice not to write about another business closing.

The next nearest coffee is a 7-Eleven and the Espresso Royale in the Woodland Plaza center near Busch’s, so there’s probably a need to be filled here. There are many U-M employees just on the other side of the stadium that have no fancy coffee within like a 15-20 minute walk uphill.

* “legend” generally means “some comment on a Ann Arbor Townies Group post” around here

Mighty Good at Arbor Hills is… still open

Recently we visited Arbor Hills Crossing. That’s a sentence you don’t hear much around here, I honestly have never felt like I belong in there. All the shops seem to be for people of a higher income and social class than I identify with. But I’ve been hearing about Shake Shack for years and I wanted to see what the hype was about.

I parked by Mighty Good Coffee, which was the only open parking of course, and I was surprised and confused to see the shop was open:

The closure of Mighty Good was a big story in the springtime. The local chain’s baristas organized and attempted to group-bargain with the owners, who then announced they would close their retail outlets. Some of the locations closed months ago. Arbor Hills was supposed to close on August 31. But as you can see, it’s still open, and for exactly the reason you think it is:

Facebook post from the local baristas’ union.

On preview, that didn’t embed like I hoped it would, but click through if you want more. The gist is that Mighty Good has hired new workers for this location who are not part of the union. The former Mighty Good locations on Jefferson across from Bach Elementary, and at South U and Washtenaw, are now operated by new management with different concepts. But a baristas’ union member predicts that Mighty Good’s Main Street location will probably reopen with new workers soon too.

The A2RS short review of Shake Shack that you’ve been waiting for: shake was pretty good. Fries were crinkle-cut, which to me is usually visual shorthand for “frozen starchy disappointment,” but they were nice and crispy even after driving them home. I like that the menu has hamburgers and cheeseburgers as discrete menu items, and the hamburger is cheaper — so if you don’t want cheese, you’re not subsidizing everyone else’s cheese. Unfortunately, the hamburger they served me clearly had had cheese on it , which was picked off before it was served to me, rather than just making a clean new hamburger. There was melted cheese residue on the surface and edge of the burger patty.

They could have made me really sick. What if I was allergic to cheese, instead of just a picky, annoying person who doesn’t like cheese? (YES, I KNOW WHERE I LIVE. YES, I EAT CHEESE ON PIZZA. I CONTAIN MULTIDUDES™.)

So I’m reluctant to return. When I want a premium burger with pretenses of healthiness, I will most likely stick with Elevation Burger.

Motel 6 on State Street is closed

The Motel 6 off of Airport Boulevard and State Street, recently, suddenly, quietly closed. Once a Knights Inn and, for decades, the only lodging in the area south of I-94, it now faced competition from a quite new Staybridge Suites, and a Holiday Inn Express soon to open, across the street on the outskirts of Research Park. Both of these new builds have indoor hallways and the amenities craved by the business travelers that Research Park attracts.

The signs at the old motel are completely blacked out, but the grounds are still maintained and the property is well-lit for reasons that seem obvious to me (either the broken-windows effect, or keeping the complex ready for a new hotel brand and management to step in quickly, especially during football season). A length of steel chain blocks the one driveway at the front of the complex.

Pristinely empty, it beckoned me to take a few low-light night photos with the best camera…

You know what they say, “the best camera is the one you’ve got.” (C)A2RS

Above, the guesthouse is still lit from within, though nobody’s working the desk. Beyond the guesthouse, the rows of empty rooms wait to be occupied again.

Down a row of empty rooms at the old Motel 6. (C)A2RS

To the left in the photo above, behind the small fence, is the outdoor swimming pool. I was beginning to feel emboldened and started to edge closer, when a Ford Edge turned off of Airport Boulevard, zipped down the access road, and started to turn into the driveway. I tried to wave them away so they wouldn’t hit the chain, but it stopped them cold. My nerve evaporated, and I walked back to my car.

The Edge followed me. Its window rolled down. “Excuse me, sir,” the driver said. “Is it open?” (I was wearing jeans and a hoodie, but no matter what I’m wearing, I apparently radiate something that makes strangers think I know what in the world is going on. I guess it’s middle-aged, approachable white maleness.) I shook my head and said “nope, sorry.” The Edge zipped away.

I went back for one more shot, a real easy one where I probably wouldn’t get the cops called on me if someone else showed up.

Vacant row of rooms on the east-facing edge of the former Motel 6 on State Street. (C)A2RS

Hopefully this reopens soon, but going by its TripAdvisor, if it didn’t reopen it would not be much missed.


I almost forgot! Remember the vintage shop that opened this summer, where Chelsea Flowers used to be on Liberty? It’s closed, per A2RS Deputy Director Eli:

It was called “Former Vintage,” and that means I have to get to call it “the former Former Vintage space” from now on.

Ruby Boom and Other Jewels

The end of today’s post contains a significant background detail for one of the plots on the HBO series “The Righteous Gemstones” , so if you’ve been planning to watch it and want to go in knowing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, maybe come back after you’ve binged at least the first three episodes or so.

Okay, on to the “news.”

The Quarter Bistro ended its fifteen year run at Westgate recently.

The Quarter Bistro was a New Orleans themed restaurant. It followed the now-defunct chains Mountain Jack’s and Rio Bravo in that Westgate outlot space. An /r/AnnArbor post broke the news that it will be succeeded by Stadium Boulevard stalwart Lewis Jewelers.

Exterior of a previous Lewis Jewelers location in 1974. Courtesy AADL (CC BY-NC-SA).

Lewis Jewelers has experience with repurposing a restaurant. Its current location, at 2000 West Stadium Boulevard, is a heavily-fortified onetime McDonald’s. If you didn’t know it already, can you kind of see it below? I don’t have any photos handy of the McDonald’s back then, but picture the mansard roof from an old McDonald’s and a drive-thru window along the long wall. McDonald’s moved to its current location, a couple blocks west on Stadium, in the late 80s or early 90s.

Quick flashback to Fingerle Lumber. Over about two weeks from the end of July to the beginning of August, most of the buildings on the site were demolished. I work nearby, so I managed to get some photos of the site immediately before and during the work. A lot of them are Live Photos so there’s a bit of motion.

(Some of the shots toward the end are pretty cool, but it might take some work to get there, sorry. I was snapping as quickly as I could trying to document and didn’t feel like using video camera mode. I wish Flickr Pro was still $25 a year, sharing was great and there are a lot of retail nerds there. I’d join up again for $25 like it used to be, but $50 is a bit much. Google Photos is free and fast but embedding is a little janky.)

U-M has not yet announced further plans for the block, but as soon as the debris was carried off, the lots were marked Yellow Parking (a relatively-affordable option for staff and some students). It is anticipated that this will someday be either additional student housing or maybe more Athletics buildings.

All Hollowed

Have you heard about the petitions to move Halloween from All Hallows’ Eve to a Halloween is coming up fast, so Spirit Halloween is once again popping up around town. The national chain has a outlet in a past-years location at the old Arhaus Furniture inside Arborland, as well as in the old Babies
Я” Us on Carpenter Road. It also once again joins its sister chain, Spencer’s Gifts, at Briarwood, but now in a new location there…

Previous years saw Spirit in the cavernous space that was once the movie theater, but that space has been subdivided and a day spa has the external entrance, so Spirit Halloween now finds its temporary fortune in Briarwood’s largest and most infamous vacancy… Sears! But first, let’s enjoy some of that world-building and tale-spinning you can only get on premium cable.

One of HBO’s latest series is “The Righteous Gemstones,” a dark, twisty comedy about a family of evangelists who attempt to expand their successful ministry across the world, as well as into the fictional Southern town of Locust Grove.

The latest Gemstone chapel. Note the shadow of a Sears logo shadow over the entrance. This photo is from the Charleston Daily Photo blog.

In what has to be the most unusual brand placement opportunity since “Baskets,” the Locust Grove location is, conspicuously, a recently closed Sears store. (“When capitalism collapses, that’s where we come in,” a Gemstone proudly crows.) The theater where the services are held appears to be accessible from inside the mall and the parking lot, but the Gemstones apparently worked quickly to open, as the backstage is still filled with detritus from the store’s previous purpose.

Two pastors converse backstage at the Gemstone Prayer Center. (C)HBO. I ripped this from ProductPlacementBlog.

Anyway, here’s Wonderwall the Briarwood Sears now, as a purveyor of Halloween accoutrements.

External, Spirit Halloween (formerly Sears south entrance) at Briarwood Mall. (C)A2RS

Spirit has located itself in the south side of the old Sears store, where the shoes and I think the misses’ section used to be. Optical and Portraits were near here too. Much like the Gemstones, this Sears is too much room for even a Halloween specialist in peak season, and although there are some elements you wouldn’t expect (many operational animatronics so you can try before you buy for your front yard; a walk-through “fish tank” using large-screen TV panels as the view ports), Spirit has erected temporary walls to contain the sales floor, with pegboard panels to hang their wares.

Closeup of the back wall, Spirit Halloween, Briarwood Mall. (C)A2RS

Purely in the interest of journal-ish-ness, I placed my phone camera up to one of the peg holes to capture what it looks like back there. As in the rest of real life, it is much less interesting than the HBO version.

Interior of former Sears store at Briarwood Mall. I took all these photos on a sunny day, but the glass doors of the north entrance are blacked out, so it looks like night. (C)A2RS

You can tell by the blue on the walls and pillars that this is where the Lands’ End section used to be. Little else has occurred in the space since Sears vacated just after the dawn of the New Year.

No telling what comes next once Spirit folds for the season. Previously I speculated this might be a good location for the return of Alamo Drafthouse, but:

  • Alamo tends to target less-saturated areas for new locations. I’m pretty sure Emagine Saline and the State Theater, two venues with bars, make Briarwood less attractive by their standards
  • Midtown Detroit developers are targeting Spring 2021 for an Alamo on Woodward Avenue (a long-touted plan)

Patti and I will be back to talk about “Vanishing Ann Arbor” again at the Kempf House Museum on Wednesday, October 9, at noon. Hope to see you there!

How I Spent My Retroactive Hiatus

Hi, welcome back. I got to take some irons out of the fire over the summer. I went on some long walks, took a trip out west, played the AADL summer game. Also OUR BOOK CAME OUT, HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT IT?!?

The book release was a really exciting time: the first run or two sold out on Amazon, and we charted shockingly high in a couple of rather specific categories for the first few days. It’s calmed down since then but is still Top 1000 in a couple of them. I’ll be sure to let you all know when the fame and fortune sets in.

“I love it when we’re cruisin’ together.” Photo of Britain and Patti at Literati Bookstore in August, by Sky.

The most fun part of the book release was doing events with Patti where we showed some more photos we couldn’t publish in the book (thanks to a series of M&As, all of the old Ann Arbor News photos are now owned by the parent company of Reddit, and they don’t come cheap). We also went deep on a few of our favorite vanished things. So many people showed up and the vast majority of them did not correct me while I was speaking, which, as a public speaker, I was very grateful for.

One event was at AADL, who recorded and published it on their site. Check it out if you want, but don’t try to play along with the quiz, because I think the link is broken now. Thanks to AADL and Literati Bookstore for hosting these events!

And thanks to the local radio stations who called on us too:

T Hetzel invited us to WCBN to join her for “Living Writers,” too.

But the one that really blew up my network was the Michigan Radio interview. I enjoy listening to Morning Edition and All Things Considered, so it would have been a dream to visit, and it hurt me not to be invited too. But if you are familiar with Patti’s history expertise, and you’re reading this, you know that she’s the expert on the kind of stuff that Doug Tribou asked about, and I would have just been sitting there saying “there was a Burger King underground. It was below Kinko’s.”

Interested in the book? Patti would love to sell you a copy signed by us! She’s on all the social medias, usually as @TeacherPatti. Or you can get it at a bookstore near you. It looks like all the Ann Arbor bookstores have a couple of copies in stock. One friend reported she even saw it at the Costco store here in Ann Arbor:

“$13.99, are you out of your mind?” Holy cow that’s cheap. (Photo by Bridgitte Rivers)

Anyway, it’s fall again, which brings school, which brings after-school activities, which I bring my kids to, which brings me a couple of hours a week where I’m neither home nor at work and it’s a good place to write. I saw a lot over the summer, and a lot of people made sure to tell me about the stuff I didn’t see. Another part of the problem with not writing for a while is kind of the law of inertia — when you don’t write for a while, it gets real hard to do it again, especially when you’ve made a real thing your beat, because you know you’ll miss something obvious, so why bother doing it at all? I’ve never guaranteed to be anything more than an opinion column, and I’ve refused offers to monetize this blog to avoid it becoming A Responsibility, but I still kind of feel responsible for documenting this in some way.

Shake Shack finally opened in Arbor Hills Crossing, where the Brooks Brothers store used to be. I haven’t been yet because at the beginning of the summer we came into receipt of a large number of kosher hot dogs (we planned an event and had a lot of uncooked leftovers), so all my summer lunches at work involved heating and eating a couple of those every day. I DID make one exception. A couple of friends scheduled a visit to the Executive Dining Room at the Ross School of Business. It’s a buffet style restaurant where you go up and get as many servings as you care to eat and the servers keep your non-alcoholic drinks filled. The Coke machine was flat that day but the food was great and we and a lot of fun. $11, gratuity included. Anyway Shake Shack is probably great and I’ll check it out eventually, but if I’m gonna drive over to Washtenaw Ave and spend Ross Executive Dining Room money on a hamburger, I’m likely to choose Elevation Burger instead.

I think there are stores at Briarwood that sell Brooks Brothers stuff, or you can just go to Novi (Twelve Oaks Mall). When I lived near Twelve Oaks I had a Brooks Brothers jacket I really loved, wore it until the threads were bare.

Songbird Cafe announced a new concept at the west side location. Photo by Lisa.

Songbird Cafe is dropping the sandwich menu and going full into baking at their west side location (previously Great Lakes Coffee, and I think a gas station before that way back in the day). They will continue their established menu at the Plymouth Road location. In other Tales from the Northside, Bagel Fragel recently revealed their new location, on Washtenaw, and announced that they’re hiring:

Overture Audio is preparing to move. Longtime downtownies may remember when they left Main Street a few years ago to clear way for one of those big student-apartment blocks near Madison. They moved to Stadium boulevard near the Maple Road split. It looks like they are leaving that space later this fall, according to their Facebook page:

I’m gonna assume they’re okay until I hear otherwise. They had almost a full house last year to celebrate the birthday of a turntable.

Encore Recordings moved in August, and shortened their name to Encore Records:

Count on another high rise going in at Liberty and Thompson now that Encore and its neighbor Orchid Lane are gone.

Ext. Former Vintage (formerly Chelsea Flower Shop). Photo by Sky.

A couple blocks west, Chelsea Flower Shop quietly closed over the summer and became a vintage shop. I don’t have a lot more than that right now.

The Arborland Toys “я” Us, dormant since the temporary Toy City closed after the holidays, got a new permanent tenant: Gardner-White Furniture has arrived in Ann Arbor after decades as only a distant day dream spied during commercial breaks on Detroit TV. They have freeway billboards on the outskirts of town, but, like, we all already know who they are, right? We all watch television, right? (A few people told me about this, but first spot credit goes to Ann Arbor With Kids.)

Nearby, Spirit Halloween is popping up for the season in the old Arhaus space next to OfficeMax. The Arborland Toys “я” Us space, dormant since the temporary Toy City closed after Christmas, got a new permanent tenant: Gardner-White Furniture has arrived in Ann Arbor after decades as only a distant day dream spied during commercial breaks on Detroit TV. They have freeway billboards on the outskirts of town, but, like, we all already know who they are, right? We all watch television, right?
Nearby, Spirit Halloween is popping up for the season in the old Arhaus space next to OfficeMax.

Dollar Tree has returned to the west side. They were a fixture of old Maple Village, then the landlords were like “too downmarket” and drove them out around the same time Village Pharmacy closed a few years ago. They thought Five Below would be an adequate replacement. Credit where it’s due, Five Below has a great selection of candy, t-shirts, locker furnishing, throwaway electronics, and Blu-Rays of “Vantage Point,” but Dollar Tree serves its own purpose with items Five Below will never get. I have to think public opinion had something to do with this too, considering how much social media glee welcomed Dollar Tree back. Did you know Maple Village had a dollar movie theater once too? Maybe if we all talk about it enough we can get them to bring that back too. (it occupied the space where Plum Market is now, it’s not coming back)

As far as I know, Dollar Tree is still planning a location in an outlot of Menard’s in Scio Township too. I think between Dexter, families living off the Jackson Corridor, and Scio Farms Estates, there’s enough demand to support a store there too.

The tips from A2RS Managing Editor Lex probably deserve a post all their own, but let me cover them here on my way out.

Photo by Lex, but Pete also gave me a heads-up on this. Thanks all!

South U Social House is opening at some point soon, in the space vacated by Burger Fi at South U and Forest. I hope they can keep it going, it’s a drag to see a place empty. One last plug for the BurgerFind podcast, where a group of students attempt to understand Burger Fi’s sudden closure in Ann Arbor. (I ate at one in Denver about a year ago, it’s not the chain’s fault that the Ann Arbor store closed.)

Ext. The Jagged Fork on Main Street. Photo by Lex.

Marnee Thai ended a long run on Main Street at the beginning of the summer. Recently this signage went up in its old space. I have no idea what kind of food a Jagged Fork involves, but have you ever found out too late that a spoon was in the garbage disposal? Trust me, just put it in the recycle bin. It’s too risky to eat with it.

Further up Main Street, Café Felix’s old space is about to become an exciting concept that’s allegedly “new to Ann Arbor” — a Sports-Bar. Like, they’re really out there saying that all the other bars in town have been doing sports the wrong way this whole time. The new place is supposed have a podcasting booth, which could be fun.

Exterior of Joe’s Pizza at South U and East U. Photo by Lex.

Lex was very skeptical of Joe’s Pizza, here. Its sign notes “Since 1975,” and at first we both thought it was some kind of inauthentic, manufactured-vintage charm. But MLive reports today that this is a first-of-its-kind, outside-NYC franchise of a Greenwich Village pizza place with a history that backs up that date.

I don’t know a ton of places to get the big, foldable slices around here. Pizza Bob’s were pretty flat last I ate there. Of course there is New York Pizza Depot on William, as well as Tippins Market (which I guess has an Ann Arbor mailing address, but you’re pretty much in Saline over there). Fun Fact: Tippins Market’s pizza counter started out as an NYPD location. But yeah, I reckon I’ll check this out, probably before I get to Shake Shack.

One last thing. Over the summer one day I got to thinking about the big soft pretzels my grandfather would sometimes treat us to when I was a kid. He’d buy a huge bag of them at an Italian bakery near his house, Downriver. Well, a couple of days later, I made it to DJ’s Bakery, which had recently opened on Packard near Platt — and in addition to excellent donuts, they have awesome pretzels just like those pretzels from my childhood! You can get them as the bun for a ham-and-cheese sandwich, or just straight up as I do. Like, I like these better than the donuts. See you again soon.