If you’ve been to Meijer on the south side in the past few weeks you may have noticed some huge changes, complete with progress-bar-festooned “Update in progress…” signage.
A NEW FRONT ENTRANCE. The Starbucks counter near the checkouts closed in mid-January, and soon after, they obliterated the north entrance and moved the fresh flowers out of the corner near that entrance. The bakery is there now.
The new entrance has a lit Welcome sign out front that isn’t quite lined up properly under the big Meijer sign, which leads me to think maybe it’s temporary.
A display inside the store shows that the exterior is eventually going to be completely redone to look like more modern Meijer stores:
NEW AISLE SIGNAGE. They’re ditching Meijer Gothic Demi, the sans-serif lower case type on the aisle signs, for a slightly wider, serifed font. That’s right, Meijer Gothic Demi. Meijer has their own font. Are you surprised? Everywhere else, Walmart has taken over, but Michigan is Meijer territory. Walmart actually gave up on Hartland, ceding it to Rural King, when Meijer came to town:
(Rural King often chooses former Walmarts for their new stores; my father-in-law tells me that this is because one of the Rural Royals are married to a Walton heir, but I wouldn’t testify to that fact before a rural jury)
Anyway, if you shop at the west-side Meijer store at Jackson and Zeeb, you’re used to this type already. The west-side store often receives experimental updates that may or may not go chain-wide. This store had the navy/khaki uniforms years before the other Ann Arbor stores did; it also got this signage over two years ago…
The south entrance is now closed and is undergoing heavy construction. I think it will reopen eventually, I’m pretty sure all Meijer stores will continue to have at least two entrances. (Our west side one still does.)
The fish tanks have been removed while the pet supply section moves within the store. Here’s where they used to be, right by the grocery:
Moving toys right next to grocery is a dangerous combination. I foresee many parents with no other option dragging their kids to the store to get anything in the back five or six aisles, only to find their trip hijacked by plaintive wails for stuffed critters and games about all of the funniest bodily humours.
LIFE’S RICH PAGEANT, AS SEEN THROUGH THE LENS OF THE MASS-MARKET GAMES AISLE
All that biohazard in the game aisle and yet it’s EVERYWHERE ELSE that’s currently covered in plastic sheeting:
I expect more construction over the next few weeks, especially if the Jackson Road store is any indication. The grocery is a dramatically different layout from this store. Snacks and beverages in the back by the detergent. There’ll be a lot of rearranging ahead. Not to mention a drive-up window for the Pharmacy and probably some enhanced infrastructure for the Curbside pickup. Currently the Curbside orders are shopped by Meijer employees, but I’ve heard this is being offloaded to Jyve, a contract employer that provides merchandising and shopping services to supermarkets. (Shipt will probably continue to provide to-your-door delivery services, barring something unforeseen.)
And several folks have told me that after Saline Road is done, the Ypsilanti store (at Carpenter and Ellsworth) is next! The recent Target reset next door probably makes this even more necessary. I will be very interested to see if they keep the front mezzanine above the checkouts.
Baby New Year brought a lot of bad news this time. Unless you like photos of closed stores, in which case, start your new year right and travel back in time a month.
CLOSED: Sears at Briarwood
The closing this past Sunday of the Sears store at Briarwood leaves JC Penney as the only anchor store that was there at its opening 45 years ago (Penney’s, Sears, and J.L. Hudson; Lord & Taylor followed a year later).
You could argue that Macy’s still qualifies too since they acquired the chain that acquired Hudson’s and I would say, good sir, that Macy’s is no Hudson’s, and anyway, how DARE you.
By the final weekend of Sears in Briarwood, pretty much everything was 60-80% off. Nearly all the softlines (i.e. apparel) had been consolidated to one area near the entrance to the mall, but nobody comes to sites like this to see people actually browsing through full racks of clothing, and I didn’t feel like asking people to sign releases, so here’s a bunch of empty store shots.
I bought my most recent television at this Sears, a Samsung LCD set, almost nine years ago (I wanted to watch the final episode of Lost in glorious 1080).
Although a little temperamental, the set still works and nearly all the TV content I watch still looks just fine on it, so I guess I was part of the problem.
I have very similar stories about several clothing items I bought from various Sears stores. Not the most up-to-the-minute stylish items, but well-made and still extremely wearable after a few years. Sorry I didn’t replace them sooner, Sears!
Though Lands’ End partnered with Sears to develop a huge retail footprint, the next time you visit a Lands’ End store it probably will be a store of its own. Despite their sister company’s rightsizing, they are beginning to expand their brick-and-mortar presence, though apparently their real profits come from uniform sales, most notably the cabin crews of Delta and United Air Lines.
I always wanted to fold shirts as well as they are folded at the store. But I think this mobile folding bench was missing an insert or something, so I’ll just have to keep practicing the Japanese T-Shirt Folding Trick…
The east entrance of the store was the toy department, when I was young. When I got older and Sears didn’t sell toys any more, it became the Tools department, which might have been quite appropriate if I’d been into the whole “using tools for fun” thing. I still always checked here first for my hardware needs, rare as they were.
I headed back to Briarwood a few days later, in the wake of Ed Lampert’s eleven-and-a-halfth-hour offer to rescue the bankrupt chain, just to see how things were looking post-closure.
CLOSED: Toy City & Halloween City
The Party City outgrowth added toys to the usual Halloween pop-up concept, filling the closed Toys R Us store at Arborland Mall from early fall until Christmas. Now, the store stands still and dark at the end of the Arborland block.
Though it carries no posted hours and its website suggests all locations are now closed, they seemed to be in no hurry to clear out of the old TRU shortly after the new year when I stopped by. I took the above shot through the clear glass front door.
CLOSED: Smoke’s Poutinerie, South U and Forest
Who would have thought that this would fail? Smoke’s is an Ontario-based chain of quick-service restaurants whose broad array of flavors (from gochujiang to curry to BBQ) all come on top of the traditional Quebeçois base of fries, gravy, and chunks-o-cheese. Surely a quick, cheap comfort food like this would take off, so close to campus? Besides, Detroit is north of Canada! I enjoyed Smoke’s several times, generally with coupons and in-app discounts, but, I mean, fries, gravy, and cheese. That’s three of the best worst things (I’m told, I really don’t like cheese much). There’s nothing you can put on top that makes it a healthy entree, not even celery.
The space had a bar attached from its previous lives as World of Beer and Dick Tyler’s; as Smoke’s counterpart, the bar became the Beaver Trap. (Between this and Quickie Burger, I think winking-mascot double-entendre bar names are just about done in A2.)
What will this location become next? It seemed to be doing okay as World of Beer, but then the WOB chain decided to pivot to a full-menu restaurant that just happened to have a zillion taps and this space was too small for that (when this WoB closed, a full-kitchen location opened in Canton near Ikea, and still seems to be doing fine there). So the kitchen is too small to make, like, dinners. Maybe someone takes it back to basics and opens a dive-y bar in it? This corner is where Bicycle Jim’s/Cactus Jack’s/Mitch’s Place thrived for years. But the Landmark landlords may not want that, or may expect a higher rent than a cheap-beer bar can afford. Since I haven’t predicted it in a long time, I’m gonna go with Jamba Juice. Or they tear out all the food prep and a Verizon dealer opens here.
STILL CLOSED: Burger Fi, South U and Forest
Yes, both of the corner restaurants at South U and Forest are closed. Kind of a bleak look.
If you have a few minutes you might enjoy listening to BurgerFIND, a tongue-in-cheek investigative podcast produced by a group of students who trace the sudden closure of the restaurant and its obscure out-of-town ownership through hearsay, speculation, and finally a digital approximation of some good old-fashioned shoe leather reporting. The upshot is that Burger Fi’s corporate office doesn’t seem to have problems. In fact, I got to visit a Burger Fi in Denver over the summer and it seemed to be doing more like Burger-FINE. (slidewhistle)
CLOSED: Kosmo Deli at Kerrytown
This is kind of a huge deal for people who lived or worked or went to school in Kerrytown. As Kerrytown’s quirky quiche shops gave way to more upscale dining, Kosmo Deli still stayed relatively affordable, even as the diner-style counter expanded to a space with actual tables in recent years. At some point in the past two decades, Yong Skeen sold Kosmo Deli to a fellow who actually goes by the name “Kosmo,” and Kosmo has moved the Bi Bim Bop and Tempura to a space of its own on Ashley street. (He left the great burgers behind in the move, presumably since he’s next door to Blimpyburger now.) According to Lisa the space is soon to become Loomi Cafe. Sounds promising!
OPEN: URBAN RIDER Cargo Bikes
And according to Lex, there is an electric cargo bike dealer opening soon in Kerrytown:
CLOSED: Burger King on Stadium
It looks like as soon as the Zeeb Road BK reopened from its renovation, the Stadium Blvd store closed permanently. I could be wrong, maybe they’re just going to aggressively make it over, but they took the logo out of the road sign. Seems somewhat final. All the other fast-food or fast-casual places along this stretch are relatively new (Noodles & Co) or recently updated (McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Subway) and this BK was a little run down compared to its contemporaries. (The Victors Way BK is timeless and flawless, of course, and do not @ me)
Finally, blog friend Joel reports seeing a Budweiser truck stocking the new Circle K at Packard and Stadium, and today I noticed that the coolers were full of product. Between this and the installation of digital signage over the soda taps, I think it’s actually going to open soon. Maybe even before the Packard Dairy Queen opens for the season. You’ll hear it here fir… who am I kidding, probably last. You’ll, uh, hear it here BEST?
Hello readers! A lot happened over the past few weeks, and and I’m sure I’ve missed some things, including an entire number + two point updates of WordPress. (I had to go from 4.9.9 to 5.0.2! This new editor… I’m sure I’ll get used to it.) So I’m probably going to miss some things, but maybe I saw some things that you didn’t see, so hopefully this won’t be a complete waste of your time.
The ongoing rightsizing of Sears continues. The latest store closings announced last Friday include a location upstate and the Twelve Oaks Mall store, a two-floor anchor near Apple Twelve Oaks. The Westland and Livonia Marketplace (formerly an anchor of Livonia Mall) stores remain open.
I had the chance to visit the Sears at Briarwood today, because it was raining and parking was available relatively close to the building. There were a number of bargain hunters picking over what was left, mostly clustered in the large Lands’ End and women’s apparel area near the entrance to the mall. Further back in the store there was a few racks of leftover tools and batteries, a handful of large treadmills and other fitness machines, and a couple of tired older folks just sitting in chairs to rest. (I don’t have any photos of this because my phone wasn’t working, which frankly, was why I had the chance to visit Briarwood today — but I may try to return and snap a few photos before the store closes for good on Sunday.)
More bad news:
The Electric Eye Cafe closed. It was a coffeehouse at Main and Depot streets, where there is not a ton of foot traffic that I am aware of. I think they may have had some art and performance programming that I sincerely regret never experiencing, though .
Fingerle Lumber is looking like it will close for good in February. It eventually leaked out that U-M was the buyer for the site. There is no word yet on what U-M will do with the site, though it is both:
in the floodplain
directly adjacent to the Athletic Campus
So your guess is as good as mine for now.
Performance Bicycle has begun its closing sale. My favorite pair of shorts for most of my college years was a pair of grey canvas shorts from Performance Bicycle – pockets deep enough to hold everything I needed, but they managed to keep a low profile. Its parent company struggled under debt, though, and now all of its brick-and-mortar stores are closing.
Performance formed bookends with Outback Steakhouse at Village Centre, at Ann Arbor Saline Road and Waters Road — it was the second occupant of the northeasternmost space in the center, a space originally occupied by Video Watch (and later its successor, Hollywood Video).
Bike retail is apparently a difficult business – Ann Arbor had a locally-owned store called Two Wheel Tango that suddenly closed both locations when it couldn’t afford to pay its main vendor, the bike brand Specialized. But other locally owned dealers continue, including Wheels in Motion on Washtenaw, Student Bike Shop downtown, Great Lakes Cycle on Stadium (current occupant of the very first location of Discount Tire), and a location of the Detroit area chain Fraser Bicycle – as well as Ann Arbor’s location of REI (full disclosure: my spouse is a member-owner of REI, but that isn’t an affiliate link or anything).
Exterior signage indicates that 7-Eleven will soon join Wild Poke as an occupant of Foundry Lofts’ street-level retail space on Huron Street between Division and State.
Friend and reader Jennifer tells me that Trader Joe’s is scouting for a west-side location on Jackson Road that would serve West Ann Arbor, Scio Township, and the TJ’s headz in Dexter and Chelsea, which makes sense considering how overwhelmed TJ’s Stadium Blvd parking lot is, nearly all of the time. (I seriously only go to TJ’s after 8pm if I can possibly help it, and I recommend it to all of you.)
In a congruous story, ALDI Nord, the parent company of Trader Joe’s, has apparently had plans for a while to expand to Carpenter Road on the east side. Across from Kroger. I guess that’s still supposed to happen someday. Probably sometime after the Circle K opens at Stadium and Packard:
In November, I was told that the management would receive the keys to the new Circle K store at the end of the month. It’s been a few weeks since then, and it’s clear that, though not quite complete, the location is almost ready to be stocked and staffed. I took this article’s photos through the windows.
Twenty four taps? That’s bonkers. I am very curious what the four unlabeled taps in the middle will be. Syrup shots? Limited seasonal flavors? Bespoke artisan sodas? Shut he front door AND the back door.
The cost of the base-level Polar Pop has gone up since this store closed, from 69 to 79 cents. There’s a 44 ounce size (99 cents) that has appeared at other stores, that will hopefully pop onto the menu here too.
I have been to many Ignite Ann Arbor events before, and as you may know, I love to speak to groups! I was terrified to attempt an Ignite talk because the Ignite format means surrendering control of your slides. I love a tasteful fade, and most importantly, I love controlling when that fade happens. Ignite format demands you submit your slides as a PDF that autoadvances. Originally, I tried to subvert this by just filling the deck with a couple of historical shots of the site from AADL’s collection, then, in a sort of slow-mo time lapse, my own photos of the construction of the Circle K site.
At my first practice talk with the Ann Arbor Toastmasters, I petered out a few slides short. The Toastmasters encouraged me to go wider and show more of the vintage photos that you see in the final. The talk became less about one site and more about all the service stations along Packard Road – from 12 in the late 70s to 5 now.
I also got to have a chat with the fifth and sixth graders (47 minute video) in Ko and Jason’s class at Ann Arbor Open School! They had a lot of good questions about what Ann Arbor used to look like but I also got to talk about my blog and… The Book.
I may have alluded to The Book in the past, but I can now tell you that:
The Book is a project I undertook last year with Patti Smith, who is Ann Arbor’s preeminent living historian
Still laying down column inches on a big project, but wanted to pop in to acknowledge:
McGuire’s Barber Shop is closing at Maple and Liberty. Though it wasn’t always McGuire’s, it’s been a barber shop for decades and the second such longtime barber shop to close recently (previously, our acknedgement of Rosey’s). Chela’s, which began next door, will expand its original location into the barber shop space. Chela’s just opened a new location in Dexter too, but I’ll leave that writeup to https://dexterretail.ninja/ or somebody.
And the Old West Side was rocked last week by the announcement that Fingerle Lumber is closing sometime in 2019. Far from just being a lumber yard, they actually sell some hardware in there. I took a walk through it a few months back, and silently noted that if I ever needed, like, some tools during the day, I could just walk a block over and get one there.
From published accounts, the business is doing fine, but the Fingerle brothers are in their sixties and ready to retire. This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone, considering that they put the land on the market ten years ago, and also that two new privately-owned high rises and the Munger Residences have recently appeared within a couple blocks, as well as the forthcoming Hoover & Greene Thing.
(If gauging the value ten years ago seems like playing the long game to you, they have nothing on Meijer. In the course of researching something else recently, I realized that Meijer bought the land for their Scio Township store in 1968 — man on the moon, Tigers won the World Series, Detroit riots, 1968. That’s before they even had opened the Carpenter and Ellsworth location, the first Meijer store in the area. Then, they patiently waited for the civilization line to meet the area way, finally building and opening the Scio Township store thirty years later, in 2001.)
The natural assumption is that U-M will buy it and expand campus. And that seems likely to me, though as noted above, it could just as easily be more residences. Anyone building anything there is going to have to contend with the area being a floodplain. And when they say “a floodplain,” they mean, like, remember the 2013 storm that had students literally kayaking at Hill & Division?
This neighborhood is one of the topographically lowest points of town, the bottom of the hill that is Hill Street. Fingerle is like a block from there, and we don’t call the phenomenon “Climate Same,” so, uh, whoever buys and builds on this land is very fortunate to be in a town full of so many talented architects. Okay, we made 500 words, publish it.
Ross also linked to a photo of the space from decades ago when it was still a gas station. We all know how we feel about gas stations:
90s kids may remember when the portion of the building nearest the corner was the second incarnation of Vault of Midnight Comics.
The obituary for Rosey at Muehlig Funeral Chapel’s site is worth reading, and although Rosey didn’t share his age, it lists his date of birth. So I did the math for you. At the time of his Ann Arbor News profile above, he had just turned 49, and he lived for thirty more years after.
Above, the Bagel Factory deli, Ann Arbor’s flagship for the Fragel on South University. I took that photo over a decade ago and posted it on Flickr just because. (I guess this blog was an inevitability.)
Although Barry Bagels had an agreement to take the space over, it never came to fruition. The structure was demolished, along with the adjacent Village Corner and a couple of other small business buildings, to build the Landmark high-rise apartments at South U and Forest.
(Eventually, a Tim Hortons with a limited bagel selection would open in roughly this location as part of Landmark — it closed after only a couple of years.)
Despite this, Fragels — fried raisin bagels with a liberal dusting of cinnamon sugar — continued to blur the line between breakfast and dessert for years, at MB Bagel Fragel near North Campus. Until this week, when their Plymouth Road shopping center’s new landlords issued an ultimatum: be gone by Thanksgiving.
Though they’d had an inkling — their neighbor, Wings Over Ann Arbor, quietly closed over the summer — they were suddenly put in an impossible position, to vacate by Thanksgiving. They do a lot of catering business, in addition to the usual individuals looking for their Fragel fix.
The new landlords own a medical pot dispensary in Toledo — I can only assume that the passage of Proposal One compelled those landlords to strike quickly to gain a foothold in Ann Arbor. But they were not ready for the Northsiders, and in the end they agreed to extend Bagel Fragel’s lease to the end of 2018, which I guess makes the new landlords a couple of kind buds, in the end.
The above thread seems to imply that maybe Bagel Fragel has a new spot, though it’s not clear. But I hope to get a Fragel before they move out, and if the moves of other Ann Arbor institutions are a good standard to judge by, probably another one in a year or so, with really annoying counter staff who believe their own hype.
This week, Sears announced another slate of store closings. This one includes the Battle Creek location — which, like the Jackson and Ann Arbor Sears locations, anchored an indoor mall along I-94.
I don’t know who owns the Jackson and Battle Creek malls (we all know by now that I usually take the giant whale approach to research, mostly working from whatever facts wind up in my gaping maw as I swim along), but I enjoyed this recent article about how Briarwood’s parent, mall giant Simon Property Group, is looking outside sales of hardlines to fill the anchor-sized holes in their complexes.
LifeTime Fitness, a popular anchor-filler mentioned in the article, is a great candidate for this space. LifeTime has not made it to Ann Arbor yet, but they are downright ubiquitous in everyplace I lived before I came back to A2 ten years ago, and out there, where there’s no U-M Intramural Building and no WCC Fitness Center, they rule. Each LifeTime looks like the headquarters for a large regional interstate bank, and many are open 24x7xEverydayExceptMaybeChristmas.
They were the first places I ever saw the Precor AMT, which, if you know, then you know, and if you don’t know, suffice to say it’s a cross between an elliptical and the power loader from Aliens, or a treadmill that makes you feel like you’re running on T-Rex legs. Also, word is that the LA Fitness at Briarwood, which dates from the Vic Tanny days, will close when the giant new LA Fitness building opens at Maple Village. Since the only exercise on the south side near 94 will be the Orange Theory at Main and Ann Arbor-Saline Road, and Arbor Fit Club, a giant 24-hour gym at Briarwood could be a huge boon for students and for travelers who visit Ann Arbor for business and stay at hotels near Briarwood.
Speaking of which, I’m pretty sure that, in spite of four new hotels on the State Street corridor in recent years, capacity has still not met demand, especially on Michigan Football’s home game weekends. So don’t count out the possibility of a hotel on the Sears space – Simon is building hotels in the former anchor spaces in some of their malls too.
There are a couple of other concepts I really would like to see, either in Sears or in one of the other empty spaces around town. There aren’t a ton of them but just off the top of my head I can think of a few big boxes that could use a new tenant soon:
Arborland has the former Toys Я Us, which is currently occupied by Toy City, a pop-up toy store and sister to Oak Valley superstore Party City. It also has the empty former Arhaus Furniture, which moved up Washtenaw a few years ago to Arbor Hills Crossing. The former Arhaus has hosted a temporary Spirit Halloween in past seasons but not this year.
Carpenter and Ellsworth has a vacant Babies Я Us store.
Maple Village has the corner space, which was once a Church’s Lumber Yard, formerly a popular Detroit area lumber and home-improvement chain, now down to two locations north of Detroit, catering to professionals and explicitly not competing with Home Depot or Lowe’s. Recently this space, along with Briarwood, hosted 2018 Spirit Halloween pop-ups.
I guess Ann Arbor is doing pretty well as far as occupancy goes. The only other empty big space I can think of offhand is the Country Market in Dexter (I drove past it last week, still empty).
What would I like to see fill these spaces?
A computer store. There used to be many computer stores in Ann Arbor.
As a young person, I regularly visited MicroAge Computer Center, which was on Huron Street where the Foundry Lofts are now, and Up on the north side, Inacomp (formerly Computer Mart) offered computers on Plymouth Road in the Enclosed Mall. South State Street boasted Learning Center, Computer Medic, and Bryan Computers — now, only Learning Center is still there (Computer Alley has moved to the west side and has an amazingly well designed web site). A2 Computers and Jafferson Computers are still holding it down on the east side.
But, in the current growth period for IT and tech, the time might be right for a bigger store, with a supermarket-size selection and hours, to come to Ann Arbor. CompUSA’s store on Lohr Road closed over a decade ago (it’s now Dick’s Sporting Goods), but two particular chains come to mind: Micro Center and Fry’s.
Micro Center is a general purpose computer store mostly focused on PCs and their components. They also sell other tech items, like game consoles, and sometimes have irrestistible deals on refurbs. One time last year I needed 70 VR viewers for an event for work and, even given shipping and sales tax, it was cheapest for me to drive to the former AMC Abbey 8 movie theater, now home of the nearest Micro Center, and have my employer reimburse me for fuel.
Fry’s would also be an interesting choice. Though they are mostly located on the West Coast, they do have stores in Illinois and Indiana, so an Ann Arbor location wouldn’t be inconceivable.
Given that many Fry’s locations interior design and theming pay tribute to the tech history of their home city, Ann Arbor and Detroit lore could contribute to an exciting shopping experience.
I’ll try to come back to what else would be fun to see come to town in a few days.
Like many followers of retail, I was rocked to the core by October’s biggest retail story. To see a company with so much promise, a Michigan original, retract further into a shell of itself. For sake of mere nostalgia, I hope I would never have to type this phrase: the Drought Juice store is closing in November. Thanks to Lex for the photo and heads-up:
Drought sells freshly squeezed juice in thick, chunky glass bottles for about $8 each, and is apparently doing well enough to go wide and accept investments. Drought is closing the Ann Arbor location to prepare for national expansion and also to concentrate on its soon-to-open retail location in downtown Detroit. This new location is inside “the Shinola Hotel” on Woodward, a phrase that only right now makes any sense, this year, here in a timeline that is somehow both the darkest AND the most lit.
In other news, the story of Sears and Kmart in Ann Arbor, stretching back nearly 100 years, is finally winding to a close. (NOTE: I know MLive wrote an article about Sears and Ann Arbor, and I have not consulted it. For a site that promises never to do research, I did a lot of research for this.)
It is a story that began in the 1920s when S.S. Kresge Corp, founded and based in Troy, opened a location on Main Street at Washington.
They also opened a location closer to campus:
…and much later, a location at Westgate Shopping Center.
In the late 50s, Kresge would build a much larger discount-department-store concept, K-Mart, to anchor the Maple Village shopping center across Jackson Road from Westgate.
K-Mart would eventually expand to the south side of town — though a proposed Plymouth Road location never came to fruition — as well as around Ypsilanti (at Washtenaw and Golfside, and anchoring the Gault Village shopping center near Ford Lake). Of these, I think the State Street location in Pittsfield Township was first to go, sometime in the early 90s (the building has continued to thrive as Tyner Furniture).
Gault Village would follow. The entire shopping center suffered after the Grove Road/I-94 ramps closed and its landlords neglected to maintain the buildings properly. (A handful of businesses like Aco Hardware, Cottage Inn Pizza, and Family Dollar continued to serve neighborhood shoppers, and its latest latest owner is promising to attract a grocery store again.)
Kmart’s big mistakes began in the 90s when they tried to expand outside the general merchandise Kmart stores were known for, making investments in specialty chains including Waldenbooks, PACE (a membership warehouse eventually absorbed by its competitor Sam’s Club), Borders Books (an bittersweet Ann Arbor success story of its own), Builders Square (a home improvement also-ran that struggled against Lowe’s and Home Depot), and Sports Authority (a big-box sporting goods store). It would outlive them all, ultimately.
Many retail analysts, even amateur ones like I, have been first fascinated, then horrified, by the rise and decline of the Sears empire. Originally founded near Chicago, Sears’ initial Ann Arbor location was a block down Main Street from Kresge, in the neighborhood where several department stores flourished, then died, and is now restaurants and clubs.
Sears would remain on Main Street until it moved out to Briarwood Mall, opening with the mall in 1971.
Sears’ excellent reputation for a comprehensive catalog of holiday toys, as well as signature home appliances and tools, helped sustain it this far into the era of the discount department store and the internet shopper. I personally continued to patronize them for work wear and durable Lands’ End coats for my kids, as well as (over the years) a washer and dryer, a big-screen LCD TV, a bunch of video games, a toaster, a few pairs of headphones, and a few other smaller purchases I forget. It’s that instant gratification I just can’t get from buying online, no matter how fast the shipping is.
But I am in the minority, and most of Sears’ exclusive brands have been licensed or sold outright by its current chairman, a hedge fund manager named Eddie Lampert, who is doing just fine amid all this. Craftsman joined Black + Decker as a brand of tool giant Stanley recently, but not before Craftsman stuff started showing up at Ace Hardware and Costco; Die Hard batteries are available at Meijer; Lands’ End was spun back out, though I think the Briarwood Sears will continue to sell it until it closes. All that’s left is Kenmore appliances, manufactured for Sears by a few different companies but not Whirlpool. If Wish.com doesn’t pivot to offline and publish a “Wish Book” for Christmas, I’m sure it’s not because it wasn’t offered to them.
Once the Briarwood Sears store closes, the nearest Sears will be in Westland, at Westland Shopping Center. Curiously, the Sears Auto Center in Jackson at Jackson Crossing Mall (also along I-94) is doing better than ever, and has arranged with mall management to continue on after its primogenitor folds. The nearest Kmart store is still in Belleville, at Rawsonville Road and I-94.
Finally, Pieology on East Liberty Street closed suddenly a few days ago, quickly joined by all but one Michigan location, which remains open in Grand Rapids. (Thank you to about five friends of A2RS for the heads-up on this.) Contrary to reports, the blocking of Liberty Street for “Literature vs. Traffic” was not a factor in the closing. In fact, it closed before the event, and why would you even imply that? Go home and get some rest, you have clearly been awake too long. But please wake up in time to see me and hear me speak at Ignite Ann Arbor, this Friday at AADL.
Are we truly at the limits for pot-related businesses in Ann Arbor? Seems like regional hydroponics retailer The Cultivation Station had barely moved into the old S-G Auto Parts space, but it’s gone now:
Once upon a time, Moe sold sporting goods and uniforms. In recent years, it had pivoted to U-M spirit wear, and was acquired from Bud Van De Wege by local print shop Underground Printing. Parallel to this, UGP was developing its own boutique-y brand based around Bo Schembechler. UGP sold Moe to U-M’s official store The M Den last year, and it was basically just another storefront for them. Finally, downtown will get its Jamba Juice. (I don’t know, I just guess)
Another report from A2RS field agent Lex, who goes downtown when I can’t:
Schakolad, the boutique chocolate, recently closed on Washington Street. I think they raised the rent. The Observer reports that the franchisee is interested in returning to A2 sometime (when time travel is invented, probably sometime prior to the bubble).
Meanwhile, at Liberty and Thompson, half of Orchid Lane is now a yoga studio!
You can see Orchid Lane on the left there – still open! It was supposed to close permanently over the summer, but they negotiated a one-year extension with their landlord and are continuing the business until August 2019.
Longtime townies remember this space as Thano’s Lamplighter, a Greek & pizza restaurant, and Eric’s Action Sports, a soccer-supply store. If you don’t remember them, it’s hard to believe we had so many stores with specific purposes. I’m thinking of course of Eric’s, but also of The Bead Gallery (RIP), and Honig’s Whistle Stop, a referee-supply store which used to be out on Jackson Road. Sounds awfully specific, I know, but think about all the sports that are played here. U-M, Eastern, Concordia all have athletic programs; Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Saline, and surrounding townships all have recreational leagues; I’m sure there are many other leagues I am not aware of.
Honig’s Whistle Stop ran the leading outfitter for sports officials, as a mail-order catalog and a physical retail store with fitting rooms, in an otherwise unassuming building on Jackson Road in Scio Township for over 30 years. Here’s a fun ESPN profile of Dick Honig to commemorate his retirement. Honig sold the business to another referee, who operates it entirely online now.
For decades, nearly half a million sports officials purchased their gear and supplies from a business in Ann Arbor — but maybe not all of them used the gear on field? A long time ago I was an IT contractor at General Motors, working on the new Intranet. I worked nearby a permanent EDS employee who had somehow managed to skirt GM’s business-casual dress code with the shiniest black-on-black Nikes I had ever seen:
It wasn’t until years later that I realized Todd (not his real name) was wearing referee sneakers to work every day. This story brought to you by the beautifully broken English labeling at the State Street 7-Eleven:
In related news, and finally, here’s the latest on the Circle K at Packard and Stadium:
The islands are nearly ready for the fuel pumps. The corner of the rain shelter has been restored to the proper angle (previously it looked like a truck hit it), so the complete red and orange cladding is probably coming any day now. Inside the building there are high signs over each station promoting “Polar Pop” (fountain drinks), “Really Good Coffee,” and “Froster” (the Circle K version of a Slurpee or Icee).
I have been selected to “go deep” on the Circle K at Ignite Ann Arbor on November 2 at AADL. I have dreamed for years of doing an Ignite talk, so this is a huge thrill for me. If you’ve been to an Ignite, you know I only have five minutes to “go deep,” and there are a number of other brilliant presenters, so it will still be worth your time.
This week sees the triumphant reopen of Mast Shoes in Westgate:
Mast is a longtime Westgate occupant (that also had a downtown location, on Liberty Street, long ago). The new Mast store is right next door to the old one, in a space where a succession of women’s clothing stores used to be. There is an impressive array of shelves and stacks there now to better show off their inventory.
On Stadium, the Circle K is shining up. The curbside sign displays a “Now Hiring” banner. I hope they’re getting some of the pre-rebuilding employees back too, they were nice folks.
I visited another Circle K and it looks like, while this one was closed, the chain’s fountain tap selection has changed. The other location has some weird Mountain Dew variants, including Voltage (Raspberry), Ice (basically caffeinated Sprite), and some kind of Strawberry Goji blend that somehow doesn’t have an aggro name. These could be had for 79c for the 20 or 32oz. cup, which makes their new “Epic” cup (44oz./99c) all the more of a bargain. (Though this facebook post from a former Circle K fan implies it is actually a two-pounder.)
Anyway, I was thinking some more recently about this still-empty building by the State-Ellsworth roundabout and why it has had trouble filling up.
And then I realized why when I tried to visit it: the only way in is through the Jimmy John’s driveway next door.
At certain times of day, you can hardly even get into the Jimmy John’s drive-thru, much less get past it to drop off your dry cleaning, or get your bowling ball polished, or whatever they hope to put in there. The lot that Tim Hortons and Belle Tire share has plenty of room, but is not only not connected to the new plaza, but there’s actually, like, a drainage ditch there, so they can’t even connect them now.
Some planner was SALTY when this was idea was conceived and so — I am an amateur retail analyst at best, but — it doesn’t look great for this center. I mean, maybe a pizza delivery place could come in here and hope to get some business during non-lunch hours. There is the Staybridge Suites hotel nearby. Or maybe I’m overreacting — this building is still so new it’s not on Google, Bing, or Apple Maps. (Google embedded above because at least they had the empty lot.)
But you know what place has plenty of room to expand around it and a lot of easy in-out lanes? Bronner’s. I visited recently on the way back from a weekend at Mackinac: