Tonight seems like a good time to follow up on a few things I didn’t get to address in longer-form pieces, throughout the month. Meijer Optical, an independent glasses retailer who licenses the Meijer name and operates within Meijer stores, recently closed their Ann Arbor-Saline Road location. Signage in front of the store advises customers to visit their Jackson store – it has been amended twice to specify Jackson, Michigan (about forty-five minutes west). This is because, to get to the next closest location, you would have to drive past their Scio Township location, located on Jackson Road — a modification clearly borne of customer error. Heck of it is, I go to the Scio store from time to time — it has a beer selection unlike any any other Meijer, or probably any chain supermarket — and I clearly remember an optical store in the front by the checkouts, just like Saline Road. So I guess the retailer is exiting the Ann Arbor market. There are a number of other glasses stores near the Saline Road store — one right in its own outlot, and several at the State Street exit a quick drive away — so I see why they might get out of Saline Road. But Zeeb and Jackson is still primarily niche retail, from Dancers Boutique to home-improvement stores, so I don’t know what compelled them to bail here, and I’m probably not going to find out tonight. As reported by blogfriend Dave, the new tenant in the former Bagger Dave’s space in the Colonnade is SPENGA, a gym. The unique roll-up windows in its storefront are probably to allow the place some fresh air from time to time. Here’s a cursed image from the ongoing redevelopment of Circle K: My frequent co-conspirator Patti Smith noted that, like, right after I published the Washtenaw Commons piece, signage for BetterHealth Market appeared in the largest open space. Originally known as The Vitamin Outlet, BetterHealth’s outgrowth into produce and groceries will provide more grocery competition to Washtenaw Avenue and possibly siphon some frustrated parking-lot cruisers from the Whole Foods Market a block west. And the space it’s leaving behind at Lamp Post Plaza presents a prime expansion opportunity for its neighbor, WARHAMMER: Miniature Gaming combines the excitement of, uh, gaming with the accomplishment of, um, crafts. The tiny, detailed figurines used for play cry out for custom paint jobs. Games Workshop is the most popular manufacturer of these games and accessories, and a few years ago they centered their retail presence around WARHAMMER, their signature IP. This delighted, confused, angered, and bemused many of their fans with blogs. Their “real” logo looks like a delicious hot dog topping, so this makes sense to me. (I honestly don’t think they’re going to expand into the old BetterHealth space, but I’ve wanted to mention WARHAMMER for a while.) And finally a(nother) photo that will make townies cry. Here’s a familiar stretch of South University this past August: And here it is today: The buildings comprising Safer Sex Store and Middle Earth have been demolished. The walled-up tunnels on the side of Sweeting, formerly Middle Earth East, were formerly entrances between the east (dirty greeting cards and tacky gifts) and west (jewelry and home furnishings) sides of Middle Earth. I don’t know what this is, but I’m sure it’s part of that ambitious plan to remake South University to finally attract and maintain a successful Jamba Juice store. Laugh at me now, buy me my extra wheatgrass shot later.
After a holiday season in bankruptcy, Toys Я Us has announced they are closing nearly 200 stores nationwide, bankruptcy court permission pending — including both the Arborland TЯU store and the Babies Я Us on Carpenter Road. (Babies Я Us sells baby clothing, toys, accessories, and furniture, as well as consumables like formula, diapers, and baby food. Once in a while they carry a hot toy with crossover potential, like the Nintendo Wii.) TЯU promised the footprint consolidation would lead to co-branded stores in some markets, but according to a PDF in the linked article, they are giving up on Ann Arbor entirely. Which is poignant, because TЯU C∃O David Brandon is a Michigan Man: Though every aisle of the store was a well-stocked treat — I even grudgingly respected its selection of toys for EEEEW, GIRRRRLS — my favorite memories of TЯU as a kid involved visiting the massive wall of video game box photos, flipping them up to see the photo of the back of the box, then grabbing a ticket to buy the game. Once in a very great while I would even take the ticket to the register and buy the game, though most of the time I would just take the ticket home and glance at it from time to time, because games cost $49.99 back then and while I could usually rely on one for a birthday or Christmas present, I rarely had that much lettuce gathered at once. In the late 90s, Arborland was “de-malled.” After decades as an enclosed mall, nearly all the structures were demolished and paved for parking, and the remaining stores relocated to the big boxes you shop today. (The building that houses OfficeMax, Jos. A Bank, and Potbelly is the sole holdover from that era. Toys Я Us originally sat in the space currently unoccupied by a furniture store, directly north of OfficeMax.) Its current big-box location is so far back from Washtenaw Avenue, and obscured by the empty furniture store, that you might not even know it’s there. That can’t help things. In recent years I have occasionally visited to buy a toy or gift that was on special or clearance; they sometimes had good deals on iTunes cards. Last year I was looking for Dixit card expansion packs and TЯU had nothin’ for me. (I ended up buying local at Fun 4 All on Carpenter Road.) Old people with long memories like me may remember when TЯU branched out into apparel with Kids Я Us stores. As a young person, I was kind of jazzed when they first opened, and then confused when the store had not even one aisle of toys. Who needs that? Ann Arbor’s KЯU store was on Eisenhower at the Cranbrook Shopping Center. After KЯU folded, the building began its second life as Office Depot; it has recently reopened as Airtime Trampoline Park. Arborland’s original developer, John J. Sharemet, shared his vision with the Ann Arbor News upon its 1959 announcement: “a one-stop center where all consumer items may be purchased.” With that in mind, the exo-“Ɑ”-us of Toys Я Us is a major setback to the center’s assortment — but Sharemet could probably never have conceived of a store like Five Below.
A brief note on a change spotted yesterday: closing signage at Jordan Lovell Picture Framing, the last/only store at Hoover and Greene. Nestled among the many rental houses, the remaining businesses include U-M offices, a DTE Energy substation, the Kenville dance studio, and Hoover Street Auto Repair garage. Jordan Lovell shared this building with Project Green, a division of J.S. Vig Construction of Taylor, and a couple of other businesses on the Greene Street side. The building is due to be cleared out of the way for a new mixed-use development at the corner that has been reported on in greater detail by a less-handsome blog. That project is slated to include street-level retail, though no vendors or businesses have yet been announced. It is known that all of the most important of U-M’s 220,000 employees work in these two blocks, and they all tell me that they would really like a ready-to-eat food option, please and thank you.
Ann Arbor has always had a generous selection of bookstores, but few of them specialized in comics. It’s cold and grey outside, so I’m going to spend some time remembering those today. [There I am at Burning Man. Seems like a lifetime ago. I still have the shirt. (C)A2RS] Dave Hutzley, the proprietor of the Ann Arbor and Royal Oak Dave’s stores, now lives in Arizona. He says he sometimes starts “to lose my mind and think about opening a new shop,” but he seems pretty comfortable selling vintage memorabilia and fan merch on eBay. On South University, the classic Dawn Treader store (I feel like Dawn Treader deserves a longer post of its own) was replaced in the late 90s/early oughts by The Underworld, which focused on comics, RPG, and tabletop games. Eventually Underworld moved to street level, in the Galleria shopping mall above Pinball Pete’s and below Tower Records. (Its space is now part of the Kaplan Test Prep space.) Of course, today’s modern comic fan most likely picks up her monthly subs from Vault of Midnight. Before its establishment on Main Street, it moved around a bit within a few blocks. Vault originally opened in a house on Ashley Street, of which no photographs are easily located, then moved to Fourth Street and Huron into that distinctive white building that was apparently a gas station long ago. (One thing this store had that no Vault before or since did, was actual parking. I think I wrecked my car’s AC driving into the remnants of a fuel-pump island at this location. NO RAGRETS.) They moved from this location to the underground shops on Liberty Street across from the Federal Building. In 2010, my disappointment at the closure of After Words (a really good discount book outlet that specialized in remainders and overstocks of quality books) was tempered by the announcement that Vault of Midnight was moving into its space. (ABOVE: Ext. Vault of Midnight by Joe Fusion, CC-BY-NC 2.0) Though Vault has expanded to both Grand Rapids and downtown Detroit since that time, it is a linchpin of Main Street and provides some local color to the increasingly upscale corridor. What good is a two thousand dollar backpack if you don’t have some great comics to put in it? (Personally, I always keep a copy of the My New Filing Technique Is Unstoppable collection in whatever bag my laptop is in, just in case.) Anyway, I bet I’m missing a comic store or two that I didn’t make it to over the years. Please feel free to share your memories below, as well as whatever book you keep in your bag at all times.
The more things change, the more some things stay the same, so I thought it might be fun to highlight some things that aren’t changing, for once. Tonight’s entry is illustrated by vintage photos of Briarwood Mall I took about four to five years ago, which I will republish in a collection if I can ever figure out how to suck the 150-odd photos, and the captions I lovingly composed for each, out of the one-way content tar pit that is Instagram. When, lord, will someone create a Mastodon, but for photos? Sears isn’t closing. As the Sears/Kmart empire continues to contract, one hundred more stores nationwide got their papers today. Among them, NOT the Briarwood store. To be sure, Briarwood has gone through some changes recently — it’s gotten almost completely out of the home electronics trade. The aisles of TVs, stereos, games, and accessories are now one rack of inexpensive headphones. Small appliances and vacuums have filled the space. The appliance, hardware, and outdoor sections are still somewhat substantial. Maybe Sears’ downsizing will finally lead to a right-sizing where this is one of a lean regional chain of department stores. Who truly can say? Macy’s isn’t closing. They announced seven more closures today — one in Michigan, but not at Briarwood. Macy’s expansion was driven by acquiring other regional chains. As a southeastern Michigan kid, I have vague memories of the Downtown Detroit Hudson’s store (and much more vivid memories of other area locations closer to home). Right around the time I’d finally made peace with Marshall Field acquiring Hudson’s, Macy’s swooped in and assimilated Field’s and there’s nothing particularly endearing about them to me anymore. They can’t even do nostalgia right. (That’s a link from their website that says “Miss Marshall Field’s? Get a t-shirt.”) If they folded this year, I guess I’d still call the Amazon Thanksgiving Day Parade the “Macy’s Parade” for a few years. Teavana isn’t closing. Which, I think, is the craziest story. Teavana was an independent tea retailer for fifteen years before becoming the Tea Division of Starbucks in 2012. Since then, Teavana has become the tea brand brewed and sold in Starbucks stores. Last year, Starbucks decided they were going to pull the plug on the stand-alone Teavana retail stores. But Simon Property Group, owner of Briarwood among many other malls, said “no, you can’t close the stores in our malls, you signed a lease.” Now, many stores have closed in Briarwood, and many of them before their leases were up. But those stores were usually bankrupt and ceasing all operations. Teavana is a subsidiary of Starbucks, and Starbucks can’t claim it can’t afford it. So Simon sued Starbucks to make them keep the stores open, and a superior court in Indiana agreed! Starbucks appealed, and the case is headed to Indiana Supreme Court.
Good news for the Colonnade, on Eisenhower, is that the Bagger Dave’s space is under active renovation. Stripped to the bare walls, all traces of the train-friendly burger and beer spot have been obliterated, save for the distinctive dark backing for their sign. Note that the new plan apparently includes some garage-door-style retracting windows to let some fresh air in — but only halfway. Here’s a close-up: Bagger Dave’s was an original concept from a company that franchises a number of Buffalo Wild Wings locations in Michigan – an attempt to branch out from licensing and create their own concept. It continues to prosper in other areas, but ultimately folded in Ann Arbor this summer, after they made their patties larger. What’s moving in here to utilize those windows? Heck if I know. But it happens to be next to Moe’s, my second favorite burrito spot (first is BTB), so I’ll keep you posted.