Talkin’ Drought a Revocation

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:

Ext. Drought juice store; now closes no later than 3pm. (C)A2RS

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.

Kresge Dollar Store and 5 and 10, 1926. Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

They also opened a location closer to campus:

Kresge at North University & State Street, 1957. (C) The Ann Arbor News

…and much later, a location at Westgate Shopping Center.

Ribbon Cutting At Opening Of New Kresge Store In Westgate Shopping Center, November 1961. (C) The Ann Arbor News.

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 Shopping Center, June 1965. (C)The Ann Arbor News.

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).

Flooded Kmart Parking Lot, June 1968 Floods. (C)The Ann Arbor News.

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 Store, 300 Block, Main Street, August 1950. (C)The Ann Arbor News.

Sears would remain on Main Street until it moved out to Briarwood Mall, opening with the mall in 1971.

Sears, 1973. (AADL, CC BY-NC-SA)

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.

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