Centennial Post (also, Second Anniversary Post)

Sidewalk sign at Moosejaw, calling out the Chop House restaurant, their neighbor across Main Street. (C)A2RS

Moosejaw may be a tiny little division of Walmart, but it’s kind of reassuring that Corporate hasn’t interfered with their writing style. I can appreciate this commitment. I’ve been trying to sell out for two years now, but I still published this post on 4/20 at 6:09.

Meanwhile, in a much classier space up the street, here’s what 315 South Main looked like a few years ago in 2014. (click through to change to an even earlier view from 2007 when Google first photographed the street!)

Completed facade of 315 South Main. (C)A2RS

The new apartments and ground-floor retail are built and ready to be populated. The Life is Good store may not have had the longevity we want for a Main Street business (though it lasted four years), but Shinola is still going strong. It helps that they have a coffee shop, so that people who don’t need another wristwatch right now can still sniff the rich leather and enjoy the Shinola Experience for the low, low price of four or five bucks for a cup of coffee.

(ABOVE: a sampling of classic Big Dogs shirt designs. Courtesy BigDogs,com and ebay. No, I didn’t ask.)

The Big Dogs retail empire currently consists of a single store in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, but I think it’s time they made a comeback. as you can see, most of their designs are evergreen and very reasonably priced. But eventually you’re going to collect all the Big Dogs shirts, so the store needs to stock a consumable that people will return for.

I know, you saw the date of this post and thought I was gonna say weed, but no. I’m thinking Rip It.

(Above: some sample Rip It flavors, Courtesy ripitenergy.,com. No, I didn’t ask.)

Rip It Energy Drinks are the deployed soldier’s morning coffee, after work relaxation beverage, and night-watch security blanket. They are cheap and ubiquitous on military bases around the world and they would go over like gangbusters. Where else can you get them on Main Street? (PROTIP: You can find Rip It on tap at the Meijer gas station on Jackson Road, and no, I haven’t. )

I may be an amateur retail analyst, but, given enough staff to meet demand, I firmly believe that a Big-Dogs-N-Rip-Its store in the Main Street district would make enough during Art Fair, Game Days, and Fleet Week to cover the other 354 days of the year.

R.I.P. to a Wheel One

This post on the Ann Arbor Townies group, observing the recent closure of Great Lakes Cycle on Stadium Boulevard, put me down a little AADL Community Collections rabbit hole trying to remember all the old bike places in town.

Michael Staebler’s Coal Office and Bicycle Shop

This one was the earliest, I think, on Washington Street near Ashley.

Michael Staebler’s Coal Office and Bicycle Shop.” (C) The Bentley Historical Library.

Though named for its founder, German-American investor and Ann Arborite Michael Staebler, it was apparently actually run by his son Edward. I’m very curious about what this store’s net carbon footprint was.

Ann Arbor Cyclery

More familiar to some is Ann Arbor Cyclery, which was a fixture for decades on Packard Road.

“Ann Arbor Cyclery, 1972.” AADL (CC: BY-NC-SA)

Sometime after the above photo was taken, it moved up the street to its final location, a site which had previously been a grocery and a pet supply store. A combination of new local competition from the REI store at Cranbrook and possible tax trouble led to its closure in 2010ish. Today it’s the Packard location of Argus Farm Stop.

Campus Bike & Toy

“Saguaro Succulent Shop, 1976.” AADL (CC BY-NC-SA).

Campus Bike & Toy was another downtown fixture. It shared its William Street location with a variety of other interesting businesses over the years, including an early version of Schoolkids Records. Later, its site was the last retail location of David’s Books before they went online-only, and today it’s Asian Legend restaurant.

Nobilette Cycle Cellar

Nobilette Cycle Cellar ad, April 1988. Agenda Publications (CC BY-NC-SA)

On the north side of downtown, Nobilette Cycle Cellar served the athletic bicyclist. The ad above was one of their last anniversaries on North Main Street. Within a couple of years they had moved downhill to 220 Felch Street, which is today the site of Ann Arbor Distilling Company.

South of Downtown but also not far off Main Street was…

Mike Kolin’s Cycling Center Inc.

I can’t tell you much about Mike Kolin’s that these photos don’t already tell you, except that it was in the east storefront of the little building on the Hoover block that is just about the only thing not owned by a utility or the University. Soon its neighbor Purchase Radio Supply’s old building will be history. An apartment building is planned for the site; it will cater to students who love locomotive horns.

Stadium Bike

Don’t know anything about this place either, but I love the aesthetic. This site is currently occupied by McDonald’s.

Also Worth Noting

I don’t know much about any of these beyond the photos but it’s intriguing to see so many bike shops in locations I tend to associate with car traffic.

More recently we saw a few stores close:

Two Wheel Tango, with stores on the west side and east side. Closed suddenly, apparently due to pressure from its main brand and costs incurred by expanding at the beginning of the Great Recession. The west-side store is a physical therapy clinic now; the east side is occupied by Fraser Bicycle, a Detroit-area bike chain.

Performance Bicycle, a regional chain and mail-order catalog that had expanded to our area relatively recently, began a complete wind-down under Chapter 11 bankruptcy, including all its physical locations and its website. Its IP was purchased at auction in February, and the site is back online under new ownership but with no relation to the physical locations.

Midwest Bike and Tandem, on Plymouth Road in the Courtyard Shops. Moved to Brighton.

Great Lakes Cycle was up and down Stadium Boulevard over the years – in Boulevard Plaza (in back behind the Arbor Farms/Barnes Ace Hardware), later in the old Ace Hardware space (most recently Advance Auto Parts), most recently in a spot close to the road between Liberty and Jackson Road. That location has closed. Oscar, the owner, sold his inventory to another local specialty chain, D&D Bicycles & Hockey, who shares retail space on Jackson Road with Sun & Snow outfitters; the space, once the very first location of national tire chain Discount Tire Company, will be occupied soon by the Wags & Wiskers pet supply store.

Besides D&D, there are a number of local stores still going strong. Presented in no particular order:

I’ll add other Ann Arbor ones if they occur to me or I am corrected (I will be corrected). There are great bike stores in other nearby cities too, but it’s almost 11pm, I’ve been working on this for hours, and the name of the site is A2 Retail dot Space. Thank you.

April Shutters

A lot going on this month. I know I’m missing a lot but here’s what I’ve got so far:

Briarwood Update

I had some time to walk around Briarwood recently. Here are my key takeaways based on observation and some chats with various store employees:

  • Pandora moved to a showy new space in center court with much larger frontage.
  • People who are old enough to remember them still miss some of the restaurants that used to be here.

Multiple people I spoke to yesterday commented that they either remembered and missed Arby’s or wished that there was one at Briarwood now. Its previous location, convenient to the parking lot, is now part of the massive Forever 21 block near JC Penney. As a young edgy-XD man I would snicker as the cashier rung up my Big Montana (large roast-beef sandwich), large fries, and large Coca-Cola Freeze – $6.66 with tax. When this location closed, Arby’s pretty much withdrew from the south side of Ann Arbor. Now, you have to go to Washtenaw Avenue near Golfside in Ypsilanti, or to the far-west side of town, where there are two of them in close proximity – one on Jackson Road near Zeeb, and a 24-hour location inside one of the truck stops on Baker Road. (The truck stop location serves Arby’s breakfast menu. In the interest of accurate reporting, I tried the sausage biscuit one morning a little ways back, and, in a pinch, it would make a serviceable brake pad.)

Kerby’s Koney Island is a Detroit fixture (though, really, pretty much all Coney Island restaurants are Detroit fixtures). Though their locations are widespread and many are free-standing now, they used to be standard fare for every mall in the greater Detroit area. Briarwood’s was in a Sears corridor where Chipotle is now. One mall employee I spoke to used to rely on Kerby’s for breakfast before his shift began, and though Starbucks opens a couple of hours before the rest of the mall stores do, nothing has really taken Kerby’s place since it closed. Briarwood also hosted a Big Boy at the other end of this same corridor back in the day, though that has been gone for probably longer than it was there by now. Its space was initially occupied by an expansion of Eddie Bauer into a mini-anchor store, adding a home goods department to the apparel and camping equipment; the area is now the Men’s section of H&M.

I think I’ve written here about Farrell’s and Sanders, which were also both at Briarwood in the distant past.

Rachel, Tina, & Nancy Legault At Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour, June 1981.” (C) The Ann Arbor News.

Sanders is ubiquitous around Detroit again under the ownership of Morley Candy, but there is one Farrell’s left, in Southern California, and it’s partying like it’s 1979:

Burger King also had a location within the mall, next to the movie theater. It operated for years before its closure. I always wondered, as a young person, how the Burger King in the mall could operate so close to a free-standing location (across State Street on Victors Way), but of course they were probably serving different consumers.

There are still plenty of counter-service options in the mall, of course, though there’s no place I can think of, offhand, to get a hamburger. Or a one-dollar hot dog.

Though Briarwood was built in the early 70s before food courts became popular, they have tried to cultivate clearly defined eating districts in various parts of the mall since the 2000s. Most notably, after the fountain was removed, food-court-style stands led by Starbucks Coffee, and flexible seating, filled its void. Most of Starbucks’ center court neighbors are snack options, though you could eat dinner from Sushi Tatsu. More recently Briarwood has positioned a corridor off of the former Sears court as the Dining Pavillion, with Chipotle and Salads Up accompanying full-service mall standard like PF Chang’s and California Pizza Kitchen. (A Which Wich sandwich franchise was launched here but didn’t last long.) A handful of tenants from before this initiative still remain in the area, though, so there isn’t much to eat at Hot Topic. However, the newest addition to the hall is… FunShop.

Ext. FunShop at Briarwood: “Having fun since 2000.” (C)A2RS

At first glance, FunShop’s two-color, compound-wordmark made me think it was a GameStop, which withdrew from Briarwood about five years ago. But no, it’s an arcade! A really small arcade. You can see the back of it from the photo above. That orange crane game is on the back wall. I feel like (read: hope) this might be a test location to gauge interest. There are a number of larger vacancies in the mall, some nearby, so if this goes well they could totally go bigger and wheel in a World’s Largest Pac Man machine.

This location was mostly crane games and skill-to-earn-a-prize games, with a couple of video arcade cabinets. I saw a ride-on head-to-head racing game and a sit-down, curtained Walking Dead action game among all the skill machines. If Google Maps can be believed, the FunShop location at Westland Mall has a wider selection.

Though there was a brief spell where some arcade games were housed in the vacant frontage of Burger King, before MC Sports came to Briarwood, most mall-rats about my age probably have memories of whiling away hours in Fun Factory, a carnival-themed arcade in a JC Penney-side corridor, exactly where Panda Express is now. The internet wasn’t as robust then, so I didn’t know (and didn’t care back then, really) that our Fun Factory was but one location of a national chain. When it disappeared in the early 2000s I thought it was gone forever, until one day circa 2006, when I happened to visit the Universal Mall in Warren. There, I found a much larger Fun Factory, containing several of the games that the Briarwood location used to have. Unfortunately, Universal Mall was on its way down (it’s an open-air shopping center now, anchored by a Target), and Fun Factory did not relocate when it closed. Turns out Fun Factory’s current locations are mostly in Hawaii, with a handful in California and the southeastern US, so at least the games probably got to retire somewhere warm.

Above is a recent photo from a Hawaii location, where the aesthetic has remained relatively unchanged from their Ann Arbor days. Not sure about that chandelier though.

Briarwood’s most recent attempts at electronic entertainment, a networked-PC-and-console-game parlor and a roped-off multiplayer VR experience in the court in front of Sears (RIP). Both of these closed recently. The network-game space is open:

Exterior of that game place that was at Briarwood for a couple years. (C)A2RS

And the VR area is now a trampoline attraction.

“Mall Jomp” in action on a recent afternoon. (C)A2RS

In brief

Lake Michigan Credit Union is finally open in the building in front of the Hyatt Place on State Street. You may remember that site as the one where I spent way too much time on this blog wondering what the building was gonna be. When I realized it had no drive-up window, I figured a banking use was out, but here it is. There are many local and national banks nearby, including a Comerica next door, a UM Credit Union branch a block up, and four or five in the outlots surrounding Briarwood, but LMCU is a frequent advertiser on I-94 billboards and it behooves them to have an actual presence here.

Grabbagreen (611 East University) has missed their signage’s promise of a Winter ’19 opening. (C)A2RS
Ext. Naked Burrito on Carpenter Road. (C)A2RS

Naked Burrito is opening soon. They are going to specialize in burrito bowls and other lower-carb options, according to MLive.

Life After BP Stations, an essay in two photos

Unfinished building in outlot of Westgate Shopping Center. (C)A2RS

This was a BP fuel station with an auto service center. I don’t know yet what it’s gonna be. As discussed in the last post, this is the only I-94 exit for like fifteen miles that doesn’t have a Tim Hortons now, but I don’t see a drive-thru lane near here so it doesn’t seem likely that this will close the gap.

Renovated BP gas station at Washtenaw and Yost. (C)A2RS

This site has lost all its BP branding and the underground tanks appear to have been removed. The new building has one or two small windows, not much like a fuel station, but possibly kind of like a dispensary. Which is what I think this will be.

Bubble Tea Franchises, an essay in two photos

Despite the general availability of bubble tea around here for about decades, two established franchises from overseas are looking to get into Ann Arbor. Chatime is coming to Tower Plaza, looking to make that one convenience store space work, and CoCo is coming soon to Courtyard Shops up on Plymouth Road near North Campus.

Ext. CoCo tea shop, opening “soon” at Courtyard Shops. (C)A2RS