A lot going on this month. I know I’m missing a lot but here’s what I’ve got so far:
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.
- BRIARWOOD HAS AN ARCADE AGAIN, Y’ALL.
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.
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.
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:
And the VR area is now a trampoline attraction.
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.
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
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.
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.