So where was BW, anyway?

Earlier this year, I took a break from blogging to write for The Ann Arbor Observer. It was a lot of fun and much more work, in different ways, than writing A2RS or the book. With both of those, I mostly drew on previously recorded information and reindexing it. With A2RS, it’s frequently a social-media post for a recently opened or recently closed business; with the book, it was usually newspaper archives (thanks again AADL!).

On the other hand, the articles I wrote for the Observer, an actual printed publication with decades of history, demanded more than just reindexing information and posting my photos — more than what Tom Dodd, our newspaper advisor at Community High, called “butt reporting.” I had to go into stores and call people on the actual telephone. Sometimes this was a lot of fun, like ordering bubble teas as research; other times you have to ask proprietors uncomfortable questions, like what they expect to do now that their building has been sold. I feel like I grew as a writer and flexed some muscles I hadn’t worked since high school or college, I really appreciate the Observer giving me the shot, then letting me withdraw gracefully when my day job became busier than I could have imagined…

Last year I joined the training team for a company that makes a very popular system many colleges and schools use to hold classes online. (Look me up on LinkedIn if you care that much, suffice to say it is not the system AAPS chose for this year.) As stay-home orders took effect across the nation and it became clear that the pandemic would last into the fall, many school districts and institutions that were considering adopting my company’s solution suddenly threw those plans into immediate action. In an ordinary world, that would have meant a lot of travel and a lot of Trip Reports here, but being around strangers was suddenly a very questionable activity. My company went 100% remote (I already was remote, but they instituted the policy for all employees) and quickly repositioned all of my in-person trainings as virtual sessions.

This was great on one level, because it gave me a lot of practice much more quickly than if I had had to travel to each customer. It was exhausting, because this practice was four to six hours a day, five days a week, all conducted over Zoom. If you’ve been in a remote video meeting, you probably agree that one hour online is at least 90 minutes’ worth of concentration and fatigue.


With all this in mind, the Observer allowed me to step back from writing for Marketplace Changes, just as a wave of closings washed over Ann Arbor. It began with some longtime favorites like the Prickly Pear Café, and eventually led to a number of other businesses contracting. In some cases, several restaurants with shared ownership consolidated into a single kitchen for takeout orders during the early days; some of them didn’t reopen when indoor dining was permitted again in June.

Most recently, BTB Burrito announced they were closing their State Street location — which, while it didn’t have the history of its neighbors Mr. Spot’s or Pizza Bob’s, was a reliable, relatively cheap lunch spot and locally-owned alternative toTex Mex fast casual chains. BTB started out on State Street, eventually expanded to South Packard (where eat. is now), then opened the BTB Cantina on South University in a spot once known as Wherehouse Records and later occupied by an upper-floor of Good Time Charley’s. The Cantina brought BTB burritos together with a full bar and music in the evenings, and offered a number of large booths during lunchtime. The single long table in the State Street location’s dining room was cozy before the pandemic, but seems positively dangerous in a time before a vaccine becomes widespread.

Meanwhile, Pizza Bob’s (mentioned above) moved up the block to the corner of State and Hill — previously Red Light Rotisserie, and before that Quickie Burger. In fact, this is actually a return to a piizzeria for that space – it was Geppetto’s Pizza in the 80s when I first came to town. It’s definitely worth reading more about Pizza Bob’s here in the Observer, and reading further to hear about Underground Sounds moving to Main Street. (I did not write either of these profiles, though I adore Underground Sounds.)

The exterior of Pizza Bob’s restaurant, 1974.

Let’s make this really meta, and show you this storefront of Pizza Bob’s in 1974, thirty years before BTB opened in the same space. (C) The Ann Arbor News.

So as you can see, I’ve missed writing, and have some free time again, I can’t promise I’ll capture every single thing, especially with so much uncertainly, and especially as I am unwilling to spend much time indoors with strangers, But let’s try it. And f you made it this far and are still wondering what exactly I wrote for the Observer — here it all is.

2020, am I right?

❤️❤️ to these two ladies who dropped our produce off @foodgatherers today.

Posted by Banfield's Bar & Grill on Saturday, March 21, 2020

I hate to come back on these terms, but I’m worried about Banfield’s.

In March, when bars and restaurants were closed in response to the pandemic, they marked down their souvenir shirts, shipped a carful of extra produce to Food Gatherers, and pivoted to full-takeout. For a week, they updated their Facebook daily with specials and hours. On March 23, the updates ended.

As other Packard fixtures like York Ann Arbor and Fraser’s Pub reopened with outdoor seating and distanced indoor space – as the Brown Jug became a campus hotspot in multiple ways – I would drive past Banfield’s hoping to spy cars parked in the lot in front of their space, maybe some tables out front. It hasn’t happened yet.

Friends are telling me that Google identifies them as having closed. Although the Facebook posts are still up, they didn’t respond to a Facebook request for confirmation. Their stand-alone website is offline, and dialing their phone number returns a phone-company out of service recording. These are the extent of my efforts — which is a fair amount of work, for this blog — and I would love nothing more than to retract this as soon as possible.

Of all the things I’ve seen closed, and written about being closed, this one, if true, hits a little harder — because it was at Banfield’s, one night in April 2017, when I revealed to some friends I had registered a domain, set up a WordPress site, and was working on my first couple of posts for They gently mocked me, even though one of them was the one who had been urging me to set up a blog. I had no idea where it would go, but I felt pretty great about it because I was sitting at one of those tables in the center of Banfield’s big wood-paneled dining room and I had one of their enormous glasses of beer in front of me, probably filled with Soft Parade.

Some longtime townies may recall the expansion to Scio Township, when Banfield’s took over the onetime Paul Bunyan’s restaurant at Jackson and Zeeb, and rechristened it “Banfield’s West Side.” It has operated continuously since, and although its current ownership just calls it “The Sports Bar,” they kept the lovely neon “West Side” sign over the front door.

Banfield’s was always happy to help host fundraisers for the nonprofit that owns my neighborhood pool, and I’m sure many other local orgs. I enjoyed bringing the occasional out-of-town visitor in to check it out. I’ve seen a lot of businesses close this year, but this time the survivor guilt is particularly strong. Again, I look forward to writing a retraction.