Lots to Learn (or, “Big News”)

There it is, there’s that self-referential title pun. I’m back, baby. Alexa, play “Spread My Wings” by Troop.

With increased activity comes increased noticing stuff, and that’s how I’m discovering that both of the Big Lots in town are consolidating into one Bigger Lots. (They’re not calling it that.) The new location is on Washtenaw Avenue in Ypsilanti in the Fountain Plaza, where Dunham’s used to be. (Dunham’s doesn’t have a location in Ypsi now, I think the closest ones are Maple Village and… Canton. Probably Canton. Canton has one of everything these days.)

The new tenant of the former Ann Arbor Big Lots location, on Lohr Road, is a chain called Total Wine that sells wine, booze, beer, and some party supplies and snacks you would eat with said wine, booze, and beer. I recalled that I visited one, in California, the same morning I visited Daiso. I took like a zillion photos at Daiso but I only took one at Total Wine:

Was gonna buy this beer — for a friend, I swear — but then realized I’d have to check a bag to fly it home with me. Sorry friend. (C)A2RS

From this photo you can make some inferences about the store’s motif. Warehouse-y with a focus on selection over frills. It was a few years ago, but that was the vibe I remember.

Let’s talk more about Big Lots. It’s my blog and I can do what I want. Big Lots is a discount department store that occupies the tier between dollar stores and, say, Target. Back in the day they, like dollar stores, used to sell name-brand stuff that was overstock, past season, or had minor flaws, but in recent years, more and more of the product offering is made exclusively to sell in these stores at that price point. They have been in Roundtree Plaza (yes, I am breaking the “Ann Arbor only” rule today) for decades. Here is a photo of Big Lots’ predecessor, Odd-Lot, in 1984:

“Roundtree Shopping Center,” May 1984. (C)The Ann Arbor News.

I am nearly positive I visited an Odd Lot on the west side, part of Maple Village in its 1980s K-Mart/Fox Village Theater/Church’s Lumber heyday, but I am going to have to confirm this and update later.

As time went by, the Odd Lot you see above moved to a larger space in Roundtree, then changed its name to Big Lots after merging with a similar discount chain.

How it ended: “Borders store closing Pittsfield Township Michigan.JPG.” Dwight Burdette, CC-BY 3.0

Fast-forward to when Borders Books wound down and The Borders Of The Future closed, it stayed empty for a while but was eventually occupied by Big Lots, making a powerful entrance among three other big-box stores (Kohl’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Best Buy). They left Borders’ fancy pinstripe marquee intact and simply placed “BIG LOTS!” over the entrance. Inside, the tony, warm browsing space gave way to your usual Big Lots layout, but with a higher ceiling. I assume this is the shape the new store will have when it opens.

How it restarted. (C) Yelp

Now, the Roundtree location sports signage that says they’re moving to Washtenaw. This was the last business in the shopping center to sell mass market grocery-adjacent items. Years ago Roundtree and its adjacent Roundtree Place shopping center were anchored by a Busch’s grocery and a Walmart, The Walmart expanded and added grocery to become a Supercenter, which put the other grocery out of business. Then the Walmart closed just as the pandemic was revving up. So now if you live in the apartments or off the side street over there and want a loaf of bread or a can of beans, the 7-Eleven or the Speedway probably have a couple but Meijer or Target is your best bet. (There might be a small cultural grocery in Roundtree, I forget.)

The Busch’s went on to become Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, which at its surface is very similar to Big Lots but which actually seems to have more of the random stuff you go to these stores for. Overstocks, past-season, factory refurbs, and a surprising selection of books and board games below many images of Ollie, the sheepishly-grinning namesake:

I wouldn’t go there to look for a specific title, but would totally browse for something new and cheap to take to a friend’s party.

I think both these shopping centers are managed by Brixmor, who have done pretty well with keeping Maple Village busy even after Kmart pulled out. Hopefully they find something to fill the boxes.

Oh, and speaking of Kmart — you know how there was one left in Michigan, in Marshall (between Jackson and Battle Creek)? Well, that location is beginning its closing sale. This report from WWMT-TV that I can’t embed here includes a city official speculating that the space will be subdivided.

Past-me had the foresight to go in and grab some photos last spring:

The exterior never received updates some other, long-closed locations got. Though it says there’s a Little Caesar’s inside, the restaurant has been converted to storage and pickup space as other discount chains have done in the midst of the Pandango. (C)A2RS
Extremely tidy store, though the ceiling signage didn’t always match up with what was actually in the aisles below. (C)A2RS
This shelf of DVDs was all they had for an electronics section, besides a couple of pegs on the facing racks that had, like, a co-ax F connector. All your favorites in Glorious 480p, especially if Peppa Pig is your favorite. (C)A2RS
The grey-shaded area was once an electronics section. Imagine TVs mounted on the walls and racks and racks of games and gadgets. Today, the store boundaries are corraled by merchandise racks to reduce the amount of floorspace. A few Kenmore appliances are available for examination. (C)A2RS
The center of the store is kind of a mixed bag of deals and highlights from other parts of the store. Planogram Roulette. (C)A2RS

Although I strive to leave people out of my photos and am careful not to alarm store workers, it wasn’t that hard to do this particular Friday afternoon. The store was not empty but also not bustling. There’s a nice looking supermarket at the other end of the shopping center so I don’t foresee a big box trying to make a go of it here. Maybe Big Lots, though. Which seems poignant.