Packing Up Such Sweet Fragels

A Little South U Retail History

Above, the Bagel Factory deli, Ann Arbor’s flagship for the Fragel on South University. I took that photo over a decade ago and posted it on Flickr just because. (I guess this blog was an inevitability.)

Expansion and Remodeling At The Bagel Factory, May 1986. (C)The Ann Arbor News.

Although Barry Bagels had an agreement to take the space over, it never came to fruition. The structure was demolished, along with the adjacent Village Corner and a couple of other small business buildings, to build the Landmark high-rise apartments at South U and Forest.

(Eventually, a Tim Hortons with a limited bagel selection would open in roughly this location as part of Landmark — it closed after only a couple of years.)

Despite this, Fragels — fried raisin bagels with a liberal dusting of cinnamon sugar — continued to blur the line between breakfast and dessert for years, at MB Bagel Fragel near North Campus. Until this week, when their Plymouth Road shopping center’s new landlords issued an ultimatum: be gone by Thanksgiving.

Though they’d had an inkling — their neighbor, Wings Over Ann Arbor, quietly closed over the summer — they were suddenly put in an impossible position, to vacate by Thanksgiving. They do a lot of catering business, in addition to the usual individuals looking for their Fragel fix.

The new landlords own a medical pot dispensary in Toledo — I can only assume that the passage of Proposal One compelled those landlords to strike quickly to gain a foothold in Ann Arbor. But they were not ready for the Northsiders, and in the end they agreed to extend Bagel Fragel’s lease to the end of 2018, which I guess makes the new landlords a couple of kind buds, in the end.

The above thread seems to imply that maybe Bagel Fragel has a new spot, though it’s not clear. But I hope to get a Fragel before they move out, and if the moves of other Ann Arbor institutions are a good standard to judge by, probably another one in a year or so, with really annoying counter staff who believe their own hype.

Not in Ann Arbor (yet)

Sears Lakeview Mall

This week, Sears announced another slate of store closings. This one includes the Battle Creek location — which, like the Jackson and Ann Arbor Sears locations, anchored an indoor mall along I-94.

I don’t know who owns the Jackson and Battle Creek malls (we all know by now that I usually take the giant whale approach to research, mostly working from whatever facts wind up in my gaping maw as I swim along), but I enjoyed this recent article about how Briarwood’s parent, mall giant Simon Property Group, is looking outside sales of hardlines to fill the anchor-sized holes in their complexes.

LifeTime Fitness, a popular anchor-filler mentioned in the article, is a great candidate for this space. LifeTime has not made it to Ann Arbor yet, but they are downright ubiquitous in everyplace I lived before I came back to A2 ten years ago, and out there, where there’s no U-M Intramural Building and no WCC Fitness Center, they rule. Each LifeTime looks like the headquarters for a large regional interstate bank, and many are open 24x7xEverydayExceptMaybeChristmas.

Every flat square inch inside is covered in ads, and you almost don’t even mind, because everything is so well maintained and they stay open past 11pm. (C)LifeTime Ftiness

They were the first places I ever saw the Precor AMT, which, if you know, then you know, and if you don’t know, suffice to say it’s a cross between an elliptical and the power loader from Aliens, or a treadmill that makes you feel like you’re running on T-Rex legs. Also, word is that the LA Fitness at Briarwood, which dates from the Vic Tanny days, will close when the giant new LA Fitness building opens at Maple Village. Since the only exercise on the south side near 94 will be the Orange Theory at Main and Ann Arbor-Saline Road, and Arbor Fit Club, a giant 24-hour gym at Briarwood could be a huge boon for students and for travelers who visit Ann Arbor for business and stay at hotels near Briarwood.

Speaking of which, I’m pretty sure that, in spite of four new hotels on the State Street corridor in recent years, capacity has still not met demand, especially on Michigan Football’s home game weekends. So don’t count out the possibility of a hotel on the Sears space – Simon is building hotels in the former anchor spaces in some of their malls too.

There are a couple of other concepts I really would like to see, either in Sears or in one of the other empty spaces around town. There aren’t a ton of them but just off the top of my head I can think of a few big boxes that could use a new tenant soon:

  • Arborland has the former Toys Я Us, which is currently occupied by Toy City, a pop-up toy store and sister to Oak Valley superstore Party City. It also has the empty former Arhaus Furniture, which moved up Washtenaw a few years ago to Arbor Hills Crossing. The former Arhaus has hosted a temporary Spirit Halloween in past seasons but not this year.
  • Carpenter and Ellsworth has a vacant Babies Я Us store.
  • Maple Village has the corner space, which was once a Church’s Lumber Yard, formerly a popular Detroit area lumber and home-improvement chain, now down to two locations north of Detroit, catering to professionals and explicitly not competing with Home Depot or Lowe’s. Recently this space, along with Briarwood, hosted 2018 Spirit Halloween pop-ups.
  • I guess Ann Arbor is doing pretty well as far as occupancy goes. The only other empty big space I can think of offhand is the Country Market in Dexter (I drove past it last week, still empty).

What would I like to see fill these spaces?

A computer store. There used to be many computer stores in Ann Arbor.

Ext. United Microsystems, 1977, I don’t know where this is. AADL, CC BY-NC-SA.

As a young person, I regularly visited MicroAge Computer Center, which was on Huron Street where the Foundry Lofts are now, and Up on the north side, Inacomp (formerly Computer Mart) offered computers on Plymouth Road in the Enclosed Mall.  South State Street boasted Learning Center, Computer Medic, and Bryan Computers — now, only Learning Center is still there (Computer Alley has moved to the west side and has an amazingly well designed web site). A2 Computers and Jafferson Computers are still holding it down on the east side.

But, in the current growth period for IT and tech, the time might be right for a bigger store, with a supermarket-size selection and hours, to come to Ann Arbor. CompUSA’s store on Lohr Road closed over a decade ago (it’s now Dick’s Sporting Goods), but two particular chains come to mind: Micro Center and Fry’s.

The AMC Abbey 8 snack bar. (C)WaterWinterWonderland.

Micro Center is a general purpose computer store mostly focused on PCs and their components. They also sell other tech items, like game consoles, and sometimes have irrestistible deals on refurbs. One time last year I needed 70 VR viewers for an event for work and, even given shipping and sales tax, it was cheapest for me to drive to the former AMC Abbey 8 movie theater, now home of the nearest Micro Center, and have my employer reimburse me for fuel.

Fry’s would also be an interesting choice. Though they are mostly located on the West Coast, they do have stores in Illinois and Indiana, so an Ann Arbor location wouldn’t be inconceivable.

Exterior, Fry’s, Burbank, CA. (C)Fry’s.

Given that many Fry’s locations interior design and theming pay tribute to the tech history of their home city, Ann Arbor and Detroit lore could contribute to an exciting shopping experience.

I’ll try to come back to what else would be fun to see come to town in a few days.

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.

Fall is for Flowers, Fouls, and Fertilizer (or “A2pumpkin.spice”)

Are we truly at the limits for pot-related businesses in Ann Arbor? Seems like regional hydroponics retailer The Cultivation Station had barely moved into the old S-G Auto Parts space, but it’s gone now:

Exterior, The Cultivation Station. Window sign advises customers to visit Allen Park (“the closest”). (C)A2RS

I mentioned the closing of Moe Sport Shops previously but here’s the North University storefront:

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Once upon a time, Moe sold sporting goods and uniforms. In recent years, it had pivoted to U-M spirit wear, and was acquired from Bud Van De Wege by local print shop Underground Printing. Parallel to this, UGP was developing its own boutique-y brand based around Bo Schembechler. UGP sold Moe to U-M’s official store The M Den last year, and it was basically just another storefront for them. Finally, downtown will get its Jamba Juice. (I don’t know, I just guess)

Another report from A2RS field agent Lex, who goes downtown when I can’t:

Ext. Schakolad on Washington Street. Courtesy of Lex.

Schakolad, the boutique chocolate, recently closed on Washington Street. I think they raised the rent. The Observer reports that the franchisee is interested in returning to A2 sometime (when time travel is invented, probably sometime prior to the bubble).

Exterior Schakolad on Washington Street. Courtesy of Lex.

Meanwhile, at Liberty and Thompson, half of Orchid Lane is now a yoga studio!

Ext. Red Yoga at Liberty and Thompson. Courtesy of Lex.

You can see Orchid Lane on the left there – still open! It was supposed to close permanently over the summer, but they negotiated a one-year extension with their landlord and are continuing the business until August 2019.

Ext. Orchid Lane and Red Yoga, at Liberty and Thompson. Courtesy of Lex.

Longtime townies remember this space as Thano’s Lamplighter, a Greek & pizza restaurant, and Eric’s Action Sports, a soccer-supply store. If you don’t remember them, it’s hard to believe we had so many stores with specific purposes. I’m thinking of course of Eric’s, but also of The Bead Gallery (RIP), and Honig’s Whistle Stop, a referee-supply store which used to be out on Jackson Road. Sounds awfully specific, I know, but think about all the sports that are played here. U-M, Eastern, Concordia all have athletic programs; Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Saline, and surrounding townships all have recreational leagues; I’m sure there are many other leagues I am not aware of.

Honig’s Whistle Stop in the immediate aftermath of the 2010 crash incident. (C)AnnArbor.com/Honig’s

Honig’s Whistle Stop ran the leading outfitter for sports officials, as a mail-order catalog and a physical retail store with fitting rooms, in an otherwise unassuming building on Jackson Road in Scio Township for over 30 years. Here’s a fun ESPN profile of Dick Honig to commemorate his retirement. Honig sold the business to another referee, who operates it entirely online now.

For decades, nearly half a million sports officials purchased their gear and supplies from a business in Ann Arbor — but maybe not all of them used the gear on field? A long time ago I was an IT contractor at General Motors, working on the new Intranet. I worked nearby a permanent EDS employee who had somehow managed to skirt GM’s business-casual dress code with the shiniest black-on-black Nikes I had ever seen:

What are THOOOOSE? Nike referee sneakers, that’s what. (C)Zappos

It wasn’t until years later that I realized Todd (not his real name) was wearing referee sneakers to work every day. This story brought to you by the beautifully broken English labeling at the State Street 7-Eleven:

“Big and Glup Cup” (C)A2RS

In related news, and finally, here’s the latest on the Circle K at Packard and Stadium:

Ext. Circle K as seen from Stadium Boulevard. (C)A2RS

The islands are nearly ready for the fuel pumps. The corner of the rain shelter has been restored to the proper angle (previously it looked like a truck hit it), so the complete red and orange cladding is probably coming any day now. Inside the building there are high signs over each station promoting “Polar Pop” (fountain drinks), “Really Good Coffee,” and “Froster” (the Circle K version of a Slurpee or Icee).

I have been selected to “go deep” on the Circle K at Ignite Ann Arbor on November 2 at AADL. I have dreamed for years of doing an Ignite talk, so this is a huge thrill for me. If you’ve been to an Ignite, you know I only have five minutes to “go deep,” and there are a number of other brilliant presenters, so it will still be worth your time.

I would like to thank the selection committee:

A Masterclass in Circular ThinKing

Ext. Mast Shoes at Westgate. (C)A2RS

This week sees the triumphant reopen of Mast Shoes in Westgate:

Mast is a longtime Westgate occupant (that also had a downtown location, on Liberty Street, long ago). The new Mast store is right next door to the old one, in a space where a succession of women’s clothing stores used to be. There is an impressive array of shelves and stacks there now to better show off their inventory.

“Top men, Dr. Jones… TOP. MEN.” (C)A2RS

On Stadium, the Circle K is shining up. The curbside sign displays a “Now Hiring” banner. I hope they’re getting some of the pre-rebuilding employees back too, they were nice folks.

Ext. Circle K build at Stadium/Packard. (C)A2RS

I visited another Circle K and it looks like, while this one was closed, the chain’s fountain tap selection has changed. The other location has some weird Mountain Dew variants, including Voltage (Raspberry), Ice (basically caffeinated Sprite), and some kind of Strawberry Goji blend that somehow doesn’t have an aggro name. These could be had for 79c for the 20 or 32oz. cup, which makes their new “Epic” cup (44oz./99c) all the more of a bargain. (Though this facebook post from a former Circle K fan implies it is actually a two-pounder.)

Anyway, I was thinking some more recently about this still-empty building by the State-Ellsworth roundabout and why it has had trouble filling up.

Ext. of empty plaza near State & Ellsworth. (C)A2RS

And then I realized why when I tried to visit it: the only way in is through the Jimmy John’s driveway next door.

Same place as above photo but looking left. (C)A2RS

At certain times of day, you can hardly even get into the Jimmy John’s drive-thru, much less get past it to drop off your dry cleaning, or get your bowling ball polished, or whatever they hope to put in there. The lot that Tim Hortons and Belle Tire share has plenty of room, but is not only not connected to the new plaza, but there’s actually, like, a drainage ditch there, so they can’t even connect them now.

Some planner was SALTY when this was idea was conceived and so — I am an amateur retail analyst at best, but — it doesn’t look great for this center. I mean, maybe a pizza delivery place could come in here and hope to get some business during non-lunch hours. There is the Staybridge Suites hotel nearby. Or maybe I’m overreacting — this building is still so new it’s not on Google, Bing, or Apple Maps. (Google embedded above because at least they had the empty lot.)

But you know what place has plenty of room to expand around it and a lot of easy in-out lanes? Bronner’s. I visited recently on the way back from a weekend at Mackinac:

All lost in the supermarket (C)A2RS

School, Spirit

Latest from Maple Village: I had some business to conduct at the Secretary of State office (it’s Michigan’s equivalent to the Department of Motor Vehicles). And although I have a marvelous device with me at all times to help me survive a wait in such an office, I didn’t need to wait today.

Mi-TimeLine is awkwardly named, but worked a treat. I “checked in” after lunch, received a spot in the virtual line, with text updates estimating when to arrive. They adjusted their estimate about 45 minutes sooner over the afternoon. I arrived at the final estimated time and found my number at #1 on the “next” board. I was out with my new plate and tags five minutes after walking in. It was as close to joy as I have ever experienced in an SOS office. It’s a good thing they didn’t take my ID photo, I would have done the Calvin Smile.

There is nothing going on yet in this corner spot adjacent to T-Mobile:

Empty storefront in outlot of Maple Village. (C)A2RS

Near the main driveway into Maple Village, this is the site along Maple Road that mall management is trying to get a restaurant for:

I don’t think Kmart was ever busy enough to justify parking this far out. (C)A2RS

Still no sign of Ulta Beauty. I think Ulta will go into that empty spot near Dunham’s, if it doesn’t go into the empty spot near Kirkland’s.

Here’s the latest work on the enormous LA Fitness box going up on the south end of the site. Longtime visitors will remember a Hardee’s restaurant here where the building starts (old-school Hardee’s, before they merged with Carl’s Jr. and became their midwest twin down to the star logo), later replaced by Golden Chef, a Chinese restaurant that eventually burned down.

The LA Fitness building backs right up to Maple Road. (C)A2RS

Rumor had a west-side Tim Horton’s going on the site, but those rumors never came to fruition. Hardee’s neighbor was Frank’s, a beloved nursery and craft supply store headquartered in Troy that wound down in the late ’00s (previously on A2RS).

I think the front of LA Fitness is gonna be here, adjacent to the drive-thru of the PNC Bank branch. (C)A2RS

Another Michigan chain that used to be in Maple Village is Church’s Lumber Yards, long ago a fixture in the back corner behind the Village Pharmacy (also gone). When I was young, Church’s was a fixture around the Detroit area — a lumber yard with a hardware selection. When big-box lumber and hardware chains Builder’s Square, HQ, Home Depot, and Lowe’s all rose to prominence, Church’s vanished. But unlike Frank’s, they didn’t die out. They achieved the “right-sizing” that so many chains try to nail when they close stores. Church’s is now two locations north of Detroit, focusing on projects and professionals.

After Church’s deconstructed the space became an Anytime Fitness franchise. That Anytime location recently moved to a renovated space on Jackson Road between the I-94 on-ramps, which opened this space up for… go ahead and guess. I mean it’s almost September, what are we missing now besides pumpkin spice?

Yup, seasonal Halloween pop up stores! They’re coming, y’all!

Exterior of Spirit Halloween, previously Anytime Fitness, née Church’s Lumber, fka logs. (C)A2RS

Spirit Halloween will be here in Maple Village. I didn’t want to take photos in the windows, because there are literally workers setting up displays right now, amidst some abandoned Anytime Fitness design accents.

Blogfriend Dan will be pleased to hear that Spirit is also coming to Briarwood, joining its sister chain Spencer’s on the JC Penney side of the mall.

Just around the corner from their sister chain, Spencer Gifts (C)A2RS

This space most recently held a pop-up bounce house activity center, before its bisection, to open a nail salon with direct entry to the parking lot.

Dan also discovered on a recent excursion that Halloween City, the pop-up sister of Party City, is moving into the recently vacated Toys R Us store at Arborland and, post-Hallows, will remain longer as Christmas City. I am uncertain whether this is a holiday decorations concept or part of Party City’s excursion into pop-up toy stores to fill the void left by TRU.

People have occasionally asked me what was going on with that corner by Michigan Stadium. Well, now you all know it’s a tanning salon with a membership model. (Maybe they all have membership models, I wouldn’t know, because I don’t tan — at least, not with intent.)

Deep in the comments, someone mentions in the Ann Arbor Townie Group that the MDen owns that corner, but only really needs it to locate a pop-up store for home football games, to add to their permanent stores within Michigan Stadium and Crisler Center — so it wouldn’t make sense to open a permanent location there. (Is it hearsay if it’s attributed to an actual person?) It is much smaller than any of their other locations I have visited, and the large windows mean they can’t hang clothes on that wall (unless they put racks in front of the window, making the space even smaller and filling the window with the back of clothes racks). I also anticipate the stock space is probably very roomy for a mobile phone retailer, but would quickly become cozy with garments.

Here’s what MDen feels they need — a new storefront at Briarwood filled with upscale Michigan gear from the likes of Brooks Brothers and Vineyard Vines. I don’t have any photos but hit up that MLive link, there are all the photos your rheumy eyes can stand. This is connected to their longtime Briarwood store next door, much like their State Street location.

Aunt Agatha’s closed a few days back. They had sales on their remaining stock the last few weeks, then offered for free what was left over on the last day. Soon after that, a photo of a rollaway full of books made the townie-book rounds. It’s really hard to get rid of old books that nobody wants. It’s difficult to recycle them due to fabric book covers, old glue in the binding, etc. I don’t think Aunt Agatha’s had a lot of choices.

Finally, from South Industrial, two exciting pieces of news:

  • Pileated Brewing is expanding its hours. Pileated has made major strides since its opening toward the back of the small office and retail space most famous for hosting the Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop. Both businesses support the schools at least indirectly – Pileated is co-owned by two AAPS teachers. Traditionally they had a limited schedule where they were closed on school nights, but they recently hired help to work the taps, so they’ll be open Tuesday through Saturday this school year. They also installed some softer lighting in the seating area and stopped using the industrial-ish fluorescent tubes.
  • Ann Arbor T-Shirt Company, the print-on-demand apparel operation, is moving from across the street to ?, if the for-lease sign can be believed:

    Ext. Ann Arbor T-Shirt Co, South Industrial. (C)A2RS
  • Ricewood’s season ends Saturday with tacos. Here’s the Thursday lunch crowd avoiding the last-day lines::
    Oh you know, just trying to avoid the rush on the final day. (C)A2RS

    The line moved pretty fast, they had three men in the truck, and I managed to get brisket, so, you know, yay me. I think the plan is still to move them inside Morgan & York, who now serve beer and wine by the glass, and put a taco truck here. Frank, Ricewood’s owner, just opened Poçai a few blocks up Packard, and is starting over with a new crew at Ma Lou’s, his waffle place chicken joint in Ypsi.

Happy end of summer!

Brief Briarwood Update

I got out to Briarwood the other day, and there are some things you should know about.

The space where MC Sports was has been bisected. The parking lot entrance is home to a nail salon and spa:

Exterior, Signature Nails & Spa. (C)A2RS

I don’t know what the overlap of services is between Signature and Tricho, which is directly opposite Signature on the other side of the Briarwood corridor entrance. Signature is the first Briarwood store I have ever seen not to have an internal entrance for customers.

Earlier this year, the MC Sports space was occupied by a bounce-house operator who is probably renting all their equipment out now for outdoor events.

Interior of former MC Sports store at Briarwood. Note the shoe and boot racks are still attached to the wall. (C)A2RS

Cinnabon is closed and walled off, with a literature stand attracting potential franchisees to run a Cinnabon in the mall.

So meta-bon (C)A2RS

I don’t know if they’re updating this one or if they just would rather have a blank wall than a closed Cinnabon. I’ve never run a mall, apart from when I worked at the mall and my friends used to say such as, “yeah, Britain basically runs this mall.”

Best Buy Mobile is gone. This was basically a tiny Best Buy store that only offered mobile phones and phone accessories, like bluetooth speakers and headphones and cases and cables. It matched the big-box Best Buy location across 94 for prices and such, but was more convenient if you were already at the mall. I think both parties, ultimately, will survive.

This lonely void’s lifeforce has been sapped by the throbbing pink one adjacent. (C)A2RS

Meanwhile, T-Mobile managed to double-size, by taking over the Aldo shoe store that was next door:

It looks like Apple and VS PINK had a hideous neon baby. (C)A2RS

There’s a similarly large Sprint store directly facing this T-Mobile store. If the Sprint-T Mobile merger actually happens this time, there’s gonna be a helluva reckoning here.

Finally, I wanted to remind you that Olga’s Kitchen is still a viable business. Although they recently closed up on Plymouth Road, the Briarwood location appears to be prosperous-ish:

/?attachment_id=992″> Exterior, Olga’s Kitchen at Briarwood. Click on me to go big and follow along with the below comment. (C)A2RS

I had to get this

[/caption]I had to get this photo because a.) nobody was in it and 2.) it showcases three distinct Olga’s logos from their corporate journey.

The illuminated sign over the doorway dates from their years as a funky little locally owned chain.

The New Century Schoolbookish wordmark on the “Our Host Will Seat You” sign mounted to the counter dates from the late 90s and 2000s when they were trying to modernize.

The current logo, where they are still locally owned and still a chain, but probably not funky, can be faintly glimpsed on the standing sign in the mall corridor. I don’t really care what they do with the logo, as long as they leave the bread alone.

Gas Station Convenience Update

I was near Eisenhower and Saline Road the other day and noticed that the A2 Gateway Shell at the corner has upgraded their Coke fountain to a tiny Freestyle designed to sit on an existing counter:

All the freaky flavors, half the height. (C)A2RS

Worth noting:

– Unlike a full-size Freestyle, this machine has both a tap to dispense the beverage AND a chute to dispense the ice

– The graphical user interface is more animated and slower than the full-size Freestyle machine

– After this was installed, the price for a 44oz drink shot up from $1.29 to $1.99

– The normal Pepsi fountain machine remains on the other side of the counter. It has like six or eight taps

South of here, at State and Ellsworth, the Speedway has completed its transformation into a Speedy Cafe, Speedway’s take on a Sheetz or Wawa type of quick-service food concept.

Interior of a Speedy Cafe much like the one that just opened here. (C) Marathon Patroleum.

As with the ones I’ve visited in Dundee and Hartland (and apparently at Walt Disney World now), you order your sandwich, pizza, burger, hot dog, or wrap on a touch screen, then the Cafe crew member makes it. I’ve tried the burgers in the past and they were okay for the price and convenience factor. This time I tried a toasted steak sub sandwich. I enjoyed the bun and the peppers and lettuce were pleasantly crisp, but the steak definitely seemed prepackaged, especially when I realized it had onions already in it (I definitely didn’t request onions, but there they were).

My favorite feature of this store is that since the pizzas are made to order, they don’t have the rotating oven heating individual slices by the fountain machine, and hence you don’t get hit with the chemical-burning slice oven smell when you open the door.  I haven’t taken photos inside yet because that would be super conspicuous, but trust me, it looks a lot like the ones from their website, linked above.

Now seems as good a time as any to pay tribute to Ann Arbor’s oldest Speedway location, at Carpenter and Packard. Specifically its roof.

Nearly seamless. (C)A2RS

Unlike nearly any other gas station in town, the roof of this classic Speedway station goes out of its way to protect you, the consumer, from rain and snow. Newer builds don’t have this roof.

Full protection. (C)A2RS

This Speedway station even predates the wide expansion Speedway undertook in the Ann Arbor area when its parent company acquired Total Petroleum’s US convenience-store business.

“LEONARD becomes TOTAL Station, 1971.” (C)The Ann Arbor News

Above, here’s the TOTAL station on Stadium across from the Post Office. In the photo it was transitioning from Leonard to TOTAL. In the early 2000s, Tota would exit the US market and license its trademark to a fuel retailer called Diamond Shamrock, who would eventually sell their stations in our market to Speedway, a subsidiary of Marathon based in Ohio.

State & Hill Shakedown Got Me Thinking About Records

Two fixtures of the Packard/State/Hill triangle recently closed their doors somewhat quietly.

Quickie Burger went quickly into the night in July. Quickie originally succeeded Tubby’s Submarines in the State/Hill corner spot about a decade ago. It was initially criticized for its signage – a woman riding a hamburger — along with predictable risqué puns in its advertising.

“Come in for a Quickie,” or something, I don’t know. (C)Quickie Burger, stolen from their ghost town of a Facebook.

It was an ok burger/beer place, if a little expensive. Recent weeks had seen store signage hinting at new management, a new menu, and the elimination of alcohol. (If you go way back, you may remember this restaurant as Geppetto’s Pizza.)

Around the corner, PJ’s Records suddenly closed when their landlord immediately terminated their lease. I learned about this disappointing news through Arwulf, Ann Arbor’s most beloved radio personality:

Screencap’t from Theodore Grenier (Arwulf’s) Facebook; click through to see the original post.

It’s hard to imagine a time when so many used and new record stores thrived in this town. State Street alone boasted PJ’s, Wazoo, Discount Records, State Discount (a chain variety store located in a number of college towns, with a music selection alongside the simple apparel, food, and household supplies you would find now at CVS or Walgreens), as well as Schoolkids In Exile during its brief run. Of those, Wazoo is the sole survivor.

“Stephen Bergman & Others Inside Schoolkids’ Records, September 5, 1998.” (C)The Ann Arbor News

Liberty Street had the original Schoolkids Records, SKR Classical, Borders 01, Encore Recordings, and the relative newcomer, now stalwart, Underground Sounds. (Full disclosure: I am fond of Underground Sounds and spent a lot of money at its sister stores as a young person with more income and fewer expenses.)

South University had Michigan Wherehouse Records, in the second-floor space above Good Time Charley’s now occupied by Cantina; as well as a brief presence from Royal Oak’s Play It Again Records and a franchise of Disc-Go-Round. I bet I’m forgetting some others. Of course, most people probably think of Tower Records when they think of music stores on South U, but a handful of locals may remember that the Galleria, Tower’s home, originally opened with Tracks, a different chain record store, on the ground floor. They closed pretty quickly after Tower moved in upstairs. Tower probably deserves another post of its own.

Mainly In Different

I was on Main Street recently to meet my friend and collaborator Patti Smith for tacos. (Inviting me to lunch is an excellent way to ensure up-to-date coverage of a particular area.)

Renaissance has come home to Main Street, in the… (mall? Let’s call it a Mall) at 806 South Main. Previously closer to William, the longtime downtown fixture for grownup clothes moved to Division Street a few years back and spent some time on the street level of the Google building downtown. The discontinuation of Renaissance’s presence at Towne Centre seems to dovetail nicely with Google’s move to the north side. But I’m glad to see them back on Main Street with Le Dög and CW Petersen Jewelry, maker of our wedding rings!

I have no idea what’s going in across the street but they’re really moving on that new building. Does the eye doctor own this? I assume it will be too expensive for anyone but Michigan Parents to actually shop at.

“Coming soon: Warby-Hammer, prescription tabletop miniatures for the hip young professional.” (C)A2RS

Down the way, The Ark prepares for the coming flood of singer-songwriters, folkies, and acoustic-ish rockers. Big renovations happening in this, the season when it’s fun to listen to music outdoors.

Wear your hard hat and watch for dropping fiddle grooves. (C)A2RS

And I noticed Underground Printing has debranded Moe’s from its Main Street store, which previously had a UGP AND a Moe Sport Shops banner. MDen has been running the old Moe space on North U as basically a satellite MDen store for some time. I think the North U store is due to close soon, if it hasn’t already, since MDen already has a massive presence on State Street. Apparently you used to be able to buy actual sporting goods there, but I’m pretty sure that was before my time.

You’ve heard of ‘Shoeless Joe,’ now get ready for Moe-less UGP. (C)A2RS