Toys “Яn’t” What It Used “2” “ᗺ”

Some of you have probably read that the Toys R Us brand is back in retail after a several-year hiatus caused by our old friend, Private Equity. Well, Macy’s has introduced a “Toys Я Us” section in each of their 400-odd locations and over the weekend Business Insider did a photo essay about what it looks like.

Despite the name of the publisher, the typical BI photo essay indicates little to no input from actual insiders and focuses solely on the consumer experience. If you’re still keeping up with this blog, you probably already love those articles too, but just in case, here’s an example about Amtrak trains. I’ll wait.

Okay, that was fun right? So BI posted a new one last weekend about the flagship Toys Я Us store in New York City. It has over a dozen photos, including a selfie of the author, before you even get inside the front door of the new location. It’s 14,000 square feet within the eleventieth floor of the Macy’s Herald Square tower.

Then I had some time to waste at Briarwood Mall the other day, so I got out my picture-taking hand and wandered over to see the Ann Arbor implementation of the new TЯU. Embeds don’t work well/at all in my WordPress instance anymore, so you should probably open the Insider article in another tab so you can compare and contrast our experiences.

The Front-Of-Store Stage Setter

Geoffrey cut some weight. (C)A2RS.

All entrances of the Macy’s store have a Geoffrey sign. This is the latter-day Geoffrey, essentially unchanged from the 2007 flat redesign. His wife and kids are still vanished. The display pictured above is near the north entrance from the parking lot, right by the big register counter.

Creepin’ On a Come-Up

Don’t tell the Bureau of Land Management this appeared here. (C)A2RS

I think the Briarwood Macy’s has an elevator in one corner of the store, but I did not examine it for fancy appliques like Herald Square’s had. The sign seen above advises you to head upstairs for the TЯU fun.

Briarwood isn’t working with the kind of floorspace Macy’s has in New York City, so there aren’t as many distractions to traipse through to arrive at the good stuff. In fact, you can see it right at the top of the elevator:

At The Top of the Elevator

Noisy like a giraffe. (C)A2RS

Longtime mall denizens may realize that TЯU has moved into the area on the second floor that used to be Macy’s cafe. As a little kid, nothing made me feel like an International Gentleman of Leisure more than eating with my folks or grandparents in the restaurant at Hudson’s, sipping chocolate milk poured from a little pitcher. As a mall employee decades later, if the duration of my lunchbreak permitted, I would steal over to the Macy’s Cafe, consider ordering a big bowl of fro-yo, then settle for a fountain Coke and a bagel instead. But food service has fallen out of vogue in many affordable department stores (I’m sure the Nordstrom at 12 Oaks still has the cookies you can google the zillion-dollar recipe for), and so Toys Я in this space now.

Of the items pictured in the BI feature, the Nerf firing range, Lego tables, and indoor playground did not make it over — the Geoffrey figure on the bench is the sole extent of the interactive displays here in Ann Arbor.

From a soft-bullet 12-gauge to hard-sided luggage. (C)A2RS

The tiled walkways separate TЯU on two sides, but there’s very little demarcation between the toy department and the luggage, as you can see above and in the first photo where a pair of blue suitcases intrude from the right.

The Other Toy Department

Confusingly, there is a second toy department in the Briarwood Macy’s store. This Macy’s location includes “Backstage,” a TJ-Maxxish store-within-the-store that takes up about a third of Floor 2 and includes its own discrete shoes, menswear, womenswear, housewares, and… Toys.

These “Я” a different toy section. (C)A2RS

The inventory of the Backstage Toys section is similar to Toys Я Us, just less timely stuff. No Black Panther, Black Adam, Blackpink, or Jack Black stuff here, though there were some popular brands. Besides this department, there were also toy-adjacent impulse buys in the line for the second floor registers, as well as some out-of-season water toys in the “Last Call” clearance bin near the kitchen tools.

What Would My Kid Self Do?

There were a few lines in the article that bugged me. The photo of the Mandalorian toy display that identified its heroes as “Boba Fett and Baby Yoda.” The gratuitous placement of Macy’s Herald Square in-store food concessions (maybe there IS some inside involvement after all). But it was the last line that really made me wince:

As I left the store, my only complaint was that I wasn’t able to travel back in time so that my kid self could have enjoyed it too.

Ann Matica, Business Insider

My kid self would not want to be in a corner of Macy’s. Maybe if they had incorporated more of the interactive and play stuff seen at the NYC store. My kid self would arrive at Briarwood and promptly go to Kay-Bee Toys or Fun Factory, or ask to check out Sears, which, if he arrived there today, would look like this:

The former Sears sales floor, as spied through the pegboard display walls set up by temporary tenant Spirit Halloween, November 2022. (C)A2RS

But if he absolutely had to come to the Briarwood of 2022, I think we all know where little Britain would definitely spend all day. At the Apple Store. Then he’d ask to be taken to Arborland, where the big Toys Я Us is. I have bad news for us, little fella. But first, write us a blog post.

Figure it South

(I started writing this months ago. I was gonna add some more photos but at some point you have to call something done, even if it’s not perfect. -b.) Nothing too major going on right now, just some stuff I noticed. It’s good to notice stuff again and it’s super good to write about it.


I’ve been bemusedly watching the Carpenter Road Target, which got paint and a wood-look resurfacing a few years back, then lost the paneling about a year ago. It came down while the Carpenter Road Meijer store got its big update last year, and I thought maybe Target was going to do something dramatic to compete. But in recent days the wood look has returned:

The entrance to the Carpenter Road Target store, November 2021. (C)A2RS

Not a lot different from the old wood look, right? If you’ve attended any of my talks you know this blog was started almost as a dare, and now it’s been around long enough to almost actually be a legitimate archive. I have a photo of the previous facade:

The exterior of the Carpenter Road Target store. Wood paneling on a cream colored wall.
Flashback to June 2018 when the wood paneling had just gone up. (C)A2RS

It looks like some new kind of paneling in a similar color/grain. Maybe this new paneling is more durable. I don’t know. Interested in seeing what sort of permanent sign goes up. Will it be lowercase ◎target or will they go with just the Bullseye like the previous revision? Time will tell and so will I, eventually. (It’s been a few weeks since I started to write this and can now confirm that the lone bullseye went back up. It looks like Winking Domo-kun again.)

Japanese cartoon character, meme, gaping maw of commerce.

Here’s a little wholesome from the Starbucks counter inside that Target. During the holiday season each location had a board with sticky notes to leave affirming messages and one of this location’s baristas got a shout out from the entire store next door:

This is the best they will get, since baristas at Target Starbucks locations are forbidden from accepting tips.


The big new bank merger is Huntington and TCF (Twin Cities Financial). But in 1994, the big bank merger was when TCF acquired our neighborhood bank, Great Lakes Bancorp. Since Great Lakes was an expansion for TCF, many of the Great Lakes locations were simply updated with TCF signage. Huntington already has a local presence, so this merger has led to a number of closures of both banks’ locations, including a few that had been open continuously since the Great Lakes days., like this one at Packard and Hewitt in Ypsi:

If you look closely you can see a GREΔT LΔKES BΔNCORP-shaped contrast, where the letters from the sign sheltered the building’s surface from sun and weather, under the removed TCF sign. This is what serious retail nerds call a “Labelscar,” and after you hear that once, you start seeing it everywhere.


Last time I talked about the fast-food places adjacent to State Street, but the table-service places aren’t doing a lot better. When was the last time you saw an Applebees or a TGIFs close? And yet here we are.

There goes The Neighborhood. (C)A2RS
I believe this was a plot by Big Monday. (C)A2RS

Unlike the McDonald’s in the previous post, these restaurants have not lost their exterior signage. Maybe they are waiting for the economy to pick up and will reopen, fronting like nothing happened? Each lot has a For Lease sign in front, so maybe it’s just more economical to leave the debranding to the new occupant. Especially if the new occupant is going to knock it all down and start over, as is happening across the street from Friday’s at the former Joe’s Crab Shack:

From seafood diner to comfy recliners. (C)A2RS

The word is that this is going to be a La-Z-Boy furniture store. I hope they do repairs. I have an LZB that belonged to my grandfather. It’s my favorite thing to nap in, but the footrest gets stuck. For more cool stories, visit your local library.

La-Z-Boy previously had a gallery in the outer ring of Briarwood. It closed like ten years ago and is now an office of Kapnick Insurance. I guess the time was right to re-enter the retail scene for a high end home furniture company.

I made this with a memeing website (C)A2RS

Also the Bob Evans on Saline Road closed. The one in the Meijer outlot. You are forgiven for not knowing it was there, it was between a Verizon store and Buddy’s Pizza, which thankfully seems to be doing fine. It was unusual for a Bob Evans — usually you can spot those red farmhouse-style buildings before you even exit the interstate. But this one was nestled into a strip mall:

Bob Evans, Pittsfield Township, January 2016. (C)A2RS

I think the effort to incorporate the Bob Evans theming into an existing box gave it the look of a life size Fairy Door, maybe for a southern fairy who can’t decide between the buttermilk biscuits and the yeast rolls with their Knife And Fork Turkey Sandwich. ( haven’t been in two years, which is probably why this location closed, but for the record, I choose the yeast rolls.) The Bob Evans script logo is gone now, but the “roof” remains until something else moves in.

Buddy’s Pizza, Texas Roadhouse, and Outback Steakhouse (which has been at Oak Valley and Saline Road for about as long as there has even been a shopping center there) are all still open, as well as Godaiko and Arirang, the Japanese and Korean restaurants near Outback. There are also two chain pizza places and a juice place.

The quick service and takeout places at this exit all seem to be doing okay. The McDonald’s on Lohr might have a little longer drive thru line after absorbing some of the State Street location’s business, but I had to check it out when SOMEONE needed their FRIES recently, and the line moved pretty quick.

Around the corner from most of these sits Nick’s House of Pancakes, which was once a Big Boy, pivoted to become a Breakfast Joint, and seems to have prospered ever since. We went to a football game at Ford Field recently and spied a Big Boy counter, complete with checked-overalls Big Boy statue. It got us to wondering where the nearest Big Boy is now. Long ago they were all over town – Plymouth Road, Washtenaw Ave, Briarwood Mall, Zeeb Road. All those locations have gone – Plymouth Road’s location is in the process of becoming a Panera; Washtenaw Ave (technically Ypsi) is an outlet of the local-ish Crazy Crab chain; Zeeb Road is Kathy’s House of Pancakes now, which cannot be a coincidence, can it? And driving through Chelsea I found that the Big Boy out there is now a Culver’s, further asserting its highway dominance:

Honestly, not a bad fit. If you’ve ever looked at a Culver’s menu it’s almost as wide ranging as a Big Boy. You can get a burger, AND fried chicken (bone in or tenders), AND a salad, AND a Pork Tenderloin sandwich, AND a bunch of different frozen-custard-based desserts. This one time I was in Anaheim at an In-n-Out wearing Michigan gear, as I always did at out-of-state conferences, and a fellow InO customer asked me if I’d been to Culver’s, and what was lit like? So, you know, Culver’s is kind of our In-N-Out or Whataburger, though I don’t think they want to be be considered a regional delicacy for too much longer.

Anyway, that’s how Big Boy became rarer than Pizza Hut, at least around here.

To wrap up the roll call of sit down restos, two in Briarwood: Bravo Italian Grill near Macy’s, and Macaroni Grill at State and Eisenhower — the first to go and with the least fanfare. Not like there aren’t plenty of fine Italian restaurants to go to, but I liked their focaccia and dipping oil.

Finally, the longtime restaurant space at Forest and South University is now a location of the Ypsi-based Lan City Hand Pulled Noodle, but they asked my friends at the Observer not to write about them. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Happy holidays and joyous new year and I will endeavor to take more pictures and post more stuff in 2022.

Taking DTW to The New York

Welcome to a photo-packed update about busted restaurants, bus-friendly zoning, and bus-powered computer accessories.


Last month, for the first time since March 2020, I went on a work trip. I got to visit one of the regional campuses of my new employer and meet my team in person. The company office, and my hotel, are both in the Denver Tech Center, so there really wasn’t much retail there to speak of; and they didn’t want us to rent cars, so I couldn’t go to a mall or pull off and gawk at a shopping center. So this isn’t gonna be that kind of Trip Report.

There was a Micro Center (previous coverage) about a mile from the hotel, so one of the days I had the Lyft drop me off there, because I needed parts for a project in my spouse’s classroom. You hear a lot of stories about school teachers purchasing their own supplies, but precious few of those stories involve the teacher’s spouse wandering Micro Center asking if the source device’s HDMI bus will provide sufficient energy for this adapter. It didn’t, which means I now have to go to Madison Heights to return or exchange the one I bought. If you take nothing else away from this post: make sure the one you buy has a Micro-USB port on the side you can plug a phone charger into if you need it. Even if the website says it does, check the thing you actually purchase to make sure.

Anyway, I figured I would just walk back to my hotel from Micro Center. It was only a mile. But I didn’t take into account that I was in Denver, the Mile High City, so it would up being a real Vascular Adventure. I cut a minute or two off from my phone’s directions by cutting through parking lots of other hotels and office buildings, and in the end, well, I didn’t die.

By now, you’re probably wondering when the Trip Report is gonna start, so we can get it over with. I didn’t take any pictures of the Micro Center. It had no natural light. Its aisles were claustrophobic. It did the job, but our Madison Heights one is much more aesthetically pleasing.

What I did take a few photos of, was the McNamara Terminal at Metro Airport, the big one, with the tram, that you fly to/from if you take Delta or one of its partners. You know all the news reports about how Air Travel Is Back, Baby? Don’t believe ‘em. There is a renewed interest in flying and it was not slow or empty by any means, but the carriers aren’t flying as many places, at as many times, as pre-Covid, which means I had to leave the day before and come home the day after to save myself from Chatty Bob’s 1am Lyft Ride From Hell.

In the terminal, the first thing you notice after getting past the checkpoint is that Bigalora is closed. I say the first thing because it’s the first storefront past the down escalator. They’re just not open, but the signage is still up, which is more than I can say for the Wendy’s in Terminal B.

An empty, boarded-up storefront in Concourse B. Though it is Wendy’s Red, no Wendy’s signage is visible.
The color scheme remains but the Terminal B Wendy’s is gone, October 2021. (C)A2RS

If this were Ann Arbor, I would blame it on the low-wage labor squeeze all these places are experiencing, the one that has cut the south side fast-food restaurants to basically lunch hours only, but I think the reduced routes are also to blame here. Terminal A is the largest and closest to security; Terminals B&C primarily serve smaller airports and regional routes. Wendy’s was by no means the only casualty in the airport, a number of smaller spots had closed, pointing travelers to sister locations in Terminal A.

An unoccupied, inactive Starbucks counter behind a grate.
A closed Starbucks location in Metro Airport. (C)A2RS
A hand lettered sign visible through a grate, reading “Starbucks Closed! Not Open!”
This hand-lettered Closed sign harkens back to Starbucks’ humble beginnings in Seattle fifty years ago. (C)A2RS

The fact that all the Starbucks stuff is still there, leads me to believe that it will reopen when air traffic encourages it. As with the Eastern-Market-themed food court and bar at the east end of Terminal A. I think Delta just wasn’t flying much of anything out of the east side of the terminal at that time, because the center and western areas of A were fairly busy.

One more shot: the big fountain that’s based on Delta’s route map is not running. It’s the roped-off slab of granite at left in the photo below.

The center of Concourse A at DTW’s McNamara Terminal. It is relatively early in the day and few people are walking around. The ceiling arches gracefully over the aisle.

I used to like staring at it, but maybe a big aerosol-expeller at a central juncture is a bad look right now.


Speaking of closed fast-food restaurants, how often do you see a McDonald’s close? Not much right? So much science goes into choosing a location that once one opens, it usually sticks around. (The downtown ones notwithstanding.)

Patrick, there used to be two of them. One was where Quickly Tea is currently, on South University, and one on Maynard where Aveda Institute and some U-M offices are now. The South U one was U-M sports themed and had a block-M-shaped island in the middle of the restaurant which was part seating, part dispensers for napkins and condiments. Its more celebrated sister location, on Maynard, still pops up regularly on what I like to call Can-You-Believe-A-McDonalds-Looked-Like-This-Once Twitter.

Kids these days can’t believe this was there, and they really can’t believe that I was in there one afternoon after school getting a snack in 1990 or 91, and saw the manager remove a non-employee from behind the counter and kick him out of the store, then saw the interloper’s mother enter the store and assault the front counter staff with an empty caulk gun.

But that was then and this is now. The latest McCasualty of the Franchise Wars is the South State Street location near I-94 and the airport. Last weekend it was still open, I’m… pretty? sure? On Monday the lights were all off, and nobody was there. By Friday the building was debadged:

The front yard of the now-closed McDonald’s on State Street. All McDonald’s branding has been removed from the building. At the forefront, a tree sheds red and yellow leaves.
I left the local color in this photo of the un-branded former McDonald’s on State Street. (C)A2RS

The State Street location seemed to be busy often, so I suspect the closing may also involve a redevelopment that includes the former Motel 6 site directly behind it.

This leaves McDonald’s freeway-adjacent locations at only Baker Road, Zeeb Road, Lohr Road near Saline Road, Michigan Avenue in Pittsfield Township, and either direction at Washtenaw and 23. So, you know, pray for Grimace. (There are a couple others in town, of course, but they aren’t so close to highways.)

As I mentioned above, the Burger King on Victors Way is open for lunch only these days. The Wendy’s does breakfast and lunch but closes before dinner begins in earnest. The Taco Bell south of 94 seems to be open some nights and not others, and sometimes it’s only open for drivers to pick up delivery-app orders. I think maybe Subway and Jimmy John’s are still maintaining normal-ish hours.

TC1 Tuggers: It’s not a joke. You don’t propose it as a joke

Speaking of South State Street near 94, have you seen the proposal to rezone South State and Eisenhower? As I write this, the commission meeting is tomorrow night and there is hot debate on both sides of this. The proposed area does not include Briarwood, though maybe it should. I’ll always have a soft spot for the mall, but I will also probably always fear enclosed spaces filled with strangers now, too, so it’s kind of a wash.

I think about 8 1/3 % of the people this was written to amuse, or annoy, will actually get the reference

Anyway, you can’t have “A2 RETAIL DOT SPACE” without retail space, so this site is in favor… as long as they throw some retail in there!


The big arrow sign on Packard is getting a new refresh. Logtimers know this as the Cheese Cheese Cheese sign. Can you imagine Larrytown™️ without that big arrow pointing to the building? Me either, but here it was:

A vintage 1955 photo of the Big Ten Party Store sign. Its rearrangeable letters read “RARE FOODS, CHAMPAGNE, WINES.”
The Big Ten Party Store sign as seen in 1955. (C) The Ann Arbor News

The arrow was added once the Big Ten added liquor to its offerings.

A Big Ten Party Store employee arranging letters on the road sign to read “LIQUOR PRICE HIKE MAY SECOND.”
The sign getting a new message in 1993. (C) The Ann Arbor News.

The sign was in pretty bad shape by the time Morgan and York took the store over and started to upscale the merchandise offerings. The neon and the lights were eliminated in the rebranding and rehabilitation of the sign.

The Big Ten Party Store sign
This came from Flickr. If Flickr doesn’t auto-attribute in embeds anymore, I’ll add the attribution later.

I always appreciated them a little bit for trying to evoke the look of neon letters with the “CHEESE CHEESE CHEESE” part. I don’t think it really worked, but I appreciated it.

Now that York is the sole name on the building and York Ann Arbor has settled into its niche as the south-of-Stadium deli/bar/wine shop/BBQ/food truck/pop-up destination, the sign has received an update.

The freshly painted York Ann Arbor road sign. Its rearrangeable letters read “WARM FIRES, GOOD NEIGHBORS, YORK YARD.”
The latest iteration of the iconic sign, November 2021. (C)A2RS.

The creme color is gone and it more closely matches the front of the store:

The front of York Ann Arbor. A blue building with “YORK” over its white awning and glass double doors.
Exterior of York, October 2021. (C)A2RS

Would I love to see the neon come back? Sure, but I don’t live right by it. I’m sure you need a munitions-grade eye mask to go to sleep near that much light. Nostalgia headz should still park behind the building and enter through the rear, where the adorable chalet-style A-frame entrance remains as it was.

The A-frame rear entrance of York Ann Arbor. A sign hangs above it that reads “Big Ten Back Door.”
Rear of York, October 2021. (C)A2RS.

One more note — all my photos in this update now contain proper alt text for assistive technology. They contain an appropriate level of detail beyond the jokey captions. If you read this with a screen reader, I’m sorry you wasted fourteen hours of a perfectly good day, but I hope the alt text helped the experience. One or two of the photos are embeds of other people’s photos from other sites and they may not have the same level of accessibility.

I will endeavor to maintain this experience in the future.

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:[0]=AZXhZ1_7le7Aaxj8TVoAZ0g7crPJoqfVep6gHd_RWfHmXTCCW-UCx0GIvcmIVeoksh-54XPV2VxVmvPU7hYsUjmLbxWCVsFvlhJd_J6Vn2scnbHFQWmw_5APBezUs2gU_SAmCOUlBsJO6m811g8O78KL&tn=%2CO%2CP-R

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.

State of Pay

I know a lot of stuff has closed and a few things have opened and then closed again. And I missed a lot of it. It was a lot easier to write about stuff going on downtown and on campus when I was downtown and on campus every day. I can’t hope to catch up, but I miss writing for fun, so here I am thinking about the new State Street Target store. (Sorry for not making a Target pun in the title, just seemed too obvious)

All About Ann Arbor has some photos on their website and embedded below:

The close-ups of the merchandise racks made it hard for me to imagine how a Target fit into the old Urban Outfitters (and before that, the original State Theater) space.
The U-M Student Yearbook posted a couple more that helped me out a little bit:

That brick wall, that the Target logo is painted on, is the back wall of the space. This is obviously a much smaller space than your typical Target.

That’s an excellent question. When Target opens a small-format store in a city space like this, they tend to concentrate on grocery and household items to serve apartment and dorm dwellers. Here’s the map from Target’s website:

A map of the Ann Arbor State Street Target store.

State Street is on the right of that map, the back wall is on the left. The way the captions of the various icons crowd together and overlap on this map doesn’t do this layout any favors.

Judging by the “toys/games” icon, this store may well sell some Lego sets, but probably won’t keep a lot of them in stock. Downtown and campus has kind of needed a grocery since White Market closed a few years ago. For general merchandise, I bet when they have a designer exclusive clothing line they will make room for those items. I might go check it out and take some photos sometime soon. In the meantime, here are a bunch more photos and an article from MLive.

When the State Theater originally opened in the 40s, it was one enormous screen for 1700 seats.

State Theatre Under Renovation, February 1979.” (C) The Ann Arbor News

The Ann Arbor News photo above dates from 1979, when they split the theater into four smaller screens.

When the theater originally closed a few years after the screen split, the ground floor theaters were gutted and became the space where Urban Outfitters opened in the late 80s. (The two upstairs theaters were preserved, we’ve talked about them before. The current incarnation of the State Theater contains four screens but I think they’re all 2010s built — will update when someone corrects me.) The wall retained the natural brick, but with an enormous, painted “urban outfitters” brand mark that loomed over the fitting rooms.

As for Urban Outfitters — it moved to Briarwood. I don’t spend much time at Briarwood these days, but I’ve been in there enough to take a glance at the new space, which is where Hollister used to be, in the long corridor between Center Court and Sears. It looks a lot like other Urban Outfitters stores in malls in other cities, like Somerset and Great Lakes Crossing. I’m not really the core demographic for UO, but it’s kind of cool that Briarwood has a place that sells vinyl records, right?

Meanwhile, across town on Carpenter Road, the Ypsilanti Target store dropped its facade in February, right around the same time the Meijer store next door started to receive its exterior refresh. The dark-wood finish and bullseye I captured a few years ago quickly vanished:

I love the labelscar and the beige of the original entrance visible here. (C)A2RS

It was replaced with a vinyl banner that reads “target” and remains over the entrance to this day.

Yes, this is an old photo, but it still looks like this today and probably will in a month or so when that Halloween snowfall drops. (C)A2RS

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.

Struggling Digital Writer Pivots to Exciting New “Print” Medium

Happy February, all. It’s been quiet here on the blog because I’ve been busy contributing to the Ann Arbor Observer‘s “Marketplace Changes” column. Here’s my first piece — it’s about the recently reopened Michigan Union.

Though I have cited the Ann Arbor Chronicle, Paul Lukas, and Moses Gates’ casual writing as inspirations for A2RS, Marketplace Changes is perhaps the most clear influence. For decades the Observer has been documenting the opening and closings of area businesses and profiling the entrepreneurs and franchisees that choose to serve Ann Arbor.

Though I’ve spent many hours in comfy chairs reading the Observer’s longform articles and trying to find the Fake Ad, I pretty much always flipped to Marketplace Changes first to see what was new — until I began writing A2RS, because I didn’t want to consciously, or subconsciously, copy their reporters’ work. Now, as a stringer, I can finally read it free of guilt.

To read my latest writings, please read the Observer. You can find it… in your mailbox, if you live in the city of Ann Arbor, every month. Otherwise you can sign up for a subscription or find it at area businesses.

If you can’t find the Observer on paper, you can also subscribe at After a period of time, my Observer work will appear here, and I hope to post stuff here from time to time that doesn’t quite fit the Observer’s parameters (opinions, trip reports).

Sneakers, Smokers, and Suckers

Due to some immature humor at the very end, this post is recommended only for mature audiences. Thanks.

Sorry for the delay. Nothing like a couple weeks of travel, followed by a holiday where you care for a sick loved one and then get sick from the same thing, to make you not get around to sorting through all the photos you took and then making posts out of them. At least we have a lot to talk about this time. Let’s start with…

Motel 6’s Accelerated Slide Into Disrepair

In early December, the driveway chain was down at the old Motel 6 site on State Street; the in-room air conditioner units were gone; and the buildings were beginning to show signs of deterioration.

Since I took these, a demolition crew has begun to level the complex.

Dickey’s Barbeque’s Sudden Closure

Recently I had the urge for some BBQ and soft serve ice cream, a combination unique to Dickey’s, the chain that was located on Washtenaw Avenue, when I discovered that, despite the “NOW OPEN” banner up high over their entrance since their original opening, they were in fact closed:

Closeup of closing announcement and eviction notice at Dickey’s. (C)A2RS

Mr. Alan’s on Washtenaw has rebranded to “Snipes”

I caught the day the Mr. Alan’s sign came down on Washtenaw:

Exterior of Mr. Alan’s with sign coming down. (C)A2RS

For a couple of days the store had only an “Open” banner over the door, but that was soon supplanted with a new permanent sign for its new owner: “SNIPES.” I assume it’s a portmanteau of sneakers and stripes, but as you know, I try not to do too much research for this blog.

Snipes is a German chain specializing in American streetwear, that expanded into the US last year by buying Mr. Alan’s and a similar regional giant, Kicks USA. American streetwear is huge business overseas. For my first few years on Twitter, most of my my mistagged tweets were not from overly enthusiastic July 4 partiers, but from Dutch sneakerheads peeping the latest styles at “Britain,” a similar chain based in the Netherlands. The chain eventually changed their name to “Go-Britain.”

Mr. Alan’s will be remembered for its ubiquitous local-TV ads and 2-for-$50 pricing:

Belleville KMart is closing/maybe closed by now

Exterior of the Belleville Big K. (C)A2RS

I stopped by the liquidation sale at the Belleville KMart between Thanksgiving and Christmas. As with most of these sales the store was now being run by a dedicated liquidation firm, was not honoring gift cards, and the food counter was closed. Retail Flickr has a million photo sets of Kmarts in their death throes — two or three of them are my own sets — and I wouldn’t have had much to add by taking a bunch of photos in this one. I did snap a couple, to show you the vast, empty sales floor:

Everything the light touches. (C)A2RS

Can you see that enormous poster of hitmaker Adam Levine by the door to the Garden Center? Here’s a closeup because I know you love him. I’m pretty sure this is him despite the fact that he’s wearing a shirt:

“The Adam Shop” was a sticker to cover up a contest announcement, so Adam’s portrait could continue to be used after the contest ended. (C)A2RS

Though the store advertised all toys discounted 60%, I spotted this Nerf Star Wars Chewbacca Blaster Rifle ($26 on Amazon at time of research) marked with an original price of $44.00, which brings it to about the same price as Amazon with the discount. (The preceding link is not an affiliate link, I don’t make any money off this blog– I provide it only for price comparison.)

For those keeping track, there is exactly one KMart left in Michigan. As with other stories of “hey look, this KMart is still open,” it’s flourishing in an area with no other competition nearby and residents that distrust Amazon. It’s about an hour west of us on I-94 in Marshall, home of Dark Horse Brewing and Win Schuler’s.Frankly, this all screams “TRIIIIIP REEEEPOOOOORT” to me, so look forward to that sometime this spring.

Speaking of Trip Reports: Is the Chelsea SoS really worth it?

For years I had heard that the Chelsea SoS was a line-free oasis and a viable alternative to waiting for service at the Ann Arbor office. I tried it in October when I had to reup for work (I fly frequently for my new job, so I figured I should get a new license with the RealID Star now and get it out of the way).

So I texted in and got in the Virtual Line for the A2 location, then drove to Chelsea, because it’s three exits/20 minutes from the Ann Arbor one. (Chelsea’s office allows you to make an appointment some weeks in advance, but does not offer the Virtual Line option that Ann Arbor does.) It’s in the back of a little shopping center with a Post Office, a bike shop, a locally owned pharmacy, a locally-owned computer store, a hair salon, and the Chelsea Tree House play center (“You know, for kids”).

Anyway, the Chelsea SOS’ actual office is a little smaller office than Ann Arbor, but it seemed to contain almost as many waiting people. I imagined at least half of them coming from Ann Arbor to “avoid the line.” I ended up going back to A2 and killing a little time browsing in the newer Maple Village stores near the Ann Arbor SoS, though I did not go in Dollar Tree.

If you decide to visit the Chelsea SoS, I recommend you book an appointment online and then make a day of it. Tour the Jiffy Mix factory. Eat at Smokehouse 52 or the Chelsea Jet’s Pizza, which, like all Jet’s locations, serves “Sicilian-by-way-of-Detroit” pizza but is otherwise much different from other Jet’s locations in three important ways:

  • Dine-In Seating
  • Ridiculous selection of beers on tap
  • TV with “Star Wars” on loop in all restrooms

Leo’s Heads West

Exterior of Meijer outlot building with “Coming Soon: Leo’s Coney” banner. (C)A2RS

They’re finishing the second outlot building between Meijer and Zeeb Road, and it’s going to have a Leo’s Coney Island. OOOOOOOOPA!

When Arbor Vacuum Needed to Fix Their Sign

It’s fixed now, but for a minute there I thought Jeff Daniels was making a sequel to “Super Sucker.”

Marque Deux (a Trip Report from Draper, Utah)

If you go to movies at our local Cinemark, but also notice Cinemarks in other cities, you might wonder two things:

  1. Why their movie theater listings include locations that have been closed for years, labeled “NOW CLOSED:”
  2. What is  a Cinemark “XD” and/or “NEXTGEN” theater, and are we missing out by not having those in Ann Arbor

Well, I have answers.

This screenshot from depicts the Universal Mall location, which closed with the mall in the late 2000s, but is nonetheless “Always accepting applications.”

Universal Mall was an indoor mall in Warren that got Arborlanded (i.e. torn down and replaced by blocks of stores with outdoor entrances) in, like, 2008. MJR, a Detroit area chain (that was locally-owned until very recently), built a new theater on the site of the old Cinemark Movies 16. My hunch is that Cinemark keeps these locations up in their listings, with the “NOW CLOSED” flag, to steer traffic to their other area theaters. A quick search for “Universal Mall movie theater” has MJR’s current theater at the top of results, but if you remember that the old theater was a Cinemark and try to review its showtimes at their site, you would be forgiven for thinking there was no movie theater there anymore.

NEXTGEN is a theater layout and branding scheme that Cinemark adopted a few years ago. I have been to opening-week screenings of a couple of franchise action films at these theaters while traveling out west in recent monts, and I suspect by the time Cinemark rebranded and were ready to update the Ann Arbor 20, that was the current-gen look of their theaters and no longer an experiment warranting the “NEXTGEN” brand.

One of the theaters I visited is the Cinemark in Draper, Utah, a few miles south of Salt Lake City.

Exterior of Cinemark Draper and XD, Draper, UT

This theater is about half the size of our 20-screen Ann Arbor location but looks quite a bit like it inside. The lobby has one entrance, one ticket counter, and one concessions queue.

At this and the other location I visited, the concessions queue takes a right turn into the ticket-taker’s position instead of going straight to the middle of the lobby. All the dumb photos I took in here and I didn’t get a shot of this, so you’re gonna have to take my word for it. Sorry. Anyway, here’s the XD auditorium:


The XD room is the biggest theater in the complex. I didn’t measure the screen but it’s a floor to ceiling style presentation, similar to IMAX but not as square as the IMAX ratio. The sound system is THX-certified, apparently 11 clusters.

The XD audience layout. I went to a weeknight show on a non-discount night, and got there early enough to be first into the theater. (C)A2RS

The Draper theater has the same reclining seats as our Ann Arbor theater, though the theater I visited in southern California over the summer did not and I surprised myself by how nose-in-the-air I was about it. When you spend enough time watching movies in a La-Z-Boy, regular movie seats start to seem quaint, if not charmingly tacky. I think the recline button module in my seat in Draper might have had differently shaped buttons, maybe a little harder to find, but also harder to recline or incline by accident.

I took a picture of this horrible M&M’s ad because I wanted to show you the screen, and they really don’t like it when you take pictures of the actual movie. (C)A2RS

The picture looked great and the sound was good too. I saw Terminator Dark Fate, which I was very satisfied with. Nobody comes here for the movie reviews.

Summary: If you are in Ann Arbor, you should go see a movie at the Michigan or the State. If not there, then Cinemark is a good choice. (Some people will insist I mention Emagine but I’m leaving that to my counterpart at If you are not in Ann Arbor and you are used to Cinemark, you should definitely visit a Cinemark. It is full-featured and probably smaller and easier to navigate than the Ann Arbor one. The End, no moral.