New Circle K on the way at Stadium and Packard – Plans Approved

Above, the Circle K, at Packard and Stadium, as it appeared in 2007. (If you click through to Google Maps, you can play with the dates and see 2011, 2014, and 2016 versions too.)

The City Council approved the redevelopment of the Circle K fuel station and convenience store at Stadium and Packard. The original building was constructed in the mid-1950s. Once a full-service gas station, it was a Hop-In by the time I moved to town (remember the “Big Bunny” fountain drinks? no? uh, me either).

Hop-In stores were once ubiquitous around Ann Arbor. There were Hop-In stores in fuel stations on Stadium near Westgate, Packard and Stadium (subject of this article), South University and Forest (the corner that was most recently Burger Fi — that corner is probably getting a post of its own sometime soon), and — without gasoline — North Maple Road, in the little shopping center just north of Miller (it’s independently owned and called “Maple In-N-Out” now).

The chain sold to Clark Retail in the 90s, at which point they were all converted to Clark’s “On The Go” brand. Not too long after, Clark sold its convenience store business to 7-Eleven, but not the Ann Arbor area stores. Those went to the Québécois convenience giant Couche-Tard. CT initially converted them to their Mac’s brand, before realizing that we were closer to San Dimas than Montreal, and branding them as Circle K.

(“Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” 1989)

CT owns and franchises convenience stores all over the world, and the grand plan is to make them all Circle Ks in the end, so on like five continents you’ll run into one eventually.

If you’ve been to other Circle Ks in the area (Prospect and Clark in Ypsi, Carpenter and Michigan Ave in Pittsfield Twp) you might have noticed they are considerably more up-to-date. It took a long time to get this one going because of the community – specifically the folks who live on Iroquois, directly south of the station. There is a lot of grass between the old building and the back of the lot, which makes it a little more bearable to live behind. Early plans for a new building moved it closer to the Iroquois street houses. A lot of people need to use a gas station, but nobody wants to live, like, ten feet from a gas station. It took a lot of back-and-forth but according to the report, “a majority of the neighbors” are okay with this. Circle K is Building A Wall and planting a net gain of 32 trees, including some to help dampen the sound and light leaking into their yards.

Anyway, other Circle K stores in the area have nice little faux-brick accents, walk-in beer coolers, and “Froster” (slushie) machines, so expect to see those in the new store. It will still have eight pump handles, but they’ll be covered by a canopy in the new station. I’m pretty sure this gas station actually performed auto repair services back in the day and was converted to a convenience store, so I would expect the newer, “70% larger” building to be thinner and not as square because it won’t be designed to contain two repair bays. It also will have fourteen parking spots, which… I’ve never seen fourteen people in that store, but okay. Maybe football Saturdays.

Here’s an illustrated PDF from the council site that goes into significant detail.

Bye bye, Babo

I have been encouraged by multiple readers to comment on the sudden closure of three Babo locations. Babo was a market/cafe from Sava, of popular restaurants Sava’s and Aventura, that eventually expanded to premium convenience stores in Nickels Arcade, Boardwalk Drive, and Depot Town — areas that could use take-and-go, ready to eat meals and high-end snacks.
I don’t know why they closed, but I’m always happy to guess. I’m sure the rent for the spaces was not trivial, and it was probably difficult to compete with other nearby convenience stores, most of them global chains like 7-Eleven and Circle K, on price. I really like baked kale chips, but they’re still too expensive for me to buy frequently as a filling midday snack.

Manpower may have been a factor too – it’s tough to find reliable and affordable employees when students leave for the summer — actually, it’s increasingly difficult during the school year, as greater numbers of U-M students from wealthy families arrive in town with enough money not to have to work. Eastern Michigan students are more eager to work, but downtown parking fees can make a significant hit on  your daily wages. 

Perhaps the #GoBlueGuarantee will bring more resident students who need part time jobs.

Downtown thoughts and opinions

I spent some time downtown this week, thanks in part to NerdNiteA2, so here’s what’s doin’ down that way.

Work is progressing on whatever they’re building in the middle of the Main Street block between Liberty and William. The eye doctor owns it, because of course he does, and it’s gonna be wonderful of course. I predict a Hard Rock Cafe. (I’m just kidding! I think! Maybe the M Den will move back in.)

Be Hair Now (the third best Oasis-named hair salon in town, besides “Don’t Look Back In Bangs” and “Whatev-hair”) has sadly disappeared from Ashley and Miller. The space is becoming a cycling studio. My daughter was in the car and cannily asked how they were gonna do cycling in a building so small. I agreed and told her to “imagine a bike, like, on a treadmill.”

It’s summer and the Beer Grotto has expanded its seating to the boulevard, that is to say, the area between the sidewalk and the curb. Not a moment too soon.

Finally, we went and got Blimpyburger, as a victory lap after my NerdNiteA2 talk. It was like ten after nine, and we walked right up to the counter and they still gave me crap for not immediately grabbing a tray, and made my brother apologize for not saying cheese when he was supposed to say cheese or something.

Look, I get the rules during lunch rush, when you are most efficient if you can keep a consistent routine, but giving people a hard time at 9pm when nobody’s here? Do you want to ensure nobody will continue to be here? I feel like they’re high on their own reputation. The weirdest part is that the whole “order right or we’ll roast you” routine is a relatively new conceit. I don’t remember it like this when I was a kid, or a student. It was when they got nationwide famous when this Ed Debevic’s routine started. Ed’s is just a website now, guys. Still love your fried broccoli, just maybe dial it down.

(If they ever read this, I’m sure I’ll get booed out of there ever after, and THEN where will I get my fried broccoli?)

Business is flat, businesses flat: A2R.S investigates M | city

(This is a photo-heavy post. Readers on dialup or 2G, please bear with us, it’s worth it!)

This past week, the University of Michigan held an open house at M | city, their connected-vehicle testing grounds adjacent to North Campus and UMTRI (the U-M Transportation Research Institute).
Representatives of the Chamber of M | commerce led walking tours of the grounds showing the various terrains of this microcosm, including highways, train tracks, and Kerrytown-style brick roads.

There was also a tent featuring exhibits from member companies that pay for access to the grounds. It’s a 24×7 operation, since manufacturers and equipment developers need to test their vehicles in all conditions and at all times.

Unfortunately, there were no vehicles on the roads during our visit. Understandable, since crowds of pedestrians are a risky test environment, but some of my fellow visitors were disappointed that they didn’t get to actually ride in an autonomous vehicle.

If you’re reading this here, though, I know what you really want to know about. The retail space.

Although street signage identifies it as State Street and Liberty, longtime townies (and probably some of the short-time townies) will instantly recognize downtown M | city as a bizarro version of Washington Street between Fourth and Fifth.

A fractured timeline where The Arena not only paid its taxes, but it bookends the block with Arbor Brewing Company.

Between them, Amadeus offers finer dining and Literati is the sole purveyor of culture. Dare one assume its coffee bar is open? Because I don’t see any other coffee places in this town.

Upstairs, Ingenex is the final survivor of the digital wars. Also, apparently there is a school across from these two bars.

Around the corner, Zingerman’s occupies a single unit with two windows and a door. Presumably its popular mail order business is cranking along in the nondescript storefronts across the street, behind a lonely but functional iron bench. (I sat on it, it worked.)

I think the thing that delighted me the most was catching a glimpse of this neighboring building’s roof across M | city’s pretend I-75:

You can almost imagine the K I N G E N G I N E E R I N G C O R P letters on it.

TV Warehouse is looking permanent on Packard

Several readers have noted that TV Warehouse has spruced up their space on Packard Road. The fresh coat of paint went up over Memorial Day weekend and has alleviated the “they’re a front for something” vibe I heard from a couple of area residents.

TVW originally opened a few years ago on South Industrial, right next door to the Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop, in a large building of many small storefronts and office spaces. You could be forgiven for thinking they were the TV department of the PTO shop. Their sets aren’t donated, though, they buy returned sets in bulk from big box retailers, test them, and sell the good ones. 

The original location sold only sets and HDMI cables (cables were cheaper than big box stores, but still not as cheap as, like, Monoprice). They did not have complementary items like game consoles or bluray players, though I’ve heard their sister stores do. This new location apparently also offers open-box appliances.

Out television is a 40″ Samsung I bought six years ago. We were hooked on “LOST” from the very beginning, and I pledged we would watch the ending in high definition. (I thought the ending was fine, but let’s debate this over a beer somewhere if you disagree.) I sweated the details and comparison shopped for weeks, and finally picked up our set from Sears at Briarwood Mall, for about $800 after tax (which was a pretty good deal for a name-brand set in 2011).

Our set still works almost perfectly – I correctly decided that set top boxes would supplant “apps” shipped in the TV’s firmware and that they weren’t worth the money. I’m still trying to stave off the notorious Samsung logic board problem by occasionally taking it apart and reseating connectors, but at some point this won’t be fixable, and at least I know a much larger and clearer screen will be a fraction of the price when I finally give up on this one.

This space used to be an auto parts store, part of Carquest, one of those association chains where the local stores have their own identity. I think this store had a machine shop and could fulfill other special orders. Carquest was acquired by a conventional chain of auto parts stores who already had a location around the corner on Carpenter Road, so this store was declared redundant and closed.

It’s getting difficult to find locally owned aftermarket parts. I think S-G on Liberty might be the last one. Not like I buy car parts all that much (maybe I’m part of the problem).

Keeping out the riff-raff

I know, I was pretty quiet last weekend. Not a holiday, but I spent a lot of time driving. Sorry about the lack of posts.

Remember those desperate tweets from Radio Shack we noticed at the end of May, encouraging you to buy anything and everything? Turns out they closed all of their corporate-owned stores in Michigan and most of the Midwest. They instantly contracted from 1200 stores, to about 70 stores in Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts. I guess I have that joy of discovery to look forward to when I travel now. (“OMG A RADIO SHACK, gotta go in and… I don’t know… get a pack of batteries… can I put those in a carry-on bag?”) I suppose I should go visit the franchised Radio Shack store in Saline soon just to satisfy my curiosity.

While driving around last weekend, I noticed several signs for a “FREE” GARAGE SALE near my neighborhood:

I’m still scratching my head about this one. Does this mean the stuff at the garage sale was free, like walk up and carry it away? Possible, but not likely. Who DOES that? My hypothesis is that “FREE” meant free admission. I mean, I like our neighborhood, but it’s not fancy enough to charge cover for a garage sale. Going to pre-answer a couple of questions I know you have, here:

  • Why didn’t I drive over there and ask them? I gave it some thought, but I was always either taking someone someplace or bringing someone home. I am a Results Oriented Team Player with a lot of irons in the fire. 
  • Why didn’t I ask on Nextdoor? That would start to look too much like Journalism.

A2R.S Fidget Spinner Price Index

The Fidget Spinner craze: fleeting or here to stay? I don’t get how a spinny shiny thing helps you concentrate on anything else, but you know what? I don’t, a hundred percent, get Li’l Yachty, either. I am not as highly-prized a target market anymore. I got over it, because I’m a white guy in a place with running water and cheap gasoline and, suddenly, no goals to reduce carbon emissions anymore. Bootstraps!

Anyway, as I (or you) notice Fidget Spinners for sale in the area, I’ll note prices here.

Target, Oak Valley Drive: $3

CVS Fidget Spinner display, courtesy @hammbh
CVS, State Street (downtown, btw. Washington and Liberty) – $7.99 (thanks, reader @hammbh)

Pilot Travel Center, Baker Road (north of I-94) -Virtually highway robbery at a whopping $12.99. Taking advantage of the harried traveler-with-kids.

7-Eleven, Main St. – $7.99, or $11.99 for a light-up one

TCBY, Washtenaw Ave – $8.99

Five Below – $5 or less, assuming they are in stock (they were out last I checked)

Rural King, M-59 and US-23, Hartland – $6.99 (cheapest, but also, not really Ann Arbor)

screenshot of fidget spinner listings with prices before shipping. (C), I guess – $2-5 shipped (Totally not local. Shipped on the slow boat across the Pacific. The craze will be over by the time they get here. But come on, two dollars?)

Please hit me up, @britain on Twitter, or leave a comment below, if you have further details about local merchants selling fidget spinners.  Or message me on Facebook. There aren’t that many Britains, I bet you can work it out.

Together we can all save some money, or help someone else save some money, which is almost the same thing.

Former bike shop on Wells is renovating for Argus Farm Stop; Coffee Works Ann Arbor opening on Packard

The long-closed Ann Arbor Cyclery, at Packard and Wells, has recently seen some freshening up. Photo below taken yesterday morning during my commute:

Exterior of future Argus Farm Stop site, with Toarmina’s/Burrito Joint in background. (C)A2R.S.


The new issue of the Ann Arbor Observer, which you should seek out every month for actual reporting on openings and closings, reports that this will be a second location for Argus Farm Stop, a locally-grown produce/meat/dairy store. That’s simplifying it a lot, you might want to hit the link for details.

Here’s the space in 2011 when Ann Arbor Cyclery was still open:

At the other end of the block, Real Baked Goods is becoming Coffee Works Ann Arbor:

This is an Ann Arbor location of Coffee Works (in Milan). Roos Roast calls their original Rosewood location Roos Roast Coffee Works but are a separate concern. “Coffee Works” just sounds cool. It implies craftsmanship.

When we were kids this little flatiron spot was a Chinese takeout/delivery place called China on the Run, then Bev’s Caribbean Kitchen, and then Wise Guys, who specialized in Chicago hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches. I am sure I missed some things between Bev’s and Wise Guys when I didn’t live here. (Thank you FB friend Melissa for the heads-up!)

There’s also a vacuum store, that was here before I was born and will probably be here after I die, because vacuums are a perpetual need. I often remark that I should have become a database administrator, but real talk — this vacuum place is still there! Do you remember when there was a 7-Eleven at Carpenter & Packard? (You would have to remember quite a ways back.) It lasted a few short years, but that building has thrived ever since as, yes, a vacuum cleaner store! Possibly another branch of this store.

Internet shopping has laid waste to music/DVD and bookstores, electronics stores, mattress stores, but not vacuum stores. Yet. I’m sure there are engineers in Palo Alto right now figuring out how to store household dust in cloud arrays. They will monetize by offering affordable subscription plans and create the “Chore as a Service” market.

Here is a logo I made for such a firm. Surely I am not the first to conceive of this, there are a lot of people on this planet. But just in case: (C) A2R.S

Bare walls at Cranbrook

Noticed tonight that 800 West Eisenhower, the easternmost building at Cranbrook, has something going on in there:

This building originally opened as a “Kids ‘Я’ Us” store. Kids ‘Я’ Us sought to bring the excitement of Toys ‘Я’ Us to children’s apparel, but just ended up being the disappointing, toyless cousin of Toys ‘Я’ Us. Eventually the separate locations were closed, and when Arborland was converted to its current outdoor shopping center format, the Toys ‘Я’ Us store actually had a Kids ‘Я’ Us section inside it. This was short lived, as you know if you have visited there since. (Babies ‘Я’ Us is still a thing, though.)

After the closure of Kids ‘Я’ Us, the building had a successful run as an Office Depot. In 2013, Office Depot merged with OfficeMax, and the combined chain now had two large stores very close by, and this one was wound down. (OfficeMax’s west-side location is in Oak Valley Center, between Target and Chuck E Cheese.)

In the ensuing years, this location has primarily served as the seasonal home of a Halloween costume store. But that might be about to change. What’s coming to this space? I haven’t the slightest idea, but I feel like the sudden collapse of Old Country Buffet left a buffet vacuum, so I’m going with MCL Cafeteria. You heard it here first. And last.