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.

Radio Shack Facebook Frenzy

Okay, so this isn’t strictly relevant, because there are no more Radio Shack stores in the city limits. (The last one’s lease, at Maple Village, was not renewed by the owners of the center. Either they had something else in mind or they saw the writing on the wall.)

But right now THE SHACK’S social media team is in overdrive, posting about a dozen posts a day on their wall. Many of them for remaining merchandise, now UP TO 90% OFF a high price in the grand tradition of chain store bankruptcies:

But also hyping leftover fixtures and supplies:

Radio Shack’s bankruptcy FAQ from March states that about 180 of their 1200 stores are closing, with options for more in the future. I have a feeling it’s way more than 180 with posts like these.

The only corporate-owned store left in the area is in Ypsilanti next to Walmart. It is affirmatively flagged as a “✅ Grab-Bag Store” on the locator:

Screenshot, Radio Shack store locator, May 2017;

What’s a Grab-Bag store? An answer arrived later today:

Ypsi is the only store flagged as a “Grab-Bag Store” within 25 miles from A2, so I presume that means other corporate-owned locations like Canton and Novi will carry on? (UPDATE: Nope, they’re all gone.)

I think this would be a nice place to note that Saline’s location is franchised by Alpha Wireless, who carry Radio Shack products in several of their area stores and are NOT going out of business.

Saline Road changes

The new restaurant going in the Meijer outlot is Buddy’s Pizza, a Detroit institution but new to our neighborhood. Square crust. Probably grownup drinks, call it a hunch. I think they put sesame seeds on their crust, so if you get the hankering for square pizza but hate seeds (or your kids hate seeds), Jet’s Pizza is still across Saline Road.

The McDonald’s on Lohr Road recently reopened from a renovation. LOTS of details at Ann Arbor with Kids, including photos of the Playplace and details on daily specials through June 30.

Fountain Etiquette sign, McDonald’s, Lohr Rd. (C) Manchurian Global d/b/a Yelp

When I lived near here a few years ago, I used to drive, like, three times further than the distance to this McDonald’s to visit the State Street location. Every order here took forever, and was never right, and the crew usually seemed miserable. According to Ann Arbor with Kids, it changed ownership in 2015, so maybe I need to give this one another try when I’m around there and I didn’t just eat Buddy’s.

Finally, the lot in Oak Valley Center right by the intersection of Waters, Lohr, and Saline roads is currently all tore up. It looks like something is being built there. Another restaurant? What food concept does this side of town need? Chik-Fil-A?

East side: Staples removers getting a workout

The Staples store in the shopping center at Carpenter and Packard is completely gutted (I think it closed after Christmas).

Here’s its entrance as of Saturday night:

Pretty cool, huh? No idea what it’s going to be yet. I’m sorry to see this Staples location go, but it seemed to have some challenges – an extremely fortified entrance to deter night visitors, not to mention weird hours. At one point last year, they were closing at 7pm weeknights and 5pm Sundays.

I often shop at the Kroger here, and sometimes I check out the phone accessory racks at the TJ Maxx next door to Kroger. I hate to sound like a TJ Maxx ad, but they have a much better phone accessory collection than you probably think. Amongst the off-brands that are made for discount stores like iHome and MVMT, you can often find Speck, Incase, and other brands that sell for $30+ at the carrier or manufacturer stores. Well, at most locations you can. At the Carpenter Road store, someone who knows brand names frequently opens the premium brands’ packages, pockets the goods, and leaves the empty boxes in the clearance section further back in the store. (The Westgate TJ Maxx doesn’t seem to have this problem as badly.)

Back in the day this shopping center was anchored by beloved, obsolete Detroit area grocery Farmer Jack; and Best, a discount department store chain that, like Service Merchandise, vanished almost immediately after Target and Walmart expanded to the Detroit market.

Farmer Jack was in the Staples space, and Best was in the area currently occupied by The Tile Shop, if I recall correctly. 

Our Best store’s exterior was nothing special by Best standards (this retrospective of their unique commissions, from the architectural firm SITE, is mandatory viewing).

Argiero’s has closed

40-year Kerrytown fixture Argiero’s (from 2007, below) closed yesterday.

They were good. Our most recent trip was a Sunday evening last summer after doing yard and garden work at our kids’ school nearby. I liked knowing they were there and I hope the Argiero family is fine.

I have a vague memory that the house behind Argiero’s, that faces Fifth St. and Catherine, was additional dining space for them for a while. It presently houses Jessica’s Apothecary. MLive comment section wags already have the space pegged for a Flatiron type building, but you would have to get Jessica’s and DeLong’s, I MEAN Tesuya, to move.

UPDATE: It’s a new restaurant from the Lunch Room folks!

Slated to open late summer as “Detroit Street Filling Station,” which harkens back to a time when it was a Staebler Oil filling station. I don’t have pictures of the corner back then, but click below to see a bunch of their HQ a few blocks away at Main and Depot:

Showroom at Staebler-Kempf Oil Co, July 1946. (C) The Ann Arbor News.

If you think your gas station sells a few too many peripheral items, you should see the showroom here. They have vacuum cleaners and a refrigerator and a dang rubber raft. I mean we all know there’s little-to-no profit margin on the actual gasoline, right? But a rubber raft? Decades before the Argo Cascades? Mission creep.

Anyway, Lunch Room is a great lunch spot even if you love meat, like I do. I particularly recommend the chili and the Pad Thai.

Southeast side changes 

The former Pier 1 on Carpenter Road is being split.

Exterior of 3785 Washtenaw, splitting into two discrete storefronts. (C) A2R.S
It’s in the outlot of Target/Jo-Ann/Babies “Я” Us, next to “Яed Яobin.” Since Pier 1’s closure the space has been home to Halloween pop up stores. It appears this location is being split into two storefronts.

Locals and other readers know that the former west side Pier 1 holds three quick service restaurants now. What’s going in here? Who knows? Won’t be a Potbelly or a Blaze, they’re already nearby on Washtenaw. I don’t see a Drive Thru lane or window being added, so quick service fast food is probably out too.

Also, across the street, Yogurt City is gone. A by-the-ounce yogurt chain with some cute in store decorations and a student discount. The inside is being renovated with several small rooms near the front door. Small rooms for bankers is an increasingly popular credit union and bank branch floor plan. PARDA Federal Credit Union (originally founded for employees of Parke-Davis but now open to nearly everybody) has a branch next door.
Further back in the shopping center, Wireless Zone has moved in next to Leo’s Coney and some smoke shop. WZone had been in a building near Carpenter and Packard, between Pizza Hut and Miles of Golf, since before Verizon existed (they were an authorized reseller of CellularOne and AirTouch, the predecessor of Verizon Wireless). This location has the Mint Green iPhone, so you should definitely check it out when you get a chance.

(NOTE: I made up the Mint Green colorway. A2R.S regrets the error.)

(NOTE 2: Yes, A2R.S has some funny ideas about what an error is)

Another thing about the OCBC building…

…it was originally built as a single Pier 1 imports store in the 90s. Pier 1 left the area for a while, and the building was quartered into the restaurant spaces occupying it now. With Tony Sacco’s replaced by Blaze Pizza, that makes Potbelly the grizzled veteran that will presumably “show the ropes” to whoever the new tenant is. I cannot wait for this area to finally get the Jamba Juice it deserves.

Old Carolina Barbecue is “in transition”

The Old Carolina Barbecue Company has closed their storefront on Eisenhower in the Whole foods outlot. Signage is down and their Facebook page promises a “one step at a time transition.”

I’m as interested as you are as to what that means. I suspect scaling back to catering, or to a food truck/outdoor location. You may remember their residency at Mark’s Carts a few summers back.

OCBC were fine and relatively inexpensive as BBQ goes, especially if you used the popular-with-students Hooked Deals app. They had offers every day, though it seemed sometimes the phone-order help didn’t understand what that was. I tried to explain it three times on the phone one night and gave up when they kept telling me it would be full price.

There are a number of great BBQ options around town:

  • Satchel’s (near the other Whole Foods) is probably the cheapest now, and very reliable.
  • Westside BBQ (next to Fingerle Lumber) is tasty and they’re always testing new stuff, like a burrito-style rolled BBQ sandwich.
  • Ricewood (behind Morgan & York on Packard) is very popular with my friends. Last time I asked them to leave the tomato out and it was the best bowl I’ve ever had. Gonna try the sandwich next time.
  • And of course there are the well regarded table-service BBQ restaurants like Blue Tractor, Red Rock, Zingerman’s Roadhouse.

I still miss the BBQ places of my youth like Mr. Rib and DeLong’s. A side of bbq-soaked fries was pretty much my ultimate indulgence as a Community High School student. I remember how annoyed the fellow at the counter would get when I asked for a second fork to share with a friend.

One thing I really enjoyed at OCBC that none of the other local places have is Cheerwine, a super-sweet cherry soda that’s not commonly available north of about Tennessee. I’m nearly positive I’ve noticed glass-bottle Cheerwine four packs at Cracker Barrel in the merch shop. Next time you go, please bring me some back.

The group that franchised OCBC here also owns Black Diesel Coffee on Packard. BDC hasn’t posted any recent items on their Facebook, but I assume that’s a good sign. They always seem to be busy when I drive past.

(SFX: Record Scratch) Yup. That’s Me. You’re probably wondering…

I usually just post about quirky local retail stuff on Facebook, which is private, and my friend Melissa said I should write a blog. I didn’t want to put this stuff on my personal site and Namecheap had a special on the domain, so, well, here we are now.

I have a degree in Communications, and pretty much everything I know about retail I learned from retail second-jobs. So expect a lot of townie reminiscing and not much insight.