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

 

A2faiRnesS: Equal Time for Walmart

Drawing the Carpenter Target arc to a close: the changes are largely completed. I was in there a few days ago and found a few things out.

I wish there was another logo over the other side of the entrance. Then it would look like you were shopping in Domo-Kun’s mouth. (C)A2RS

The new facade matches the modern design on Target’s blog, though without the second entrance they suggest will be the future of new stores – the area north of the entrance is probably going to be some kind of carside delivery area.

They just put some wood panels here to keep it going across the whole front, I guess. (C)A2RS

It was temporary restrooms when I last visited, while the front ones were being renovated — but I think online orders will be delivered to vehicles from there. These online orders could be shopped and prepared for curbside by Target team members, or by shoppers from SHIPT, the retail delivery firm that got a foothold in Detroit as a Meijer partner before being acquired by Target. So far it sounds like SHIPT shoppers in Detroit are still only getting Target orders for delivery to customer premises, though in some other markets they may receive offers to compile an order instore and then prepare it for pickup.

Drive-up lanes for online orders at Carpenter Road Target. (C)A2RS

As a Target team member recently confirmed here on the blog, the Pizza Hut/Food Avenue restaurant is gone, leaving only the Starbucks counter. (The former photo lab has been converted to a seating area for Starbucks.)

The whole store in general seems a little less red and a little more light grey. There are more displays and fewer rows of shelves along the high-traffic corridors. You still have to walk past Literally Everything in the Known Universe to get to the grocery, though.

This is the end of Carpenter Target coverage for now, unless something really photoworthy happens — but if you aren’t sick of reading about Target yet, hit up this Fast Company article about the Mock Store on the third floor of Target HQ in Minnesota.


Meanwhile, up the street at the Carpenter Road Kroger, they’re rolling out Scan-and-Go. Thanks friend of the blog Josh for this photo of the display:

Scan-and-Go device display at Kroger, Carpenter Road. Courtesy of Josh, all rights reserved.

This is intriguing to me. Stores like Sam’s Club and Apple have offered similar systems for years. As much as I eschew the U-Scans to seek out a real clerk, I would consider this some nights. I like being trusted, and it would make checkout a lot quicker, especially for just a couple of items. But I still use coupons often enough that I wouldn’t be ready to leave them behind. I STILL WANT 50 CENTS OFF THESE POP-TARTS, DANGIT.


A few days back I made a remark about how Blockbuster Express offered DVD kiosks that were “like Redbox, but blue.” Turns out Redbox also has redboxes, but blue:

Redbox disc rental at Walmart, Saline, MI. (C)A2RS

Like all vending machines in front of all Walmarts, the Redbox is blue, the better to match Walmart’s visual merchandising guidelines. Their social game is (fire emojis) too:

Also Walmart has a fashion cross-promotion with Lord & Taylor, formerly the snootiest store at Briarwood, now a subsidiary of Hudson’s Bay, the Oldest Firm in Canada.

And if you’ve ever wondered what the heck the mythical Platt Road location in Saline looks like, it’s actually a Walmart-managed pharmacy attached to a clinic inside the Toyota Technical Center, for Toyota employees. Walmart.com totally lets you use it as a pickup site for orders from their site, though! Are you are a Toyota employee who has purchased an item on Walmart.com, and chose pickup at the Walmart Pharmacy inside the Toyota Technical Center, to save yourself a drive to Walmart? You could be a guest on the A2 Retail Show! Get in touch with us here at 888-45-MAURY. Bonus: a free Paternity Test!


Circle K store at Stadium and Packard, June 2018. (C)A2RS

This week while in Ohio I happened to catch a commercial for Circle K convenience stores that featured a modern store design that might give us a clue as to how the Stadium and Packard store will look when it’s completed.

I can’t find that commercial now, but I did happen across this walkthrough of a newly opened Circle K store in Ashtabula that probably contains strong indications of what the new Ann Arbor store will be like.


Finally, if you are a longtime subscriber to the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Nixle alerts system, the two frequent alerts that numbed you to its harbingers of doom probably included Fairfax Manor in Superior Township (an assisted living facility that managed to frequently lose its residents) and the old Bank of America branch at the Packard/Eisenhower gore point (a bank branch that was always gettin’ robbed). Bank of America left the building over a year ago, but recently major work has occurred within:

Lots of construction inside and a big ol’ dumpster outside. (C)A2RS
“CONTRACTOR: K-4 Medical and Dental Const.” (C)A2RS

It appears that a clinic or dental office is coming to the space. If you look closely in the windows (not pictured) they are building many small rooms inside, likely to be exam rooms.

 

Things to Come (and Gone)

I made it to the movies this past weekend to see “The Incredibles 2” with my family. We’ve watched the original many, many, many times — the DVD has been a road tip fixture in each family vehicle. I still remember the first time I saw it in the theater, when it was released.

Britain w/lit tree

The photo above was taken about two years before I saw “The Incredibles.” I apparently packed a Negativland “Copyright Infringement” shirt for my honeymoon, in case you question my credibility.

I honestly can’t imagine how past-me would react if I could visit him now, ambling out of a cavernous AMC multiplex in Columbus, and confront him with these actual facts about the sequel:

  • You’re gonna get three movies starring Owen Wilson as a talking racecar, four more Johnny Depp pirate movies, and twelve movies starring Marvel superheroes out of Disney, before they give you another Incredibles movie
  • They’re gonna start the movie with a short live-action anti-piracy segment featuring Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, and Brad Bird assuring you this film was worth waiting fourteen years for
  • They’re gonna be right, it’s a fun movie and the action scenes make the first movie look like a Game Boy game, and it’s well worth the 3-D upcharge
  • Oh yeah, 3-D is back in movie theaters again, though it’s already come and gone at home
  • You will purchase the tickets by touching a glass rectangle that is also your telephone, at four in the morning, and choose your seats in the movie theater like you’re buying concert tickets
  • The seats will be motorized La-Z-Boy styled recliners with discrete armrests
  • You (Britain) will enjoy the film while drinking a zero-calorie version of Coca-Cola that you can still tell the difference between, but it’s close enough, especially if you mix in a couple ounces of regular Coke
  • People are depicted conversing on landline telephones, cars look like sixties cars, and people watch television on picture-tube sets; but there are also flat panel displays and very modern-looking other kinds of vehicles, so I can’t exactly tell when this movie is actually supposed to take place

Anyway, in a nearer, more mundane future, I (and some friends of the site) caught glimpses of some future stuff that’s happening to places I’ve discussed recently.

Front entrance of Target Ann Arbor store. (C) A2RS

While I was obsessively photographing the dramatic changes to the east side Target store, the west side Target was already getting some updates inside the store. The photo counter and Target Mobile section by the front door are now a Customer Service and Order Pickup desk.

Exchanges, refunds, and packs of gum. (C)A2RS

The one checkout lane that was also a customer service desk is now a row of self-checkout stations, as have been appearing in newer Target stores.

A2RS regrets the error.

And how about the store’s tiny, vertical CVS Pharmacy sign, set far away from the store entrance?

“Hey everyone, I’m here too!” (C)A2RS

I believe it’s Target’s attempt to reconcile a contractual signage obligation with CVS, and the shopping center management’s restrictions on exterior signs.

In other news, Meijer stores on both sides of town have decommissioned the belt-drive U-Scan machines, encouraged for shoppers with 12-items-plus orders, and replaced the lanes with a mix of the smaller U-Scan machines intended for U12 orders and staffed checkout lanes.

The shiny new kiosks still run Windows 7. Credit for the crash goes to John, security expert and friend of A2RS

This decision is welcomed by people who view self-checkout as robbing a human of a wage-earning position, this writer included. But to be frank, it’s not an improvement to put more humans at these lanes if they don’t know how to bag groceries. I always group like items on the belt — milk with yogurt, beef with bacon, Dranō with “Mountain Dew Pitch Black.” But I think sometimes the cashiers are taught to place items in the bags to fill them and use fewer bags.

Bags are probably a major consumable expense for grocery stores and this kind of efficiency is probably welcomed in areas where the bags carry a surcharge. Thanks to Lansing, though, Ann Arbor isn’t one of those places, and I swear to you, nary a plastic shopping bag goes to waste in our household. (We have pets, enough said.) Don’t crush my delicate beer with a bag of dinner rolls!

I think this blog was first, and only so far, to report the changes at Speedway on State and Ellsworth. The signs are up all around town at other Speedway stores, looking for employees to staff the new Speedy Cafe. (They may have their work cut out for them.)

“Inventory Low Due to Remodel” at Speedway, State and Ellsworth. Courtesy of Pete.

Late last week I visited the store and encountered employees and contractors hard at work emptying the shelves and racks during the morning drive time. I was too shy to take a photo then, but A2RS friend Pete was not:

Panorama of the emptied, pre-renovation Speedway store, courtesy of Pete. I remember when the Blockbuster Express DVD kiosk was riiight over ☞ there. It was like a Redbox, but it was blue.

At the time these photos were taken last weekend, Pete reports, the store was out of “most pop flavors and all straws.” I haven’t been by since then to see what it’s like now, but apparently the store will stay open throughout the project to sell gasoline and smokes.

“Toys ‘n Kay-Bees: Resurrect Dead Chains,” or “More Blogs about Buildings and Food”

The other day I was so excited about the big Target Reno on Carpenter Road, that I forgot to take note of a couple of other changes there.

Ext. Babies “Backwards R” Us, now closed. (C) A2RS

Babies “R” Us has completed its liquidation sale. Soon its facade will be just as bare as its sister store’s labelscarred front on Washtenaw, as seen below. Some TRU stores in other areas of the United States are expected to remain open until midsummer.

Exterior, Toys “R” Unable To Type The Backwards R On An iPad Keyboard, June 2018. (C)A2RS

TRU Canada will remain in business following its sale to a Canadian bank. The nearest location is in Windsor, across the street from Devonshire Mall, so get your Enhanced Driver’s License ASAP. It’s not too much to pay too late! (I said that wrong.)

On the other hand, it seems possible that Kay-Bee Toys will be back in malls for the holiday shopping season. The IP firm that holds the KB trademark (and has reintroduced Bonkers Fruit Chews and Hydrox Cookies) is hoping to start with 1000 stores across the country this holiday season, then negotiating leases and maintaining the best performers beyond the holiday.

Ext. Mattress Firm & AT&T, Carpenter Road. (C)A2RS

Mattress Firm also showed up in the outlot building where Pier 1 used to be. (This Firm store opened nearly at the same time as its sister store on Eisenhower. That location’s former tenant, Old Carolina BBQ, was one of the first locations I wrote about here.) I don’t know what it is with mattress stores, it seems like a very volatile business always on the verge of being eaten by those foam-mattress companies that ship you one all smooshed up. But I guess if you’re good the rewards are worth it. Like, I don’t know, nearly all businesses.

The AT&T franchise moved out from next-to-Target to that outlot building as well, surprise surprise. I hope this leads to an expansion for Fun4All, purveyor of fine board and card games, among many other items.

Also, up Carpenter Road, UMCU is building a brand new bank branch next door to the Regent Hotel. This is a big improvement, because UMCU’s presence on the east side has been a little weak. I think they gained a branch in central Ypsilanti when they acquired the EMU Credit Union, and I sometimes use the CU Family Service Center at Glencoe for deposits, when I want to hand my checks and bills to a real person. But it’ll be nice to have a proper branch out this way.

Exterior of Mast Shoes with addition at Westgate Shopping Center. (C)A2RS

Mast Shoes at Westgate is more than doubling in size. It’s nice to see a local, family-owned store expand in a healthy way. I don’t exactly recall what was here before Mast took it over, but I’m pretty sure it was “Hit or Miss” or another women’s chain clothing store. Avenue? Bueller?

The Speedway at State and Ellsworth was looking remarkably spacious today. Many of the shelves (including the Arctic Coke machine) were empty, and most of Speedway’s free-standing waist-level coolers near the checkout line — the ones that say “here’s a couple bottles of Dew and/or a 24oz can of malt liquor, you know, FOR THE ROAD” — were not on the Plano. The clerk told me that the store was about to undergo a renovation, but that the side with the registers would remain open throughout. She also assured me that I would still be able to get to the soda pop fountain.

This Speedway building barely opened a couple of years ago, maybe three at the latest. That development was a refresh of a site Speedway originally took over from Total Petroleum of France decades ago — it doubled the number of pumps and introduced a brand new store building. It’s already very modern by Speedway standards. So I reckon it’s going to get the ready-to-eat selection (like Sheetz and Wawa, popular regional fuel station chains that offer prepared sandwiches) that more Speedways near a highway are starting to get. (EDIT 9:30AM: Confirmed by another clerk!) Examples nearby of this concept include US-23 and M-59 in Hartland; off US-23 in Dundee near Cabela’s; and the Merriman Road Speedway, just across I-94 from Metro Airport.

Finally: guess what, suckers, I have A Source and they told me that the former gas station site on Stadium between Burger King and HotPot Chen — I mean, Ponderosa — is going to be an office building, so I don’t know where you’re gonna get your Kerosene now.

Bullseye

The Target store on Carpenter Road is getting a significant refreshing. It got a minor upgrade a few years ago, to move the electronics to the back of the store and introduce the expanded grocery, but it looks like bigger stuff is happening. Now that I think about it, the roadside signage that was updated over the winter was probably an early clue:

Roadside sign for Target #1285, Ann Arbor East. (C)A2RS

The new sign emphasized the Target logo but lower-cased the name. This is consistent with Target’s current visual identity, but not with anything at the existing Carpenter location. That appears set to change, since a big chunk of the parking lot is now fenced off and filled with shipping containers.

For my money, the coolest use of shipping containers is still Flynn’s house on the dock in the movie “Tron Legacy.” But that’s been covered to death in other blogs, so let’s get back to the retail.

Exterior Entrance, Target #1285. (C)A2RS

That square patch is almost certainly going to be a larger bullseye logo, probably with “Target” below it, as seen in other more recently built Target locations.

Here’s the most exciting prospect: I think this will take advantage of the seldom-used parking in this stretch of the shopping center and become a second entrance to the Target store. Although other markets have had giant-size Target stores with two entrances for years — the closest local example I can think of is the Coolidge Road store in Troy — Target announced a new store concept at a conference a year ago in which one entrance would maintain the typical “come in for three things and walk out with fifty things” that people love about Target, but the other entrance would be a convenience entrance where you can pick up an online order or get just, like, a gallon of milk. The grocery is so far from the current entrance right now that the bananas are 39 cents a pound, but if you pay an extra $20, you can receive a medal and a souvenir moisture-wicking t-shirt.

Next closest Pizza Hut is a block away. (C)A2RS

They’re also doing something with the little food place up front. Hard to say what this will entail, but more recent Target locations in other areas group the Starbucks counter with the ready-to-eat meals counter and also include a seating area with natural light.  Here’s what it looked like before, as seen at a very similar location in Mansfield, Ohio:

Keeping watch over the café

And here’s what a more modern storefront looks like. The windows below the Target sign help bring natural light into the seating area:

Target Indianapolis IN

Detail of the tarp covering the ready-to-eat counter at Target #1285. (C)A2RS

Can we anticipate this here? I think that would be nice. For now, the Starbucks counter remains open in its current spot on the other side of the entrance, and will not close for the day on May 29 as corporate-owned Starbucks stores are slated to do.

That was more than I expected to write about this. I tend to forget than nearly any chain store you ever really liked has a Flickr pool devoted to it and it was good to draw on that for a couple of the Target shots.

The original Ann Arbor Target store, which opened like thirty years ago at Oak Valley Shopping Center on Saline Road, has a new roadside sign that’s JUST THE LOGO with NO LETTERS (sorry, no photo at the moment), so I can’t wait to see how they subvert the common storefront language Oak Valley has had since its inception.

Target Flexible Format, Forest Hills, Queens, NY

Finally, many Ann Arbor downtown dwellers continue to hold out hope that Target will try its flexible-format concept in a space near them. Where is there available space that could hold even this, though?

 

Senioritis Stadium Site Synopsis (2018!!!)

Hey, young world. It’s been an exciting month filled with actually wanting to be outdoors some of the time, and also with speaking at Penguicon. Attendees of the talk learned about the budget for this project (it is smaller than you can possibly imagine) and about some things that inspired me to write this (Found Magazine, Uni Watch, “Stopped. Watched.” from the old Ann Arbor Chronicle). I also performed a reading of the Mcity article with the photo illustrations. And I got a discount on my registration, so all four of us won! Sigh.

Anyway, it’s been quiet here, mainly because of work (you can catch a glimpse on Twitter of what I’m doing when not blogging) but also because I just haven’t seen a lot going on lately, until this week. Let’s take a leisurely drive down Stadium Boulevard — quickly, before football season starts again. We’ll start at Stadium and Packard, where construction has ramped up on the Circle K.

Demolition of Circle K store at Packard and Stadium, January 2018. (C) A2RS

When it closed in November, the signage targeted an April reopening, but we really never got April. We got December, Apruary, and now Maypril. They didn’t even knock the old building down until a couple of weeks into the new year. Now that it’s not freezing every day, they’re putting in a lot of work.

New sheltered pump islands at Circle K site, Packard and Stadium. (C)A2RS

Eight pumps very close to Stadium Boulevard, which frankly is gonna be kind of a hike from the actual building once Apruary is upon us again, and the rain is cold and the air is dark.

You think maybe they’ll stretch an awning or something out to the pump islands? (C)A2RS

The convenience store building is crammed into the corner of the lot near Packard Road and backs up close to the backyards of the houses on Iroquois Street. Hopefully it will not be very lit back there, to reduce light pollution. The new building appears to have a similar footprint to the old building, but will likely be much more efficiently laid out and has a much taller roof than the old store. It also appeared to have a basement, from what I could glimpse when the foundation was dug during the winter.

The Circle K convenience store as seen from Packard Road. Iroquois Street backyards are directly behind this building. (C)A2RS

This Circle K Brand Story video was created by its Quebeçois parent company, the multinational convenience cartel Couche-Tard, and narrated by a pleasant voice of indeterminate origin. It is a lot of fun, if examining every frame of a brand video and imagining what kind of alternate-reality game you would create behind it is your idea of fun. This three-minute motion graphics logo-development video is also pretty interesting, even if I could have summed it up in ten seconds as “we made the K not-puffy, and the orange stripe is from our overseas counterpart’s logo. For the people of the world.” Call me sentimental, but I really hope a new-style Circle K store figures in a time-travel scene in the new-style Bill & Ted movie.

Further down Stadium, another former gas station convenience store site is also seeing new construction. Here’s the old Sunoco (before that, a 76 station with a Hop-In store, if I recall correctly) on Stadium Boulevard. Seen here from the parking lot of its neighbor, Hot Pot Chen restaurant:

Stadium Blvd Sunoco site, leveled, December 2017. (C)A2RS

Here it is this week, with construction in full swing:

Something’s finally going up on this space. Only a couple of tall walls, so far, so it’s difficult to guess right now what this will ultimately be and whether it will have Kerosene and DVD rentals.

They leveled the site but left the sign up, just like Circle K. (C)A2RS

Finally, a reader asked me in person, as readers often do, whether I had any idea what was going into the remaining empty storefronts at Maple Village. I just noticed Tuesday that another retailer has been announced as COMING SOON:

Intersection, North Maple Road and Maple Village shopping center, as seen from Veterans Park. (C)A2RS

COMPUTER, ZOOM IN AND ENHANCE.

It’s… it’s… (C)A2RS

…it’s strip-mall stalwart ULTA BEAUTY?!? People who like funny, streaming-only TV shows may remember the final story arc on Hulu’s “Difficult People,” where the entire block of Dee’s restaurant was targeted to build a giant Sephora. Meanwhile, Ulta has established eyelash caches, bases for foundations, and bulkheads against blackheads on three sides of town so far — Arborland, Eisenhower, and now Maple Village. NO ONE IS READY FOR ULTA.

While I do accept suggestions, postings are mostly based on what I notice as I travel around town on errands and such. I hope and anticipate that more frequent updates will resume as family schedules become increasingly busy and I have to drive more places. I have a couple of trips planned this summer too so there may be a “trip report” or two if I see anything worth posting. As always, thank you for reading.

If you crave more hyper-local reporting and have already finished with Mlive’s articles, don’t forget to check out Edward Vielmetti’s Vacuum, TreeDowntown, and the Michigan Daily.

Join A2RS at Penguicon 2018

Exciting news: I am speaking at Penguicon 2018, in Southfield, MI, at the Westin Southfield-Detroit, on May 4 at 6pm. I am happy to sign printouts of various posts, or the entire website, following the talk and throughout the weekend. Please bring your own printout, I will try to carry pens.

If you happened to make it to Nerd Nite A2 last summer at LIVE, this talk will be similar to that one, but since I am not sharing the evening with two much smarter scientists, I will read an additional post, and pause for questions. (Also, if this is like my last talk at Penguicon a couple of years ago, a few guys in the audience who know more than me will politely correct me throughout the hour… who am I kidding? Nobody knows more than me about A2RS.)

If the time slot seems significant to you, it is because the Penguicon opening ceremonies will be happening in another room at the same time. I implore you to attend my talk instead, and skip the opening ceremonies. In fact, skip the entire event, it peaked a few years ago and has been getting more and more corporate ever since. If you don’t believe me, get there at 4:30 and try to find a good spot for the Penguicon Opening Ceremonies, hosted by Chris Hardwick on the Bud Light Lime Stage*.

Seriously though, come see me at 6pm in the Nicolet Room. And if you can’t make it, check out my slides on the Penguicon web site after the conference.

*this is not actually true

Better The Union U Know

Profile, Michigan Union, April 2018. (C)A2RS

Saturday’s U-M Graduation ceremony brought the end of the Winter 2018 term, and with it, the closure of the Michigan Union for two years of renovation. Although the ground level of the Union was renovated only five years ago, and the first floor’s University Club was closed only a couple of years ago to introduce another franchise to campus, U-M has decided to make sweeping changes to future-proof the Union complex.

North entrance to the Michigan Union. Doesn’t look like much, does it? (C)A2RS

One of the most dramatic plans is to open up this north entrance to the Union. Expect more windows and lots of natural light. This will complement the new LSA Opportunity Hub next door and make the most of Michigan’s six to eight weeks of sunlight each year.

This digital sign was set to a poignant black to commemorate the closing of the Union, totally not turned off to save energy, and why would you even say such a thing? (C)A2RS

They also plan to improve accessibility and eliminate some of the multiple small flights of steps, like the ones you see right after you enter that north entrance. This historic building is riddled with twisty steps and tiny landings that hearken back to a time when everything was designed for bipeds.

Interior entrance to Michigan Union. Only three more stairs to go! (C)A2RS

The sign above the second set of doors at the end of the third set of steps tells the story. The ground floor of the Union, at its close, was host to a Barnes & Noble campus bookstore, a convenience store operated by U-M Dining, the Computer Showcase, a U-M Credit Union Branch, and a passel of quick-service restaurants. Open computer stations ringed the edges of the dining area, although their numbers have dwindled as personal devices have become more common. (Incidentally, the only part of the Union to remain open during this construction is the Union Computing Site, which is actually located in a basement area shared with West Quad.)

Ext. Subway, still serving until the very end, Apr 2018. (C)A2RS

The Subway franchise in the basement of the Michigan Union is the Busiest Subway Restaurant in North America, a title held by the Subway franchise at Michigan State, Notre Dame, UC Irvine, and basically any R1 institution. Go ahead, ask any of them.

Ext. Second Subway Counter, Apr 2018. (C)A2RS

The Second Subway Counter debuted as part of the 2012 Renovation and, if we’re being honest, has seldom been used since. I imagine the stock explanation is that the original counter has been streamlined and optimized to meet increased demand, but honestly, have you seen Wendy’s Twitter?

Ext. Wendy’s, Apr 2018. Note Freestyle machine at right. (C)A2RS

And here she is. A chain based in the heart of Buckeye Country is the only mass-market burger joint in the heart of Ann Arbor. It is a fitting bookend to the heartwarming story of the Columbus Domino’s and could only be more poetic if it turned out Urban Meyer was a partner in the franchise.

Ext. Panda Express gone dark. (C)A2RS

Panda Express premiered following the 2012 reno, but was only the latest in a string of local and franchised “Asian cuisine” takeout concepts within the Union. Previous purveyors of parabolic-pan-fried protein with sweetened sauces and sticky starches included Bangkok II, about which I don’t recall much more; and Magic Wok, which continues to thrive in Northwest Ohio, Downriver, and, uh, Bahrain.

Ahmo’s Gyros, Apr. 2018. (C)A2RS

Ahmo’s is the Issa family’s successful pivot away from convenience stores into dining and is something like a local fixture now. This Ahmo’s location did street tacos on its other counter and I think also offered a fro-yo bar.

Ext. U-Go’s Convenience Store, Apr 2018. (C)A2RS

This U-Go’s used to offer sixty cent fountain refills if you brought your own cup, which was apparently too cheap to last forever. They also had tons of other ready-to-eat snacks and a bulk section. Now that this is gone and By The Pound has moved to South Industrial, People’s Food Co-Op is about the only place you can purchase precisely 1.25 pounds of yogurt pretzels.

Exterior, Barnes & Noble College Bookstore at Michigan Union. (C)A2RS
Ugh, I can see my reflection in the chrome sign stand. I should have shot this more off-center. (C)A2RS
UMCU Branch at Michigan Union. Way back in the day, this was a video arcade. (C)A2RS

UMCU loses a convenient point of presence with the Union’s closure – a full0-service branch right on central campus. Remember when those video teller consoles with the vacuum tubes were gonna be the future of banking? They mounted iPads in front of the video monitors a few years ago, and I haven’t seen them in use in a while at all.

Front entrance for the Computer Showcase at the Union. (C)A2RS

Like several of the other stores mentioned in this article, the Computer Showcase has another location on North Campus. But unlike the others, the Showcase will maintain a presence nearby during construction. The first floor of the Shapiro Library (“The UGLi”) has been fortified with point-of-sale infrastructure and secure storage to host computer and peripheral sales, which makes me kind of glad I don’t work for the Library, because the only thing that would be more fun than a gadget store in my building, would be a gadget store that silently deducts the payments right out of my check.

Display window for U-M Computer Showcase at the Union. Through it you can view the Tech Repair service desk and ITS walk-in support desk. (C)A2RS

That takes care of the Ground Floor – this leaves only two retail establishments upstairs, Starbucks and Au Bon Pain.

Main entrance to Au Bon Pain at Michigan Union. (C)A2RS

I have no idea whether Au Bon Pain is working out for campus. I do know that, since this location opened, the chain has been acquired by Panera Bread, which has had a location at North U and Thayer for years. These two stores seem a little bit close together to me…

Exterior, Starbucks Coffee at Michigan Union. (C)A2RS

…although this Starbucks franchise replaced Amer’s Deli a few years ago and seems to always be working, despite three other locations (State & Liberty, South University Galleria, and Ross School of Business) within two blocks.

I should have gotten a photo of the Billiards Room, I realized this weekend it’s gone for good:

A2RS Predictions:

  • The Union is scheduled to reopen for Winter term 2020, and I expect Wendy’s, Subway, and Starbucks to be back and largely unchanged when it returns.
  • I expect the bookstore to be smaller, with textbooks stored offsite.
  • I’m pretty sure that an unmanned convenience store will be attempted. It could be an Amazon Go or a Market Twenty Four Seven.
  • Jamba Juice, calling it now. Could be a corporate store, might be a franchise operated by Picasso like the one in UHospital.
  • I do not expect the tap room to return to the Union, though that would be pretty cool.

Go ahead, tell me what I screwed up, that’s why I keep the comments turned on.