(DISCLOSURE: U-M is my employer, until I cash out and sell this project to Axios or Oath or something.)

The University of Michigan is the institution of note in Ann Arbor. Its various research, medicine, and entertainment concerns bring attention from all over the world… BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE MY WORD FOR IT!

U-M has the largest alumni association, as well as a popular sports program you might have heard of. The block-M logo is one of the most in-demand trademarks in apparel. I worked at a theme park far out of state for a while and met many visitors in U-M hats, sweatshirts, and jackets. I would always ask “Are you a student or alumni or just a fan?” (I would say “just a fan,” because it was half my life ago and I could be kind of a little jerk without even trying. They would smile and say “just a fan!”)

U-M’s sports trademarks are managed by IMG, part of superagency William Morris Endeavor. WME’s co-owner is the real-life version of Ari from Entourage, and its IMG website helpfully lists the royalty percentages its member institutions take. Michigan is at 12%, on par with other Big Ten schools and football powerhouse Alabama, and 20% higher than the College of William and Mary (10%). Lower, though, than Brigham Young University’s 14%. OSU is not represented by IMG, and who cares? They don’t give a damn about our whole state, you know. They have a song about it!

Anyway, can you blame a local store for wanting some hail-by-association?

First example: The Washtenaw Marathon

Up until the late 2000s, this looked like any other run-of-the-mill Marathon. The gable roof makes me think maybe this was a Shell before, but I can’t confirm right now because… because I won’t confirm right now. But the owners had big dreams and they rebuilt the fuel islands and convenience store with high windows, in handsome brick. They envisioned their station as the first piece of Michigan a visitor might see, I imagine. So they put a big, glorious maize block M over the entrance.

That didn’t last long. Can you blame the U for protecting their hail?

First the store owners tried to get square by changing the color to a stars-and-stripes pattern. Not enough. They ended up taking the lower blocks, but not the upper ones, off of the block-M, creating a weird little sans-serif M with shoulder pads or Bozo The Clown scalp- wings:

Shopper’s advisory: A Yelp reviewer, the self-identified “first reviewer of a gas station,” notes that this place has great booze prices.

Second example: Stadium Party Shoppe/The Big House of Liquor

This photo of the Stadium Party Shoppe and Stadium Pharmacy dates from about ten years back. I can only conclude that back then the trademark wasn’t policed so carefully. Although the Pharmacy stayed open continuously, the Party Shoppe closed for a few years and was eventually purchased and reopened by another family member, as I understand it.

Above, here it is a year ago after its reopening. The swooshes redone a little more droopy and less reminiscent of the Winged Helmet Design, and everything in a stars and stripes motif.

I don’t know how forthcoming these shopkeepers are about their signage decisions, though it would be a great thing for literally anyone else to ask them. A local business that is very forthcoming about their branding struggle is BTB Burrito, which was originally known as Big Ten Burrito until the athletic conference found out and put the kibosh on (link goes to their salty about-us page).

The Big Ten Party Store on Packard Road was named in 1939 and apparently established before having to contend with the conference attorneys.

“Big Ten continues to score by stocking rare, exotic goods,” November 1989. (C) The Ann Arbor News.

Most people know it now as Morgan and York, the bad-weather dining room for Ricewood.

A2R.S Road Trip: Dillon, Colorado Exorcises Its Authority (groan)

I wrote last week’s update about Craft Brewwwww City on the way out of town. I shot the photo of their coming soon banner literally out of the AirRide bus window (only TWELVE DOLLARS!).

I was headed to a work conference in the mountains west of Denver, about eight thousand feet up. I was fortunate to attend this conference last year too. The area is best known for its ski resorts (Keystone, A-Basin, Breckenridge) but in the summer it’s a quiet and lovely place to relax and learn about the latest innovations in instructional technology.

Last year when I attended this conference I misjudged the dress standard and packed slacks. I quickly realized that it was less business and more casual and regretted not bringing some shorts. On the way in, I had noticed a Sports Authority on Route 6.

That’s it above, in the boom times of 2008. Unlike Ann Arbor, Google doesn’t send Street View trucks into the mountains every couple of years.

By the time I arrived for my conference, the Sports Authority chain was well into its bankruptcy sale, but there were still some decent men’s shorts to be had for a pretty good price. I think I paid $16 for two pairs. Still wear them all the time.

I drove the same route this year and was happy to discover that this big box was quickly renovated into an REI store, the first in the area (the next closest location is 67 miles away in Denver – read the linked article for some of that local sporting goods retail drama you crave).

Another fun thing about this area is that everything looks like a ski lodge. I assume there is municipal guidance to ensure this. (There is! Kudos to A2 Commr. Weatherbee for pointing me to Dillon’s documentation. Checking it out is worth the 56k-esque download time.)

Here’s City Market, next door to REI:

City Market is a division of Kroger and once you get inside this store it looks like every other Kroger you’ve ever seen. Same layout, Kroger brand products. I even swapped my Kroger Plus keytag for a City Market one, with a big red strawberry. It is the most mundane souvenir I have ever taken from a trip, but I think of the mountains every time I go to Kroger now. (PROTIP: If you just hand your keys to the clerk at your local Kroger, they won’t necessarily recognize a City Market keytag as, but it scans just fine. It appears in my Kroger account as a “Sooper Card,” derived from another Western Kroger division, King Soopers, but again, it is totally valid in Ann Arbor.)

Here’s a Target for good measure.

As I always say, I sure wish Ann Arbor had a few mountains in the distance, but we do okay in terms of rivers and lakes.

State and Packard intersection getting another change with Craft Breww City

(EDITED Wednesday to add details about the previous uses of this space.)

Looks like the large-ish restaurant space on State and Packard is changing hands/brands again. The Happy's Pizza signage is down and "Craft Breww City" is coming soon, according to new banners facing State and Packard Streets.

This appears to be a second location for a popular Farmington Hills spot. CBwwC opened about three years ago at 12 Mile and Orchard Lake road, formerly home to a beloved but dive-y place called Roosevelts. The right idea at the right time, I think. There are no shortage of places to find great beers in Ann Arbor, but it can't hurt to have another, especially if they can get some rare ones. (Website promised a Founders barrel-aged series, so that seems promising.)

They will need to have a great hook to be able to sustain business outside of football Saturdays. There's no parking, save for street parking, anywhere near this intersection. Before Happy's came to this space, it was the unexceptional Packard Pub. Before that it was Artisan Bistro, and before that it was an Atlanta Bread Company franchise. Before that, Espresso Royale had a location here. If you want to go even further back, there was an arcade here called Double Focus in the 80s and early 90s. They stubbornly insisted on tokens, until Pinball Pete's took over the space and converted the machines to legal tender, and added their then-ubiquitous 25 cent automatic fountain-pop and snack vending machines.

I don't know why CBC spells Breww with two W's. I suspect it was easier to trademark and also carries a mystique, like how Buffalo Wild Wings was originally called "bw-3." (It's because they served sandwiches on Weck rolls, another Buffalo-specific food item. "Buffalo Wild Wings and Weck.")

More new things on State near I-94

Looks like they’re cramming in one more building off of the State and Ellsworth roundabout, behind the recently opened Jimmy John’s and Belle Tire.

This looks a little too wide and narrow to be one thing, and there doesn’t appear to be a drive-up window. Given the proximity to new hotel development and current business presence, I’m going to guess it’s a small strip mall, and it’s going to have a Quizno’s, a hair salon, and a vape shop. FreezingColdTakes, come at me in a few months.

North of I-94, the Hyatt Place is just about complete. Its outbuilding, less so. Still not sure what this building is gonna be:

Squarish. Slightly higher ceiling in back. Drive Thru signboard facing State Street. Probably a fast food restaurant.

No logos or design elements that I recognize. Maybe it will be a new concept to the area, but it seems more likely that a familiar name is getting a new location nearby.

The Wendy’s on Boardwalk Drive exists within this block, albeit not necessarily connected by a driveway.

It’s existed largely unchanged for decades, albeit with minor branding updates. It has a huge queue area for the counter, though I imagine it’s full most weekday lunch times.

The Burger King on Victors Way is not far away, around the corner. It’s a very unique building, especially for a fast food restaurant.

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Ringed with conifers, exposed rafters, porthole windows, and an atrium help distract you from the usual fast-food-restaurant molded plastic furniture. At one point the BK regional headquarters was attached to the back, though it’s offices for an insurance firm now.

Am I really telling you to go eat a Whopper just for the building? If we’re being honest, I would have told you to go eat one anyway, because I give terrible advice. But this location is still worth checking out before they inevitably conform it to current brand guidelines.

Some Stuff to Taco Bout, Maynard Street, and Finally Getting Round to a Proper Squarewell


Exterior of Taco Bell on Jackson Road. (C)A2R.S

Taco Bell has made a triumphant return to Jackson Road on the west side. None of its area locations are exactly what I would characterize as outdated, but this store closed for a dramatic renovation that has made it look like a real-life version of the Taco Bell mobile app.

Chela’s is expanding downtown! Coming-soon signage spotted on Fifth Ave. between the old Jerusalem Garden space and Earthen Jar. I really enjoy the steak and chorizo combo tacos from their original location at Liberty and Maple, and the owner, Adrian, was very nice to my kids last time I took them, so I’m happy to see Chela’s growing.

On Maynard a couple of times last week, and took the opportunity to examine the small convenience store at the base of Tower Plaza. The most recent incarnation did not survive long, despite having an eye-catching brand with arguably the street’s best use of Microsoft Word’s “Word Art” zoom.

Set in Courier, no less. (C)A2R.S

There are a glut of similar stores in these two blocks, including two national drug chains experimenting with take-and-go meals, and the venerable Diag Liquor. Just across the street in Nickels Arcade, babo also recently threw in the towel. I’m not an expert, but I think you need to be able to sell booze if you’re gonna survive here.

Are those new network cables hanging from the drop ceiling? (C)A2R.S

I hope they’re coming up with an interesting new use for the storefront, and that they announce it really soon, so I have something else to write about. There’s no shortage of new neighbors. The new owners of Maynard House apartments literally taped a new name over the old sign. They didn’t even get Clippy’s help like the people across the street did.

“It looks like you’re attempting a hasty and generic rebranding campaign.” (C)A2R.S

Speaking of Nickels Arcade, they are currently celebrating their hundredth anniversary. The current merchants are hosting little exhibits of signage and collateral from tenants of yore. And the front door of each store tells you who was there before. Gonna stop typing because my thumbs are sore.

Closeup of Apples & Oranges’ door. (C)A2R.S

One last disappointing update. A few weeks ago I spoke at Nerd Nite Ann Arbor about starting this blog and some other previous projects in this vein, and I shared a few photos I had taken of Circle Cube, a golden sculpture that used to stand in one of the public areas of Briarwood Mall, but which I hadn’t seen since its renovation was completed a few years ago.

It hurts me to see you like this buddy. (C)A2R.S

Next morning, I got a hot tip from a current mall employee that CC was still on premises, still in the shipping crate it’d been packaged for sale in years before. I headed over at lunchtime and there it was:

A few days later I got word that CC had been destroyed and disposed of.

Nothing gold can stay.

Arbor Hills Crossing: Not Your Father’s Buick Dealer


Have you been to Arbor Hills Crossing? If you haven’t been in town for a few years, you might not know what I’m talking about. Arbor Hills Crossing is an outdoor shopping center on Washtenaw and Platt, near Whole Foods Market and the county recreation center.

“Auto Firm Begins New Building Work,” Ann Arbor News, August 21, 1963. (C) The Ann Arbor News.
The Arbor Hills Crossing site is a composite of several sites that originally hosted Ann Arbor Buick (which eventually also sold Cadillac and Saab before its closure), a car and truck rental, an independently owned furniture store, a pet daycare, and a small shopping center that contained, at various times, a Stucchi’s ice cream, an Edward Jones investment office, and a Doughboys Bakery. (Doughboys was a beloved, long-gone locally-owned chain of bake shops.)

“Ann Arbor Buick – 3165 Washtenaw, June 1964.” (C) The Ann Arbor News.
Nearly all of the stores that moved into Arbor Hills Crossing were chains that had not otherwise been in Ann Arbor before. They include Brooks Brothers, Lululemon, Anthropologie, The North Face, Sur La Table, Madewell, and Evereve (a maternity store originally known as “Hot Mama”). Arhaus Furniture had been in Ann Arbor for a few years, at Arborland down the road, but left Arborland to move to AHC. Arhaus’ building at Arborland was eventually relabeled “Arbor House Furniture,” but the space has never been occupied since.

(Click through above to see the space in Google Street View. Go back to 2011 and before to see the old buildings I mentioned at the beginning of the article — except the Buick dealer, which was gone by the time Google began cruising Washtenaw.)

The locally-owned stores include longtime staple Running Fit, My Urban Toddler (baby clothing, supplies, and a playspace), and the restaurants. They include Bigalora (a hot-fast pizza place as is the current rage but with an exceptional tap and drink selection); Zola Bistro (from the owners of downtown breakfast spot Cafe Zola); and Mighty Good Coffee.

The Mighty Good Coffee shop was originally a Glassbox, a high-end coffee and juice shop. It, and its sister location at Washtenaw and South University, both closed suddenly a year or two ago when their backer pulled out. Mighty Good quickly acquired the locations and expanded. As far as I know, this is the closest thing to a failure this shopping center has experienced.

That’s pretty much everything I know about this place. I drove through the parking lot once without stopping. Honestly, I haven’t been able to afford any of these stores since I had kids. Feel free to tell me what I’m missing below.

-lrich’s and other dropped details

“-lrich’s.” Sorry for the aesthetic, shot through a bus window because I had a place to go. (C) A2R.S
The U has disappeared from the Ulrich’s sign on their building facing west. Seems suspicious. As I understand it, the Ulrich family owns this side of the block and a new Ulrich’s store will anchor the new building – perhaps they are saving a piece of the old sign to display in the new building, which is always a fun piece of trivia to link the old and the new. When the 14-screen Showcase Cinemas opened at Carpenter and Ellsworth, their lobby proudly displayed the sign from the drive-in they replaced; similarly, the marquee from the old Campus Theatre on South U was mounted on the wall in the South University Galleria when first opened. And every time a Carl’s Junior goes fully-automated, they stuff and mount one of its former workers in the dining room.

Party City has moved within Oak Valley Center, alert reader/fellow local blogger Anna Mae reports. It’s moved from the south end to the north side, near Chuck E. Cheese. PC is one of Oak Valley’s original opening tenants, I’m pretty sure, originally known as “1/2 Off Card Shop.” If you’re somehow not from Michigan and reading this, it is what you would call a “party store,” a paper-products shop specializing in supplies for group celebrations. (For some reason, in Michigan and maybe nowhere else, a “party store” is a convenience store that sells booze.)

Famous Footwear was also in Oak Valley for a long time, but recently closed. Its sister location continues to operate in Arborland.

Oak Valley has been not-quite-full for a while. I feel like it started when the independently-owned Crossroads Christian bookstore closed, and accelerated when MC Sports moved from Oak Valley to Briarwood Mall. Chuck E. Cheese is a reliable traffic bringer for kids of a certain age, Target expanded its store with something sort of like a grocery, and there are a lot of new apartments and condos nearby, so I wouldn’t worry too hard.

MC Sports went out of business just before I spun this site up and I don’t have a lot to say, except that I have many fond memories of the movie theater that was there for forty years before MC Sports moved in. (It was a standard 70s mall movie theater — cinder block walls, nearly flat floors, movie theater popcorn – but I still miss it.) I bought a few things at MC Sports, they were fine for a sporting goods store, and I guess they sold guns, if you’re into that.

(click through to play with the Street View time machine and see the Alamo when it was a Rave Cinema)

I’ve heard Alamo Drafthouse nominated as a possible new tenant for the vacated MC Sports, which would bring movies back to Briarwood in a format mostly untested in this area. Alamo’s downtown Kalamazoo location, their first in Michigan, seemed to be thriving until they were booted last winter from Portage Street by their new landlord. (Commenters on Alamo’s now-shut-down Facebook page swore the space would reopen quickly with a different exhibitor, but it’s been a couple of months.) Alamo typically seeks locations further away from other theaters, and the Emagine Saline is only about ten minutes away and a step into their niche, with a full bar and food delivered to your seat — though without the tables, the eclectic programming, and the heavily enforced child and phone rules that make Alamo a favorite in their markets.

Dairy Queen Signage “Upgrade”

Call it “Larrytown,” “LoBuPa,” “Satan’s Hollow,” whatever you like, the people of these neighborhoods love their soft serve and its associated mix-ins. Despite no indoor dining area, the Packard Road DQ opens at the end of February and stays open until usually at least Thanksgiving, maybe later if the UM-OSU game is at home that year.

(Above, the Packard DQ with original signage as Googlemapp’d in 2016.)

It opened February 28 with the same sign, but sometime in the past few weeks, the logo-cone came down and they crammed both the mid-2000s “DQ swooshes” and a “Dairy Queen” bar sign into that white section on the front of the building:

Dairy Queen store on Packard with current signage. (C)A2R.S

As roadside photo blogger Debra Jane Seltzer notes:

In the last couple of years, Dairy Queen corporate has been very actively going after their franchisees to replace their vintage signs with the ugly new swoosh DQ logo. They are also demanding building replacements as well. With all the costs to be paid by the franchisee. There have been many threats and a number of losses.

I know logos take a lot of time and thought, and each little element means a thing (for example, the blue swoosh means frozen novelties and the orange swoosh means grill items like hot dogs and burgers), but c’mon, son. You made the franchisee pay for two signs for that little store and just crammed them on the front. They’re not even centered. (The DQ stand in downtown Dexter, of similar proportions, has a similar signage job on the front.)

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.