Making way for the further mallification of Ann Arbor, this month Eastern Accents, Herb David, and Mahek all cease operations

Cities are living things. They grow older, like all of us, and they change. They evolve, or they die. I get that. I’ve grudgingly come to accept that the best things in life are transient. That realization doesn’t make it any easier, however, to accept it when good things, that genuinely make me happy, go away. And it’s doubly painful when those good things are replaced by painfully bland, completely soulless franchises, which were dreamed up in the corporate boardrooms of Wall Street in order to more efficiently suction money away from our local community. It’s taken some time, but I can accept that Discount Records is no longer on State Street. I still have a real problem, however, with the fact that a Potbelly Sandwich Shop now stands on the site where James Osterberg, as a teenager hired to put new records on the shelves, decided to make music his life’s work, met his future bandmates, and earned the nickname “Iggy”. History, I would contend, is important to the civic fabric of a community. And places like Potbelly, as good as their sandwiches may be, and as interesting as you may find the refurbished, yet non-functional, turn-of-the-century stoves they build their themed stores around, seek to obliterate that history in order to convey their heavily-focus-grouped aesthetic of faux authenticity.

I quarel with my friend Pete about these matters frequently. We sit together over lunch – me bemoaning the creeping spread of corporate homogeneity across the American landscape, and him defending the ubiquitous presence of national chains, arguing that they’re more efficient, and often treat their employees better than their locally-owned competitors. For the past several years, these heated discussions of ours have taken place over a table at Mahek, a small Indian restaurant in Ann Arbor that we’re both quite fond of. When we met to eat there a few days ago, though, we found that it too had closed – the most recent casualty in a war on authentic, non-commoditizable, non-scalable American culture. In the case of Mahek, it doesn’t look as though its building is going to be taken over by yet another Starbucks or 7-Eleven, as it was purchased by local restauranteur Sava Lelcaj, but that doesn’t seem to be the norm these days, as downtown rents continue to climb beyond the reach of local entrepreneurs who don’t have national chains behind them. No, most of the time we hear about this kind of turnover happening, it’s something like a Five Guys franchise moving into the shell of Ann Arbor’s beloved local book store Shaman Drum.

Before we move on, I should acknowledge that Discount Records was itself a chain, and that Potbelly, despite its non-local ownership, likely pays its people better than some local restaurants, and at least professes to care about the environment and the communities in which it operates its 200+ identical stores. So, yes, these are complex issues, which don’t lend themselves easily to the black and white thinking we all love so much. This, of course, is something that many of us heatedly discussed recently in the thread that emerged from my interview with local entrepreneurs Jean Henry, Lisa Waud and Helen Harding, the founders of the local entrepreneurial support group Small & Mighty.

In the past several weeks, we’ve learned not only that Mahek was closing, but also that Blimpy Burger, Eastern Accents and the Herb David Guitar Studio would be going out of business. And, before this most recent round, it was White Market, which closed this past summer, after over 8o years in business. The building now houses franchises of both Florida-based Firehouse Subs and Wisconsin-based Toppers Pizza.

But, maybe there’s hope. Maybe, in time, the pendulum will swing back the other way, as it has in Ypsilanti, where unsuccessful chains have a tendency to be taken over by small and scrappy independent businesses… Our our local prepared food CSA, Harvest Kitchen, is in a former Qiznos. Our local Thai restaurant, Tuptim, is in a former Long John Silvers. The Blue Wolf Grill, which just recently opened on Washtenaw, is inside the shell of a former Taco Bell. Pacific Beach Burrito, before it closed, was in a former A&W. And Pita Pita exists where a Dunkin’ Donuts once stood. I take some comfort in that… in knowing that something better, and more authentic, might be waiting in Ann Arbor’s future. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

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  1. anonymous
    Posted March 13, 2013 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    The Ann Arbor I knew and loved died with the Club Heidelberg.

    And let’s not forget Drakes and the Village Corner.

    The change is certainly accelerating.

  2. Edward
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    The loss of Herb David will be felt in the community, but it’s hard to argue that, at 90, he doesn’t deserve to sell the building and enjoy his retirement.

  3. Hmmm
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    You know who else valued efficiency above all else, Peter?

  4. Elliott
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Seva is also transitioning. I believe the plan it to reopen elsewhere in town, but the building where they currently are has been sold, and will no doubt evolve into upscale housing of some sort, to accommodate the changing demographics of our city.

  5. Eel
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    The big problem is, once history is gone, it’s almost impossible to recreate.

    The best thing that could happen to Ann Arbor is an economic collapse that would send the chains scurrying. Or, better yet, maybe the University of Michigan could start taking in-state students again, instead of opening their doors so widely to the children of the wealthy from the New York, China, etc. That would change the dynamic of the city considerably. The upscale lofts would stop, and real, authentic culture could once again have a fighting chance.

  6. Marcia
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    It makes me sad to think that all these unique businesses are fading away. Linette introduced Steve and I to drakes. State street is un recognizable to me. I live in canton, mostly for employment and cost and other pragmatic reasons, but I always try to o to the locally owned restaurants here, and there are many,though you might miss it in the avenue of chains on ford road. But I also kind if understand the appeal of some for some.. Familiarity with the menu, etc. I know people with restricted diets or people or parents with picky kids ( me) like knowing the menu in advance wherever they go.

    I imagine the cost of rent in Ypsilanti vs. Ann Arbor must make a difference. I work in garden city and have found a lot of great little ethnic restaurants there, in westland and Livonia. They aren’t necessarily hip areas, but the owners say the rent in these areas makes it easier to open up.

    I did read that the grand traverse pie company downtown opened up downtown and closed within a year.

    When I was in high school in Oakland county, royal oak was the ” alternative place”
    In the 8os. By the time my husband and I bought our house in ferndale in 1997, r.o. Was unaffordable and very populated by chains.

  7. K2
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Borders is gone too.

    What’s the big one that, if it were to go belly up, people would really shit their pants?

    And I won’t accept University of Michigan or Zingerman’s, as they’re too easy.

    What locally owned businesses do people see as indispensable, too interwoven into the fabric of Ann Arbor, to lose? Is there one left?

  8. Posted March 14, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Eel, right on. Of course that would mean less tuition $ so I’m not holding my breath.
    I am so tired of seeing the ultra expensive student lofts and student apartments popping up like weeds.

  9. double anonymous
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Ann Arbor
    Authenticity Absent

    And I love the idea of making “Pure Ann Arbor” signs out of the scrapped signage of locally-owned businesses that have been priced out of the market.

  10. Posted March 14, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Discount Records was a chain, and an awful record store.

    There used to be a McDonald’s downtown.

    I just had to get that out there.

    There are still plenty of family owned small businesses in downtown Ann Arbor. I did a survey of State St and found that more than 60% of businesses on that street are locally owned. The trouble is, that they get ignored.

    The readers of this blog, Mr. Maynard included, don’t seem to care about small businesses unless they are owned by young, educated white people and cater to young, educated white people.

    Perhaps I’m being reactionary or painting the readership here with a wider than necessary brush, but that’s the theme I see here, and frankly, it depresses me.

    I am happy to be proven wrong. I love you all.

  11. Dharma
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Yes, it is sad to see Ann Arbor institutions leave and I am as annoying by 7-11 and the like as much as the next townie. But…. I can think of so many examples of newer locally-owned Ann Arbor business that have cropped up in the last 5 years! What about Comet, Lab, Mighty Good, Jolly Pumpkin, Chela’s, Frita Tostidos (or whatever it’s called haha), Last Word, Raven?!?!!? (the list goes on)

  12. Dharma
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    The beer garden, Mark’s Carts, Tomukun…

  13. Dharma
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    *annoyed oops

  14. Marcia
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    I hope the Godwin’s law violation to efficiency and chain restaurants was tongue in cheek.

  15. Mr. X
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Yes, Peter, Mark hates non-white entrepreneurs…… which is why, in this article, he focused on Eastern Accents and Mahek, neither of which is owned by these “young, educated white people” you say he loves so much. And, while Herb David may be white, he’s certainly not young. (He’s 90.) So, out of the three businesses mentioned in the headline, not one supports your claim that Mark only pays attention to young, white entrepreneurs. Also, you may want to brush up on your reading comprehension, as Mark concedes the fact that Discount Records was a chain, right in the third paragraph. I love you, but, Jesus.

  16. John Galt
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Thankfully, our city fathers have wisely penned up our city’s food carts in that lot behind Downtown Home and Garden. One hesitates to think what might happen if people were able to explore the possibilities outside of that lot.

  17. Mr. X
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Also, Peter:

    “Bill Gates: capitalism means male baldness research gets more funding than malaria”

  18. ypsijav
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    I thought he was nicknamed Iggy by Michael Erlewine and the Prime Movers after they poached him from the Iguanas as a drummer.

  19. Murf
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t the Blue Wolf on Washtenaw?

  20. Stooge
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    From Michigan Rock and Roll Legends dotcom:

    Jim got a job after school at Ann Arbor’s Discount Records under the supervision of manager Hugh “Jeep” Holland. (Holland would first call him “Iguana” at the store, and that would eventually lead to the famous the “Iggy” nickname.) It was while working at Discount Records that Jim first got to know brothers Ron and Scott Ashton who often hung out on Liberty Street outside the store.

  21. site admin
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    You’re correct, Mr. Murphy. I will see to it that this is changed at once.

  22. Chemie
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    My buggy whips! My buggy whips!

    Just kidding.

    Honestly, these things are cyclical. It doesn’t make it any less painful, though, as you’ve stated. Ann Arbor, as I understand it, once had a dozen or so thriving breweries. All of that was crushed, however, with Prohibition, and the subsequent takeover by Big Beer. Now, though, it’s starting to come back. The same thing is happening with food. There’s a real resurgence. Unfortunately, it’s all happening at the upper end of the price scale. There’s plenty of authentic, interesting stuff happening. It’s just not happening for most of us.

  23. Mr. Y
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    G from Blimpy Burger
    A from Mahek
    M from Shaman Drum
    E from Eastern Accents

    O from Borders
    V from Village Corner
    E from Herb David
    R from Drakes

  24. deleuzean
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Downtown Ann Arbor, IMHO, is a good mix of chain franchises and local bussinesses. I do wish the rents were lower so that more people who want to run niche-y retail shops or hole-in-the-wall restaurants and clubs with oddball food and music offerings could make a living doing so. I blame the internet, too, though, because so much of what is great about oddball/underground culture lives and thrives there now. I like hanging out downtown, but the internet is just so awesome it’s hard to tear myself away from it.

  25. deleuzean
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 3:38 pm | Permalink


    I miss the tiny little Japanese Pla-Mo / Gun-Pla shop in the front corner of what is now T.K. Wu. I got two of my most excellent model kits there. How they ever made even the tiniest bit of money is an absolute mystery to me.

  26. Redleg
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    The “blanding” of Ann Arbor continues……. “Anywhere USA” indeed.

  27. anon
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    “I like hanging out downtown, but the internet is just so awesome it’s hard to tear myself away from it.”


  28. Posted March 14, 2013 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    Pete, are there any businesses you are thinking of specifically? Your comment makes it sound like you know of some businesses owned by non-whites that we are ignoring. If that’s so, let us know what they are and bring some attention to them. I’m not being sarcastic…I seriously want to know.

  29. Posted March 14, 2013 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    In my defense, I thought that both Mahek and Eastern Accents were owned and operated by evil/brilliant white people who had an army of life-like Asian robots at their disposal.

  30. Mariah
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    I understand frustration at the mall-i-fication of downtown, but it strikes me as nothing new. I remember fighting the idea of Starbucks opening way back in the early 2000s. Now I don’t even really think twice about it. And Peter’s right that as a record store, Discount kinda sucked much of its life.

    A few folks above get to what I see as the heart of the matter. It’s hard to make (high!) rent on a lot of types of brick-and-mortar stores that once existed. I agree that I’d love to have more variety than just restaurants and gift shops (and we *do* still have some variety), but in order to allow for smaller businesses to take that risk, rents would need to be lower.

    I’m curious if anyone has suggestions re: specific policy decisions that local governments or downtown business owners have made that have helped provide a balance of business types *and* have lowered barriers for new businesses? I used to think that it an ideal downtown would be chain-free, but I think I’ve moved to feeling that’s far too black and white, but that still doesn’t excuse us from thinking about *why* rents might be so high that only chains or specific types of businesses can afford them, while there are still other buildings and storefronts sitting vacant or “coming soon!” forever.

    I think that Herb certainly deserves to be able to retire. I have no doubt folks had offered to purchase the business from him, but I also get the feeling he likes to run things with his name on them a very specific way (as he should!), and so I can imagine a bunch of reasons why he’d rather close up than sell.

    On a positive note, however, he and his wife will continue to own the property, and stated that they don’t want a restaurant to go into their space, and the top floor will be home to a new spin off business, made of of three longtime luthiers.

  31. XXX
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the update on Herb David, Mariah. I like knowing that luthiers will be plying their trade upstairs. Also, I agree that Herb should be able to retire, and I don’t think anyone has said otherwise. It’s just sad to see things go.

    I have a question. When you say Herb and his wife have decided that they don’t want the building to be a restaurant, do you have a sense as to their reasoning? I’m curious as to what they might have against restaurants.

  32. XXX
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    I almost forgot why I came back to this thread. I had something for Mr. Y, should he want to follow though and make the sign.

    Here’s the “G”.

  33. Mariah Cherem
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, I didn’t mean to say that anyone was saying that Herb shouldn’t be able to retire, but more that it seemed that although he didn’t want to sell his business, his retiring didn’t necessarily equal mallification. He and his wife have made statements pretty contrary to mallification and seem to be trying to be good stewards of the property. Herb David closing is certainly sad, or at the very least, a sort of passage.

    I don’t have much context for the probably-not-a-restaurant comment. That was just something I noticed skimming an article (take that source — and its apparent typo — as you will):

    But, I think there are some distinctions here. I appreciate that Mark notes that Sava is buying the Mahek building. From the sounds of it, Herb intends to keep his building. Neither of them seem to bent on mallishness (how many words can I make with the word mall?!).

    That leaves Eastern Accents. I’m sad about EA closing too. It sounds like a landlord issue bubbled up, which makes me wonder who the landlord is there and what the issue was (I’d love for someone to make a block-by-bloc map of who owns what downtown property, tho I don’t have time to go through all the tax records myself at the moment).

    While EA is leaving, that adjacent space has had a “coming soon! comedy club/hookah bar/pizza joint/we’re-not-sure/whatever” sign up for over a year. When I first saw it, I bet friends money it would never open. That same adjacent space has been many things (I first went there for a show/wrestling match when I was like 15) and often nothing at all. I don’t know who owns what on that area of the block, but I wouldn’t bet much money on it becoming mallified (or much of anything) for a little while at least.

    I definitely get your overall point, Mark. I agree, it totally sucks (I’m so eloquent, eh?) when things and place we love go away. I’m bummed. I’m just not sure that any of these three locations will be turned into a Claire’s or Perfumania anytime soon.

    It also sucks that Blimpy’s closing/moving(?), and I’m gonna miss seeing those amazing Snow Bears. Living down the street for 7+ years, that was a big ritual for me when we’d get a big snow. But we can’t even really chalk *that* one up to chains or mallification… more like UMification (which I’m sure many of us have a complex relationship to/feelings about).

    It’s sad, for sure, but I guess since we can’t keep any of those businesses open at this point, I’m most interested in what things individuals or groups could do to try to make starting new cool businesses or maintaining existing businesses easier? I honestly don’t know, other than patronizing places I dig… so I’m curious about other ideas.

  34. Posted March 16, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Awesome comment, Mariah. Thank you for leaving it. I don’t know that I have much to add, but I do think that there’s some definite soul-searching that has to take place in Ann Arbor over the course of these next several years. As more wealthy students come to Ann Arbor, and more developers seek to cater to their demographic, the property values will continue to rise, and even the most community-minded owner will eventually begin to consider the possibility of cashing in, which, in turn, will force more local businesses out of business. My concern is that we’ve put off the conversation too long.

  35. Mariah
    Posted March 17, 2013 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    Mark, I certainly wouldn’t argue with that! This is a conversation that’s been kicked down the road for at least a decade too long.

    I think that one of the things that hinders the conversation is that often the people who most need to be involved in that conversation are the very people who honestly don’t have the spare time to sit around hours-long council meetings or forums. Time is a resource, and some people have more of it to spare than others (often because they have a wealth of other resources, too!).

    Communication is changing, and therefore peoples definitions of “civic life” are changing (one of the better related talks I’ve seen: As w/many academic-y things, the real meat begins partway in, around 24:00.

    A big question that I wrestle with is what sort of engagement people can really have with these questions if they can’t attend/choose not to attend giant, long meetings. We aren’t used to investing/structuring out time much that way anymore (at least I’m not!).

    Sorry to go on a bit, but I guess you can tell that I do care a lot about this topic. I think because there aren’t too many forums for me to talk about it, it all kinda comes out stream-of-consciousness when someone opens it up.

  36. facebook stalker
    Posted March 19, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    From someone helping to close down Eastern Accents:

    “Helping close Eastern Accents Bakery brings back so many memories and offers many lessons on community and family. It was awful when vultures came out of the woodwork, ready to take advantage of the owners. A stink-eye on a particular restaurant that’s going to open. But it was heartening to see others come together, lend a hand, and dance Gangnam Style to thank Ben, Carol, and Emilie for a wonderful 17 years.”

  37. Meta
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Speaking of Five Guys, I was wondering if anyone saw the editorial by Timothy Egan in today’s New York Times.

    Immersion journalism was called for after a Five Guys franchise owner, Mike Ruffer, complained last week about the new law requiring him to offer his employees health care next year. At first, he thought Obamacare’s mandate wouldn’t apply to him.

    “I was fat, dumb and happy,” said Ruffer, who employs 147 people at his eight burger outlets in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area. “I’m not happy anymore.” I will take him at his word on the dumb part.

    As for the rest, here’s a guy selling something that is a leading contributor to the major health breakdowns in America, a product that may ultimately hasten an early death. He won’t offer insurance to the poorly paid workers who make said time bombs. But now that he’s forced to, and plans to raise prices to cover the care, he thinks this is an awful thing.

    And Five Guys is not exactly struggling. It is the fastest growing restaurant chain in our fast food nation, with revenue projected to pass $1 billion this year.

    In the burger master’s view, the government is forcing him to “pass on the costs to customers,” he said. But he already passes on considerable costs to customers who may never sniff a Five Guys fry. Because he doesn’t give his employees health care, they show up as charity cases at the hospital emergency room when something goes wrong. Last year, the uninsured cost the system $39.3 billion. Guess whom the expenses are passed on to?

    Read more:

  38. Eel
    Posted May 20, 2013 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    It’s not downtown, but Great Lakes Seafood has closed after 19 years.

  39. Meta
    Posted October 7, 2014 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Falling Water is closing after 26 years.

    The decision to close the store after 26 years was prompted by the impending sale of the three-story building at 213 S. Main. Falling Water leases the first and second floors of the building from owner Allan Nalli.

    Johnston and Gould-Caskey could not comment on the details of the building sale, as the negotiations are ongoing. They said it was time to close Falling Water as a rental rate increase is likely, and the retail environment is changing.

    Read more:

  40. Posted October 7, 2014 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    That’s nothing… Middle Earth is closing after 47 years.

  41. Posted October 7, 2014 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    Old hippie tschochke shops barely floating by closes up, owners retire, this all seem very normal and completely appropriate to me. Did any of you actually patronize these businesses in years? Do you feel as strongly about the cultural significance of the decrepit head shops that have been around for decades (vs. the new “vape” e-cig etc. ones that moved in)? Can we agree that the Wall of Bongs was actually not that impressive? Can we agree that some stuff should just fucking die, and it’s the natural order of things? Who wants to live in some antiques roadshow?

    We’ve got new Asian tschotchke shops to replace them (you know, prayer flags and bowls and other incense) and tons of new, locally-owned restaurants/cafes/bars started by young (20-something!) Asian entrepreneurs in town (Lab, Tomukun Noodle Bar, Tomukun BBQ, Songbird Cafe, Belly Deli, No Thai, etc.), or young women (Iorio’s, Babo and Aventura, etc.), or young men (Last Word, the Bar at Braun Ct., Espresso Bar, etc.) – is none of that significant? You’re going to cry over some new age books and fountains? I mean, there’s even a new, legit stoner burrito joint on campus (Menna’s – “ROLL ME A FATTY”)! New skateboard companies (Flophouse!), and expanding skate shops (Launch, now also off Stadium!).

    Nostalgia is fucking boring. I’m happy to see successful new businesses here, led by new, young founders. We could use more retail diversity, but what we really need are better businesses that can actually be successful competing downtown against restaurants for rent, and/or landlords who actually give a damn (kudos to Al Berriz for keeping blocks of Liberty St. local businesses, when Tim Horton’s and crap came calling). For instance, the Vault of Fucking Midnite!!! who are taking their brand of awesome-as-fuck to GR, Lansing, Detroit, etc.

    Successful businesses that aren’t restaurants, cafes, or bars are certainly hard to do with these downtown rents, and retail is generally suffering everywhere (DK’s “give me convenience or give me death” might as well be Amazon’s slogan). If we actually BUILT UP, tech companies would pay ridiculous downtown rents on upper floors to subsidize everyone fighting for ground-floor white box retail.

    Sucks about Woodruffs, but why can’t another Green Room happen? Ypsi’s got some creative, weird shit going on, and it’s awesome (even the nominally boring library shit in Ypsi is awesome, as I can attest to, having lined up after Mark for pony rides and soap carving). There’s a ton of opportunity, great properties available for handy and ambitious and people to try to do something. But is there enough vision? Will? Talent? Capital? People who care?

    My next great hope (cos we got our skatepark DONE) is that Maynard Battery turns into our version of AS220 (like a legit, non-hovel Tech Center), and not some extension of the arts-and-crafts Art Center. Free culture for all. There are still some freaks in this town. We can shut down the streets with a circuit bending noisecore parade. Actually, that is a great idea, even if Leif Ritchie and Joe Bay and Nautical Almanac did it decades ago. Where’s our inspiration if not each other?

    We just can’t be scared, and we have to want it, and we have to work for it. Old ones (due respect) had their time. But as Nas said, the world is yours.

  42. Posted October 7, 2014 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    Great points, Dug. And I agree with a lot of what you say. I’m not crying over Falling Water closing, and I actually think it may be a good thing that Middle Earth is closing as it might drive more business east of 23, to The Rocket. My point wasn’t that we should lock everything down in amber, and resist change. My point was that the environment in Ann Arbor is changing and smaller businesses are being forced out due to rising rents. As Curtis Sullivan told us here not too long ago, the reason Vault of Midnight can stay downtown is that their building’s owner believes in them, and didn’t push them out make room for the next 7-Eleven or Starbucks. I think that you can lose the sense of a place. I think that’s a very real danger. I don’t disagree that some interesting things are happening around the fringe, but I’d argue that the bigger trend is toward homogenization. Ann Arbor is losing its sense of place. Yeah, there’s a skateboard park a few miles out of town, which is awesome, and some stoners are selling burritos, but you can’t deny that market rates are pushing the unique out in favor of chains.

  43. Jean Henry
    Posted October 9, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Thank you Dug. Businesses end. New ones take their place. That’s how it is supposed to happen. Retiring after 20+ years in business is an ideal outcome. It’s hard to sell brick & mortar shops because true entrepreneurs want to do their own thing. And that’s how it should be. People who buy existing shops rarely do a good job. People hate change. Crew that. That’s some entitled BS right there. Fear of change is the reason A2 is getting less interesting, not its small business culture, whic as Dug point out is thriving. Small & Mighty abounds with young entrepreneurs making their way. No they don’t all have brick and mortar shops. They are MAKERS and that is something that did not exist in large numbers in A2 of the 80’s. They are not buying cheap crap made in China to soothe or amuse the souls of the privileged. I think this area is a million times more interesting now than in the 80’s. It was cool when people created stuff then and no one made any money, but, you know what? I prefer it when people create stuff and make money. Bacause they stay here. And, yes, we could have a cooler town if landlords and the city were more supportive of new ventures, but I believe that’s coming. And Dug, if you and your people create that tech space in Maynard Battery, leave a little room for a food /coffee venture in there ok? We need to cross pollinate more. So here’s my hopeful list of independent creative ventures I admire that started making a living from their creative endeavors in the past 10 years or so(And people please feel free to add your own): EAT catering and take out, Pot & Box, The Bar, The (espresso) Bar, Comet Coffee, Literati, Vault of F’in Midnight, The Bang and all things Jeremy Wheeler, Today, Dear Golden, Morgan & York, Roos Roast, Mighty Good, Hello Ice Cream, Sic Transit Bikes, Red Shoes, Found, Lexi’s toy Box, Little Seedling, Urban Ashes, Raven’s Club, Penny Seats Theater, Carriage House Theater, 7 cylinders Studio, Mission Zero House, David Zinn, Mary Theifels, Argus, etc etc.
    Instead of whining about lost Ann Arbor (which tend locally to be couched in sad sack, anti-development rhetoric which externalizes blame and actually HURTS small businesses), how about we start talking about steps to actually help small businesses? Because I have a laundry list. It would begin with a city Ombudsman who actively worked to develop spaces and capital funding mechanisms for creative people and small businesses to set up shop. That same position would work on affordable housing initiatives and public performance spaces. It would also assure that the building department and historic district commission work WITH small businesses to help them with permitting. We need a small business development officer within the city (SPARK is only nominally interested in small business). There are models for this in other towns. Burlington VT has a whole Community Development Department and it is almost entirely grant-funded.

  44. Jean Henry
    Posted October 9, 2014 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    All of this reminds me of a store owner in A2 to whom a customer bemoaned the closing of a business next door. “What?!? It’s closed? How sad… I loved that place! I went there all the time” ( It had closed more than a year earlier.)

    If you didn’t shop or eat there, don’t bemoan a store’s closing. This should be part of your moral code. If you do shop or eat at a small business and they close, be kind to the staff, tip well and wish them well. Because life goes on.
    And thank god, because a town stuck in amber is a dying town. And a business that stands still is a dying business.
    If you want to support small business, then accept that change is an inherent piece of the business landscape and that it’s GOOD. Then figure out how to provide businesses you value with meaningful and sustainable support, via funding mechanisms, opportunities to collaborate, smart intentional development and reasonable rent structures. But don’t do it from a sense of charity or preservation. So it because these place and people have inherent economic and community generative value and they are worth your investment.

  45. Posted October 9, 2014 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    You apparently, literally, don’t think anything of the local entrepreneurs that indeed started all of these businesses in the last 5 years, at escalating market rates, successfully competing against chains like Tim Horton’s and Big Boy trying to come in (often supported by landlords taking the long view). They are an existence proof against your tired tirade. There have been more new local successes than chain-based franchises. And there have always been franchises, including local ones.

    It’s hard, yes, and only some of them are good enough to succeed, but all of them are brave enough to try. Where chains like Big Boy’s @burger failed, Tomukun has flourished. You’d be more correct in calling out homogenization of Asian restaurants and cafes than local vs. chains. We lost some franchise record stores, but support the local ones (including Ypsi graduates Underground Sounds). We got new head shops bookstores, sex shops, tattoo parlors, clothing stores, etc. May not be what you want or care about, but they all happened in downtown Ann Arbor.

    I have a lot more concerns about the loss of any live music venue in Ypsi, and the options in Ann Arbor. That sucks, and for some crappy Mexican food is just insult to injury. What are you guys doing over there???

  46. Posted October 9, 2014 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    “You apparently, literally, don’t think anything of the local entrepreneurs that indeed started all of these businesses in the last 5 years, at escalating market rates.”

    Not true. I think quite highly of them. And, in fact, I interview them often on this site. (You should read through the archive sometime, Dug.) To name a few, over the past few years I’ve interviewed Curtis Sullivan (Vault of Midnight), Lisa Waud (Pot & Box), Helen Harding (Eat), Bill Brinkhoffer (Argus Farm Stop), Phillis Engelbert (Lunch Room), Paul Saginaw (Zingerman’s) and Tanya Veilleux (Safety Girl) at length. And there are numerous people that I’ve reached out to over the years who I’d like to interview, but the stars just haven’t aligned.

    So, with all due respect, when you say that I “don’t think anything” of the local entrepreneurs doing things right now, you’re wrong. I love you. But you’re wrong.

    Also, as I’ve said before, I don’t want to see Ann Arbor trapped in amber. I like change. I like evolution. So please stop telling me that I suffer from nostalgia, and that I’m just upset because some of my favorite stores are closing. That’s not it at all. I never shopped at Falling Water and I never bought a guitar at Herb David. This has nothing to do with nostalgia, or the fact that I don’t like development. So do me a favor and stop trying to lump me in with those old hippies who don’t want density in Ann Arbor. Density is good. But it comes as a cost. And all I’m suggesting is that we have an open, honest conversation about the change that’s happening, and possible solutions that would make it easier for locally-owned, independent businesses to have a presence downtown. The rates are rising, the small local players are getting squeezed, and it’s having an effect on the personality of the city. It just is. Your locally-owned startup can’t pay the $60 a square foot that Pot Belly does. It’s just math.

    And I’m sorry if you find this a “tired tirade,” but I find it worth discussing. And, based on the response that this post continues to get after over a year, others do too.

    My point is really simple. Ann Arbor is getting to be too expensive for small, not-tech entrepreneurs. And before you submit another list of successful businesses, I’ll agree with you that some folks are still making it. Yes, there are examples of local businesses that can make it in this environment. I never argued that there weren’t. What I argued was that things are trending in a dangerous direction. Sure, people will push back, and some will be successful. But the trend is still toward homogeneity, where there’s less and less room for the weird, the unusual and the quirky. Sure, one day a year we can bring our giant puppets out, and shut down a few streets, but it doesn’t change the fact that Ann Arbor is becoming a less unique city, one in which the poor and the creative are being pushed out. (Over the past month I’ve had conversations with two downtown Ann Arbor business owners who anticipate that, within the year, they’ll be priced out of the City.)

    But, yes, it’s awesome that food carts are making inroads. It’s awesome that Pot and Box opened. It’s awesome that Vault of Midnight exists. That doesn’t demonstrate a trend, though. If anything, it helps make my point. The food carts are happening in response to the fact that restaurants can’t be opened. Vault of Midnight exists in part because they found a building owned by good people who wanted to see a bookstore there. And Pot and Box isn’t technically in downtown. Sure, bright people will find a way. It’s just getting harder. And we need to realize that.

    I agree with you about Woodruff’s, though. We desperately need another live music venue. And I’ve been trying, to the best of my ability, to coerce Hassan into making it happen.

  47. jcp2
    Posted October 10, 2014 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    I agree that it is more difficult for people without access to substantial capital, whether through credit, chash reserves, or backing of a franchise, to open brick and mortar stores in downtown Ann Arbor. Certainly this group would include those types of businesses that you are worried will cease to exist. But this is not a problem unique to Ann Arbor. Technology has really changed the nature of the retail industry and flattened it out. Those things that once seemed funky, strange, and obtainable only at that quirky store on the corner can be showroomed and purchased online, sometimes within the store itself.

    I like the idea of some sort of business incubator, where people with creative ideas on the retail end can work with people with expertise in finance and operations so that they can launch a business with a greater chance of success. That is what Mark’s Carts is, so that budding restauranteurs can find out whether the business of owning a business is for them or not. It’s much better to flame out with a cart’s worth of inventory than to be on the hook for a full kitchen buildout. The intersection of wild, weird creativity and vision and detailed, compulsive inventory and accounting skills seldom occurs in the same social group, and even less so than in a single person. Introductions are in order.

    I would disagree with the statement that the poor and creative are being pushed out of Ann Arbor. Certainly the poor are, and that could be addressed with housing policy, and the creative who happen to be poor are in this group, but there is lots of creativity happening in Ann Arbor, just not at the retail level. The whole premise of a research university, our major engine of growth, is structured around this. Granted, a lot of the creativity is based around answering questions and solving problems, but it is still is creative.

  48. kjc
    Posted October 10, 2014 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    a few people are sorry to see a beloved business close and we get “tired tirades” about “creative destruction” (marshall berman, where are thou!) and condescension to those sad sacks who can’t accept change from another self-loving tech visionary. is it not obvious that reactionaries skew things to make their own point? the fact is that the majority of people couldn’t give a shit about falling water closing or middle earth or herb david or anywhere else. we are not lacking in market capitalism cheerleaders who shed no tears over the latest independent business that shuts its doors. so if someone says “oh bummer” just let it be and stfu.

    that mexican food is crappy though. i wrote the owner and talked to him about it. i do like those windows though and seeing more people in depot town. even if they’re people who like crappy mexican food, which doesn’t say much except “we’re in michigan”. maiz overtaking woodruff’s is not creative destruction right, though? because you decide what sucks.

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