Raja Rani to close its doors at the end of the month as a result of rising rents in Ann Arbor

At the risk of further infuriating those who see these reports of mine about long-time downtown Ann Arbor businesses going belly-up as “tired tirades,” I feel compelled to share that yet another Ann Arbor staple will soon be closing its doors as a result of rising downtown rents. According to my source, the owners of Raji Rani, which has been a part of the Ann Arbor landscape since the 70’s, have told their employees that they will be shutting down the storied Indian restaurant for good at the end of this month. So, if you’d like to hit the buffet one last time, you’d better go soon.


I’m sure some will say that, if they were more savvy, and provided better value, they would have been able to adjust to the rising rents. And maybe there’s some truth to that. I’m sure others will point to the fact that other good Indian restaurants exist in Ann Arbor, and seem to be doing well. And that’s true too. It’s also true that, for cities to remain healthy, they need to change, adapt and evolve. I get that. As we’ve discussed in the past, though, I do think it’s likely, if we don’t intervene in some substantive way, that there may come a time when local entrepreneurs can no longer afford to exist alongside the new upscale housing developments and chain restaurant that are so rapidly expanding through downtown.

I know I should’t complain, as this is likely good for Ypsilanti… The less unique and interesting Ann Arbor becomes, the more people will seek out authenticity elsewhere. I understand that, and I can see it happening already. (When Middle Earth announced their closing a month or so ago, my first thought was that it would be good for The Rocket.) At the same time, however, I can’t help but feel bad for Ann Arbor. It’s like when your once really interesting friend decides in middle school to start bleaching his hair, turning up his collar, and running around with a bunch of douche bags. It’s not that I don’t want Ann Arbor to change. It’s just that I feel as though authenticity is being sacrificed in return for slickness. And, I believe, in the long term, Ann Arbor will suffer for it. Yes, people can drive out on Plymouth Road and enjoy the food at Cardamom, where, admittedly, they’ve got a better handle on complex flavors, but I think we lose something when that old white house on Division goes away, only to be replaced by something like Ruth’s Chris Steak House. And it’s not just an issue of local versus non-local. It’s also slickness versus authenticity. While I think Babo is great, for instance, it’s just not the old Village Corner. It’s clean. It’s beautiful. And it could be anywhere. It’s rootless… Again, I know it’s a complex issue. I just want for us to be able to have an open, honest discussion about it.

As for the “tired tirades” quote at the top of the page, it comes from my friend Dug Song, in response to the last thing I posted here about long-standing Ann Arbor businesses calling it quits. Here are a few of his comments, followed by my responses. If you find our exchange at all interesting, I’d suggest checking out that post, and all of the comments that followed it. It covers a lot of ground.


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.


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.


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 increasingly.limited options in Ann Arbor. That sucks, and for some crappy Mexican food is just insult to injury. What are you guys doing over there???


“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.

Now let’s see if we can lure Raja Rani to downtown Ypsi.

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  1. Posted October 21, 2014 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    Great back and forth debate between Mark and Dug here. I can see both sides to the story, both are advocates for their own communities. So their is an inherent bias. Being an Ann Arbor native and a long time Ypsi resident, I too am conflicted about the issue. I tend to root for the underdog yet still be nostalgic about the future!

  2. Posted October 22, 2014 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    I can’t even tell you how excited I would be if Raja Rani would come to Ypsi. I’ve long felt that an Indian restaurant is sorely needed in the central downtown vicinity!

  3. PrincessTinyMeat
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 3:35 am | Permalink

    Ann Arbor gentrification is not good for Ypsi. It’s only a matter of time before it consumes our beloved neighborhoods, too. It’s creep can be vividly felt and seen already.

  4. Mr. X
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    Over the years, I’ve known at least three people who, at one point or another, lived above Raja Rani. One was living there when he met his future wife downstairs, at the buffet.

  5. site admin
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    “Ypsi, in my estimation needs three things downtown: a gay bar, a good breakfast place, and an Indian restaurant. There are lots of other things too, but I think those are the big three. ”

    -Mark Maynard
    March 28, 2005


  6. Jcp2
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    Do the owners of Raja Rani own the building? I bet they do, and selling it is probably part of their financial planning.

  7. Mr. X
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    My sense is that it changes hands every decade or so, keeping the name, keeping the menu. So, when I read that the building’s owners are raising the rent, I assume we’re talking about the original owners of the business. I could be wrong about that. It’s just a guess.

  8. Jennifer Albaum
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Businesses close for all kinds of reasons. I was sad to see/read all the oh-no-whoa-is-us chatter when Middle Earth announced its closing. Geezum, they were in business for 47 years! Sometimes people just want to do something else or retire. And any closing makes room for something new, different, and maybe even something people will like. Change is good!

  9. Jordan Miller
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    I feel like we’re being really stodgy here. As a nearly life-long ann arborite I LIKE the fact that now we have Mani (instead of Argieros or Palio, gross), the bar at 327 instead of the Full Moon (no one cried when that place went under), Taco King instead of Taco Bell (except when I’m drunk, then I’m all in that drive-thru like “hoiii I’d want to umm crispy taco and er soda sprite”). And yes, I also miss the Del Rio.

    And I’m not drunk driving through Taco Bell. I’m in the passenger seat.

  10. JT
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    The Ruth’s Chris steakhouse comment made me laugh. Ann Arbor is slowly transforming itself into the most generic space possible and the “debate” is less about nostalgia for any particular business than between people who want to live in a specific place and those who think that living in nowhere in general is the best or only place to be (“Local man” a la the Onion). In 15 years, what will make downtown any more distinctive or memorable than the commercial areas of Royal Oak or Novi or any other very generic small/medium cities? What was once a place becomes a non-place where it’s designed not to hold any history or public commons whatsoever? What will distinguish Ann Arbor’s commercial spaces from a good airport shopping mall? Can anyone imagine that there are places that aren’t like this, and they are good?

    Ann Arbor is full of attempts to make the place “whimsical” and “family friendly” (fairy doors, Festifools) but they feel very history-less and frankly, random. Such a large proportion of the population is transient and has such deep pockets that maybe it doesn’t matter, but analogous cities to Ann Arbor in the US have locally owned, non-chain restaurants near their Universities that seem to hang around for much longer (Cambridge, MA doesn’t look like Royal Oak. Neither do Berkeley, CA and many, many other “college towns”). For “the most educated city in America,” with more progressive city initiatives than many others, Ann Arbor’s commercial landscape shows little creativity.

  11. J.
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Interesting background on Raja Rani, looks like a trust for Harlivleen Bajwa owns the property. I don’t know who started the company or who owns the restaurant now, but that’s who owns the actual building.

  12. kjc
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    we don’t say “change is good!” when they frack in our backyards. at this stage of late capitalism and mindless technological advance, maybe we could save that phrase for new hair colors or rearranged living room furniture. or for local business owners who go out of business cuz they want to not cuz they can’t afford to stay (since some do and some don’t apparently). and please stop dividing the world into those who “embrace change” and those who are “nostalgic”. so tired.

  13. LT
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    what about the fact that rising rents are driving out single families? At some point A2 will be a bunch of yuppies with no kids who have no use for such establishments. Diversity is dying quickly in Ann Arbor. It’s a shadow of her former self. And I don’t like it.

  14. Posted October 22, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Jordan’s comment ++

    …but with full recognition that it isn’t black-and-white. I lean more towards “growth is generally positive, but let’s *plan better* for it/try to come up with ways to ensure the little guys aren’t squeezed out,” but hey, I miss Harry’s and a few other longtime businesses that I wish were still around, and I get frustrated when GR has new Nice Things or Cool Things (Cult Pizza! Pyramid Scheme! New donut places! A proper bakery, open late!).

    It’s possible to have a nuanced perspective here, y’all. Change is gonna happen, but what mechanisms ARE there out there that cities have used to keep things a little more affordable or mitigate some of the risk for small local new indy businesses.

    I’m not that interested in spending time lamenting. I want to hear SOLUTIONS or at least ideas. Hopeful some of that can come out of the frustration…

    I find it interesting that most of the people in my FB feed who lamented the loss of Raja Rani & Middle Earth don’t actually live here anymore and haven’t for awhile!

  15. Jeff
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I think the topic that no one talks about is diversifying Ann Arbor’s near and non downtown neighborhoods. There has long been a bright dividing line between commercial and residential neighborhoods with little overlap between the two. Because downtown is the only game in town and urban settings are now back in favor (as opposed to mall development) it is inevitable that rents will rise – leaving only the richest & savviest to survive. One way to look at it is that all those interesting or independent downtown businesses had it good for a long time because people weren’t flocking to the downtown. Briarwood was were the rents were high. Auto convenience ruled. Thankfully things are changing. So, the question that’s not being asked is: how does Ann Arbor create more business opportunity outside downtown that isn’t stripmall in nature? If you look at Packard, near Stadium, there’s a little of that with Oz, Morgan & York, EAT, etc … but it could be so much better if it were turned into a walkable retail neighborhood with shops that lined the sidewalks etc. But that takes a lot of vision and political elbow grease. Ordinances and development strategies would have to be altered, some public dollars would ultimately need to be committed but the net effect – if distributed to similar hubs throughout the city would be profound, allowing for more indie entrepreneurs to launch businesses and create a better sense of place. Ann Arbor is becoming more homogenized because it doesn’t have a robust and flexible development strategy. Everything becomes a political fight against change and so where change can happen it happens in a highly concentrated way. Frankly, Ypsi is not a lot better in this sense. It’s just not a popular place for economic development. But look at the long political fights over Depot Town or the inability of a food trucks scene to develop and you see that same dynamic repeated.

  16. Posted October 22, 2014 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    I see what Dug is saying, and I agree in some areas. There ARE a lot of great places that are also locally owned. I am not a huge fan of the boutique type stores with a bunch of stuff I can’t afford (and don’t need), but I know those are what people want so there you go. (Let me tell you about the time I walked downtown to get thumbtacks and NO PLACE had them so I ended up spending $10 on these fancy pants thumb tacks that bent when I put them in the board. Seriously)

    I would like to say (again) that I would love to see the concept of “downtown” expanded. We have this awesome space all along North Main Street that is on the goddamned river–I’d love places you could canoe/kayak up to and spend money. And what about South Main Street, towards where Leopold’s (pours out some of my 4-0, mourn ya til I join ya) used to be? If the rents there are lower (and I have no idea if this is the case), it would be nice to get some development going there.

    Question–is this all a matter of greed? Are the building owners/landlords jacking up prices just to line their own pockets?

  17. Meta
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    The Ann Arbor News is now on the story.

    “The lease expired in July and we are on a month-to-month. We’ve been negotiating over the last three months (with the landlord), we just couldn’t come to an agreement,” said Raja Rani manager Jay Singh, whose family purchased the Raja Rani business about 16 years ago.

    Bajwa Harlivleen Trust is the registered owner of the building, which has a 2014 assessed value of $337,400.

    Singh’s family purchased Raja Rani in the late 1990s, more than 20 years after the restaurant opened.

    Singh said business at the restaurant has remained relatively stable, but expenses have gone up since the lease expired earlier this year. He also cited competition among Ann Arbor’s growing restaurant scene as a factor in the closure.

    Read more:

  18. Terri M
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Are you sure this is because of rent? I thought she owned that building.

  19. spinfarm
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    How do the owners feel? They are the ones who are losing money. I’m sorry to lost this restaurant, but I’m not also putting money in it.

  20. Posted October 22, 2014 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Heh, I knew I’d strike a nerve with that comment. Mark is a lovable curmudgeon, but he’s also an old punk, and I love seeing him riled up. Tirade, not tired.

    I’m not strictly all about the new, any more than Mark is all about the old – although I have to say, appeals to “authenticity” strike me, as a progressive critical race theory kinda guy, as the kind of well-meaning but essentialist destination culture that actually oppresses youth and change, turning life into heritage. I’m more concerned about change being possible, where it sounds like others have concerns about change being dictated – but what it seems like we can agree on is that we need a vision to manage to. We need more people who care engaged in civic life at a level that can actually impact this, from non-profit boards to governance.

    A more useful discussion might be around what history / culture we actually want to preserve, and why? For whom? And what else do “we” want, besides Indian buffets?

    FWIW, I love Babo too. Ypsi designer Dave La Fave has NOT made it a generic anyplace, IMO. It’s simply as nice (“slick”) and maybe more interesting than what other cities might have to offer like it. I still love it even after the awesome, super-uncomfortable reclaimed wood chairs got replaced by a juice bar. I’m pretty much a fanboy on Yelp (I dislike negative reviews), but I do think Sava’s doing something awesome:


    Tell you what – trade you Raja Rani for the defunct G’s Carribbean Delights, the BEST AUTHENTIC (heh) FOOD that ever happened in Ypsi. Well, next to Miss Saigon, which was seriously a gem.

    I will miss Raja Rani only for the memories of a magical summer in 1998 with Japanese exchange students who lived upstairs. @Mr. X – you talking about Reza and Yoko, by any chance? :-)

    @TeacherPatti – there is a cabal already trying to create a second downtown on the old MichCon riverfront. Expect more soon. Hoping Ypsi ends up with something similarly ambitious out of the Water Street riverfront, though I’m stoked about how it’s being “occupied” right now. Go Mark!

  21. Posted October 22, 2014 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    I like all these conversations about our economy and our downtowns. The fact that we’re even debating nostalgia versus the opportunity for change is exciting in and of itself. Economic development is everyone’s conversation, not just a handful as it has been for so many years.

    It seems to me more of a need for an *ownership* plan than a *development* plan. Who owns our community’s property will ultimately dictate what happens to our community’s property. When commercial property is owned by community members, there stands a much higher chance that they’ll be in touch with what the community wants, needs, and has the capacity to handle. I like the case study out of Adrian, where 22 people got together and bought a downtown building that was in trouble, which was threatening the viability of the commercial and residential tenants. Amy Cortese (author of ‘Locavesting’) came into town and shared stories about what others were doing across the country to deepen their financial roots within their town’s borders. Adrian residents were so inspired they formed a LP and bought a property. Now they’re looking at other properties.

    Marjorie Kelly talks about this in her book ‘The Ownership Revolution’. When a group of residents, or a land bank, or a community foundation trust, gets together to take an ownership position in the town there’s suddenly a higher level of accountability. Don’t screw over the tenants because all eyes are on you. Don’t let your building go unprotected and burn, then not be rebuilt for years, because you’re surely going to piss off a whole town of people. Social capital ruined.. if an out of state developer, or one of the big six banks, or even just a guy in Florida owned that building I doubt our community would hold so much personal ire against them. Proximity breeds accountability.

    In any event, there is an opportunity to contribute your thoughts toward a vision for Ann Arbor. Specifically, we’re asking a question in every major community in Wash. Co. over the next six months –>

    What would [your town] look like in five years, if it was significantly supported by local capital?

    What would that do? How would it change your town? What would be different or not different?

    October 30th at ZingTrain. 60 seat capacity, only 23 seats left. Don’t let the same ‘ole be the only ones in the room.


    Dexter –> 11/19
    Manchester –> 12/4 (ish)
    Saline –> January
    Milan –> February
    Ypsi and Chelsea –> March


  22. Amanda
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    My husband and I wil miss Raja Rani greatly. We love the food and the people. The food was healing and made us feel good. The people that worked there treated us like family. I am not it can ever be replaced. We are very sad to see it go and wish them luck.

  23. Patrick Haggood
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    Wait, Vault is going to Detroit? God DAMN I shoulda been born in 1990 – middle aged with kids made Detroit way too challenging.

  24. Steve burrowowl
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    You need to understand that the tech guys moving in generally lack… Life experience.

    They prefer a new joint with a copied schtick. Its not their fault. They are generally introverts trying out life in their mid 20s and beyond.

    They generally equate price with quality experience. Clean, shiny, schtick. Look at Palo Alto.

    They tend to think a ping pong table is a cutting edge addition to a work environment… And Nerf guns.

    They can’t enjoy a place like the Blind Pig or Dominick’s and its okay because they own Ann Arbor now.

  25. Posted October 22, 2014 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    Here is an offhand list (in no particular order) of locally owned places, bourgeois and not, that have opened since I moved back to Ann Arbor seven years ago and are still going strong:

    Legion Clothing
    The Bar at Braun Court
    Elevation Burger
    Today Clothing
    Espresso Bar
    Flophouse Skateboards
    Rock Paper Scissors
    Frita Batidos
    The Old German
    Bill’s Beer Garden
    Argus Farm Market
    Songbird Cafe
    Pot & Box
    Last Word
    Alley Bar
    Bongz & Thongz
    The Wafel Shop
    Lily Grace
    Raven’s Club
    Jolly Pumpkin
    The Lunch Room
    What Crepe?
    The Gown Shop

    I’m sure as we all get older and crankier, we’ll have the same pangs of nostalgia when Bongz & Thongz goes the way of Middle Earth, but let’s please stop acting like everything cool in Ann Arbor is being replaced with nothing but CVS and Ruth’s Chris’. This isn’t Livonia, thank fuck.

    Besides, Ann Arbor is rife with good Indian food, and Raja Rani doesn’t even rate in my top 5. The cynic in me sees this all as more fodder for the same old Ypsi vs Ann Arbor bullshit, and that’s not helping anybody. If someone can’t afford to open their cool business in Ann Arbor, I hope like hell they’ll open it in Ypsi, be wildly successful, then open that shit in Ann Arbor too. I love Ypsi, I love Ann Arbor, I love Detroit, shit I even love Grand Rapids. Derision and division isn’t going to do any good for anybody. Michigan’s tide isn’t exactly rising, so let’s stop poking holes in the ship we’re all on.

  26. Posted October 22, 2014 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    OK, here’s some data to consider. Yes, I did this all in a spreadsheet, happy to share it if folks want to help analyze / fill in the blanks.

    Out of 249 retail storefronts downtown (e.g. first-floor, directly accessible from the street on Ashley, Division, Fourth, Fifth, Huron, Liberty, Main, Maynard, N. University, State, Thayer, Washington, and William), 207 are local businesses (not branches or franchises of businesses elsewhere). I also did not count businesses interior to buildings (e.g. nothing in Nickels Arcade), only what you walk straight into (I did count Le Dog on Main though). I did include 7 banks, as retail locations that should be something else, IMO, but no offices – just what you can buy goods or services from off the street. So that’s 83% local, conservatively.

    Out of 56 retail storefronts on campus (Church, E. University, S. University, S. Forest), 45 are local. That’s 80%.

    I was surprised to see how many streets are 100% local storefronts. All of Ashley, 4th Ave, 5th Ave, Church, Division, Huron.

    Even Main St. is actually 88% local retail – the exceptions are Starbucks, Mongolian Grill, Verizon, 4 banks, and Moosejaw (at least they’re Michigan-based). If Selo/Shevel and Falling Water are replaced by non-local businesses, that’ll be 86%.

    It would be great to have opening dates for all of these, business category, landlord, rents, and snapshots by year (harder to do; Ann Arbor Observer has some data, and it’s probably possible to reconstruct a history of openings/closings year by year from Google Maps’ Street View, but painful).

    There’s no doubt there is a demographic shift downtown, and changing retail fashions, as there have always been here (how many froyo places did we have? Pizza? Sushi? We’re on to burgers now?). There are fresh retail locations a-happening, off Stadium, off Packard. There are many more expensive restaurants in Ann Arbor, yes – but they will not all make it. What “weird”, “quirky”, “creative” businesses do folks actually miss in Ann Arbor? I only have a few myself – Schoolkids, Jefferson Market, and Eastern Accents. That one weird vegan pizza bakery place in Kerrytown, I guess. That’s about it for me.

    And what current weird, quirky, creative businesses in Ann Arbor or Ypsi you regularly patronize and support now? I’d love to know!

    FWIW, you’ll find some of mine on Yelp: http://dugsong.yelp.com

  27. Packer
    Posted October 23, 2014 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    Peter, nice list.

    96% Caucasian bourgeois.

  28. Posted October 23, 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    Packer, that’s a whole other topic (and one I can’t necessarily argue against). My point is only that the narrative right now that Ann Arbor can not support new small businesses and is being taken over by chains seems false.

    And if Biercamp is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

  29. Jam
    Posted October 23, 2014 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    @Patrick Vault is not going to Detroit, they’re planning a 3rd location in Detroit. They already opened a second location in Grand Rapids.

    Regarding the vault I kind of disagree with the notion that they only exist because their landlords are so nice. The vault is extremely successful, they are opening additional locations, I’m pretty sure they’re there because they can afford to be.

  30. Posted October 23, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    @Pete and @Packer – totally agree we need more retail diversity generally (I’m specifically thinking non-restaurants, though). Still, we should celebrate (and patronize!) some of the local non-white businesses that have opened since you got back, Pete:

    Asian Legend – only Taiwanese around
    Ginger Deli – fast-food Vietnamese
    Taco King – cheap awesome tacos
    Chela’s – less-cheap awesome tacos
    Curry On – Indian street food
    Tianchu – Korean-Chinese ghetto food
    Seoul Street – Korean fried chicken, finally!
    Om Market – tiny Indian market
    Bombay Grocers – big Indian market, with serious snack aisles
    Galleria Asian Market – Korean market
    Hyundai Asian Market – small, family-run Korean market who grow their own produce
    Tmaz Taqueria – cheap awesome tacos
    Pilar’s Tamales – less-cheap but awesome Salvadorean food
    Hut-K Chaats – less-cheap Indian healthy snacks
    Belly Deli – less-cheap Korean/Viet sandwiches
    La Marsa – ordinary Lebanese, but also some of the only Egyptian food around
    Jerk Pit – Jamaican food – under new management, go back and give it a try
    El Harissa Market Cafe – awesome not-cheap Tunisian version of the Syrian Exotic Bakeries – point and go deli (wish we had a Filipino turo-turo joint here too)
    Tomukun Noodle Bar – ramen
    Tomukun Korean BBQ – take a guess
    Nagomi Sushi
    Umi Sushi
    OK I’ll stop

    What else do people like?

  31. Anonymous
    Posted October 23, 2014 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Can you map them too, Dug? I think very few of these are actually downtown.

  32. Frosty Gene
    Posted October 23, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    But look at the businesses local and chain – Food, Clothing, Food, Food, Clothing, repeat. What is lacking are more non-food/clothing shops like middle earth and full moon, Vault and Literati, locally owned, with their own style ( see below re local in ownership, but repetitious in style). For example, look at the difference between Moes Sports shop and M-Den. Also, the cost of entry is very very high, in part because those towers have sent a lot of property to owners who are are outside of Ann Arbor and not very understanding of the needs of local startups.

    I get that businesses change, but I don’t want gleaming shiny towers everywhere with Brooklyn/Palo Alto type businesses on the ground floors. They might be local, but if they offer the same stuff, arrange themselves the same way, and offer the same feel, they might as well be chains. Want to see how local feels? Try Bloomington Indiana. Has much the same feel Ann Arbor had when I got here in the 80s. Many many local businesses, a unique feel, and a town not trying to be Berkeley this week, Brooklyn next week, and Palo Alto the week.

    And as for 80% locally owned, Dug did not include Cherry Republic ( Not An Ann Arbor shop). Also, he mentions campus area, and leaves out state street, radically skewing his local ownership numbers. State Street is ground zero for local ownership – chain change. Walgreen, CVS, 7-11, Noodles & Co, 5 guys, Starbucks, Potbellys, Ben & Jerrys ( right next to a local ice cream shop), Jimmy Johns, Buffalo Wild wings, Pitaya etc. etc. Very little local shops except for those where local folks own the buildings ( Like Nickels Arcade). Changes the campus percentages a good deal.

    What Ann Arbor is losing is not a nostalgic view of itself, it is a current sense of itself and how it is different than other places. The key is keeping the buildings and not just the businesses local, because locals have a better feel for what makes their own unique.

  33. Frosty Gene
    Posted October 23, 2014 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    P.S. I heard a non-local restaurant is very likely go in to Selo Sevel spot. Simply put, Mark is entirely correct: despite the numbers now, the trend is away from local, regardless of the local shops that have opened, and the diversity of types of shops is declining as well.

  34. Posted October 23, 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    I’m happy to see the new Ypsilanti Running Company opening up in downtown Ypsi, if we’re talking positive Ypsi change…

  35. Posted October 23, 2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Nostalgia is fucking boring. It keeps you from enjoying the present.

    Raji Rani closed. So fucking what.

    Mark and I will find a new place to eat lunch and it will be just as good, since I never went to Raji Rani for the food.

  36. Posted October 23, 2014 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    “Walgreen, CVS, 7-11, Noodles & Co, 5 guys, Starbucks, Potbellys, Ben & Jerrys ( right next to a local ice cream shop), Jimmy Johns, Buffalo Wild wings, Pitaya etc. etc. ”

    How do you know these aren’t locally owned?

    I’ve worked at lots of “locally owned” businesses that treated their workers like crap and took their customers for granted.

    Herb David sucked ass and it was “locally owned.” I would have rather burned my eyes out than buy anything there.

  37. Posted October 23, 2014 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    @Frosty – I did include State St, which is 62% local storefronts. I’m a bit unclear on your logic – “despite the numbers now, the trend is away from local, regardless of the local shops that have opened”. Maybe it’s the engineer in me, but how is there a trend that is independent of the actual numbers?

    Perhaps you have stronger feelings about certain businesses that should matter more than numbers (I do too). Maybe you feel like there is a greater loss in cultural value. So my question remains, what businesses are you actually talking about? What gems of the community are we mourning, and what do we want to replace them? I only have my 3, and really only deeply care about 1.

    Sure, I’m ridiculing Mark for his faux sentimentality (and ridiculous Ypsi vs. A2 nonsense – you’ve got to put that noise down), but there are probably people older than he acts that actually cared about those businesses from the 70s. What gems of Ann Arbor do you, personally, actually miss or want to see? I’m sure there were people who lamented Bill Knapp’s closing too!

    Retail diversity is definitely an issue, but you have to consider the larger macroeconomic trends driving those choices (of entrepreneurs, not just consumers).We lost bookstores, a shoe repair shop, a convenience store/market and student supply store (and got Babo, Walgreens, CVS, and 7-11). We got a bunch of new tattoo and electronic cigarette shops. We even opened new bookstores, which I couldn’t be happier about.

    @Angela – I have a few ideas, although I’m not sure I’ll be able to attend. There’s some excellent space (~800 sqft) right downtown, and there’s Nick’s Cavern / Circus / Millenium Club, he’s finally retiring. It’s an amazing building.

    You know what is the most awesome thing to have happened in downtown Ann Arbor, in my opinion? All Hands Active, the literally-subterranean hackerspace down the block from the Michigan Theater. You have retirees, middle-aged black engineers (hey Patrick! :-), PhDs, and high school students. Female co-founders (hey Amanda and Alex!). Awesome community and classes. Go check it out, serve on the board, help make our newest multi-generational third place even more awesome: http://www.allhandsactive.com/

    @Steve – ad hominem much? :-) While you spend some time figuring out what strawman might actually apply here, here’s a concrete example of your twenty-something tech introvert – my coworker Zoe, who’s buying a house in Ypsi, works downtown, teaches the teen DJ class at the Neutral Zone, DJs the drag night at Live (and the Funky Brunch at Bona Sera!), and started her own business on the side (the Aviary, Ann Arbor’s new aerial arts gym). You’re right, she’s just gaining life experience. And doing pretty well at it!

  38. Lynne
    Posted October 23, 2014 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Ann Arbor went to shit when the hookers stopped hanging out in front of that liquor store that used to be on 4th ;)

    Just kidding but that change really was a sign of the changing demographics of the city. That is ultimately what I am nostalgic for, diversity in population. Partly because I have found that rich people who live completely isolated from poor people often turn into total douchebags. Since I work in Ann Arbor, I have to deal with this all of the time. [just yesterday, I was taking a walk at lunch in Downtown Ann Arbor and a guy in a brand new Mercedes SUV stopped his car to scream at a dark skinned hispanic looking man who was wearing an apron, suggesting that he worked in a local kitchen. The SUV dude was mad about this guy “stealing jobs” even though my guess is that he personally would be unwilling to actually do this poor man’s job]

    This thing in Ann Arbor is nothing new to me. I’ve seen it happen in lots of other places and I don’t think it has made those places better. I remember when I was a teenager, there were tons of funky little shops in Birmingham. Then, they got priced out and many of them moved to Royal Oak. Then Royal Oak was the cool funky city. Later, Ferndale of all places took on that role and now it seems that some of that energy is moving into the actual city of Detroit. I am not sure it is possible to stop these changes. I am not sure it would be worth it to try although I like some of the ideas people have made here.

  39. Dan
    Posted October 23, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    yet another “ypsi is real, man, ann arbor is for bros” post.

    talk about a tired tirade

  40. Posted October 23, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    @Anonymous – 8 of those are downtown/campus. Looks like most of Pete’s are. There are cheaper newer places that have opened downtown in the last few months like Hunter House ($2 burgers! authentically old but new!) and Mezos Greek Grill (authentically cheap! like we used to hang out at Mr. Greek’s!), etc. too – just not ethnic enough. ;-)

  41. Posted October 23, 2014 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    These are good discussions to have. Discussions that happen offline all the dang time, but MM or any of us aren’t necessarily in on all of them all the time, so this is a useful spot to rehash/have them to some extent.

    I do get super tired of anyone thinking that things are as simple as A2 sucks/ypsi rules (just like i get tired of the black-and-white people have wrt change without looking at nuance), because both CAN be awesome and both CAN suck.

    Often, at least in the daily lives of me and my family and friends, we spend time and money and energy in both communities regularly. Like, really, in my household about 1/3 of our time each week is spent in Ypsi, and 2/3 in ann arbor – mostly that extra 1/3 is because we sleep here.

    As for the diversity of businesses, I think it’s kinda interesting that much of the discussion is based on retail/eating, when we all know there are plenty of service or product based businesses that *don’t* have a storefront, yet are local, going strong, and employing people, which means those people have money to spend in the local economy. They may not be as visible, but they’re still important.

    Do I wish there were more non-restaurant businesses in downtown Ann Arbor? Sure! Do I think that retail is easy or profitable in the age of online shopping and inventory centers? It depends. It’s hard.

    I’d also like to see more businesses with feet/locations in multiple Michigan communities. In that respect, I’m super proud of Vault, and also think that Mix’s opening up a shop in Nickels Arcade (after doing well in Ypsi), and Dear Golden’s move to Ann Arbor from Ypsi are interesting examples to look at too.

    I agree with Dug that Dave LaFave has done an excellent job w/merchandising and design on Babo (and everything else he’s done, duh), and as the market has been around longer, I think they’ve done a better job of adapting to the local needs. Even if $7 juice is generally too much for me, their deli/by-the-lb foods actually offer a pretty good lunch value downtown, honestly.

  42. Posted October 23, 2014 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    PS: Back to RR: I wonder if this Rev Harlivleenji is the one whose trust owns the building?

  43. PantherHouse
    Posted October 23, 2014 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    For the record: this is almost definitely not a case of greedy landlords. I lived in one of the upstairs apartments for 4 years and have known the Bajwa family for quite a while now. They were always kind and fair. Unfortunately, Ranjit passed away on Tuesday.

    Business at Raja Rani has been declining steadily for years now. I loved that place, but there are so many food options in that part of town, I don’t go nearly as often as I used to. They just got lost in the shuffle.

  44. Posted October 23, 2014 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    @Mariah might be shy to call out hubby Jeremy’s awesome comic last month on the topic of growth and Ann Arbor’s future, which hopefully everyone’s seen:


    Lower Town, riverfront, mixed zoning, ADUs, rents, all good stuff – maybe topics for the upcoming Avalanche unconference being planned (details coming soon?).

    Also, Enrico Moretti’s “The New Geography of Jobs” (Literati’s recommended book for new graduates, shortly after opening) is a great read, and helpful in explaining what’s happening to cities across the US economically:


  45. Posted October 23, 2014 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    @Dug ERMAHGERD, really? Having a second downtown there would be super. Are they seeking regular citizen’s input? I have no money (well, I did, but then I bought a sandwich and paid $1 to the musicians at the co-op) but I am very happy to offer citizen input if they want that!

  46. C. Jason
    Posted October 23, 2014 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    Since 1993, I have lived in the following cities at different times, some of them more than once:

    Bloomington, IN
    Austin, TX
    Boulder, CO
    Ann Arbor, MI
    Ypsilanti, MI

    Apart from being (mostly) progressive little islands in the sea of the American apocalypse, they also had the following in common: No matter what year it was, the locals would always grouse, “Yeah, __________ was cool ten years ago, but now it sucks.”

    I heard it regularly in Bloomington in 1993, I heard it regularly when I moved back there in 1998. The length of time always remains the same: About a decade. (I remember when Starbucks first made inroads in Bloomington. Bricks were thrown through windows and graffiti was sprayed on the building. Starbucks endured. So have several local coffee joints.)

    While I admire the people who have taken the time to work out the percentage of locally-owned businesses in Washtenaw County, and the people who have sussed out the prices paid per square foot for places like Cherry Republic and Bongz & Thongz, what I’d love to see is a study in which someone collects and analyzes data about the perceived relative degree of coolness of various cities, graphed against age and/or length of time that each person has lived in each place. For example,

    “I am 32years old, and I have lived in Ypsilanti for 6 years. It’s okay now, but it was really happening about ten years ago.”

    Sample as many people as possible from the hippest cities in America, then graph the results.

    By all this, I don’t mean to say that this conversation isn’t valid or useful, but I do think it’s one that people have probably been having for decades.

    Another tangent: If I’m not mistaken, Bongz & Thongz is now just Bongz. The Thongz part of the business went under. Sad, really.

  47. stupid hick
    Posted October 23, 2014 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    A local business owner, who has viable business, who has been a member of the community for decades, loses their livelihood for no other reason than an opportunistic rentier has market leverage to extract more for himself. And some of the commenters have nothing to say but “so fucking what” and “doesn’t rate in my top five” and “change is good”. Another commenter makes a spreadsheet to prove that there are plenty of surviving local businesses, so what if rents are spiraling, it’s good that long-standing businesses are forced out of the market to make way for new possibilities. Then goes on to catalogue and praise numerous restaurants: Nope, Raja Rani won’t be missed, you sentimental, nostalgic, hippy! What the fuck? Have some compassion. Such open embrace of the lesser George Bush’s “ownership society” makes me sick.

  48. Posted October 24, 2014 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    @hick – nobody is happy to see people forced out of business. In some cases, greedy building owners have increased rents beyond the ability of current tenants to pay. In others, business has declined so much as to be unsustainable. And for some who owned their own building, the latter made the opportunity to sell the building, and not the business, their best financial option (though it may lead to #1).

    There are specific issues to each, and all these closings are not equal. In the case of Raja Rani, they faced increasing competition from new, better options nearby. Certainly sad for them, yes – but we act sad for ourselves, as if it were incomprehensible?

    Downtown is getting harder to compete in as there are more retail storefronts now, more options. We see many new local options, and some that are not. I’m pretty sure @TeacherPatti can get her cheap pushpins now at Walgreen’s. I can get my non-student ghetto Korean food. This does not imply local entrepreneurs can’t compete. It does imply that the bar is being raised. And yes, we should all help to see that more local options flourish. Maybe @Angela’s initiative can help. Maybe the DDA’s retail incubator will also.

    MLive reports this morning that Raja Rani will continue under new ownership (Taste of India). Sort of brutal to see him call out the failure of the team there, but awesome that the other widowed founder had an option to preserve her original vision for the business. I guess someone can deal with the rents beside Ruth Chris.

    Next to where Fantasy Attic once stood on Ann Arbor’s Main St, Shalimar exists. Where Fantasy Attic once stood on Packard, Bombay Grocers exists. Where Fantasy Attic once stood in Ypsi, well, that was my Indian hope for you, Mark. Maybe you can still get this Raja Rani team the Taste of India guy is going to walk out…

  49. Posted October 24, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    This just in from “The Not So Fast” Desk…http://www.mlive.com/business/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2014/10/ann_arbors_raja_rani_to_remain.html#incart_m-rpt-2

  50. kjc
    Posted October 24, 2014 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    “Certainly sad for them, yes – but we act sad for ourselves, as if it were incomprehensible?”

    disingenuous. maybe some people are just having an empathic response? could that be? or feel, perhaps, that we’re all connected, so what happens to someone else is a matter of personal interest, not just misplaced whining. a bit cynical on your part really. and scolding. maybe i need to reread my critical race theory. does it say some people feel one way and some people another?

  51. Dan
    Posted October 24, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    based on that new mlive article, it sounds like the landlord (original founders of the restaurant) simply didnt like the direction that the restaurant was going in, and kind of forced them out to let someone else run it

  52. Posted October 24, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    I appreciate the conversations about not putting all our retail hopes and dreams in one downtown basket, like Jeff brings up. A2 has a lot of areas that could be good little neighborhood centers, with some realignment towards humans over cars and supporting development policy. Packard especially seems to have a number of these — at Platt, the Morgan & York area, even at Stadium. (Dare I mention the Georgetown mall site?)

    These don’t have to be big — Grand Rapids has a lot of good little spaces tucked into the dense historic neighborhoods, like Union & Lyon streets, on the scale of East U’s Sgt Pepper block, but less student-y, or Wealthy Street SE, sort of Depot Town in scale.

    Grand Rapids may not quite be a fair comparison — they’re a bit bigger than A2, about the population of A2 + Pittsfield/Scio/Ann Arbor Townships, and much denser than that set of communities, and they’ve got a much larger metro area population, so can probably support more of these sorts of spaces, but it’s at least proof of concept.

  53. Posted October 24, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    @kjc – I’ve only seen @PantherHouse express an honest, personal interest in the owners here, and I’m very thankful to see it. Few customers ever really consider the people who pour their life into serving them. It’s why I don’t like negative reviews – you can always deliver feedback in private, or choose not to patronize their business. But you strike at their livelihood to tear them down publicly.

    What I find disingenuous is talk of how Ann Arbor is losing its soul because a handful of increasingly irrelevant businesses from the 70s have closed/retired/sold, and nothing cool happens (or can) anymore, and what’s bad for Ann Arbor is good for Ypsi.

    Yes, I have a hard time believing Mark’s readership really ever shopped at Selo/Shevel or Falling Water, or ever cared. But it’s cool to pretend like we did, I guess? Can we not be happy for their retirement?

    And yes, I completely resent the fact that the new businesses that are succeeding in an increasingly competitive environment, and run by hard-working, local entrepreneurs are simply ignored or taken for granted. We only care when they’re gone?

    As @C. Jason points out, there will be existential crises from time to time, maybe every decade, as he says. I’ve been here for two, and I’m committed to and appreciative of those who keep on grinding to make it better, even if it’s not cool/authentic enough for some.

  54. Lynne
    Posted October 24, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Well, fwiw, I shopped at Falling Water all of the time and I am really going to miss it. It was my “go to” place for whenever I found myself at work with a present to buy. I suppose Literati can fill in though so I’ll be ok. I am very happy for the Shelo/Shevel folks and happy for their retirement too. I also feel that it is perfectly fine for me to admit that although I never once bought a think there, I always enjoyed their window displays. They were fun, entertaining, etc. I liked the things they had, I just couldn’t afford them.

    I have to admit that what bugs me is this idea that a landlord who chooses to charge the market rate for their property is “greedy”. I suppose so but not any more than someone is who expects the landlord to donate the opportunity rent to the business so that someone can get lower prices or the experience they value. I am willing to bet that none of the people who are calling the landlords “greedy” would be willing to move and rent out their homes below the market rate so blaming the landlords for raising the rent just doesn’t seem fair or productive.

    That doesn’t mean that I am opposed to public policy which can help keep small businesses alive. I am not even against public policy which favors renters over landlords. I think the best sorts of policies would be those which help businesses become their own landlords. None of that is something that is likely to happen if we’re just blaming something uncontrollable such as the greed level of landlords.

  55. kjc
    Posted October 24, 2014 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    “Yes, I have a hard time believing Mark’s readership really ever shopped at Selo/Shevel or Falling Water, or ever cared. But it’s cool to pretend like we did, I guess?”

    who is this “we”? honestly i can’t tell that you and i have much in common and we’ve never met so what is this projection? doesn’t seem like you really know mark’s readership (and who does honestly?). since you mentioned it, i’ve shopped at Falling Water a lot over the years, because i’ve always worked nearby and could afford *some* things in there. have bought votive candles, cool birthday cards, a necklace for my g-friend, incense, etc. so maybe lighten up all that you have a hard time believing. it’s almost as if it were incomprehensible!

    if people are happily retiring, nice. i’ll kinda miss going there. is that ok to say? i’m not stopping my life because of it. i can buy nice smelling votives somewhere else. i also go to many of the places you mention and just because i don’t announce I LOVE TO GET DONUTS FROM THE LUNCH ROOM doesn’t mean i’m “ignoring” them. it’s weird how you throw out “irrelevant businesses” like it’s some objective category. i assume they’re simply ones YOU don’t frequent? i appreciate many of your points but i don’t get your assumptions that everyone shares your background and tastes, and you don’t seem uniquely qualified to be the arbiter of anything. the “enlightened despot” vibe is kinda creepy.

  56. jcp2
    Posted October 24, 2014 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    I suppose irrelevant business is somewhat res ipas loquitur if they are slowly going out of business.

  57. Posted October 24, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    There’s a lot of truth to what C. Jason is saying. I was one of the (naive?) youthhhhs who yes, actually picketed the first Starbucks downtown here, but honestly – it didn’t put ERC or Sweetwaters out of business, nor did it prevent Comet from getting a nice foothold, years later.

    Also see a lot of merit in what Murph is talking about in terms of other little hubs. This is something the fella and I have talked about a lot over the last little while, and it’s nice there is *some* of that, but there could certainly be more. And yeah, we do use GR as a comparison, simply because he spent a good portion of his teen/young adulthood there and it’s been astonishing how much change there has been there over the last 5-10 years – mostly seems positive.

    Glad that a few folks called out the “not so fast” article today, too… I will prob be more likely to go back to RR now that the Taste of India folks are running it, even if they did have a crummy health inspection score in their other space.

    And, also, here – just for kicks – are some fun pics:

    When RR was on Huron:

    When the current building was a driving school:

    …and a stereo shop (love that car)!

  58. Posted October 24, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    @Lynne – thanks for sharing. My go-to is Crazy Wisdom, the quintessentially Ann Arbor hippy gift/bookstore and tea room. Any business that can publish their own community magazine is pretty impressive. 20% off all kids books through Oct, BTW. :-)

    @kjc – These businesses close because they aren’t successful enough to continue, which ultimately says something about our community – what is or isn’t relevant to the downtown market. Sorry if that sounds dismissive of folks like Lynne, but I don’t know how else to say it.

    Some businesses that have clearly been forced to move, have also found support to continue (Blimpy Burger, Tios). Some have not (like Middle Earth, or Eastern Accents – where I worked for years as a cook only for food and friendship, not money). That says something about what our community values and can support – new local businesses, cheap food (but not chains!), authenticity (but only if it’s not expensive?), wacky originality (but with heritage), or whatever.

    Sorry if talking about what “we” want feels presumptious. I feel like it’s the challenge we face – if it takes a collective effort to do things that won’t happen on their own, then figuring this out requires debate, and one I am grateful to see Mark leading (or at least fomenting). If your position is just yours vs. mine, Ann Arbor vs. Ypsi, nothing in common at all, that’s fine.

    But you know, I didn’t even know the Lunch Room had donuts, and that’s reason enough for me to go back (though nothing will replace my traditionally Chinese/Cambodian-American donuts from Dom Bakeries!). I’d written them off after an (ahem) inauthentic banh mi experience. ;-)

    What anyone else values and misses enough to advocate for, I’m still curious to hear – @Mark says Ypsi needs gay bars, Indian food, and breakfast. I have certainly been enlightened a little!

  59. Lynne
    Posted October 25, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Ypsi has tons of amazing breakfast!

  60. Frosted Flakes
    Posted October 25, 2014 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    One thing to keep in mind is that rent as an expense is a small percentage of sales in a profitable/ breaking even restaurant. It would be normal for Rent to account for only 5 percent of the expenses; Wheras it would be normal for 65 percent of a restaurants total expenses being attributed to labor and food/ beverage. Even if a landlord raised rents by 50 percent it should not be devastating as an expense in a profitable restaurant.

    Keeping that in mind I often suspect that restaurants going under often are looking for someone to blame. They usually don’t want to blame the staff, management, ownership or product so they blame the landlord. That is my sense….It is tough to make a restaurant profitable that is for sure!

  61. Posted October 26, 2014 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    One thing to keep in mind is that a lot of these businesses are old and have long been only slimly profitable. Young people are very unlikely to take these businesses over and continue them.

    Ali of J. Garden was an exception.

  62. Posted October 26, 2014 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    “I was one of the (naive?) youthhhhs who yes, actually picketed the first Starbucks downtown here, but honestly – it didn’t put ERC or Sweetwaters out of business, nor did it prevent Comet from getting a nice foothold, years later.”

    The reality is that some people like Starbucks. Others do not.

    Having both isn’t a bad thing. Not everyone wants to go into a “wacky” place.

  63. Meta
    Posted October 28, 2014 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    It’s not downtown, but still.

    “Crown House of Gifts to close after more than 50 years in Ann Arbor”

    Read more:

  64. Posted October 28, 2014 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Man. I’ve lived on the northside for over a decade, and have never been in Crown House of Gifts, though we used to regularly go to Hans Masing’s Tree Town Toys in the same strip. Those long shopping centers don’t do much for foot traffic, I guess, even next to a Kroger.

    @Frosted – retail margins are generally pretty slim. Some friends who own some very successful local coffee businesses tell me they’re operating at low single digit gross margin, even with their own products. Harder still if you’re selling someone else’s products, and not your own. I’m not sure I’d discount the rent increases here, esp. for long-standing businesses that have grown accustomed to their cost structure and reliant on a core set of local customers, making their business a few dollars at a time. Downtown retail rents are so high, also, because of the high rate of failure of new retail businesses; landlords often cover the vacancies and split the cost of new buildouts into these rents.

  65. Frosted Flakes
    Posted October 28, 2014 at 9:15 am | Permalink


    Yep. Profit margins are slim for restaurants and retail so any added expense will hurt. My comment was an attempt to put things into perspective by pointing out that rent is a much much smaller portion of the total expenses for a restaurant than most people (in this conversation) seem to realize.

  66. Meta
    Posted October 29, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Concentrate has an interview with Jeremy Wheeler today that may be of interest to you.


  67. Facebook Stalker
    Posted November 8, 2014 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    Someone ate there today.

    “Tepid chai, lukewarm food, rice kept sort of heated on… plastic wrap? Undercooked bits of onion in the sauce, no gulab jamun, no mango juice, horrible service, new staff, bland excuse for dessert. Not sure what it even was.”

  68. Jeff Hayner
    Posted September 29, 2015 at 1:27 am | Permalink

    To set the record straight for posterity after all your crazy discussion and speculations – Raja Rani was closed due to the death of Dr. Ranjit Bajwa, husband of the aforementioned Harlivleen (Loveleen) Bajwa. Mrs. Bajwa does indeed own the building through a trust arrangement, and leased the space to new restauranteurs, but did not sell the name Raja Rani since her family was no longer involved in the business. Raja Rani is no more. It had nothing to do with gentrification or rising rents.

    I know this because we are family friends with the Bajwa’s, lifelong friends, and just last week attended a moving memorial service at the Nirankari Mission in Westland for Professor Bajwa. The Bajwa family not only brought the first Indian restaurant to Michigan with Raja Rani, (King Queen) they also brought great joy to those who knew them, and acts of kindness and charity through their outreach and worldwide travels with the Sant Nirankari Mission. To be frank, many of you who comment on this blog could use a little of the compassion and understanding that comes with the quest for universal brotherhood.

  69. bill
    Posted December 17, 2015 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Good riddance – waited for 45 minutes there a few years ago, had reservations for three, watched people walk in off the street and be seated. Their explanation: there was only one table that sat three and it was busy. Told him we could sit at a table for four. He said no. I said we’re leaving. He said we couldn’t leave because we had reservations. Really, we can’t leave? We did, and never went back. Place was always filthy anyway.

One Trackback

  1. […] MARK: It’s a discussion we have here quite a bit. There are some in Ypsi, I think, who would see a downtown Starbucks, for instance, as a good thing… a sign that we’d somehow made it as a community. I’m in the other camp. I think, in the long run, authenticity is more important. In a world where everything is beginning to look the same, I value places that are able to maintain their unique identities, and I suspect that those of us who feel this way are growing in number. Fortunately, we haven’t really had to have that fight here yet, as Ypsi isn’t exactly on the radar of corporate America, but I suspect that it’ll happen. Hopefully, by the time it does, we’ll have learned a lesson or two from our neighbor to the west, where chains making more significant inroads. […]

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