Arbor Update

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Ask AU: Tamed big boxes in downtown A2?

31. October 2005 • Murph
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A reader asks:

I was speaking with a county planner today who thought the DDA was probably in the best position (if they so desired) to work with national retailers in an effort to bring them downtown instead of Route 23. It seems that the commonly accepted notion is that the default outcome in the next couple of years is the advent of another Briarwood or a fancypants (not my) lifestyle center outside the city, and that Crate and Barrel is likely to pull the trigger first. It also seems that some cities are having success forcing boxes to conform somewhat to a downtown feel.

Just wondering, if we were all were convinced it were definitely going to happen somewhere, if you think it should it happen downtown or on Rt 23? And if the answer is “downtown,” can we be proactive about getting them here?

Well, what do we think? Ann Arbor’s Original Big Boxes (Hudsons, Jacobsons) fled downtown for Briarwood decades ago; is it possible to get large retailers back in downtown? If possible, would we prefer them downtown to the townships? Where would they go? What would they look like? What would we have to do to ensure they contribute to – rather than detract from – downtown Ann Arbor?

I’ve also heard the “commonly accepted notion” mentioned of new large malls around Ann Arbor – and I’ve heard it from developers who saw a clearly underserved market, so I don’t consider this idle speculation.

Relevant articles:
> Michigan Land Use Institute, 11 Sept 05: The Incredible Shrinking Box
> New Urban News, Oct/Nov 05: Targeting changes in big box stores



  1. Well, I posted that these mega malls were coming to Wash. County a few years ago on AAIO.

    We’ve done nothing to move away from this outcome. In fact, citizens over the past few years have moved in the opposite direction when it comes to building in Ann Arbor.

    IMHO the die is cast. These malls will be built outside of Ann Arbor unless Council and Planning makes some serious changes to our current course…...
       —todd    Oct. 31 '05 - 01:32PM    #
  2. One lifestyle center is on the fast track to completion about a year from now in Green Oak Twp., a mile or two south of Brighton. Northfield Twp. has apparently OK’d two major retail projects at US-23 and North Territorial, while denying a proposal for a Meijer there. What other sites are considered ripe for another large mall? I understand the city of Milan has been negotiating with adjacent townships to establish infrastructure and a zoning district that would allow for what sounds like a development similar to the one at US-23 and Lee Road. It sounds increasingly like what Todd describes is happening already.
       —Jeff Dean    Oct. 31 '05 - 01:58PM    #
  3. Well, IMHO, something major has to be built in the Saline/Ypsi township region. There are way too many new homes being built in that area….and if you couple that with easy access to I-94 and all raw demographic math from the various UMich events (football, basketball, hockey, etc.), then a large series of malls or one big mall is a no-brainer.
       —todd    Oct. 31 '05 - 02:11PM    #
  4. Gotfredson Rd interchange in Salem has had proposals too.
       —John Q    Oct. 31 '05 - 02:15PM    #
  5. A “lifestyle center” is also in the works for the Jackson/Baker road intersection.

    As malls go, they’re not bad; as civic centers go, they seem like a mixed bag. The one in Columbus seems to work well enough—I forget its name. Though I should note I believe that particular development included housing and offices.

    As I recall, there was a trend during the 80s towards building mall-type developments in downtown districts, but I don’t think it really went anywhere, and they seem to have gone belly-up in the places they were built, so it seems like a bad idea on the face of it. On the other hand, I do think that a lot of dichotomies need to be rethought, so trying to figure out how big boxes could be successfuly integrated with healthy urban areas is an interesting idea. Frankly I have no idea how to do it, but I’m sure someone somewhere thinks they do.
       —Young Urban Amateur    Oct. 31 '05 - 02:36PM    #
  6. FWIW, it might be interesting to discuss whether department stores are comparable to today’s big box stores—is Home Depot really just a modern-day parallel to Hudson’s?

    Some questions come to mind:

    1) What cities still maintain large department stores downtown? What keeps them there? Is it just population? Can only those stores which serve a relatively wealthy population survive? (Fields, Macy’s)

    2) Which big box stores have current locations in downtown areas? Where are those locations, and how are the stores doing? Do they likewise depend on a certain level of affluence of the local population?

    The thing for me is, I can really only think of examples in Manhattan, and that must surely be a special case. It’s an island, with great public transportaion, low auto ownership rates, wealthy population…I’m more interested in other examples.
       —Young Urban Amateur    Oct. 31 '05 - 02:44PM    #
  7. A third comment: much of this to me seems like an effort to build urban centers not in old downtowns, but rather in suburbs which previously lacked them. This movement has been going for a while now, and it has its failures, but I guess it’s better than nothing.

    I have a couple of questions here, too:

    1) Can you really carve a civic center into the heart of a bedroom community, and turn it into a bona fide city? Just wondering.

    2) Also, what seems to be happening is that these centers are also being built where there is no suburb—in other words, they’re being built in the nether regions of exurbia, more or less as the Next Big Mall (or else they aren’t being built in suburbs at all, but instead near the highways, at the edge of town.) Like I say, they seem better than the average mall, but I’m not convinced they do anything more than a mall does (unless, perhaps, they’re combined with again, housing and offices.) Another issue is whether they’re served by parking lots or by parking structures.

    3) Does Ann Arbor really have any areas that might need more of a civic center besides downtown AA or Ypsi? Why not spend the money on Mich. Ave. in Ypsi, for example. But maybe this is an example of how the outlying areas-W. Stadium, for example-could be semi-urbanized, as someone suggested in a comment on a previous topic. (In a way that’s different, for example, from what’s currently happening along Washtenaw.) Is this a good idea?
       —Young Urban Amateur    Oct. 31 '05 - 02:56PM    #
  8. Ach, stupid Textile formatting—”W. Stadium, for example” should not be crossed out in the previous post.
       —Young Urban Amateur    Oct. 31 '05 - 02:56PM    #
  9. Finally, I wonder if we can really imagine downtown AA being re-developed as a “lifestyle center.” Would this really be a good idea? It seems kind of awful to me…seems like you’d be selling whatever’s left that’s unique and interesting about Ann Arbor in exchange for the same cookie-cutter suburbia that surrounds everything nowadays.

    Wasn’t that old plan for the First&William area a sort of pocket version of this? That fell through, so…

    I don’t know. It might well serve to keep downtown Ann Arbor a thriving area, but I could also see it failing, which would be a disaster…need to consider questions of ownership; I assume it would all be held by a single owner, which seems like a bad idea. OTOH, Briarwood is doing just fine…it depends. I’d say I’m against it—downtown could maybe use some larger retailers, but what it certainly doesn’t need is a “lifestyle center”. Needs to be more creative than that. Local ownership if possible, etc.
       —Young Urban Amateur    Oct. 31 '05 - 03:04PM    #
  10. Pittsburgh’s downtown is dying—-it’s almost all office, with almost no housing or retail. One of the only department stores downtown has closed recently, or is closing, and another one (Lazarus, I think?), which the city spent a whole ton of money to bring to town & to keep in town, is going bankrupt. . . .
       —[libcat]    Oct. 31 '05 - 06:29PM    #
  11. We should remember the immense size of a large, modern mall in comparison to Ann Arbor’s downtown. Briarwood, for example, stretches from Main to State. Something similar in downtown AA would be downtown AA.
       —David Cahill    Oct. 31 '05 - 07:57PM    #
  12. YUA, Columbus, Ohio, has had two of these experiments. A few years back there was the Continent, with apartments over ground floor retail on pedestrian streets and a successful French Market, and also weekly outdoor civic events. It was surrounded by a sea of parking lot, and you couldnt see the stores inside on the pedestrian streets when driving by and there simply wasn’t enough residential within to support it. This area is now a ghost town.

    Now, the new one you are probably talking about is Easton. It’s far from anything else, but what they have there is a regular enclosed mall, some traditional-looking streets with retail (single story), and some apartments separated from all this (you have to cross a busy street to get there), and then tons of regular suburban strip mall shopping. So far it seems to be a commercial success but it’s too early to tell what’ll happen in the long run.

    Also, there are many downtowns in North America with department-store anchored enclosed malls. Many of them are in Canada, but Boston, for example, also has them. Actually, Columbus still does too but it’s near death.
       —tomo    Oct. 31 '05 - 09:19PM    #
  13. You know, I love the idea of a Crate and Barrel downtown, along with a couple of other good stores. So instead of going to the mall, I could park in a lot, and do my Christmas shopping along State Street (or whatever). I don’t think all of downtown needs to be the mall, but what if five very popular stores were downtown, within close walking distance?

    I’d also visit other stores along the way, places I might not otherwise go.

    I think the big problem is that there aren’t enough students to support all the retain needed to have a downtown. There are lots of outoftowners who come to the restaurants, but I think they would also come to shop if there were enough stores to make it worth their while. Right now, the shopping too small, hit and miss, to have someone drive in and plan a day around it.
       —JennyD    Nov. 1 '05 - 08:48AM    #
  14. To answer YUA’s question about big stores downtown, there is a Lord & Taylor in downtown Philadelphia, across the street from City Hall. In Toronto, there is the Eaton Center, a huge enclosed mall on Yonge Street downtown. Of course, a lot of people live in and near downtown Toronto.
       —tom    Nov. 1 '05 - 09:46AM    #
  15. Santa Monica, CA has a full-blown, enclosed mall downtown, at one end of the 3rd Street Promenade, which is kind of an outdoor mall. It’s not really the direction I’d like to see Ann Arbor go, though. Although if you have to build giant malls somewhere, at least this one fits into the urban fabric reasonably well, without taking up TOO much space.

    http://www.santamonicaplace.com/

    A better model might be Charleston Place, in Charleston, SC, which is essentially a hotel and conference center that fills (if I remember correctly) an entire block, but is only something like four stories tall (which means you might actually get something similar built in Ann Arbor). The ground floor includes an enclosed shopping area that functions sort of like an arcade in that it can be entered directly from the street at multiple points. It reminded me a little bit, in function if not form, of the shopping arcade in the Drake in Chicago. The shops, in Charleston, are high-end national chains. It’s really a pretty building, and blends in well with the local architecture.

    https://www.adtrav.com/corporate/charleston.htm

    Of course both Santa Monica and Charleston draw a LOT more tourists than Ann Arbor, but the SC model at least might be worth emulating on some level.
       —Parking Structure Dude!    Nov. 1 '05 - 11:05AM    #
  16. I agree with YUA and David C. that nobody’s going to be building a new mall or lifestyle center in downtown Ann Arbor – to flip David’s statement, downtown Ann Arbor is a lifestyle center, and much better for being one made up of a bunch of different pieces. And note that Tally Hall / Liberty Square was tried as an enclosed mall (twice?) and failed.

    However, I’ll take a different tack to the question – not a whole mall, but individual retail “anchors” to fill in the gaps in the so-much-realer-than-the-average-mall downtown that we have. Borders is the only retail anchor we have right now, and, certainly, we see out-of-towners coming downtown to Borders and proceeding to shop / buy lunch other places while they’re here. (Though Arborland is probably stealing bookstore traffic from downtown these days…) Could another retail anchor provide similar spillover benefits? Would it attract patrons?

    Personally, I think Tally Hall, though a bad place for a set of small stores (no visibility = no business), would be a good place for a single retail anchor. It’s a lot smaller than the average big box (I’m told about 30k sq.ft.), but it would get plenty of student traffic and has parking just upstairs. (Though using it would probably involve taking advantage of Liberty Square’s extra-stories potential, pushing the permit parking up, and making a few floors of hourly parking on the bottom – and then dealing with permit parkers who are annoyed with having to wind down 10 stories of ramp to get out.)

    The Brown Block would probably be the other best place for a retail anchor, by merit of being a big empty space.

    The next question is, what type? I don’t think a downtown Home Depot is going to happen. If it’s a place that sells furniture or other bulky items, they’d probably have to willing to deliver. If it’s a Target, then, boy would downtown capture a lot of the student retail dollars currently flowing to the townships! But I’d fear for Sam’s Store once there was another place to buy jeans at reasonable price. (Don’t worry, Sam’s. I’ll never leave you for Target.)
       —Murph.    Nov. 1 '05 - 12:09PM    #
  17. “So instead of going to the mall, I could park in a lot, and do my Christmas shopping along State Street (or whatever). I don’t think all of downtown needs to be the mall, but what if five very popular stores were downtown, within close walking distance?”

    This is exactly my point. I think that some of you are reading into my comments a bit. There is no chance that downtown Ann Arbor can, or should, handle the equivalent of a regionally sized mall. What we need, IMHO, is a few anchor stores like, say, Nordstrom’s. Do you have any idea what having Nordstrom’s somewhere downtown would do for the surrounding locally owned retail shops? Heck, Holiday sales alone would be enough to save many of the stores that are teetering on the edge.

    To be clear. If Ann Arbor decided that, say, a 15 story mixed use building with a major retailer on the bottom three floors was needed….and the retailer believed that it had access to adequate parking, It’d be built inside of two years. Boom. Done.

    So again, my point isn’t that we need a mall downtown. Ann Arbor needs some retail to compete with the impending explosion of Wash. County malls. Why? Because if we don’t, then a shopper, let’s pick a woman to use an example, who wants to pick up some things for the holidays is going to choose between going to downtown Ann Arbor, which doesn’t have much in the way of retail…..and some mall complex, that has everything she could possibly want, and finish of her shopping with dinner at PF Chang’s or some other high-end chain.

    Why would she come downtown at all? She doesn’t live there. Remember, we decided not to build more housing downtown (see how all of this is connected?).

    And because we haven’t done anything about area consumer’s perception that there isn’t any parking downtown, this consumer, who lives a few miles away, thinks that it’s too much of a headache to get his/her kids in the car for a shopping trip. (She came to the conclusion that parking is even worse after she read the story about the “permit only” parking in the AA News a few months ago).

    What’s at the heart of this is that for the last 30 years or so, downtown Ann Arbor was a destination for many Wash. County residents who wanted “a night on the town”. Ann Arbor wasn’t really competing with Dexter, or Ypsi, or Saline because none of them had a cohesive downtown that was open past 6 pm.

    This is all going to change the minute these malls start opening. Ann Arbor can no longer pretend that it operates in a vacuum. We have to compete for area consumer’s dollars just like everyone else.

    Now while all this is happening, rent for these little downtown shops keeps going up, and now the City’s budget is so stretched that the Mayor is talking about taxing a shop owner’s employee’s pay checks…who, remember, can’t afford to live downtown…. so now the employees want to work near the Mega-Mall’s because the equivalent pay is so much better, and they can actually find a place to put their car (which they need because, remember, they can’t afford to live downtown).

    These are serious, serious problems for our downtown, but many of our citizen’s think that everything is just hunky dory so long as tall buildings don’t come to town.

    I was just thinking. You know what would help the above situation? Two multimillion dollar parks right in the middle of downtown. Yeah. Problem solved.
       —todd    Nov. 1 '05 - 12:11PM    #
  18. And, YUA, I think some big box stores are comparable to old department stores, but not all. Home Depot or Lowe’s? No. Target? Yes.

    To a significant degree, “big box” is a description of form, rather than content: if somebody built a stand-alone Hudsons with a big parking lot in the middle of Canton, we’d call it a big box. If Target took over one of the anchor positions in Briarwood, we’d call it a department store.
       —Murph.    Nov. 1 '05 - 12:12PM    #
  19. Oh! Just remembered. The plans aren’t finalized yet, but, the last time I saw the Y redevelopment plans, they included a largeish (I think 30-40k) retail space on the ground floor (the rest of the ground floor being AATA’s transit center). So there’s a potential anchor right there, at the transit center, with some parking to be built on site and more across the street in either direction, housing and offices above, and the Library (an anchor in its own right) across the street.

    30k sq.ft. sounds small relative to a Super-WalMart or Super-Meijer’s 250-300k, but a lot of the little stores downtown are only 1-2k, so 30 is 30 is probably enough to fit a decent anchor into, as long as your interior layout is appropriate, and you don’t succomb to the suburban conceit of designing your aisles for 3 shopping carts to pass each other at speed…
       —Murph.    Nov. 1 '05 - 12:20PM    #
  20. Similar to PSD’s links there is The Grove in LA. It’s, ummmm, “Unique. Like you.” I certainly wouldn’t advocate having one here, but if we must this is the nicest walkable/outdoor mall with cobblestone psuedo-downtown streets I’ve seen.

    Placement of these “tamed big boxes” is very important, so they don’t interfere with the local businesses. The Eaton Centre in Toronto is a perfect example; while it is downtown, it is in the heart of the business district and at least a half mile to a mile from all the independent shops and restaurants residing in the neighborhoods. Still walkable for any able-bodied Torontonian, but I’m sure the distance serves as a buffer that keeps locally owned competing establishments alive. Something like this being across the bridge in lowertown, in lieu of the proposed “lifestyle center”, might be safely far enough from what few local businesses we have…

    But all that said, I agree with Todd’s points. Let’s start with some real mixed use building for retail and residential – and answer Ann Arbor’s want for shopping and need for housing.
       —FAA    Nov. 1 '05 - 01:00PM    #
  21. Oh and,

    P.S.

    After rereading my post, that my best grammar and syntax yet! Moral: don’t type while distilling gin.
       —todd    Nov. 1 '05 - 01:56PM    #
  22. tomo—yeah, it sounds like I’m talking about Easton. Yes, it was on the edge of town, I didn’t know there was an enclosed mall, and yes, it is basically built off of a major road. I’m just saying it seems slightly better than the old mall model, though is not really a replacement for an old city center. I do agree that the key is making sure people have places to live nearby. Why drive from your sub to downtown Ann Arbor when you can just park off the interstate for free at some other place?

    I didn’t know that about Boston—do you know where they are?
       —Young Urban Amateur    Nov. 1 '05 - 05:17PM    #
  23. Murph: good point about Tally Hall, though it would be nice if it could be turned into, well something! And good ideas about the parking—that would be a necessary part of it.

    I might also approve of the kind of single-block development others are proposing (I sort of supported the one that got shot down for the Washington&First area a few years ago—something could still be done in that area). The trick is, maybe, to welcome chain stores if necessary, without taking away from Ann Arbor’s uniqueness (and at the same time supporting smaller chains or locally-owned businesses whenever possible).
       —Young Urban Amateur    Nov. 1 '05 - 05:22PM    #
  24. When Briarwood mall was built, downtown Ann Arbor had a lot of the bigger chain stores: Kresges, Goodyear, Klines, Jacobsons and the surrounding “supporting” cast of McDonalds, Burger Kings, and Orange Julius(es). Taubman had a “no compete” clause at Brairwood which said that any store signing a lease there could not open another store within a certain distance (which of course included downtown). Downtown was absolutely doomed. The big chains either went under or went to the mall. There was no possibility of a Gap, Benetton, or Banana Republic downtown like all the “cool” cities had. There were many people who washed their hands of the whole place.

    But you know what, downtown succeeded. Small independents moved in, restaurants opened, the Ark moved downtown, the Michigan and the State renovated. Over the years, downtown Ann Arbor became a destination, and Briarwood, well, it just got old. Anchor stores have moved in and out, smaller stores fail at a great pace, overall sales are dropping, the movies failed a few times, they are having to make huge infrastructure upgrades in hopes of increasing sales. Around the country, malls are failing. The stores are all the same and anyone can buy just about everything from a mall store online anyway. The retail hope is for the mega malls and the recurrence of the outdoor strip malls but once the shiny newness wears off, they start to struggle. Many of the traditional mall stores like the Gap are struggling right along with them.

    The true big box stores (IKEA, Walmart, Lowes, Target) succeed mostly because they are inexpensive, but they don’t fit well in a downtown area. They want cheap land and lots of parking. They run on very thin margins and rarely can go into a downtown area without a lot of concessions on a City’s part. It is possible that bringing “more popular” chain stores downtown will draw people in, but I’m skeptical. If I want to shop at Crate and Barrel, I’ll do it online. If I want to go to Target, I’m not going for a “shopping experience,” I’m going to go, get my stuff, and leave. And if I’m coming downtown specifically to a big box, I’m probably not the type of person who is going to go out of their way to find a fun little local restaurant or a little gallery on a side street. Would I rather have Three Chairs, Downtown Home and Garden, Jewels, the Fleetwood Diner, and Sweetwaters downtown or Crate and Barrel, Starbucks, Ruby Tuesday, and PF Chang? I would far rather have the locally-owned stores because they are a lot more interesting and they keep a lot more money in the local economy. If there is a natural fit (smaller stores like American Apparel or the Aveda institute come to mind), I don’t think we should prevent them from coming in to downtown, but actively courting seems like the wrong approach.
       —Juliew    Nov. 1 '05 - 06:37PM    #
  25. Well, I think the worry here is that the next round of mall-building will steal even more potential income (via tax revenues) from downtown A2. But if the downtown can survive and thrive on wonderful local (and relatively local) businesses such as Three Chairs, great! I agree that the larger chains shouldn’t be “courted”, but I still think they can be welcomed as one part of a larger mix, as necessary.

    Yes, malls are failing, and Briarwood is trying hard to compete. So I agree malls aren’t invulnerable. But on the other hand, Briarwood seems to be keeping up (so far anyway): Hudson’s moved out when Hudson’s went belly-up, and the same goes for Jacobson’s. Alright, Lord & Taylor wasn’t a permanent resident, but they did stick around for a while, and seem to have a successful replacement. Sears and JCPenny’s have always been around, and I guess I don’t really see them leaving unless it’s part of a larger problem with their parent corporations. The Gap closed, only to eventually return. Crate & Barrel in fact has an Ann Arbor store now—in Briarwood! And malls can be redeveloped. Look at Arborland.

    Furthermore, online shopping could kill unique downtowns, too—Henrietta Fahrenheit just closed to devote itself soley to online sales. I’m just saying I agree malls aren’t the only model, but the powers that be still need to be careful.
       —Young Urban Amateur    Nov. 1 '05 - 08:40PM    #
  26. Hudson’s moved out when Hudson’s went belly-up

    Hudson’s didn’t move out or go belly-up. The Hudson’s chain was bought by Dayton’s a long time ago, but the Hudson’s stores kept their names. Later, the Dayton-Hudson company bought Marshall Field’s and, eventually, decided to convert all their store names to Field’s (believing that Marshall Field’s was a stronger brand name than Dayton’s or Hudson’s). But now, the entire chain has been bought by Federated and all the stores are scheduled to be rebranded again as Macy’s.

    I don’t suppose Briarwood shoppers will much care, but in Chicago they’re apparently pretty worked up about the idea of the Marshall Field’s name being erased from the flagship store in the Loop.
       —mw    Nov. 1 '05 - 11:09PM    #
  27. Oh yeah, it’s sort of coming back to me now…well, there you go—it turns out nobody’s vacated that space ever.

    Sort of weird to think Ann Arbor will have a Macy’s now…
       —Young Urban Amateur    Nov. 1 '05 - 11:26PM    #
  28. Anchors strategically located in downtown Ann Arbor could really help downtown businesses – not to mention, help in-town and near-town residents reduce their number of car trips per day by providing a better variety of daily goods. Target in particular is having great success with their urban-format stores.

    If Ann Arbor wants anchors, attracting them will require a huge recruitment effort – essentially to convince these retailers that investing in an Ann Arbor type town (rather smallish for many anchors) is worth the effort. What types to recruit? Those anchors that complement, rather than compete with, retail found downtown. This can be tricky, since our independents are important to us and because many retail leases restrict duplicate stores within a 5-mile radius.

    Read this article to see what Target is doing in urban settings across the country:
    http://www.newurbannews.com/TargetInsideOct05.html
       —Connie Pulcipher    Nov. 2 '05 - 10:03AM    #
  29. Did anyone see Robert Gibbs lecture at the library back in September? He had a lot of data related to the discussion here. He suggested that the national retailers have identified A2 as an opportunity (people and $$ but not enough stores). His conclusion: if we don’t facilitate their ability to move downtown, then they will go to Scio, Pittsfield, Briarwood. He also challenged us to think about what kind of town we want to be … we can do everything we can to preserve the status quo and end up with a downtown where only the wealthy can shop … or we can change a bit to allow, for example, a small sized Target to locate here and be a town that serves all income levels. I’m oversimplifying his argument here … but that was basically it. I have to say that until I heard him speak, I thought the idea of a Target in downtown A2 was preposterous (I loved shopping at the downtown Minneapolis Target, but I thought it would be too big and red for A2 and where would everyone park?)... and then I saw examples of small stores with underground parking that fit into the architecture of the town and now I think it might not be such a bad thing.

    You can get a copy of the lecture on video from CTN. The library is working to convert the video to DVD and add to their collection … not sure when this will happen.

    Robert Gibbs is coming back to the library for another presentation on Nov 29

    Check out his website
       —Jennifer Hall    Nov. 2 '05 - 12:01PM    #
  30. One could also just read all of Todd Leopold’s posts and come to the same conclusions (would have loved to see him on the ballot for the 5th ward election next week).
       —Dale    Nov. 2 '05 - 12:20PM    #
  31. Just want to drop a quick note and say that this has been one of the more interesting conversations that I’ve read here. I really wish Jennifer Albulm (or however she spells her last name) would post here. Before she ran Henrietta Fahrenheit, she worked as a “scouter” for chain stores, doing demographic and statistical modelling to choose locations. When I interviewed her about Ypsi, that was some of the most interesting stuff (which, unfortunately, didn’t fit the article so well. Much as I wanted to launch into a total dorkfest about statistics and development, it woulda been a little much).
       —js    Nov. 2 '05 - 02:23PM    #
  32. I appreciate the insightful comments about the decline of the malls.

    My wife and I only go to Briar Death if we can’t avoid it.
       —David Cahill    Nov. 2 '05 - 05:42PM    #
  33. I want Crate and Barrel, like in Chicago.
       —JennyD    Nov. 2 '05 - 09:32PM    #
  34. I saw Gibbs’ presentation on a CTN rerun. I think he has a particular perspective that is clear and compelling. I also think that it is based in a context of consumerism that we are about to either grow out of or be forced out of. Preferably the former.

    We can certainly develop downtown (and other parts of the city, for that matter) in ways that promote consumerism. That would get people there just as it does to the malls and big box stores. I think, though, that there are various considerations in quality of life. The first being that quantity is not the same thing as quality.

    I understand the concern about affordability. I hope we can consider that and other factors when inviting national retailers downtown. Some of those factors being how they compensate their employees; what they sell, who makes it, with what materials, and how; and where their profits go.

    That said, I also hope we don’t just take the big-box anchor model as a given. Similar to the narrow focus on parking relative to supporting local businesses, buying into the first appealing model would be both limiting and not necessarily the best approach. That the model is successful elsewhere is reason to consider it, not to immediately adopt it. I have no doubt that there are other successful models that we might follow that would be as good or better for strengthening local businesses and the downtown overall. Let’s look at them, too (and have an outsider speak on their behalf, if possible.)
       —Steve Bean    Nov. 2 '05 - 11:46PM    #
  35. “Regardless of format, all new Targets are at least 125,000 square feet, with an identical product line. For example, the downtown stores include the same patio furniture.” “Target still tends to avoid extensive display windows with views into the floorspace, which means that blank walls are still a problem. ... the firm is experimenting with prototype display windows with animated advertising images that offer a sense of penetration into the wall.”

    Sounds, um, hideous. Just to give you an idea, the Borders downtown is 40,000 square feet. So even a “small” Target would be three times the size of the Borders plus parking. Not exactly a small neighborhood store. I think that we need to get out of the mindset that downtown should be everything for everyone. Big-box development like this may fit better in other parts of the city. Is it really a problem if Target goes to Briarwood? Or how about on Washtenaw or Stadium where there is more land, but still work for a smaller footprint store with underground parking in these areas so they begin to have more of a walkable streetscape. What do we gain by having a Target or Crate and Barrel downtown? Is it the building taxes we want? Or just a cheaper place to buy stuff? Is that what we want our downtown to be? I was talking to a shop-owner in Saugatuck last year and they drive to Ann Arbor every year just to go to Sams so they can get their new Chucks and spend the day looking at the galleries and eating. I don’t see Target or Crate and Barrel being that sort of draw because every place has the same stores with the same product lines.

    Ann Arbor has one of the more vibrant downtowns I have seen, especially for the size of the town. I want to be downtown because it isn’t the suburbs and it doesn’t have the same stores as everywhere around the country. Why do we want to bring the suburbs downtown? I don’t think every neighborhood and every town have to have the same amenities? Are we really better off with a Costco/IKEA/Target/Crate and Barrel downtown?
       —Juliew    Nov. 3 '05 - 12:09PM    #
  36. Are we really better off with a Costco/IKEA/Target/Crate and Barrel downtown?

    This is a tough question that I keep asking myself and I haven’t yet come up with a answer. First, I think we need to expand our thinking a bit beyond the BIG big boxes. It’s not just about whether we want a Costco/IKEA/Target/Crate and Barrel. What about a Gap? Walgreens? Ace Hardware? There are mid-size nationals that could benefit our downtown (or so some say … again, I’m on the fence, but am persuaded by the arguments in their favor … even though I prefer locals to chains).

    The argument in favor of a Target downtown is to suppose that someone, someplace in A2 needs to go to Target. Why not drive downtown to Target instead of to Carpenter Road. Isn’t that shopper more likely to support the other businesses in downtown, instead of the other businesses on Carpenter Road? And maybe drive less, pollute less and cause less traffic?
       —Jennifer Hall    Nov. 3 '05 - 01:10PM    #
  37. One more thing – Department stores are not the invention of the suburbs. They started in downtowns and moved to malls when people moved to the suburbs. Target is really a department store, no different than the Sears or Penny’s of yesteryear.

    Downtown A2 is definately lacking the affordable products and selection that department stores once provided. Sure you can find most of what you need – but you’ll be running around from store to store and possibly paying a premium for buying it downtown. Giant stores (Target) and malls have succeeded, in part, because people like convenience. And from experience, I can tell you that it’s not easy pushing a baby stroller all around downtown. I do it most times and so do a lot of others … but not nearly as many as don’t. And there are times when I give in to easy over support downtown.
       —Jennifer Hall    Nov. 3 '05 - 01:27PM    #
  38. “I want to be downtown because it isn’t the suburbs and it doesn’t have the same stores as everywhere around the country. Why do we want to bring the suburbs downtown? I don’t think every neighborhood and every town have to have the same amenities? Are we really better off with a Costco/IKEA/Target/Crate and Barrel downtown?”

    Julie, while I most certainly respect you and your opinions, we have completely different opinions as to what is happening downtown.

    There are some underlying assumptions here, and I am assuming that both you and S. Bean would agree with these assumptions:

    1. We want Ann Arbor to retain its “unique” feel.
    2. We want to support local business.
    3. We want to support walkability and curtail car use.
    4. We want to keep Ann Arbor affordable.

    So here’s what we’ve done to support these goals:

    1. Disallowed tall, dense construction downtown.
    2. Ignored the fact that the “population” of UMich alone has gone up by over a thousand in the last 5 years, yet the population of AA has remained the same. (In other words, we aren’t keeping up with housing demand…not by a long shot).
    3. Enacted a fairly pricey greenbelt program that buys up buildable land in and around the city.
    4. Increased taxes and fees to potential new residents and businesses
    5. Discussed taxing employees of Ann Arbor businesses
    6. Denied the construction a new parking structure, and instead started a downtown project that will cost, at a minimum, $2 Million just to clean up two sites. And you know that when the greenway proposal comes to bear, their advocates won’t want buildings “looming” over the greenway, so they won’t allow dense construction there either.
    7. Increased the number of Historic District’s to 13, and as we know, you can’t really build anything but really, really expensive housing in these areas. Five more historic districts are pending approval after research.
    8. Seen rent go from $10 per square foot to up to $30 in the downtown area.
    9. Stupidly asked for 4 or 5 story buildings with underground parking, and then asked “hey, how come things are so expensive in Ann Arbor?”.3
    10. Enacted the first of what will be many parking ordinances that gives current homeowners access to parking while denying commuters or potential shoppers and visitors.

    So we’re kind of at odds here. Actually, I’d like Steve or JulieW to name things that we have done which encourages the above 4 Ann Arbor values, because for the life of me, I can’t think of any…..

    “I want to be downtown because it isn’t the suburbs and it doesn’t have the same stores as everywhere around the country. Why do we want to bring the suburbs downtown? I don’t think every neighborhood and every town have to have the same amenities? Are we really better off with a Costco/IKEA/Target/Crate and Barrel downtown?”

    I hear what you are saying here, but something has to give. If you are a local business owner, taxes, fees, rent, energy, and pretty much everything else keeps going up…but the population in Ann Arbor has remained the same, and competition in the form of malls and population that appearing elsewhere in Wash. County is making things more difficult.

    Something has to give. Either we need to give the population that can’t live in Ann Arbor (because we have foolishly chosen to force them to Ypsi Township and other places) a reason to come downtown, or the above market forces are going to kill a lot of local businesses….then either one of two things will go into the new store fronts: chains or locally owned businesses with pricey goods and services (they have to charge a lot because of rent, taxes, etc.). Neither of these things match up with the four values I mentioned.

    So what do we do? I’ve given my ideas, let’s hear yours.
       —todd    Nov. 3 '05 - 01:35PM    #
  39. Hi folks –

    I thought I’d chime in here. What I hear from people (and admittedly, people who talk to me about businesses tend to have a bias toward independent businesses), is that the last thing downtown needs is more cookie-cutter stores.

    If downtown has many of the same stores as do the malls, why would people go downtown to shop at them? It’s a heck of a lot easier to park at a mall. People go to downtown Ann Arbor in large part BECAUSE they can find unique things.

    I’m not necessarily saying that having a chain store selling home goods is a horrible idea, but at the very least they need to be a chain that isn’t found anywhere near Ann Arbor so that they actually DO draw people downtown. (Unlike a Target or something else that is already in the Ann Arbor area).

    Preferably I’d like to see us help a local business that would like to expand their store and offer more everyday items. They ARE here, but the chance of them succeeding becomes less and less everytime we choose to encourage chains instead of them. Given the fact that a lot more money stays in our area when it’s spent at a local business, this makes the most sense to me.
       —Lisa    Nov. 3 '05 - 02:04PM    #
  40. As I think about this more, it occurs to me that we really don’t know that much about what would entice people to go and stay downtown.

    What I’d like to see is some market research about what actual and potential downtown shoppers would like to see downtown. Or rather, what would encourage them to spend more money and time downtown. What types of businesses, and what types of products and services?

    I think without that information we don’t have a realistic idea if a big chain store downtown would help or hurt downtown.

    Doing a study like this isn’t that expensive, and there are a number of University and private firms that do exactly this. Anybody game?
       —Lisa    Nov. 3 '05 - 02:08PM    #
  41. Jennifer’s second paragraph is a big part of my internal debate.

    Assuming that a given shopping trip has Target as a destination (and I think that’s a very realistic assumption), where do we want that shopper to be going? I’m going to use Target as a convenient stand-in for any major chain that would be the destination-of-first-thought for a shopper.

    * Shopping trips that go to a Target on Carpenter Road will likely create 0 spillover business, while a Target located downtown is much more likely to create non-zero spillover business – even for automobile-based shoppers.

    * Assuming a system-wide limited number of shopping dollars, a new Target is likely to steal revenue from competing businesses regardless of where it is located. Is it more likely to steal business from downtown stores if it is downtown than if it is on the fringes? If so, is that difference greater than the positive spillover effect it creates? I don’t know the answers to either of these.

    * A downtown Target would definitely have a smaller share of its shopping trips be from car travel than a non-downtown Target – which is part of why it would generate more positive spillover business.

    I don’t really think we should push to attract Targets (still using as a category of stores, not actually Target), but it’s definitely the case that a lot of people will shop at Target. (I do most of my clothes shopping at Sam’s (and it shows), but I don’t think I could do that if I had kids, or any variation from the style of personal accoutrement possible at Sam’s.) And if that’s going to happen, do we want them doing it downtown, or out of town? If, say, First Martin developed the Brown block with a big-box tenant as part of it, I don’t know that I’d object.

    Enthusiastic supporter of LEN that I am, I don’t see a good answer to the scented candle quandry coming from that quarter.
       —Murph.    Nov. 3 '05 - 02:11PM    #
  42. Lisa,

    Appropriately enough, I was just asked by some of Peter Allen’s students if I would post a link to their online market research tool. They’re working on a (hypothetical) proposal for the Kline’s lot and want to know what people would like to see there.

    It’s not nealry comprehensive, but it’s totally free – doesn’t even rely on you or I having to have the free time for data analysis. I’ll ask them to share their results with us.

    http://entrypage.hrgems.com/RE517/
       —Murph.    Nov. 3 '05 - 02:30PM    #
  43. Much to my dismay, I am the shopper who won’t shop downtown. I’d like to…but I can’t because there’s nothing there I can buy.

    I have two kids late elementary and middle school. They need a white t-shirt for tie-dying, shoes, and some snacks (think little bags of baby Milanos) for tomorrow’s school event. I also need shoes for myself, I’d like to stop and look at some kitchen utensils, I need six tapered candles (not scented or unusual, the normal kind) and I need to get money out of a cash machine. I want to be able to buy all this within a hour, and with as little driving/parking as possible.

    Okay, where can I buy all that downtown, while parking once? I can’t.

    When I shop for Christmas, I have a list, pretty specific list. I can’t meander around little, interesting shops for hours, ooing over little boutiquey items. I need to go to a place where I can get as much stuff as possible, and go to stores where I know the stuff is.

    Unfortunately, the mall is crawling with people like me.

    I would shop downtown ina minute, but not if it is the way it is. There’s just nothing there to buy, except quirky, unusual stuff. I don’t have the time for quirky. And I spend a lot of money shopping given my family’s needs.

    I wonder how much healthier downtown would be if you get could get people like me shopping down there more often.
       —JennyD    Nov. 3 '05 - 02:38PM    #
  44. I was not necessarily advocating a Target, just pointing out that big boxes are beginning to change their formats for downtowns (albeit much bigger towns than Ann Arbor), suggesting there is something better out there than the suburban model of development. If Ann Arbor wants anchors of any kind, they should be insisting on buildings that fit the urban context.

    As far as providing better and more affordable variety downtown, I do think there’s merit to encouraging stores that provide more goods for daily needs. Why should the masses of downtown residents (who aren’t all inclined to shop at the co-op or Kerrytown) have to get in their cars to go to Walgreens, CVS or Target each time they run out of toilet paper and toothpaste?

    I agree, Ann Arbor is certainly vibrant, but more in an upscale specialty shopping and entertainment kind of way. I too love the variety and scale of the independents downtown (and support them too) – but don’t want to think of downtown only as a place for a shopping or dining “experience”, but also as an extension of my daily life. I’m sure there are many people who live near or in downtown who would support a couple of new small anchors, geographically and strategically distributed to serve all sides – whether they be grocers, drug stores, clothing and home goods stores, etc. Am I right about this?
       —Connie Pulcipher    Nov. 3 '05 - 02:39PM    #
  45. Ok guys, we’re doing a great job of listing what we don’t want.

    What I want to know is what it is that we do want, and more importantly, how do we go about getting it?

    I’ve already citing on numerous occasions what I want and how to get it. Let’s hear some other views.
       —todd    Nov. 3 '05 - 03:14PM    #
  46. What do I want?
    I want a downtown that has enough people living there to support not just one bar with live music, but several. I’d also like there to be inexpensive practice space and studio space. I’d like there to be more than one cheap bar too, where I can get an after-work beer. I’d like there to be cheap ethnic restaurants. I’d like to be able to buy a week’s worth of groceries. I’d like to have public transit that runs at least until 2:30 so that I don’t have to choose between drinking and driving. I’d like the crusty and weird to stay, but I realize that this requires a lot of SPACE. See, the crusty and the weird (and the unique etc.) get pushed out when there’s not enough space for both them and the monsters of retail in a given market. I’d love to see actual neighborhoods spring up, instead of indistinguishable political bases for moneyed caucasians.
    What do I think this will take? Lots and lots of cheap housing downtown. Lots and lots of space. I think it will require a lot of development in the city center, and tougher zoning laws on the outskirts. But hey, I don’t mind William, even though it’s windy. I have no problem with high rises and luxury lofts so long as that frees up space for poor folks to move in.
    That’s just me, though, wishing I lived in a city, not a small town with its pants too tight.
       —js    Nov. 3 '05 - 05:37PM    #
  47. I’m largely in agreement with you, Todd, so I don’t think we’re at odds.

    I’d like the city and DDA to expand beyond parking in their thinking about how to support local businesses. Possibilities include “buy local” promotions, basic business and financial advice (seminars—note that all the focus of the Calthorpe process is on what can be done for people who don’t currently live or work here, but for those who will ‘come’ after we ‘build it’, similar to the efforts of the WDC, et al); aggregated energy purchasing (unless we aggregate the whole city, including residences, first), property tax incentives to improve energy efficiency and (storm)water management. More sustainably operated businesses will make downtown stronger in the long run and open up new opportunities. Those dollars not spent on fuel also stay in the local economy.

    Successful local business owners need a supportive business climate downtown in order to develop the confidence to expand or start new businesses. Likewise for new entrants.

    I’d like to see more housing downtown and elsewhere in the city. I’d like some of the new downtown construction to forego parking to improve affordability. I’d like the building designs to enable efficient use of energy and water. I think that the clear guidelines that Calthorpe is saying developers need should be formulated around sustainability criteria. More sustainable housing downtown will make the downtown business sector stronger in the long run. Energy costs (including transportation) are one area where we can influence affordability downtown. Some people have commented that some proposed units seem small. I think that smaller is appropriate for the coming years of energy shortages.

    And, like Lisa, I think market research would be helpful. What do current and prospective downtown residents, workers, and shoppers want there?

    Finally, I’ll point out (the obvious) that we operate at a distinct disadvantage in that the feds and the state subsidize the opposite of what we want, using tax dollars from our community. I don’t have an answer to this dilemma, but simply realizing it is necessary in order to address it. Our best hope of countering it (short of legislative changes) is to move away from (to the extent possible) whatever we do that supports the subsidies and sucks capital out of our community, and move toward whatever activities keep dollars here. We need city officials and the DDA identifying those activities and leading those efforts.
       —Steve Bean    Nov. 3 '05 - 05:55PM    #
  48. I hear you, js. I want many of those things, too. I agree more housing downtown would be a good way to make those things available. On the other hand, it seems like a vibrant downtown can come first, and then draw residents (but yes, only if the housing is available), but to be honest I can only think of a few examples of this, all in very large cities (New York, San Francisco). At any rate, I agree the key is to bring people downtown via housing. I’m inclined towards keeping it a mix of affordable and market-priced housing, but only because I believe the latter helps create the former—if you could prove that it doesn’t help in any meaningful way, then I’d support a different solution.

    We also perhaps shouldn’t forget that Briarwood is located within the city limits, and so contribues money to the city tax base.

    Three major things come to mind when I think of what I want downtown: a department store, a grocery, and a hardware store. Working backwards: it was a sad day when Schlenker’s closed, but Fingerle is still open. PFC and White’s are downtown, though I’m selfish and want one that isn’t as far to walk for me. Of course I want both PFC and White’s around, but isn’t there maybe room for something around the Main Street area? It would be nice if Liberty Lofts could get that kind of tenant, but there’s no guarantee they will. (BTW, that online quiz was very well-done.) Department store: this is maybe the biggest piece missing. Kline’s was the last to go, and it was in decline for many years before it went. I do wonder if a department store could survive these days on the footprint a downtown location would require.

    At any rate, yes, small is good, local is good, independent is good, unique is good. Whatever might come of these ideas, those criteria should be what we’re striving for, even though they might only be imperfectly realized.
       —Young Urban Amateur    Nov. 3 '05 - 06:29PM    #
  49. Eh. The online quiz was kinda crappy, actually. Poor phrasing and design (I had to keep looking upwards to make sure I was marking things in the right columns…)
       —js    Nov. 3 '05 - 08:14PM    #
  50. I have two kids late elementary and middle school. They need a white t-shirt for tie-dying, shoes, and some snacks (think little bags of baby Milanos) for tomorrow’s school event. I also need shoes for myself, I’d like to stop and look at some kitchen utensils, I need six tapered candles (not scented or unusual, the normal kind) and I need to get money out of a cash machine. I want to be able to buy all this within a hour, and with as little driving/parking as possible.

    Park in the 5th & William lot. Walk to Sams on Liberty and buy white shirts and casual shoes for you and the kids (you might also want to buy a few pairs of jeans or some winter clothes for the family). Need athletic shoes, running or swimming gear? Tortoise and Hare is next door to Sams and Running Fit is less than a block away. Walk down Liberty toward Main St. and go to Footprints for dressier shoes for you and the kids. You can get “regular” candles at Falling Water, Peaceable Kingdom, Jules, or Acme. Another block and a half and you can shop all sorts of kitchen supplies at Downtown Home and Garden (I think you can get candles here too). Once you are done at Downtown Home and Garden, walk back to the car and drop your stuff off, then walk to the People’s Food Co-op for snacks for the kids (that is, if you don’t want anything from Kilwins—their caramel apples and all the candy is yummy, or apples or Zingermans baked goods from Downtown Home and Gardens). During your walk, you will pass three ATMs, I don’t know which bank you have so not sure which you prefer.

    It would take you less than an hour to do all this (depending on how long you shopped) and everything is within a 3-4 block radius from where your car is parked (the same or shorter distance than at the mall). But you have to want to shop downtown. If you want all brand-name stuff from big-box stores, this isn’t going to be your spot. There are many items we buy that I can’t get at the big box stores. If you sent me to the mall or big-box stores, I wouldn’t be able to find most of the items I shop for on a regular basis and there is no way I can find Christmas presents at the mall for anyone I know. Malls and big-box stores fill a niche for many people. I’m not advocating removing them or that everyone should shop downtown, but I don’t think every area of town (or the world for that matter) should have the same stores.
       —Juliew    Nov. 4 '05 - 12:40PM    #
  51. Whoops, I meant the 4th and Washington parking structure.
       —Juliew    Nov. 4 '05 - 12:43PM    #
  52. When Christopher Leinberger was giving his job talk in advance of his hiring to head the Real Estate program, Al Taubman came to listen and comment. While Leinberger was talking about progressive development and revitalizing downtowns, Taubman was talking about the marvel of his indoor malls, because they exposed the consumer to so many different shops in such a small space. To get the exposure in a downtown to the 100 or so shops that a mall might have would require something like 4 or 5 times the walking, with the weather and parking controlled in the mall—no small concern for people with kids (clothes, boots, strollers, etc.).

    I have no problem with downtown malls and tame big-box.
       —Dale    Nov. 4 '05 - 12:55PM    #
  53. I’m not coming with you on that one, Dale – indoor malls arouse my anti-authoritarian / pro-free speech hackles a little too much.

    I don’t have a problem with them on the scale of, say, Nickels Arcade or the Afternoon Delight building, where they are embedded in the public realm, but when they reach the size of Briarwood, and replace the public realm – no good.

    To get the exposure in a downtown to the 100 or so shops that a mall might have…

    A downtown storefront need only be 20 or 30 feet wide – that’s about the same rate of storefronts-per-minute as in a mall. And if you add in the fact that downtown has things like Wazoo, Schoolkids in Exile, Vault of Midnight, the old Underworld space, the old David’s Books space, etc, you can get significantly greater variety/density in downtown.
       —Murph    Nov. 4 '05 - 01:09PM    #
  54. I don’t think they should replace downtowns; I think they can complement or augment them.

    On size and space I was reporting what Taubman said. He’s also considering that there are few or no “pure” retail areas of 100 shops in downtowns; you’ve got architects, lawyers, government buildings, office space, etc. mixed in. I don’t doubt the mathematical calculation that will result in rough equivalency, it just is unlikely that most downtowns will fit that.
       —Dale    Nov. 4 '05 - 01:52PM    #
  55. Julie, remind me to follow you next time I run into you downtown. I think I might learn something about where to buy things!

    Murph, the survey isn’t bad, but it isn’t market research. The results might be interesting, but tell us nothing about who is filling it out and how representative they are of Ann Arbor residents (or about what their behavior would be vs. what they agree with). I could go on about what would make it useful market research, but I think I’ll not bore those of you who aren’t market researchers/evaluators. We need some good, representative, professional research to have a true idea about what types of businesses would continue to make downtown vibrant.

    Steve, you’ll be happy to know that the DDA has indeed given support to a directory of locally-owned independent businesses that is part of a Think Local First campaign in Ann Arbor. The directory will list some independent businesses (many of which are downtown), and is also intended to encourage people to think about the difference between local businesses and non-local. I know people who post here often think about the trade-offs, but we’ve found that many people don’t. The directory and website will be released at the end of the month.
       —Lisa    Nov. 4 '05 - 01:52PM    #
  56. I would love to buy all my groceries from PFC, kitchen stuff from Downtown Home & Garden, exercise clothes from Tortoise & Hare, etc. The problem is that I’m a student and can’t afford it. I shop at local businesses when possible, but I would drive a lot less and shop downtown a lot more if there were more businesses that fit my price range. I would pick a locally-owned business over a chain store if money was not an obstacle, but the reality is that I can’t pay my (unaffordable) rent without shopping at stores like Meijer and Target. If our goal is to create more affordable housing in Ann Arbor, there needs to be either (1) stores where lower-income people can afford to shop on a regular basis (whether chains or locally owned), or (2) improved public transportation to those kinds of places.
       —audrey    Nov. 4 '05 - 01:58PM    #
  57. As for grocers/hardware stores, etc…

    Several people have mentioned that what they’d like downtown is a department store, a grocery, and a hardware store. The reason why businesses haven’t been jumping up and down to fill this need (if it actually IS one) is that lease rates are too high for any business (local or chain) to make a profit running any of these types of business. So, to open such a business, a potential owner would need to: find a somewhat affordable building to buy, or be offered a below market rate by a benevolent owner – either an individual/company wanting to contribute to Ann Arbor’s development, or by having such rates/uses be incorporated as a condition when the city or a private owner sold the land to a new owner. Various people have also mentioned having a nonprofit business land trust that would act as the benevolent landowner.

    All of the locally-owned hardware stores in town (Jack’s, Stadium Hardware, Carpenter, and Ace-Barnes) are part of one of two national hardware co-ops. I believe both have non-compete territories, so that means there won’t be a Do-It-Best downtown because Jack’s is nearby, and I don’t see the Barnes being interested in having an Ace downtown. So, a hardware store doesn’t seem very likely, and actually I don’t think that a full hardware store would make a whole lot of sense right downtown either. Perhaps a store offering some hardware items among a variety of other things would be a better bet.
       —Lisa    Nov. 4 '05 - 02:01PM    #
  58. As far as I’m concerned, Jack’s is a downtown hardware store. But that’s probably because I walk past them on my way downtown.
       —Murph.    Nov. 4 '05 - 06:22PM    #
  59. Good point Lisa – grocery stores typically run on very small margins making them more susceptible to increasing rental rates. For those in long-term leases, that’s less of an issue but in areas that are “hot”, it’s just not affordable for those kinds of stores to make a go of it unless they can generate a volume of sales to keep up. It’s the old chicken/egg dilemma. Stores need customers downtown which means residents downtown. But people are unwilling to move downtown without those kinds of stores in place.
       —John Q    Nov. 4 '05 - 06:31PM    #
  60. Juliew, That’s actually good. I had never thought of Sams.

    But I can’t afford shoes at Footprints for me and my kids. Or Running Fit.

    I guess that’s the problem with downtown. I can’t afford the stuff. I don’t want organic snacks. I want little bags of baby Milanos. You know, I could get that at Walgreen. I’ve seen Walgreen in cities, like NYC and Chicago. Why can’t we have that downtown?
       —JennyD    Nov. 5 '05 - 10:46AM    #
  61. Hi—I lived in Ann Arbor for a number of years as a student and wouldn’t have been able to shop at a Crate&Barrel if there had been one available. Target? I could have afforded that.
    I worked for Crate & Barrel in Atlanta for a few years. It is a good company (treats employees very well) with merchandise at a number of pricepoints and would be a good draw for Ann Arbor at the mall or downtown. (I saw a Pottery Barn during my last trip to Briarwood, but no C&B.) Now that I’m a suburban housewife, I don’t drive to downtown Ann Arbor for anything—the traffic, the parking, the kids, etc. just as someone else here suggested. For a C & B, I would make the effort.
    I’m also a faithful Costco shopper, I make the hour long drive from my home in Grass Lake to Livonia at least once a month! But I don’t understand how you can lump Costco and Crate & Barrel together as ‘big box’ stores—they are so very different from each other.
    What I want to know is: what happened to the plans for the Costco at Zeeb Road? It was supposed to open at Christmas this year, but a Costco employee told me that it had ‘been blocked.’ Who blocked it and why?
       —Lisa Rowe    Nov. 7 '05 - 05:29PM    #
  62. Lisa,

    I typically use “big box” to refer to the shape of the store. If it’s a big, stand-alone, fairly non-descript rectangle standing alone in a big field of parking, then it’s a big box. Such a store might also have some little boxes tacked on the side opportunistically.

    The term is also sometimes used to classify stores by what they sell, to describe a declasse sort of retail establishment – and the category generally includes Target, WalMart, Sam’s Club, Costco, IKEA, Best Buy, etc. Which, typically, do look like big boxes.

    I think the distinction between form and social status is important for discussing them…
       —Murph.    Nov. 7 '05 - 08:08PM    #
  63. I’d be interested to see what the Calthorpe economic analyst brings back to us regarding the potential for larger businesses downtown (assuming a full residential build-out using the new zoning scheme). I don’t know… would Busch’s come here with 2,500 more residential units downtown and no proprietary parking? Would they do a split-level store? How about Walgreen’s? I hate to say it, but who (aside from students) would be interested in living downtown if you’re not in a day/night vibrant area? This means being able to do some affordable shopping on foot, and I think right now this also does mean chain stores because they’re just more efficient. (I’d love to see some kind of retail “condo” arrangements that have been mentioned so the indies can shield themselves from rent increases, but I don’t have a good feeling for how realistic that is.) Seems like design guidelines or form codes may be the only ways to innoculate ourselves against a case of ugly blank walls while not scaring all the potential anchor businesses out to the periphery?
       —Kirk    Nov. 10 '05 - 12:30AM    #
  64. Kirk,

    To paraphrase Forrest Gump’s momma, “Efficient is as efficient does.” Efficiency comes at a cost, usually some form of human or environmental exploitation (or both.)

    My preference would be for the People’s Food Coop to be recognized and supported as the downtown grocery that it is. (I don’t understand people who say there isn’t one.) The PFC is ready to expand. Perhaps that expansion can meet more needs (if not every desire) of current and future downtown residents. Shoppers needn’t be members to buy at PFC.

    The current PFC newsletter (available for free at the store) has an article on the purpose and function of coops which explains that surplus (profit) is reinvested in the store operations and in otherwise providing services desired by members. No profit motive exists, and therefore no pressure to exploit exists.

    Certainly, people may prefer the offerings of other stores, and there will probably be enough demand for another medium to large grocery downtown. Still, the benefits of a coop to the local economy and local residents are many, and I hope everyone will consider how to best fit coop shopping into their lives.
       —Steve Bean    Nov. 10 '05 - 01:25PM    #
  65. Steve,

    I’m with you on PFC. It’s definitely not a one-stop food location, but, presuming vegetarian-ness, you can get almost everything there, and much of it (from my minimal price comparisons) cheaper than at Kroger or Arbor Farms. Plus: co-op. Which is always a “plus”.

    Would it be nice if they were larger? Yes. Larger would mean wider variety of foods, which would make them attractive to a wider variety of shoppers – not just vegetarian long-hairs (at least in spirit :) ) who have values besides cheapest price – and let them do more of their shopping, which would mean volume, which would mean efficiency on things like square footage and staffing. Those kinds of efficiencies are good.

    Have you seen my team’s real estate class project from last year? It included a 3x expanded PFC in the same neighborhood, plus parking for PFC (which they’re told by members and customers is a constraint on expanded use). I’d be happy to show.

    As long as I’m at the recommended reading list stage of the post, if you haven’t read Storefront Revolution , it’s worth it. One of the debates of the 70s covered is the question of whether co-ops should stick to the tofu-bulk-goods-and-organics model, to help effect change further up the marketplace, or expand into mass market goods, with the idea that Velveeta bought at a co-op is better than Velveeta bought at Kroger, and that stocking Velveeta is the only way to get Velveeta eaters into the co-op, and thus into the social change movement sought by the co-ops.

    (It also has some fun chapters about members of Trotskyite co-ops mounting armed assaults on Anarchist-run co-ops…)
       —Murph.    Nov. 10 '05 - 02:17PM    #
  66. Hair jokes roll right off my bald pate. (:-)

    One thing the PFC wants to accomplish with upsizing is to offer a meat counter. Another is to be able to store greater quantities of products (one of those efficiencies you mention.) And parking.

    I think I’d fall into the group that favors offering what members—and, secondarily, other shoppers—want. As you imply, Velveeta sales income stays in the local economy longer that way and everyone gets educated. Eventually, Velveeta might get dropped from the inventory as people find fresh, local, flavorful, healthy alternatives.

    Also, certain services might become viable at larger shopper levels, like subscriptions for certain products. As I understand it, that’s where you tell the store you want two dozen eggs, four gallons of milk, and three pounds of oatmeal every month, and you get them for a reduced rate because of the lack of spoilage, etc. (I wonder if it is also viable at smaller scale groceries, like the Jeff, that have a higher risk of losses if shoppers don’t visit consistently.) At a higher level it might be tailored to providing seasonal produce. In any case, the improved efficiency benefits all shoppers.

    Fun stuff to consider. I’d heard about your project but haven’t seen it yet. So what’s the next step?
       —Steve Bean    Nov. 10 '05 - 05:55PM    #