Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Big Ten Party Store's sign in danger

8. December 2005 • Murph
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The Big Ten Party Store put up a new sign on their building recently, with their new, lame name, and this has apparently triggered a definition of their old “Cheese Cheese Cheese” sign as non-conforming. They have a hearing before the Sign Board of Appeals on Tuesday, 13 December, and are asking for support.

Matthew Morgan to customers


This note isn’t about any new arrivals, sales, tasting events, or store-related classes, and I apologize in advance for that. That’s what we usually use our email list for, and we try not to overload our customers with mailings.

The City of Ann Arbor has been trying to get us to remove the ‘Cheese, Cheese, Cheese’ pylon sign in front of the store for years. Unfortunately, when we put a new sign above the entry door, this gave the city sign folks the opening to insist we remove the big crazy neon sign in the front parking lot.

We don’t want to remove the sign—it has a place in the Ann Arbor landscape, and it’s commercially very valuable to us. We can replace it with a smaller sign (about seven feet tall, vs. the present size of 25 feet,) but it just wouldn’t be the same. The sign is old, battered, and rusty, and needs major repairs. We would also like to put the name of
the store on it, and feature the two products that we sell the most of: wine and food.

We have applied for and been granted an appeal hearing on Tuesday, December 13th—next Tuesday, that is. If we can convince the appeals board that the sign isn’t harming anyone, and that people would like to see it stay, we may be granted permission to keep the sign and fix it up. Otherwise, we will have to tear it down and replace it with something smaller and less visible.

A picture of the proposed update and repair of the sign is on display at the store. The look and feel is very much the same as the old sign—neon letters over paint, a changeable message board, and ‘Cheese, Cheese, Cheese,’ in neon letters. Come in and take a look, and if you want to see it stay, please add your name and address to the petitions at any of the checkout counters.

Thanks for your support!

PS—anyone who wants to attend the hearing is welcome and encouraged to do so. The hearing is at 3PM, Tuesday December 13th, in the conference room on the 4th floor of the city building. Letters of support are also welcome.

Here’s a picture of the offending landmark from Flickr. (posted there as “all rights reserved, so, tragically, I can’t mirror it here.)

Also in the endangered landmark rumors department, Livejournal has once more dredged up the tired rumor that the Fleetwood is about to close. I’ve still not seen any kind of evidence beyond lj users saying, “I know somebody who works there and says it’s closing.” Any info in that department appreciated.

  1. Here’s my crotchety letter to Morgan & York:

    Just saw your request for help keeping your sign, and I’ll definitely be telling the City I think the sign should stay – but…Did you really have to change the name of the store? When it was “Big Ten Party Store”, it seemed like this amazing local treasure, a promised land of good things with a quirkily ill-fitting (and therefore memorable) name. Now that it’s “Morgan & York”, no offense meant to your no-doubt honorable lineages, but it just sounds like yet another stuck-up yuppie store. I’ll personally always refer to
    it as Big Ten Party Store, and I’d rather see the sign cleaned up with the same text it has now. Otherwise it just wouldn’t have the same charm.

    Yeah, I know, I’m being a little harsh, but I don’t know anybody in town who’s not disappointed that you changed the name, nor do I know anybody in town who has stopped calling your store Big Ten, so I figured somebody ought to tell you, rather than just grumbling about it behind your back.

       —Murph.    Dec. 8 '05 - 06:24PM    #
  2. (They’re good – Matt Morgan wrote me a response right away, and much more civil than I deserved.)

    Despite the fact that changing their name takes them out of the category they shared with Village Corner and the Beer Depot, in my mind, I can understand that they thought the old name was misleading and kept customers away. And if a new name is what it takes to keep them around, that’s cool. I’ll just have to tell people, “Try looking at Big Ten Party Store – go down Packard until you see a sign for ‘Morgan & York’.” Yes, I’ve officially become an amber-freezer.
       —Murph.    Dec. 8 '05 - 06:52PM    #
  3. Amber-freezer means what, sorry?
       —David Boyle    Dec. 8 '05 - 07:07PM    #
  4. This is MY neighborhood, and I have been shopping at the Big Ten since I moved here in 1969. Let me tell you, since Matt took it over, it has improved 1000%!!! They have excellent products and a very knowledable and fun staff. I buy all my wine there, and they have a great bargain in Parmesano Reggiano – if you buy more than 2 lbs., it’s only $16.00 a lb. They are great advisors on wine as well, and they have a case discount of 15% – and you can mix and match at will.

    I have already communicated to Council members to save the sign.

    So, go to the Morgan and York store and sign their petition. And, take a letter in support of the sign so they can take it to the Sign Board of Appeals on Dec. 13th.
       —Leah    Dec. 8 '05 - 07:10PM    #
  5. sounds like yet another stuck-up yuppie store

    That is exactly what it is now. Hmmmppphh, count me in with those who miss the Big 10, with all its foibles. It was kind of exciting and cool and at least the sales clerks were all nice. These people with their lab coats and snooty air just annoy the heck out of me. I have never been treated so rudely in a store as they did a few months after they bought it and no visit back has changed my mind. I know a lot of people love it now, but I also know a few like me who have been treated very rudely (and I try never to be a rude customer). They only stock the expected gourmet stuff and no longer have any of the “party” things we used to buy there. We have switched to A&L wine castle for our specialty hooch and they have gone out of their way to help us and be nice to us. Big 10 (or whatever they want to call it) is off my list. But I will miss the sign if it goes. Cheese, CHEese, CHEESE!
       —Juliew    Dec. 8 '05 - 07:27PM    #
  6. How rude is rude, Julie? I’ve never had anything but tripping over themselves to help me kind of service there, and I definitely don’t resemble a stuck-up yuppie.

    The lab coats do get to me, though, but I have an irrational fear of all things medical. Regardless, I hope they save that sign as it’s certainly a classic.
       —FAA    Dec. 8 '05 - 07:54PM    #
  7. David:

    “Amber-freezer” is derived from old conversations on AAiO about people who want to freeze Ann Arbor in amber – preserve it forever in exactly the state it is now.
       —Murph.    Dec. 8 '05 - 08:27PM    #
  8. (And I’m using it to make fun of my own snarkiness.)
       —Murph.    Dec. 8 '05 - 08:28PM    #
  9. It was pretty rude but hard to explain in writing. Both my husband and I were taken aback. The other times we have been in they have just been generally unhelpful. We have a few specific things we like to buy in addition to just general browsing and they weren’t interested in our business at all. Phil (the former wine guy at Big 10) used to go out of his way to help us and the A&L guy went out of his way and got us what we were looking for. Morgan and York just said they couldn’t do it, case closed. Fine with me. Plenty of other places to get wine and cheese in Ann Arbor. It is funny though because some people think they are the greatest thing since sliced bread now and others have the same reaction I do. One of my friends said she will never go back because she was treated more rudely there than she has ever been treated in a store, but my mother thinks they the nicest people ever. Guess it just depends.
       —Juliew    Dec. 8 '05 - 08:38PM    #
  10. My My – snarky indeed – I have never had anything but courteous service, and I am FAR from being yuppie. I simply enjoy quality goods and helpful sales folk. I can’t imagine anyone there being rude. And the past owner was a crochedty old lady who disdained minorities and women in her hires. So there! (How’s that for snarky?) Lighten up!
       —Leah    Dec. 8 '05 - 08:40PM    #
  11. In my mind, it will always be Big Ten Party Store. Party on, Wayne. Or Morgan. Or whatever. I love the sign.
       —JennyD    Dec. 8 '05 - 09:19PM    #
  12. Actually, the long-time former owner was a crotchety old man who actually quite liked to hire women (my sister worked there for years).
       —Juliew    Dec. 8 '05 - 09:35PM    #
  13. Welcome to the amber-freezers, Murph! It just goes to show what happens when someone gets married…8-)

    I’m very much in favor of keeping the sign.
       —David Cahill    Dec. 8 '05 - 11:15PM    #
  14. I’ve never been back since (1) first time I visited and could no longer get the good olives I used to like; (was also put off by the showcase-at-Tiffany’s requirement to have someone to fetch it)
    (2) called about a resupply of my Indonesian favorite condiment Seroendeng (necessary for nasi goreng) – always bought it at Big Ten but the woman on the phone sniffed at me. (I guess that was like the things they called the “museum for food”.)

    Morgan and York? Sounds like old New York. I’ll miss the sign, but at this point it would be more like a graveyard marker.

    P.S. Parmegiano Reggiano is cheaper than that at Produce Station.
       —Vivienne Armentrout    Dec. 9 '05 - 02:14AM    #
  15. It may be cheaper, but it’s not the same quality!
       —Leah    Dec. 9 '05 - 01:47PM    #
  16. Vivienne, you prefer to retrieve olives from a centrally located bucket where children and careless shoppers may dip their fingers? Sounds like a solid reason never to return… Are you also put off by restaurants where they continually wash their silverware, among other health code standards?
       —FAA    Dec. 9 '05 - 03:31PM    #
  17. JulieW,

    Next time, get the name of the offending staffperson, and either ask for Tommy, a manager, or tell them what happened using their website.

    As an owner/manager, you can’t be everywhere at once, and if the customer doesn’t speak up, then they can’t fix the problem. Do a local business a favor, JulieW, and give them a call/email, and try them again…..

    FYI, the previous inventory (as in, what they carried, and what it was priced at) and sales system when Morgan and York took over was a financial death trap. The changes were necessary. They new full well that the changes would alienate 10-20% of their old customer base, but they replaced these customers with new ones.

    I’ve said it before, but you can’t make everyone happy….and if you try to, you’ll be out of business before the year’s out.

    Morgan & York is a great place, and their staff actually knows what they are talking about when it comes to beer, spirits, and wine.
       —todd    Dec. 10 '05 - 03:53PM    #
  18. Thank you, todd – my sentiments exactly!
       —Leah    Dec. 10 '05 - 09:47PM    #
  19. Not to pile on Julie, but Todd’s sentiments are exactly right, vis-a-vis questioniong why the service was poor in the first place.

    I’m always amazed at the number of people who stop in once, have a negative experience, and then swear they’ll never go someplace again. 99% of the time you’ll have a far more positive experience if you’ll inquire with management/owners and allow them to try to make amends. If THEY brush you off, then you’ve got a beef. But, until then, it is possible to chalk it up to miscommunication.
       —Marc R.    Dec. 10 '05 - 10:12PM    #
  20. Sigh. Yeah, actually it was one of the owners who was rude to me. And indeed, I’ve been back several times, and even though I haven’t been treated exactly rudely since then, in general the staff haven’t been very helpful for what we want. It isn’t the Big 10 anymore and I went to the Big 10 for specific reasons. It is far easier for me to go to Zingermans for cheese (I can walk there) and A&L is more helpful for the wine and spirits we want. Example: we wanted a case of sparkling shiraz which we used to order from Big 10. We tried to order it (any brand) several times over several months from Morgan and York but were told they couldn’t get any for various reasons. We went to A&L and they had a case for us 2 days later.

    And yeah, I know M&Y know a lot about wine and cheese and spirits. They seem to love to point that out to me when I am there.

    I’m glad a lot of people like Morgan and York. I really hope they succeed. It just isn’t a store I go to anymore.
       —Juliew    Dec. 10 '05 - 11:06PM    #
  21. Nobody does—it’s too crowded.
       —Dale    Dec. 11 '05 - 12:10AM    #
  22. I should just mention that I first assumed “amber-freezers” were fans of some boutique chilled beer product that was available at Big Ten.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Dec. 12 '05 - 02:35PM    #
  23. In case anyone was on pins and needles, the sign stays. And I confess to being an amber freezer on this one too. I’m also fond of the Firestone sign on Huron near Division and the Muffler sign on Jackson, near Maple.
       —Parking Structure Dude!    Dec. 16 '05 - 07:04PM    #