The Gentrification of Ann Arbor

The Starbucks at the corner of Liberty and Main Streets opened last week, bringing the total in Ann Arbor to nine stores, three located in the downtown area. The location is the former site of an Amer’s Deli and (briefly) a poorly managed Our Town Deli. When the new Starbucks was announced last January, Business Direct Weekly, a local business newspaper, commented that it would have the effect of “bringing a high-profile chain presence to the block,” a comment which drew some well-deserved criticism on Ann Arbor is Overrated. Interestingly, one of the many places where Starbucks can be purchased includes in the University-owned ConXion in South Quad, which replaced the grill formerly located in the basement of that residence hall.

Meanwhile, the owner of the building which houses the new Starbucks also owns the building across the street currently undergoing renovation, which will house Shalimar (now in exile on Washington Street), as well as an art gallery and a Ritter’s Frozen Custard a “Chicago-based chain with outlets in six states, including a franchise in Brighton.” Thus continues the pattern of independent stores closing, being replaced by high-priced specialty chains (Think Potbelly’s, or that odd specialty foods store on Liberty). Ironically, these nouveau chains often exist what I consider moral ambiguity – they frequently work to preserve existing unique architecture, and an employee told me that Potbelly’s was a “great place to work,” complete with a 401k and a “good” opt-in health insurance program, and Starbucks has begun to serve Fair Trade coffee, albeit reluctantly. Of course, none of these are unionized, and all suck money out of our cities, states, and communities into the pockets of the stockholders.

In a related matter, the location formerly occupied by Decker Drugs on State Street stands empty, and it has now been vacant for over one year. Now seems a good time to think about this phenomenon:

> Read my post about the out-of-state owner of the building from May 2003
> Read about Potbelly’s
> Daily: “Drugstore closes due to high rent, competition,” and a Daily editorial: “The Starbuckization of A2” which concludes:

“The local government, students and residents must make an effort to keep these independent shops open. It is time the government allocated resources and worked with proprietors in order to aid these local businesses. It is time for students and residents to consider shopping at more independently owned stores. For when these independent shops go, so do novelty, diversity and familiarity. In a sense, so does Ann Arbor.”

Also, fans of the odd and short-lived Michigan Daily comic “Operation Pussycat,” will be happy to learn that comic is back – online at least, in a blog called “Operation Pussycat Lives!”

Author: Rob