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Zer Netmouse
March 5th, 2007
10:01 am


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Changes in the city of trees.
In a response to Mrissa from an earlier thread I go on a bit about ways that Ann Arbor has changed that makes it less fun these days for me to show people around town. I grew up here, and find it much less the comfortable, casual, ideosynchratic and hippy college town it was when I was a kid. Borders has changed from a deep and interestingly unique store to a chain clone. I didn't even go into how the Art Fair has gotten less artsy and fun and more commercial. Even Zingerman's sandwiches are not as good as they once were, since they shrunk them a few years back to keep competitive in the face of Amers and other sandwich cafes.

Would you agree that Ann Arbor is changing for the worse?

What changes do you like? (having Trader Joe's and Whole Foods come in could be counted as positives, for instance).

What do you miss?

(49 comments | Leave a comment)

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[User Picture]
Date:March 5th, 2007 03:24 pm (UTC)
Same things have happened to Austin too. Except instead of Border's, it's Whole Foods (this is the headquarters). SXSW has gotten ungainly large, now unless you have a pass, you can't get into any of the shows as a paying customer. Plus Austin now has a population close to 700,000, much worse than AA.
[User Picture]
Date:March 5th, 2007 03:29 pm (UTC)
I feel like my perceptions of change in Ann Arbor have less to do with Ann Arbor changing and more to do with me changing. I used to think Ann Arbor had lots of really amazing restaurants. Now that I've had the opportunity to do a lot more eating out in a lot more places, I recognize that while we have some strengths, and some good places, we're not the foodie paradise that I used to think we were.

I've never thought Zingerman's sandwiches were all that. I love many things about Zing, but the sandwiches were never one of them.

I'll have to think about other changes. Certainly agree that the town has gotten a little less funky and a little more corporate, but that's probably true of just about anyplace these days - the whole world is getting more corporate.
[User Picture]
Date:March 5th, 2007 03:38 pm (UTC)
I've never thought Zingerman's sandwiches were all that. I love many things about Zing, but the sandwiches were never one of them.

I think maybe you moved here after the change. It happened in the mid-to-late '90s. They used to also have more sandwiches. I think when my boyfriend worked there he had to memorize at least twice as much as they have now. They printed sandwich menus that were at the front of the line so you had time to read them. And the list changed more often, with all the employees making up variations. This was when it was more just a Deli, and they didn't have the bakery section in the middle there, or the deserts next door.

A number of places in Ann Arbor don't have the food they once had. The Real Seafood Co. started out really good - I was just talking to my mom about it the other day. And Zanzibar was really neat and tasty for a few years, then went downhill. The food at the Gandy Dancer also used to be better. I guess as Chefs shift these things happen. But it's sad.
[User Picture]
Date:March 5th, 2007 03:35 pm (UTC)
I miss specialty stores like Ryders downtown and Afterwords although their leaving has more to do with their respective industries than anything specific to Ann Arbor.

I do miss the quirky old Del Rio co-op restaurant too and having a magazine store across from Afterwords.
[User Picture]
Date:March 5th, 2007 03:40 pm (UTC)
Oh, yeah, I forgot about Ryder's moving out of downtown. And Fantasy Attic costumes moved out of downtown as well.
[User Picture]
Date:March 5th, 2007 05:37 pm (UTC)
(Your link is funky -- I think you want to put the first 'a' inside the angle brace.)

I think Ann Arbor's not as fun as it was. I miss Drake's. I miss Schoolkids.

Back in the '70's there was a store where I could buy beads -- I think on State Street that wasn't there anymore when I came back in '79. And a leather shop (not clothing, but pieces of leather) on Main.

The Ark is a grand place, but dangit, I liked it better when it was in D&LS's living room.

Somehow I liked Wazoo better in... I guess the '80s.

I agree that TJ and WF are a good thing, but since they're not "an easy walk from downtown", I don't know that they count. And, while I've not been there in a long time, the Law Library (completed in '81) where you get sunlight 3 floors underground is a place I like to show folks.
[User Picture]
Date:March 5th, 2007 06:43 pm (UTC)
I was thinking that the last Zing sandwich I had was smaller than I expected. Thought maybe it was just back luck for getting two pieces of bread that were maybe closer to the end. I would normally just eat one half and save the other half for the next day, but one half didn't seem like quite enough food.

I miss living walking distance from everything like I did as a college student. That's a lifestyle choice that isn't going to change, but it does mean I no longer bop out my door and go exploring. Exploring now requires a car trip plus finding parking, then walking around.

There are cool condos and whatnot going up around downtown, and I think it's great that housing is being built downtown. But it's primarily affluent housing, and while that may bring in some good things (like better restaurants?) it also means that prices go up for everything.
Date:March 5th, 2007 06:45 pm (UTC)
I moved out of Ann Arbor after Drake's closed; there seemed to be no point in staying after that. That's the big one. I do kinda miss Mickey Rat's, Jason's Ice Cream, the Stage Door, Maneka's (sp?), Kresge's, and all the campus film groups (when I was a kid, there would be 5 or 6 great revival films playing every night—if anyone's curious about this, they should go down to the public library and check out back issues of Cinema Guide, Current's old name).

Things I still like about Ann Arbor when I come back to visit: Washtenaw Dairy, Krazy Jim's, Frank's Restaurant, Old Town, Property Disposition, and the music from the clock tower.
[User Picture]
Date:March 5th, 2007 06:52 pm (UTC)
Drake's. (sigh) I always asked for extra sugar in my limeagd because they made it so sour, and sometimes I'd get it. And grilled split cinnamon rolls. Mmmm... And the cute white bread sandwiches named after the Big Ten schools.
[User Picture]
Date:March 6th, 2007 01:06 am (UTC)
Drake's is gone? The Del Rio is gone?

The fuck, man?
[User Picture]
Date:March 6th, 2007 12:23 pm (UTC)
The place just went to hell in a handbasket once you left, I'm tellin' ya.

[User Picture]
Date:March 6th, 2007 02:15 am (UTC)
Limeade at Drakes.
Fried Ice Cream at the Stage Door.
All you can eat Crab Leg night at the Village Bell.
Omega's Pizza! With two pounds of cheese on each pizza. :)
Fourth Street back when it was the red-light district.
The Blue Front when it was a magazine and odds and ends shop.
Ooooh... The Southside Grille across the street from Campus Corner and their ham and dark smokey cheddar omelette.
Gas stations in main campus.
Cold strawberry soup in that place on State Street that's the Shaman Drum now.
The Church Street parking structure.

OK, you've really got me going now... :)
Date:March 6th, 2007 03:18 am (UTC)
There were a few restaurants where Shaman Drum is now, but I think the one that was there the longest was "Turtle Island".
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Expand
[User Picture]
Date:March 6th, 2007 04:37 pm (UTC)
Howdy! logangrey sent me, because he knows this is a hot topic with me. :)

I didn't grow up in Ann Arbor, but i first came here over 15 years ago and have been living here for almost that long. My perspective comes largely from the world of the arts -- i've been an independent musician here (in a variety of forms) for over 10 years and even worked in the local industry for awhile.

For me, coming as an outsider, the biggest tragedy about Ann Arbor is the horrifically wide chasm between what it is and what it could be. As it turns out, "what it could be" also seems to correlate a lot with both "what it once was", and "what it's reputed to be"... and, at least in my case, "what it's believed to be by newcomers".

I've gone out about this in many forms (to which logangrey can attest), some more analytical and others downright rageful. :) In sum, i feel as if i've found a lot of evidence that Ann Arbor basically choked to death on its own affluence. From what i gather from longer-term residence, the "city" (i use quotes because i'm from New York, and i frankly find Ann Arbor's calling itself a city a characteristically-arrogant claim in and of itself -- but there i go ranting again) was really an amazing place to be in the 60s, 70s and 80s. It became known as an arts center and progressive locale, and therefore became a very desirable place to live, even beyond the community established by the University. However, as with many places (i use Greenwich Village in NYC as a common example), this desirability had an ironic effect: it created an economic demand impact that made it prohibitively expensive for the survival of many of the aspects that made it desirable in the first place!

In the Greenwich Village example, the large area of urban density gave the local movement survival options -- for example, much of the "scene" of classic artsy GV simply moved a neighborhood or two over to the East Village, which (at least as of the late 90s, when last i was in touch) became a new up-and-coming scene. In Ann Arbor's small downtown, there was really nowhere equivalent to go -- downtown Ypsi absorbed some of the movement, but it's nowhere near the same equivalency of accessibility as in the GV/EV example in NYC -- it's too far away (and maybe too different?) to "replace" or "house" A²'s lost scene.

I could go on about this a lot... :) I also invite the truly interested/bored to check out a very rejected Op Ed piece about it that i submitted to the News several years back. At some point, i may also make available a recording of "Goodbye Ann Arbor", a sarcastic pseudo-folk rant tune i wrote awhile back in a fit of frustration.

Yes, i've definitely thought about this too much. :)

I also assume you've heard of http://www.annarborisoverrated.com/ yes? They have also observed some of these things, albeit in a more limited form, as i believe their perspective is much more political and/or that of the transient/student population. Their tongue-in-cheek mission is something i can appreciate, though i feel as if there's a lot more ammo they could dig up if they were more heavily involved (i think it's run by one or more grad students).
[User Picture]
Date:March 6th, 2007 05:29 pm (UTC)
I wonder if the decline towards cleanliness and corporate-ness has been faster in these last 6-7 years than it was before. Will some of the more sage readers please comment on this? My suggestion is that if that is true, then it might be due to the huge excess of easy money that has been created in the last half-decade+. Low interest rates drove up land prices and everyone's been grabbing for "their" share of the assets. And safe money tends to homogenize and sterilize.

Anyways, if easy money is part of the reason, then Ann Arbor may regain some of its charm and coolness as the Michigan (and whole US) economy swirls down the toilet.
Date:March 6th, 2007 06:36 pm (UTC)
Honestly, I have to say I was never very fond of Ann Arbor overall; the stuff I mention above (and CHS) were exceptions to my general negativity about the place. It seems to me to combine the worst aspects of big-city and small-town life; there really isn't that much to do, there's no good Thai restaurants, but the rents are astronomical and there's no place to park.
[User Picture]
Date:March 6th, 2007 07:04 pm (UTC)
*laugh* That's a very succint way to put it... and i think you might be right!
[User Picture]
Date:March 7th, 2007 02:43 am (UTC)
I miss the movies. I used to love checking out the week's offerings from different organization, choosing between the Michigan and the MLB.

I miss Schoolkids. And the old Border's.

It does feel gentrified, defunkified, compared to when I hit town as a wee lad in 1985.
Date:March 8th, 2007 01:25 am (UTC)
Bagel Factory on South U. (worked there)
Dawn Treader on South U. (worked there)
PFC on Packard.

Glad to still see:
Shakey Jake on... well wherever he ends up.
PFC near commie high
Hands On Museum
Zen Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom

Really though I'd have to agree with another poster in that what I mostly miss are due to changes in me i.e. missing the lateteen-earlytwenties kid who kicked around the diag off hours kicking hackysack in various states of mind and thought he was going to be a rock-star.
[User Picture]
Date:March 8th, 2007 02:06 am (UTC)
PFC on Packard... seconded!

Really though I'd have to agree with another poster in that what I mostly miss are due to changes in me ... he was going to be a rock-star.

:( Thirded.
Shaky Jake... - (Anonymous) - Expand
[User Picture]
Date:March 8th, 2007 02:33 am (UTC)
But some things have gotten better. The Ann Arbor Ultimate scene has grown by an order of magnitude. :-) There are now several places you can go to have LAN parties all night long. The city is growing up instead of out (or at least trying too), so there are and still will be plenty of parks and green spaces. You can play disc golf on the south side of town and go canoeing almost through the center. Those things are pretty cool. There's still a gaming convention every year- which totally blew me away when I first got here in 91, and I think it's just as good if not better than it was then. Pinball Petes is not only still around, but it's bigger than it used to be.

I just feel obligated to try to point out the bright side. :-) Sure some things are lost, but how much of that is just changing what the people here want? I am a firm believer in the idea that affluence beyond a certain level does more harm than good to one's life. This is an example. I also believe Ann Arbor is still a place where one could do great and wonderful things if one were willing to stand up and fight and devote time and energy to making it happen. There are just fewer and fewer people willing to do so.
[User Picture]
Date:March 8th, 2007 03:17 am (UTC)
That's definitely a fair point. I should caveat what i've said with the fact that, relative to many many places, A²'s still got a lot going for it.

I think much of my gripe is, again, the "seeing how it could be and asking 'why not?'" and not liking the hypotheses that seem to best answer that question. I haven't been here as long as some to be able to tell if the A² i dreamed of is also an A² that was, or if it was all just a silly dream and nothing more.
[User Picture]
Date:March 12th, 2007 07:30 am (UTC)
1. discount records
2. schoolkids records not in exile
2. cat's meow
3. big ten party store--not whatever pretentious york & morgan shit is there now.
4. ann arbor 1 & 2
5. natural wonders at briarwood
6. the party store that used to be where some cell phone store is now next to the state theater.
7. cava java
8. pre-club hip hop rick's... they used to have bands in there.

thankful it's still there:
1. peaceable kingdom
2. back room
[User Picture]
Date:March 12th, 2007 05:02 pm (UTC)
With you on most of these! (When Rick's had bands... yes, a gone and Golden Age...)

Re #3: I know Big 10 was a big part of local history. In Morgan & York's defense, tho, i think they're actually really good people -- just have a different kind of store is all. They kept the sign out front for the sake of local history, i think, which is pretty respectable. (...and if what i heard is true about some of the problems they inherited from Big 10 when they bought the place, they seriously did the past owner a favor...) *shrug* FWIW.
Date:March 26th, 2007 09:56 am (UTC)
I've been gone a long time, since 1972. Reading this makes me kind of not miss Ann Arbor, which really was a pretty amazing place to grow up in the 60's-70's. For one thing the public school educational system was exceptional, and there were lots of neat place places around town to eat or just go to...probably some of you current residents (or those who left more recently than I did) may remember some of them:

Rider's Hobby Shop on E. Liberty
The Beer Vault
The Blue Front
Bimbo's Pizza (I heard they closed down because of health code violations?)
Washtenaw Lanes (Ann Arbor's coolest bowling alley)
Leverett's Produce Stand (only during summer..all 6 weeks of it)
Kappler's Butcher Shop
Food & Drug Mart (Packard and Stadium)
Amy Joy Donuts (Stadium)
Kresge's downtown (near Drake's Sandwich shop)
Krazy Jim's Blimpie Burgers
Bolgos' Dairy

I haven't been back in around 30 years, but I sure have some great memories of Ann Arbor...from what I've read here and in Ann Arbor Is Overrated, I have sort of mixed feelings about coming back for a visit.

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