Major Changes on Main Street
Marketplace: In the Works
by Sally Mitani
Four storefronts on the prime-time block of Main between Liberty and Washington have announced major changes. Occasionally, the Michigan-themed shop on the corner of Liberty and Main that specialized in gift baskets, closed at the end of February. Owner Linda Brinker had been on the high-profile corner for over twenty years: "She retired. She's known for a long time that this would be her last year," says Ben Curtis who manages the building for his father and uncle, John and Jim Curtis. He adds, "We're really excited about Cherry Republic. It's a good fit." Cherry Republic--maker of cherry jam, cherry balsamic vinegar, cherry salsa, cherry BBQ sauce ... well, you get the idea--is based in Glen Arbor. This will be its fourth retail store, the first one downstate. When it opens in May, Curtis promises "twenty-four feet of new windows. The entire interior of the store will be completely changed. You won't recognize it as the old store."
Sixteen Hands revealed in February that it will move in July. The arty little gallery specializes in handmade jewelry that's elegant and refined, yet a little off the beaten path. It started out in 1975 as a cooperative of eight craftspeople and gradually came to be owned by Jill Damon and Rick Wedel. Damon won't disclose the new location because in mid-March she hadn't signed the lease yet, but she says it's "off Main Street. Here, our rent keeps going up and up each year."
A few doors down, Shahin Uzunjian retired from tailoring. His store, called Shahin's, occupies a prime retail space between Espresso Royale and Peaceable Kingdom, but it has been pretty quiet in recent years, says Wedel at Sixteen Hands. Uzunjian owns the building and has found a tenant: it will soon be a Verizon store.
Also closing at the end of April is Barclay's. For three years after buying what was then Barclay Gallery, Dan Heikkinen struggled to crack the Main Street retail code. A collector of
Vargas and Gibson Girl prints, he added them to the gallery's collection of Japanese woodblocks, and when that didn't work, he added other art, then finally clothes, and he dropped "Gallery" from the title.
The bottom line, he says, is: "The rent's too high. We lost money thirty-four out of thirty-six months. When we turned it into clothing, it mostly did well until the cold weather hit. It's been three years but seems like going on fifteen."
The space has been rented to Heather O'Neal, owner of Eighth Street Trekkers' Lodge bed and breakfast. She has a garage business there selling Nepalese and Tibetan goods. Her new Main Street business, the Himalayan Bazaar, a partnership with veteran Mount Everest guide Pem Dorjee Sherpa, will open in June.
The following Calls & letters item appeared in the May, 2011 Ann Arbor Observer:
To the Observer:
We read with consternation that one of our tenants, Jill Damon of 16 Hands, located at 216 S. Main Street, suggested that she was leaving because we, her landlord, had been annually raising her rent (Marketplace Changes, April). This is simply not true.
Our company has a well-earned reputation for providing reasonable leases for our retail tenants. Our mission is to create lease structures so that all our tenants-from the Real Seafood Company to Espresso Royale Caffé to the Varsity Barber Shop-can succeed.
Our average retail tenancy is well over 20 years. 16 Hands has been our tenant since 1995, and in the past six years, its rent has increased by less than two percent. In addition, without Ms. Damon asking for our help, we unconditionally relieved her of thousands of dollars of lease obligations so that she could regroup her business. We did not cause her store's difficulties and departure.
We seriously debated whether to respond to the Observer article since it is not in our character to discuss business issues publicly. However, there are times, and this is one of them, when the truth must be stated.
Thank you for allowing us to respond.
Curtis Property Management
Curtis Commercial LLC
[Originally published in April, 2011.]