Shoe stores out and on the brink
And Burger Fi exits Tower Plaza.
by Patti Smith
From the May, 2017 issue
The Famous Footwear store in the Oak Valley Center has closed. Some employees from that store have found work at the Arborland Famous Footwear, which remains open. A national chain with more than 1,000 stores, Famous Footwear offers dress, casual, and athletic shoes from popular brands.
Meanwhile, the Payless Shoe Source outlet at Briarwood has apparently dodged a bullet: it's not on the list of the nearly 400 stores to be closed immediately in a bankruptcy plan the discount chain filed early in April. The casualties include ten "underperforming" stores elsewhere in Michigan. The reprieve for the Ann Arbor store may be short-term, though; in press statements, the company said there may be more closings coming, and it is trying to renegotiate current leases.
Payless isn't just another victim of the shift toward online shopping--a March article in Bloomberg Businessweek detailed a grimy backstory. The chain was Exhibit A in an expose of how private-equity firms have enriched themselves at the expense of struggling companies. According to Bloomberg, Payless was already troubled when Golden Gate Capital and Blum Capital Partners bought it in 2012--and it got a lot sicker after they had the company borrow money to pay themselves $350 million in dividends. The magazine's list of retail chains similarly vampire-ized includes two that once had a local presence: Nine West and Mervyn's.
When Burger Fi opened on the ground floor of Tower Plaza on South University in 2013, it promised burgers from happy, well-fed cows and sides made from fresh potatoes and onions. In early April, it unexpectedly closed. Signs indicated that the restaurant was "closed indefinitely with no plans of reopening" and that the owner and staff thanked guests for their support.
In addition to burgers, hot dogs, and milk shakes, Burger Fi also sold beer and wine. The February 6, 2017 meeting of city council shows that Burger Fi was one of the restaurants listed to have its liquor license not renewed; however,
at the meeting on February 21 the objection was withdrawn and the application for the 2017-18 license year approved.
Neighbors had no idea why the restaurant closed. The cashier at Insomnia Cookies said she was "surprised as you are." Calls made to the chain's Florida headquarters were not returned.
Last month we quoted commercial broker Jim Chaconas's predictions that our local American Apparel was likely to stay open awhile even though the brand had been bought out by Gildan. Before the April issue hit the stands, American Apparel's three storefronts on Liberty were vacant. When asked if he wanted to update his forecast, Chaconas, not one to dwell on the past, shrugged and said: "They're closed."
Got a retail or restaurant change? Email Sabine Bickford at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave voicemail at (734) 769-3175 x 309.
[Originally published in May, 2017.]
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