A Trio of New Owners
At Top Drawer, Lodi Farms, and Bill's Beer Garden
From the May, 2021 issue
The Top Drawer consignment clothing shop on South Industrial Hwy. closed briefly at the end of February, when founders Diane Norman and Kathy Buhr retired. In mid-April, it sprang back to life under new owners Alicia Frenette and Brittany Tobias.
Frenette is originally from Holland, Michigan, while Tobias grew up in Kalamazoo. Both moved to Ann Arbor with their husbands to raise their families. Frenette is the mother of three grown children, while Tobias has two youngsters.
The women met in 2014, and both became frequent Top Drawer shoppers. At some point, Tobias mentioned to Norman that she'd be interested in buying the store when the founders were ready to retire.
When the moment came, Norman got in touch with Tobias to see if she was serious. Tobias then called Frenette.
"She asked me if I would want to do it" with her, Frenette recalls. She quickly agreed. Since buying the shop, "my love for Top Drawer is growing," she says. "We're having a blast."
During the downtime they installed new carpet, painted, rearranged the fixtures, and gave the shop "a lighter look," Tobias says.
Top Drawer plans to carry the same brands as its predecessor, but Tobias says there will be more focus on active wear and business-casual clothing, reflecting what's become popular during the pandemic. They sell a full range of sizes, from petite to plus.
"I hope we can capture all the women who loved us before," Tobias says.
At press time, the store had a mix of designer items, such as silk blouses (they recently sold a Dolce & Gabbana top for $175 that retailed at $995), shoes, and purses. The handbag inventory included a collection of Kate Spade bags, new with tags, and some Coach pieces.
There is now a drawer full of toys, both for sale and to occupy little ones while their parents shop. Tobias, who has a one-year-old, says, "We want to be the kind of place that appeals to new moms."
weeks, Tobias plans to update Top Drawer's website and promote the store on Facebook and Instagram. To reflect that increased marketing expense, she's changed Top Drawer's consignment split.
Instead of the previous 50-50 divide between store and seller, Top Drawer will pay consigners 40 percent of the sales price and keep 60 percent.
Tobias hopes the stepped-up marketing effort will sell items faster and in greater volumes. That will let the new owners pay consigners more quickly and sell a larger percentage of the clothes they drop off.
They plan to keep items on the sales floor for one or two seasons. Anything that hasn't sold by then will either be returned to the consigner or donated to a local charity.
Tobias says consigners are welcome to bring in spring and summer clothing during the store's hours and don't need an appointment, although they might want to call first to see whether the store is busy.
The partners say Top Drawer fills a vital resale role. "There are so many holes now, with Treasure Mart and some other stores gone," Tobias says. "We're so excited to keep this shop open."
Top Drawer, 1960 South Industrial Hwy., (734) 994-4646. Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Closed Sun. topdrawera2.com
Greg Wilson grew up in Ann Arbor and met his wife, Sheena, when they were students at Michigan State. After both earned degrees in landscape and nursery management, Greg founded Canopy Landscapes with his brother Alex in 2002.
They started out mowing lawns and gradually grew Canopy into a full-service firm, offering lawn maintenance, planting, landscape design, and water features, as well as snow removal and holiday lighting installation.
But Greg and Sheena had a lingering dream. "We always talked about having a garden center," Greg says. "We've been in the landscaping business for nineteen years, and it seemed like a next good fit."
Browsing on a trade website, he spotted a blind listing for a garden center that sounded attractive. The ad was placed by Dan and Jane Riddle, longtime owners of Lodi Farms. They had drafted a five-year plan towards retirement, which included selling the property, Jane said in a note to the Observer.
The Riddles also started out as landscape contractors. They founded Timberscapes in 1986, moved it to the corner of Wagner and Waters Rds. in 1988, and in 1992 bought the property, added a retail nursery, and changed the name to Lodi Farms.
After the Riddles answered the ad last May, the two couples corresponded for several weeks. "We didn't know them at all," Greg says. After meeting in July to walk the property, and following subsequent negotiations, the Wilsons became Lodi's new owners.
The Riddles have moved to Grand Haven and continue to operate a fifty-six-acre wholesale tree farm in Parma, which has been renamed Trees of the Field, taken from the Bible verse Isaiah 55:12.
A confidentiality agreement kept the Riddles from announcing the sale before now, Jane emails.
"I couldn't say anything to my customers, so I didn't get to say goodbye," she writes. "In 28 years, my customers were really my friends, and I'll miss everyone."
The Wilsons have incorporated Canopy Landscapes into Lodi's location and have made extensive updates to the property.
The garden area has been redesigned, and they plan to add more annuals like ground covers, as well as shrubs, seeds, and vegetable seedlings to Lodi's lineup.
By fall or next spring, Greg expects to offer more bulk material, such as different types of mulch, and he plans to sell more decorative garden items.
For now, however, combining the two businesses and getting Lodi's spring business going have taken all their attention. "The whole industry is insanely busy," Greg says.
Some commuters who've switched to working from home have discovered gardening and are eager to learn more. "The nursery business is getting off to a brisk start this season," he says.
As a result, Lodi is opening earlier each day and will be open for six Sundays in May and June, the height of the spring planting season.
The extra hours won't necessarily mean bigger profits, however. "Revenue doesn't change that much in the landscaping world. It's how much work you can accomplish," Greg says.
He hopes to conduct gardening workshops down the road, but Lodi "doesn't have the space to do it right now," he says.
Nor does he want to spread himself too thin. The Wilsons, parents of three-and-a-half-year-old son Finn, expected a new baby to arrive in April. "It's going to be a busy spring," he says.
Lodi Farms Nursery, 2880 S. Wagner Rd, (734) 665-5651. Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Sun. in May and June 11 a.m.-3 p.m. lodifarms.com
Nine years ago, Bill Zolkowski and longtime friend Mark Hodesh opened Bill's Beer Garden in the south parking lot at Downtown Home & Garden, then owned by Hodesh.
It was the first completely outdoor beer garden in Michigan, and it took some convincing for the state to approve a license for what was a 162-seat enterprise, selling craft beer and wine. But they pulled it off, and when Hodesh became sole owner in 2016, he kept the Bill's name.
Hodesh sold Downtown Home to Kelly Vore in 2014 and closed Mark's Carts, a food court on Washington, in 2017. But until last year, he still owned the beer garden, and he then quietly began a legal process to sell it.
The transition was finalized in mid-March. Bill's Beer Garden is now officially owned by Scot Greig, the proprietor of Ypsilanti-based Tavern Management.
Greig, who according to public records also owns the Necto dance club, says the pair decided not to announce the change but let the news seep out "organically." Unlike Hodesh, one of downtown's most visible personalities, Greig says he'd rather stay behind the scenes. "I tell people I'm the janitor," he jokes.
Asked whether he plans any major changes, Greig replies, "Not a thing."
But people who might not have visited the beer garden since the pandemic began will notice a few differences. The most notable is a six-person limit on the size of parties that can sit at the beer garden's now socially distanced tables.
Groups standing in line on Ashley or Liberty must be six feet apart; water is served from inside the shed; and patrons must wear masks when they are not drinking or eating (olives are available only for the first hour of service).
Sadly, Greig says the beer garden won't host any large events in 2021, which means there won't be any festivities like the Issues & Ale presentations by Michigan Radio or concerts put on by the University Musical Society, which filled the property in the past.
But this year, the beer garden reopened on schedule in March, and Greig says its former owner is often on hand. "Mark is down here probably ten nights out of fourteen," he says.
Bill's Beer Garden, 218 S. Ashley, (734) 369-8001. Hours and days change monthly; see billsbeergarden.com
[Originally published in May, 2021.]
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