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Beloved Businesses in Transition

Common Language is closing and Bagel Fragel has lost its lease.

by Sabine Bickford

From the December, 2018 issue

When a Tumblr post encouraging people to order from the struggling Common Language Bookstore went viral last spring, husbands Keith Orr and Martin Contreras thought at first that the Internet might save their small LGBT bookstore from the very problems it had created for them.

"We got some really nice online sales, and we thought 'Oh, this is gonna do it for us,'" says Orr. But the bump subsided, and they found themselves back where they started, with a beloved but increasingly unsustainable business.

Common Language--originally focused primarily on lesbian and feminist books--opened in 1991 on S. Fourth Ave. "Had we not bought it in 2003, it probably would have closed back then" says Contreras. "It was our favorite bookstore" adds Orr. "It just seemed unimaginable not having a gay bookstore in Ann Arbor--but here we are."

In 2005 they moved it to a building they owned next door to the Aut Bar. That allowed them to avoid rising rent costs, but in a time where nearly half of all book sales in the U.S. are on Amazon, that wasn't enough. Two days after they announced a store-closing sale, they didn't sell a thing all day. "Zero sales days, you just can't survive that," says Orr.

Everything in the store is currently 30 percent off, and the discount will increase to 50 percent in mid-ecember. Orr and Contreras say it's possible the store will continue in some form online, but they have yet to make concrete plans.

"Martin and I are ready to retire," Orr says. They are planning on selling all four of their Braun Court buildings--Aut Bar, Common Language, the Jim Toy Community Center, and Spiral Tattoo--but they expect to continue running the bar after the building is sold. They will focus their efforts there for the foreseeable future.

"It's going to be a difficult adjustment for us," says Orr, "and the community. We've been happy to be stewards of this place."

Common Language Bookstore, 317 Braun

...continued below...

Ct. (734) 663-0036. Open through Dec. 21. Sun. & Mon. 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Tue.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.


After a viral article and a whirlwind of community support, MD Bagel Fragel mother-and-son owners Patricia and Michael Rockette still aren't sure the twenty-five-year-old business (and only home of the deep-fried Fragel) will make it to 2019.

In October, the two were told by their landlord's lawyer that they had two days to vacate their spot in Broadway Square, the small strip mall on Plymouth across from the Courtyard Shops. "I called the lawyer and was like 'OK, I've got twenty years' worth of equipment in here. We're currently open," says Patricia. "How can I be out in two days when I'm still baking and making everything?"

The lawyer relented and gave them until November 30--and Patricia started telling customers that would be their last day. One of them happened to be a WDIV-TV reporter, which led to an article on the station's website that was shared over Facebook. An uproar followed.

Bagel and Fragel fans found the work number and email address for the landlord's lawyer. They let him know of their dissatisfaction--and also flooded the shop with so much business that Patricia says she has "sold out every day since the article came out" and has had to close early.

It worked--kind of. The lawyer called Patricia to tell her she could stay through December, but she would have to pay triple her previous rent.

The shopping center has been sold, and it appears that the bagel shop will be replaced by a marijuana retailer. The Rockettes weren't sure if the two events were connected, but it looks like they are: the Ohio company that bought Broadway Square is listed as Navarre Crossings, LLC. According to city records, Martin Yousif has applied for a permit to sell marijuana at Broadway Square. Yousif appears to be a partner with Key Hotel and Property Management, which owns a Navarre Plaza in Ohio and used to own a Navarre Crossings there.

Since the public outcry, Bagel Fragel has added a website and social media accounts with links to a community-led GoFundMe page raising money for a potential relocation. Despite the outpouring of support, Patricia doesn't think the landlords will grant another extension. "The people from Ohio don't know the Ann Arbor community," she says. "They don't know about the history of the Fragel--and they don't care."

MD Bagel Fragel, 1760 Plymouth (Broadway Square). (734) 332-1020. (Open through Dec. 31). Mon. 6 a.m.-1 p.m., Tue.-Sun. 6 a.m.-2 p.m.     (end of article)

[Originally published in December, 2018.]


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