Farewell to Kitchen Port
And other retail closings
by Tony McReynolds & Sally Mitani
Published in March, 2009
The late activist attorney Art Carpenter came up with the idea of Kitchen Port forty years ago, when he and a bunch of his friends got tired of going to New York and Chicago to buy high-end cookware. It worked well for a long time, but on January 24, the store closed for good.
Kitchen Port opened in the basement of the triangular building at Fifth Avenue and Detroit Street. It moved across Fifth a year later to Kerrytown's second floor, where it remained until moving to Scio Township four years ago.
The move to a space on Zeeb Road across from Meijer raised some eyebrows, but company president Roberta Shrope says the new location was good for the store: "We were actually doing better out there. We knew from our mailing list that most of our customers lived on the west side of Ann Arbor."
Shrope spent thirty years with the company, the last twenty-three as president. And while Kitchen Port was a corporation with forty-three shareholders, she's always been the one with the most to lose if it ever went under. "I have been the one who has always guaranteed the line of credit, and I've done it with my house," she says. So when she went over the books for December and discovered that sales were down 29 percent from the previous year, she had to make a hard choice: "I decided that this being my sixty-fifth year of age, I no longer wanted to put my house up."
The shareholders tried to sell the business rather than just close up shop, and Shrope says they had a couple of interested parties-but when neither deal worked out, closing was the only option. "So it was a good forty-year run," she says. "We paid all the vendors, we paid everybody, and just kind of slipped into the mist."
When Seajoys Kitchen opened on North Main a year ago, many people saw the name and assumed it was a
seafood restaurant. In fact, despite the name and the image of a ship's wheel on the sign, Seajoys was an Indian restaurant owned by Shijoy Kallungal. "Seajoy" was a pun on Kallungal's first name (pronounced "Shee-joy"), and the wheel alluded to his other business, a vacation booking service called Seajoys Cruise Club. The dissonance between what the sign said and what the menu said probably isn't the only reason Seajoys closed its doors without warning late last year, but it certainly didn't help. Repeated phone calls to Kallungal went unanswered, and the Cruise Club's phone is disconnected.
The Jamaican Jerk Pit, the tiny slice of the Caribbean wedged between the Bell Tower Hotel and the former Comerica Bank on Thayer, is closed, confirm owners Beth and Steve Welch, speaking from their home in Jamaica, where they own the Lost Beach Resort hotel. The Welches, who own the Jamaican Jerk Pit property as well, say it's possible they will lease the space to another Caribbean restaurant. Though they own several other properties in Ann Arbor, they now consider themselves retired.
[Originally published in March, 2009.]
On April 5, 2009, Robert wrote:
Sad to see it go. I bought my first kitchen items from the Kerrytown store, although I can't think why as a student I was paying full retail price rather than buying used from the Treasure Mart. Perhaps the idea of a previously-owned wooden stirring spoon didn't appeal to me.
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