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Robert Vogt, Erik Kissel, and Dudley the dog at the Blue Front

The Blue Front Is Back

With a new owner and a new business plan

by Micheline Maynard

From the September, 2020 issue

The Blue Front is a story of survival. The triangular store at the intersection of Packard, State, and Arbor streets has changed hands a number of times since the 1970s and was just about to close again in June when it was rescued by its new owner and Kerrytown resident Robert Vogt IV.

In mid-August, the Blue Front was set to hold its grand reopening. The business underwent a two-month renovation and shifted its direction from the one taken by its previous proprietor, Steve Blinder.

As is true for many other Ann Arborites, the Blue Front is part of Vogt's heritage. "Everybody in town has gone there at one point or another," says Vogt, who owns IOSiX, an automotive engineering company based in Saline.

The Blue Front dates to 1922; it was a cigar store when Ray Collins dropped out of U-M to buy it in 1927. Under what the Observer once called his "rather loose control," it grew into a cluttered but beloved corner store and newsstand.

When he died in 1978, Collins left the business and building to employee Jill Warren, whom he'd known all her life--she grew up across State St., where an apartment building is now. The business has since passed through a number of hands, but Vogt is planning to be there for a while: he's signed a ten-year lease.

Vogt says his goal is to shift the Blue Front away from the high-end wine and beer store that Blinder curated, and make it a corner store again. Though he's still sorting out its food lineup, he know he plans to carry Zingerman's cold-brew coffee. He also hopes to sell bagels and sandwiches, along with groceries, and stock lower-priced beer and wine than Blinder offered. His operating partner, Erik Kissel, has fifteen years of experience as a beer and wine distributor in Michigan and California and also was a manager at Ashley's.

Asked whether he has any retail sales experience, Vogt replied, "Zero." But

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he believes that by expanding the store's product line, he could eventually double sales from where they were under Blinder. (He declined to give a specific figure.)

Vogt says he's been alarmed to see the business contraction that's taken place in the wake of Covid-19, especially the closing of the Aut Bar in Kerrytown and the disappearance of the Espresso Royale chain.

"With the current situation, there are a lot of people who are very nervous" about the local business climate, he said. "We said we're willing to take the risk and see how it goes."

Blue Front, 701 Packard, (734) 929-4618. Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Fri & Sat. 11 a.m.-2 a.m.     (end of article)

[Originally published in September, 2020.]


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