The Retail Retreat Continues
Vogel's has closed, and the Bead Gallery and Aunt Agatha's will soon follow.
From the May, 2018 issue
In April, Robin and Jamie Agnew announced that they would be closing Aunt Agatha's Mystery Bookshop in August after twenty-six years.
The couple cite a variety of reasons for the closing, but when first asked why, Robin immediately gestures to the construction crane parked across the street from their Fourth Ave. storefront (see Bandito's, below). "I don't think it's going away anytime soon," she says.
The Agnews say their spot between Washington and Liberty has always been a dead zone compared to Main St., and the Montgomery Houze condo project spilling out onto the street has only made matters worse.
"Brick-and-mortar, and used bookstores in general, a lot of them are closed across the country," says Jamie. Online retailers like Amazon are making it tough for booksellers everywhere, and "it doesn't help to have competition across the street," says Robin, referencing Literati at Fourth and Washington.
Add declining interest in mystery novels, and the one-two punch of a long winter with sparse parking for their older customers, and the Agnews felt the store wasn't sustainable anymore. Both, however, will remain active in the book world: Robin is starting a blog where she'll review mystery novels by women, and Jamie plans to sell their remaining inventory on their website. The Aunt Agatha's book club will continue to meet regularly, and the Agnews will still put together occasional author visits and other events at the downtown library.
Still, there's no denying the sense of loss. "There have been tears," says Jamie. For those who visited weekly, and those like the elderly woman who, Jamie says, would save her Social Security money to come in twice a year, an online presence won't be the same.
The couple will be lowering prices through August, and a closing event with author William Kent Krueger is set for August 26. "We really appreciate the people that shopped here," says Robin. "We've made some really good friends."
Aunt Agatha's Mystery Bookshop, 769-1114. 213 S. Fourth. Open through
August 26; Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m. auntagathas.com
A year and a half after Steve Gilzow's painting of Vogel's Lock & Safe appeared on the cover of our November 2016 issue, Robert and Denise Vogel have closed their 105-year-old shop on Washington St. In late March, the couple put a sign on their door (still framed by windows full of old keys) announcing the closure and their plans to partner with Pinckney-based Howlett Lock and Door "to service our current customers locksmith needs."
"I think people were a little shocked," says Robert Vogel, reached by phone on vacation in Florida. But he thinks customers will be happy with their successors. "They're a good company," he says of Howlett.
Robert's great-grandfather, German immigrant Gus Vogel Sr., opened what was originally a machine repair shop. When Gus Vogel III took it over, he reinvented it as a bicycle and sporting goods store.
David Vogel (Gus III's son, Robert's uncle, and current owner of the building) told us when we spoke to him last summer that the changeover to locks and safes happened naturally as Ann Arbor became less safe in the 1960s, and people started needing to lock their bikes and homes. Eventually, there was so much demand for locks that the family decided to drop the other products.
When asked if there was ever a possibility of a fifth generation at the store, Robert laughs. "We tried," he says, but his uncle never had any kids, and his own children had other plans. He also cites growing issues with the city as a reason for the couple's retirement.
"In my opinion, the city's making it very, very hard to be a small business and not a restaurant or bar," he says. "There's too many delivery trucks, there's too many fees. I had to pay for a dumpster fee ... I had to pay for sidewalk shoveling, which we should do ourselves, and the alley is just brutal."
Though retired from locksmithing, Robert's keeping his position as chief of the South Lyon fire department. He says he isn't sure what will happen with the building, but that selling is a likely option. "The real estate market is still pretty good in downtown Ann Arbor." (At least if you're the one selling.)
In yet another closing of an Ann Arbor fixture, the thirty-two-year-old Bead Gallery has announced its imminent departure. Connected boutique Adorn Me, which shares the old house on E. Liberty, will close along with its parent shop.
"Retail in downtown Ann Arbor is not what it used to be," says owner Julie VanDyke. "It's not the same ballgame anymore." Along with parking issues and declining public interest in crafting, she says a long commute, and her mother's recent health issues contributed to her decision.
As of mid-April, VanDyke had not yet announced an official closing date, but she says she will be selling discounted products, fixtures, and merchandising displays until the majority has been sold off. "I'd like to be done by May," she says.
The Bead Gallery will maintain an online Etsy store with a selection of both jewelry and jewelry-making supplies. Staff member Becky Foster will also continue to teach local beading classes at a location "to be announced."
The Bead Gallery, 663-6800. 311 E. Liberty. Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m. Closed Mon. bga2.com
[Originally published in May, 2018.]
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