“Duane Renken owned the whole block for a very long time,” says Ingrid Sheldon, president of the nonprofit Ann Arbor Thrift Shop. The Thrift Shop is on that block, a well-trafficked but dreary stretch of cinder-block buildings and parking lots across from Arborland. Other tenants include Pure Sleep, Casual Male XL, Frame Factory, and Dollar Tree.
Renken and Sheldon know each other from the Rotary Club, among other things. She was four times mayor of Ann Arbor (1993-2000); he was twice president of the school board in the 1970s. Sheldon muses that maybe that’s how they first met: “My degree is in education, and I always paid pretty close attention to education politics.” The Renken Company had plans to redevelop the block but never got very far; last year Renken sold the block to A.F. Jonna Development.
Sheldon can also attach a face to that name. “Arkan Jonna is the brother of the Jonna who started the Merchant of Vino. That’s right, he’s the uncle of Matt and Marc Jonna, who own Plum Market.” Auguring the upscale groceries that were to come in later decades, Matt and Marc’s parents, Ed and Juliette Jonna, founded Merchant of Vino in 1974 and in the early 1990s opened one in the Plymouth Road Mall targeting the highly paid employees from Pfizer across the street.
But back to the block on Washtenaw: it’s being revamped into a single unified and updated mini-mall called Washtenaw Commons. “I’m very impressed with the block facade, which will integrate existing buildings into it,” Sheldon says. The Thrift Shop will move a few doors east into a rehabbed space that used to be Naked Furniture; then its current building will be demolished.
The new landlord “has been very respectful,” Sheldon says. “He’s trying to do things right. I understand that he has a very good reputation in the commercial real estate business. He wants to work with the current tenants.” She says things are moving fast, and she hopes to be in the new space by October.