Stairway to Heaven, a student-focused store that inadvertently became a head shop, closed September 30 after thirty-five years in business, a casualty of the pandemic.

Arleen Kosak chose the Led Zeppelin song title for the store’s name as she and her late husband, Bob, climbed the steps to view their future retail space at S. State and William in 1987. It was their second boutique at the time, along with Birmingham-based Changes (also since closed), offering posters, casual apparel, sunglasses, and similar wares.

“Then we actually had a rogue employee who was operating a covert head shop unbeknownst to us,” Kosak recounts. “And once we found out we thought, ‘Well, if he’s doing so well doing that, then why don’t we do it?’ And that’s basically how it became a head shop.”

Customers over the years included the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, and Wavy Gravy. “Certainly Hash Bash was always the biggest day of the year,” Kosak says. She enjoyed seeking out distinctive glass smoking pipes at trade shows and using her master’s degree in biology to guide customers through their line of detox products.

Before Michigan legalized cannabis for medical and later recreational adult use, head shops feared being sanctioned for selling drug paraphernalia, so customers who mentioned illicit intentions might be denied sales.

Though one of her managers was strict about it, “I would say, ‘You know, I’m kind of hard of hearing, so I must not have heard what you said.’ Yeah, then usually they would catch on,” she recalls.

Bob passed away in 2004, and Kosak moved from Palmer Woods to downtown Ann Arbor about six years later. Business remained good, she reports, but efforts to secure federal pandemic relief were not accepted, leading to the closure. She believes the old, high-visibility corner space will need extensive work before its next occupants.

“I love the students. I love Ann Arbor,” she says, “I really was happy there. I’m very sad that it closed. But, you know, life goes on.” 

In fact, Kosak now works just steps away. “I’m still a shop girl,” she says, joking that she’s easily recognizable as the oldest employee at Bivouac.

Jordan Sparrow learned in 2022 just how different the grocery and restaurant worlds are, even if you own both on the ground floor of Kerrytown Market & Shops.

He closed Sparrow Kitchen in mid-November after opening in March, with this sign posted: “Due to low staff, Sparrow Kitchen will be closed until further notice.”

While Sparrow Market, including its butcher shop and its thirty employees, are “doing fine,” Sparrow tells the Observer that the diner serving classic American fare will not reopen.

“We’re done with it.”

The problem wasn’t with the community reception to the breakfast burritos, smashburgers, or Guernsey milkshakes. He’s checking out because finding and keeping enough restaurant workers to reliably meet the job’s demands “just became too burdensome,” he says. “Honestly, I don’t know how to be positive about it. It’s just a different stress load. All your business comes in like a one-hour rush.” 

The previous eatery, a popular street-food venture called Loomi, left a well-appointed space, and last spring hopes were high for a nice synergy, but Sparrow is beyond ready to cede the restaurant space: “It’s just a stressful world. I think a lot of people don’t stay in it long.”

He’s trying to find a new tenant to take over his lease and help diversify the indoor mall’s roster. “If we get another business in, then it kinda will bring more people in to help everybody,” he hopes.

The Hungry Howie’s in Plymouth-Green Crossings closed on November 25, according to Andrea Morgan, who’s worked at the nearby Subway for eight years. It had been in business there five years, replacing a Papa John’s, Morgan informs.

Unaffected are the city’s two remaining locations of the Madison Heights–based pizza and sub chain, on Washtenaw and W. Stadium. Both are operated by franchisee Jinil Patel of Ann Arbor.

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