Arbor Hills Crossing at Washtenaw and Platt shuns the big-mall paradigm of anchor stores flanked by smaller, more transient shops. But Zola Bistro, if not the anchor, is the nerve center for the complex. Smack in the center and with a menu that welcomes any kind of eating–breakfast, brunch, lunch, snacks, dinner, and dessert–it’s hard not to stop in for something.

That seems to be what the developers, Chicago-based North Shore Properties and the local Campus Realty, had in mind. “They came to us and asked us to open a restaurant,” says Alan Zakalik.

Zakalik and wife Hediye Batu own downtown’s Cafe Zola. Zakalik, a software engineer, until now had been more of a silent partner, but he’s sort of an architect wannabe, and Zola downtown is a favorite hangout of the university-affiliated architectural crowd. So Zakalik quit his job at EDS, hired U-M architecture prof Craig Borum and his company, PLY, and embarked on the project to create a second Zola that echoes the earthy, industrial flavor of the downtown Zola but with lighter, more modern lines. “Instead of real bricks, we have these wooden bricks,” Zakalik says, pointing to a floating sculpture on the back wall that was assembled onsite by U-M architecture students. And as at the downtown Zola, a substantial counter dominates the room, this one of Carrara marble, rather than poured concrete. Catie Newell, another U-M architecture prof, made the hand-blown glass light fixtures above it.

Zola Bistro’s menu overlaps quite a bit with Cafe Zola’s, but “we’re focusing more on small plates–almost tapas, you might say–at dinnertime,” says Zakalik. They’re also experimenting with new items–a kale salad, a chili dog, a chocolate waffle.

Zakalik says he and his team of architects are working on the noise problem–at peak times, the high, hard ceiling amplifies the crowd a little too much, though it’s perfect during the quieter hours when “you like to have a little noise, a little energy.”

Zola Bistro, 3030 Washtenaw (Arbor Hills Crossing, Building B), 477-8088. Sun.-Thurs. 7 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 7 a.m.-11 p.m.

“Oh my gosh,” says Courtney Looney. “Between the Glass Box, North Face, and Zola, I could totally spend my whole paycheck.” Thirty-three-year-old Looney is manager of LILL Studio, a design-your-own-handbag business next door to Zola. This is LILL’s first store outside of Chicago, which has three, though LILL has extended itself to a few other places using the Tupperware model.

That’s how Looney, who just moved here from Phoenix, got her start. Several years ago, Looney was visiting her best friend, who had moved to Chicago, and together they discovered LILL. Looney, who had a day job as an administrator in a construction business, brought LILL merchandise back with her to Phoenix and held some home parties.

You can buy any of the sample bags on display, but that would be missing the point. With forty styles and about 140 fabrics to choose from, the idea is to make a completely unique product. Such stars as Jennifer Garner, Debra Messing, and Susan Sarandon have.

Looney fetches the bag she brought in to work that morning, one of about ten she owns, a “Roxy,” with black-on-black circles as the main fabric, gray basket-weave side panels, with more adventurous touches inside (bright pink twill) and on the strap (black, white, and pink “City Block”). “We get a generous discount,” Looney says, but the Roxy would cost the rest of us about $150. Sewn by a Chicago seamstress, a custom bag arrives about three or four weeks after you place your order.

Looney says she just ordered LILL’s biggest bag, the “Paula,” to haul around the snow boots she just bought at North Face. “I’ve never been in Michigan in the winter,” she says, but she’s stoked: “I have an aunt in Alpena.”

LILL Studio, 3030 Washtenaw (Arbor Hills Crossing, Building B), 975-8696. Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

Bluemercury is the fifty-eighth store in a cosmetics chain owned by Marla and Barry Jon Beck. Manager Shakiba Farokhrani says that the Becks have a thing for the stars and planets, which are also the inspiration for the Becks’ own cosmetic line M61 (apparently a reference to the Messier 61 galaxy).

Shakiba arrived in Ann Arbor from Iran in 1983 as a bride (she didn’t know any English, but “I knew French, so I took French classes to learn English”). In 2004, she sold her Golden Needle bridal shop and entered the skin care business, selling Clarins in the aisle at Marshall Fields. “I sold so much that they moved me to Bobbi Brown.”

Bluemercury sells a variety of high-end brands that you otherwise can’t get any closer than Somerset mall in Troy, says Farokhrani. Then she scoots away to stop an African American woman from buying the wrong moisturizer. “You and I have enough oil in our skin,” she says to her conspiratorially. “You need a hydrating tinted moisturizer. Let me tell you a little secret. Do your hydration,” she says, leading her to another brand.

3070 Washtenaw, suite 103 (Arbor Hills Crossing, Building D), 477-9000, Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m.

Brooks Brothers opened its Flatiron shop at Arbor Hills. It’s only the eighth in the country, says manager Abbey Clay, and aims to attract a younger clientele than three-button-suit Brooks Brothers stores.

The look is decidedly preppie, with a lot of repp ties and tartan scarves on display. Brooks Brothers has a love-hate relationship with its Ivy League reputation. Surprisingly, Brooks Brothers brought democracy to menswear–it invented the repp tie, whose stripes run the opposite direction of a regimental tie, as a kind of rebuke to the British gentry and their sacred and complicated striped-tie etiquette.

Brooks Brothers Flatiron Shop, 3030 Washtenaw (Arbor Hills Crossing, Building B), 477-9113. Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. noon-6 p.m.