Johnnie Rush Jr. closed his corner barber shop and retired after forty-five years working out of part of a former gas station. Sic Transit Cycles outgrew the space inside its two garage bays off Moore and upshifted to bigger digs at the other end of the block. And at the Broadway Party Store, a handwritten sign still stuck to the front door glass reads, “We are closed … Covid 19.” Inside the Victorian storefront, the dust of some thirty-one months casts a pall over shelves of untouched inventory.
“It’s like they turned out the lights and walked away, and whatever was there was there,” says Jim Koli, owner of the Northside Grill and other nearby properties, including the historic Anson Brown Block. “It’s kind of bizarre.”
The party store abuts the small building Rush shared with the bike shop, but the parcels have different owners. And while the store is stuck in limbo, the prospects for his building are looking up.
Rush retired in August 2020 and sold the building a year later to a group that plans to open a neighborhood coffee shop and bar called Lowertown Proper. The 1,378-square-foot building and its five-space parking lot listed for $410,000 and sold for $375,000, still well over triple its state equalized value.
“I was shocked,” says Koli. He says Rush approached him about buying, but “it’s like, not at that price.”
Lowertown Proper is on track for a liquor license and a deal with Ypsilanti-based Hyperion Coffee to invigorate mornings for the Northside neighborhood, according to Joe Bollinger, one of its three partners.
Bollinger also co-owns and runs Sic Transit Cycles, so he’s been around the block. With Peter Baker and Hubert Raglan, Bollinger is returning full circle to convert his old bike store and the barbershop into a hangout for nearby residents and workers.
“The demand that the neighborhood has articulated to me over the years is they want a place to gather,” he says. “They want a place to walk down to and have a beer with their neighbors.” The city awarded them one of eight new Class C liquor licenses Ann Arbor was allotted based on its increased population in the last census, pending final state approval.
While the coffee, cocktails, and kegs probably won’t flow until next summer, Bollinger is bullish on Broadway and its surroundings, given the river, the bike path, and several major recent, ongoing, and planned projects nearby. The Beekman on Broadway complex alone will total some 540 apartments when complete.
The future of the Broadway Party Store is cloudier. Susan Wineberg, co-author of Historic Ann Arbor: An Architectural Guide, reports that the building has been a grocery store since it was built by German immigrant August Hertz in 1874. It has operated under the Broadway name since 1958, and been in owner Eunice Choi’s family since 1992: her late father, Hisok Hi Lee, was the longtime principal shopkeeper, followed by her husband, David Choi.
Eunice Choi confirms that the pandemic closure is permanent but isn’t ready to discuss what might become of the property, which has a markedly higher valuation than the recent sale next door.
The taxes remain current, and Koli’s understanding is that the building and its parking lot will stay in the family for the foreseeable future and perhaps serve as something other than a party store under the vision of the next generation.
For now it sits still amid a dynamic and increasingly dense part of town. If Choi were interested in selling her highly visible vintage commercial building, she wouldn’t lack for offers or for know-how: she’s a real estate agent by trade.