“Why has the old Arby’s on Washtenaw been empty for so long, and are there any plans to do anything with it?” Jon Michael Darga asked in an email to a2view, the Observer’s email newsletter. “It feels like a great spot in a well-trafficked area, and I’ve been surprised that it’s been empty for almost a decade now!”
The Observer’s Marketplace Changes writer Micki Maynard says that she inquired about it once, and “it isn’t feasible for a national chain,” because it doesn’t have enough parking or room to add a drive-thru—serious limitations in an area without much foot traffic.
The defunct Arby’s isn’t the only former fast-food restaurant stuck in limbo: a Pizza Hut on Jackson Rd. has been vacant since 2015. Its signboard still has remnants of a final message referring customers to the chain’s location on Carpenter—but that one closed last year. Traditionally focused on sit-down dining, the chain struggled during the pandemic, and like all older Pizza Huts, Ann Arbor’s weren’t designed to accommodate takeout.
In contrast, even the pandemic couldn’t stop the Burger King on W. Stadium from finding a second life. Mexican fast-casual chain Chipotle bought it, stripped it to its steel frame, and completely rebuilt it. When it reopened last year, the line of cars waiting to pick up orders at the “Chipotlane” wrapped around the building and out onto Stadium.
The latest fast-food casualty is the McDonald’s on State south of I-94. Though it’s only been closed a few months, it could find a new tenant before the ghostly Arby’s does: it, too, has a drive-thru.