Though the face of Ann Arbor is changing with independently owned stores like Shaman Drum closing up shop and chains like Five Guys Burgers and Fries moving in to replace them, local business owners and leaders in the State Street and Main Street areas say they believe the city will continue to be a thriving hub full of locally-owned restaurants and shops.
Maura Thomson, executive director of the Main Street Area Association, said Main Street caters to those looking for high-end fashion, home decor and food. She added that the area’s success can be attributed to its solid businesses and low turnover rate.
“We have quite a bit of longevity,” she said.
Thomson said that despite the turbulent economy in the recent past, the Ann Arbor community has been consistently supportive of local businesses.
“The past couple years have been really tough, but we are really lucky,” Thomson said, mentioning that this past year saw an increase in sales for businesses in the the Main Street Area Association.
While Main Street establishments continue to attract consumers interested in supporting local businesses, turnover on State Street may lead to a greater presence of national and global chains on campus.
Ed Davidson, owner of Bivouac — an outdoors supplies store that has been located on State Street for 37 years — said he remembers the campus McDonald’s that opened on Maynard Street in 1976 and hopes that the fast food restaurant wouldn’t survive today if it re-opened on campus. Davidson also said he’s concerned about the 7-Eleven location that will open its doors at the end of the year on South State Street in the space formerly occupied by Ritz Camera.
“In the last few years, it’s been more national chains or regional chains versus locally owned,” said Davidson. “I wish it weren’t so.”
Davidson said this trend may be due in part to the inability of local businesses to compete with national chains, which generally have more money at their disposal. Throughout his time on State Street, Davidson said he has had to change his products to meet the evolving demands of his customers to remain competitive.
Despite the fact that national chains like 7-Eleven and CVS/Pharmacy will be moving to State Street soon, Davidson said he’s confident Ann Arbor will remain a vibrant city that is welcoming to independently owned businesses.
“It has a great future because there’s so many people … between students and professors and tourists,” said Davidson.
Tom Heywood, executive director of the State Street Association, agreed saying he still has faith that Ann Arbor will stay healthy, regardless of the apparent influx of national chains to State Street.
“While it seems there is a lot of national chains … society has more national chains than it does independent businesses,” Heywood said.
Heywood added that landlords always need tenants and national chains are always looking for good opportunities, while independent businesses are also looking for affordable spaces.
Heywood said he thinks Ann Arbor businesses are able to survive in the financial downturn due to the 60,000 University-affiliated people who frequent local businesses.
“(Ann Arbor) is one of the healthiest downtowns in Michigan, primarily because of the residents and the University,” Heywood said.
Heywood said the shops along State Street have been able to adapt to the ever-changing environment either by keeping up with shifting product demand or by constructing new stores. He added that it is impossible to predict the future of State Street, but he is confident the area will keep its spirit.
“I think the neighborhood is going to get even more vibrant in the next five or six years,” said Heywood. “I’m optimistic, you can call me crazy.”
David Jones, owner of White Market, said that in his 27 years as owner of the store, he has seen many businesses come and go in the State Street and greater downtown areas. The turnover, he said, is just part of business.
“Things change all the time,” Jones said, adding that he has seen five or six different businesses occupy the space next to White Market during his tenure as manager.