Quality generally comes with a high price tag and for many years, Main Street has projected a chic, pricey image, sending people away to State Street for a more economical night out. While serving as a draw for some, Main Street rumors of $12 dollar martinis have held students and locals alike back from becoming area regulars. While students have ventured to Rush Street, a newer Main Street tapas bar, for a more upscale night out, they have not yet realized the full potential of the area.
In an attempt to shed its “parents only” image, Main Street has found fresh ways of attracting both a younger and a more diverse crowd. With this new tactic, Main Street businesses have created an informal, unstated coalition, each business doing its part to create a stylish yet approachable atmosphere that carries over from bars and music venues to shops and cafes.
No longer just for special occasions or parent visits, students have come to Main Street for its unique nightlife, a refreshing replacement from the student bars that normally dominate the weekends.
“Main Street is less dirty and less fratty,” said LSA senior Becky Eisen. “It’s not as average as State Street, and the restaurants are a lot better.”
One such venue is Live at JP’s, located just a block from Main on the corner of First and Huron, which offers live music, dancing and a no cover policy. It’s student-friendly atmosphere and pricing fits students’ tastes, but Live at JP’s has remained mostly untouched by a majority of the student body.
Also part of Main Street’s refreshed look is the comedy club Improv Inferno, which offers the only improv comedy in the area and involves the audience into its skits. Despite the unique approach to entertainment, Improv Inferno is yet another Main Street night spot frequented mainly by an older crowd with rare attendance by students. “One thing that drew us is the new comedy club, the Inferno,” said Ann Arbor resident Elizabeth Sieczka, “It’s the only improv comedy around, but it was mostly people my age, like 20s and early 30s.”
Yet, there is an overall increase in student presence on Main Street even if it remains slight. “I’m surprised at how much intergenerational mixing there is these days.” said Sieczka, “College students never used to go down to Main Street.”
Eisen has also taken notice of the rising stature of Main Street and is not deterred by the distance and higher prices. “My mom said Main Street used to be a dump. She was amazed at how different it is now. I go there one or two times a week now,” she said.
Clothing stores in particular have taken notice of the lack of student presence on Main Street. In hopes of getting people to shop, play and stay on Main Street, stores are now welcoming shoppers until 9 p.m. on the weekends. Hoi Polloi, a clothing boutique that opened in April 2004, tries to woo shoppers not just with impeccable hand-picked pieces but with what owners Lisa and Ed Shedlock call “a shopping experience.” With customers ranging from nine to 79 years old, the boutique tries to cater to anyone who walks through its doors, which translates into anything from putting together a formal outfit for shoppers to supplying bored boyfriends with beer and football on the TV that sits on an antique table outside the dressing rooms. The plush atmosphere of the store presents an aura of elegance and funk at the same time, which echoes its clientele as well.
“Unlike most stores, we offer a cross-generational selection. We offer lines that start at $39 and at $300,” said store manager Robin Reinhart.
“Students are starting to wander in, and they are impressed with what they see,” she added. So while the adventurous few have moved away from boutiques closer to campus, the store is relying on word of mouth, later hours and attentive service to draw in the rest. But will they come?
One way in which students are making a presence on Main Street is in the daytime locations that serve as study locations more removed from the fight for study space on campus. On a weekend day, row of laptops and notebooks can be seen glowing from the windows of place like Sweetwaters Cafe. Serving the usually cafe fare, along with some more gourmet treats, Sweetwaters attracts crowds at both of its Ann Arbor area locations, while maintaining a low-key atmosphere. The smaller crowds, more parking (there’s a parking lot across the street), and long hours (open until midnight daily) have made the move from State Street easier for some students.
While many Main Street venues are keeping longer hours and are varying prices to accommodate a younger crowd, the unique venues – such as Alley Bar on W. Liberty, which is a more casual version of The Brown Jug – have yet to attract the majority of students. Those that have ventured to Main Street have blended easily into the traditionally older scene an created a cross-generational atmosphere that Main Street strives for, but nonetheless have not secured the area as a destination for eating, shopping and entertainment. Still, Main Street businesses are still working to accommodate everybody.
“One thing we all have in common down here is we want to make (Main Street) a destination,” Reinhart said.