While State Street has seen an influx of new businesses over the past few years, the changes to Ann Arbor’s Main Street have been more subtle. The street, known for its unique shopping and more upscale restaurants, is becoming increasingly food-centric.
Maura Thomson, executive director of the Main Street Area Association, said the street transformed from a shop-heavy area in favor of an abundance of restaurants in the past five years.
Dennis Serras, owner of Real Seafood Company since 1975 said he has watched Main Street’s decline in shopping attractions since the opening of Briarwood Mall in the 1973. Since then, the surrounding eateries have become more contemporary, adding fresh faces to older locations, Serras said.
Serras is a co-founder of Main Street Ventures, which owns Gratzi, Palio, Chop House and La Dolce Vita on Main Street, and Carson’s American Bistro on Plymouth Road. The company also owns restaurants in Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia and Florida.
“It’s a testimony to the success of the restaurants that have been here for a long time,” Thomson said. “Other restaurateurs see the success that restaurants are having in downtown Ann Arbor and they see that this community really demands quality food and does spend some of their extra earnings on going out to dinner.”
Although Ann Arbor is home to the University, Serras said the restaurants are often expensive along Main Street and draws an older crowd than college students.
“They’re higher end; I mean, you can go into them and see the pricing on the menu. I would say the demographic is slightly older than undergrad; the undergrads come when their parents are picking up the bill,” Serras said.
Maggie Long, managing partner and executive chef for the Jolly Pumpkin, also said their primary business is usually Ann Arbor locals and graduate students, adding that undergraduates usually live too far away to frequent the area.
Long said patrons are attracted by the local atmosphere and “walkability” of the street, saying the distance from campus helps avoid the bustling student foot traffic of State Street or South University Avenue.
“Main Street is easy to read. You can stand on the block and look and see where you need to go,” Long said.
The street’s accessibility and vibrancy is not an accident, Thomson said.
“We have lamp posts that were put up on Main Street twenty-plus years ago; they’re a little bit more decorative. We have some mature trees, we have our planter beds, we have fairly wide sidewalks — all of these things that you don’t necessarily think about as a pedestrian but that does sort of contribute to how you feel when you’re on Main Street,” Thomson said.
LSA freshman Kaia Parenti has been touring the city’s food scene with her older brother Nicholas, a senior at the University. The two of them visit a new restaurant every week. Parenti has explored the dining experience in many different Ann Arbor neighborhoods now but says that Main Street has its own “welcoming vibe.”
“There’s a variety of different restaurants and places to eat, and they’re all different but they all look very intriguing,” Parenti said.
While Parenti admits the prices on Main Street can be steep, she said she’s happy to pay to support good food, and the money is worth the trip.