Set to be the newest addition to the Ann Arbor sandwich shop circuit, Panera Bread is expected to open for business on South Thayer Street in mid-March.

Located across from Hill Auditorium and next to the Jamaican Jerk Pit, the new restaurant will be the fifth Panera Bread in Ann Arbor.

The new restaurant, which took over the space that formerly housed the University’s payroll office, will cover over 4,200 square feet and span both levels of the building.

Lee Carmona, area director for Panera Bread, said additional seating was added to make the location student-friendly and cater to the needs of computer users. Patrons will order upstairs and have the choice of seating on both levels.

Carmona said between 40 and 50 new associates and managers will be hired to staff the restaurant.

Despite the state’s ailing economy, Carmona said it had little impact on the decision to open a new restaurant.

“We’re in pretty good financial shape as a company and we’re going to continue to grow,” he said. “The reason we’ve committed to Ann Arbor is because the community has been great to us.”

Even with the presence of a new competitor, though, other area businesses are maintaining a positive outlook toward the new business.

“Competition is good for everybody,” said Ken Smith, general manager of Cosí on North State Street. “There are quite a few businesses like that, but let’s be honest, there’s a market for that.”

Dave Seagren, general manager of Earl of Sandwich, which is also on State Street, had an even more positive attitude.

“I think it’s going to be good for business,” he said. “Anytime you get a big, reputable company like Panera come to the downtown area, it’s going to increase traffic. Maybe they won’t stop in the first time they come by, but eventually people are going to notice our restaurant and come try us out.”

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