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Posted on Thu, Jan 12, 2012 : 2:21 p.m.

Sole Sisters shop in downtown Ann Arbor to shut down

By Lizzy Alfs

Sole Sisters 4.JPG

Owner Tamar Fowler announced plans to close Sole Sisters on East Liberty Street at the end of January.

Erica Hobbs |

Tamar Fowler, owner of downtown Ann Arbor’s Sole Sisters boutique, announced that she plans to close the shop at 209 E. Liberty St. by the end of the month.

Fowler first opened Sole Sisters — an independently owned boutique with other locations in Metro Detroit — on South Fourth Avenue in July 2008. The store offers shoes, accessories, handbags and some clothing.

Since moving around the corner to East Liberty in March 2010, Fowler said business briefly picked up, but started slowing down around springtime.

A combination of decreased foot traffic, the unstable economy, parking difficulties and other personal reasons triggered Fowler’s decision to close.

“Of course, I think the economy had a huge impact on everyone’s sales,” she said. “In the last couple months, sales have definitely decreased. A lot of stores in the area have closed and we got less foot traffic.”

She added: “There’s also the hassle of parking and people afraid to get a ticket. It’s hard when you can just go to the mall and park for free and you’re enclosed, so no matter what the weather is, you’re comfortable.”

One of her concerns with the downtown area, she said, is the ratio of restaurants to retailers.

“Even though retail sales are soft, it seems like the restaurants are still steady,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s because people have to eat so they support the restaurants - and we do have a lot of great restaurants - but sometimes I feel like [Ann Arbor] is flooded with them and not so much retail stores.”

Fowler said she had a lot of loyal customers throughout the years, and noticed people appreciated Sole Sisters’ “moderate” price range. Shoes were typically priced between $45 and $160.

One of her biggest difficulties, she said, was targeting a broad demographic.

Two additional employees will continue to work at the store until it closes at the end of the month. Everything in the boutique is currently 30 percent off, and Fowler plans to increase the sales in the next two weeks.

She also plans to launch a new website to sell shoes, accessories and handbags in the next few months. She said she'd consider opening up another brick-and-mortar store somewhere down the line.

Michael Yi, owner of the East Liberty Street building, said a listing for the nearly 1,200-square-foot space went up yesterday with Dan Stewart of Sperry Van Ness/Stewart Commercial Group.

Yi said despite Sole Sisters’ struggles, he thinks demand for a retail space in that area is still fairly strong.

“I think the location is great, although retail sales countrywide are soft,” he said. “With the new bus terminal expanding and a new parking structure, all those things are supportive for the area so I think it has a bright future.”

He said he would consider a food or retail user for the space.

Sole Sisters’ closing is among several recent changes on East Liberty Street in downtown Ann Arbor. Among them:

--Poshh boutique closed at 535 E. Liberty St. and a frozen yogurt shop announced plans to move into the space.

--Grand Traverse Pie Co. plans to open in a few months in the former @burger space at 505 E. Liberty St.

--This & That at 611 E. Liberty St. closed and was replaced by a Zaragon West leasing center.

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at Follow her on Twitter at


Pixie Belle

Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 6:10 p.m.

I wish would do stories about local businesses while they are open. Maybe a local business of the week profile. Something that isn't just this is going to open and this is closing.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 1:03 p.m.

U don't put bucks in the register you go out of business.Why is that so hard to understand.

say it plain

Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 6:12 a.m.

There needs to be a critical mass of retail to support retail in a place where parking for a couple hours costs as much money as a latte and you have to course through parking lots with awful speed bumps (Maynard lot), hairpin turns (Washington St) or, soon to be available, downward-spiraling ramps into the abyss. Browsing and buying trips don't make much sense from a time-use and hassle perspective if downtown has too few shops to look at and parking tickets come too easily. Plus the (I agree) too-many-restaurants (with too-high prices to boot, but gotta feed the landlords!) creates a sort of food-court vibe. The pedestrian experience has also deteriorated with a number of the newer buildings downtown, despite their being some retail in some of them. *So* many factors to make foot traffic go away. Unless your shop is a compelling compelling destination for many people (long established following, reliable supply of much desired items, or can't-live-without-it gear), it seems to me that downtown Ann Arbor is becoming a retail wasteland.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 4:44 a.m.

i think we need to make way for more frozen yogurt, sub sandwiches, and another gimmicky Asian restaurant in that space.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 3:54 a.m.

Lack of foot traffic, expensive and scant parking, soft retail market all add up to a difficult environment for any small retailer in A2. I agree that there are far too many restaurants in the downtown area, but they are the only businesses with high enough profit margins to afford the exorbitant rents. I've watched retailer after retailer leave the downtown area over the last 10 years. I guess that's what the city wants, mostly bars and restaurants. Good luck!


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 2:45 a.m.

So she mentioned the economy, personal reasons, and the enclosed shopping mall as reasons, but the only one that people heard were parking. Bivouac seems to be a retailer with those same issues, but is working. Maybe she did not make a compelling reason for people to visit her store. It cracks me up that businesses that fail always blame something else. The retailer on Liberty blames the mall and lack of parking, the stores int he mall blame the big box retailers. The Big Box retailers blame internet sales to Amazon. Retail has changed and it will not be what it was in the past. People need to learn this fast, or they will all go the way of Blockbuster and Borders.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 8:51 p.m.

Honestly, the majority of people on here just complain about everything and will say whatever it takes to support their ridiculous positions.... The statement that Bivouac is high priced is nonsense. They'll match any price you bring them - another store, internet, etc... Check their website, it says "Bivouac guarantees the lowest prices! Item for item we will match all competitors prices including mail order and internet offers!"


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 3:29 p.m.

Who says that Bivouac isn't suffering? ? Don't think they're isolated from the very evident problems of Ann Arbor and its economy. It should also be noted that Bivouac owns their building


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 12:16 p.m.

This store is close to Fifth Avenue, whose closure, along with the disappearance of the convenient library lot, is affecting the whole area.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 3:56 a.m.

Bivouac is a large store, and charges high prices. It has a high profit margin, obviously, since much of their merchandise (or similar merchandise) is available online for far less. With their prices, they can afford to pay the high rents and suffer through the slower economy.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 2:14 a.m.

Sorry to see another retail shop of luck to you! I hope that more retailers would consider moving in to the space vs a restaurant. Affordable with an Ann Arbor vibe ... would love to see the area hold on to its tenants! Please support local businesses!


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 10:28 p.m.

I would consider supporting the local businesses except for the fact that I find parking unreasonalbe in price and space. I refuse to all shopping downtown due to the parking costs that keep increasing.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 1:40 a.m.

Sorry to hear about the closing. Maybe they should try moving into the mall. It has open spaces and plenty of parking. People hate it, but the still go there.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 10:32 p.m.

And are not any of the stores in the mall considered as 'local' businesses?


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 12:28 a.m.

Sorry to hear this. Not only was it a great store for shopping with a good selection and friendly staff, it's just sad to see one more place fail on this street.


Thu, Jan 12, 2012 : 10:41 p.m.

Tamar sorry to hear you're closing, just remember that to succeed you need to get up 1 more time then you fall.


Thu, Jan 12, 2012 : 8:18 p.m.

I found the Sole Sisters shop to be rather dull - not only was the look of the shop rather unappealing, but the selection was always a little odd. The shop always seemed a bit disorganized, dated and had a cheap feeling -- while I'm fine with splurging on expensive shoes quite often, this never quite put me in the mood to spend more than Payless prices. The shoes were always a mix between over-the-top flashy heels and unattractive comfort shoes -- all of which, again, had a cheap vibe to them. It's too bad I also have nothing positive to say about Pink Pump, the other shoe shop down the street.... As someone who loves shoes and boutique shopping, I would love to see a well-developed, clean, attractive shop open downtown.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 3:59 p.m.

Then why don't you open this boutique you refer to yourself? I was never a fan of Sole Sisters and surely think that Pink Pump is an eye soar on Liberty St however i respect these business owners and their initiative in this very tough market! Ann Arbor residents are such hypocrites. On one hand, they trash the stores that offer the high quality goods (including food i.e. Sava, Poshh) because of their higher prices but when someone like Sole Sisters happens to offer the lower costs you cry for, somehow it's just too "cheap" for you?? Which is it? The reason all of these businesses are closing is because residents don't support them but then complain when there is too much food at every corner. Well perhaps if you stop stuffing your faces and embark in a little shopping instead, you'll see a well-rounded and balanced downtown area of retail and food. Until then, our downtown will never be a shopping destination again.


Thu, Jan 12, 2012 : 8:16 p.m.

someday while closing shop for good someone somewhere will just cop to the fact that they might have not have had that great of a business.


Thu, Jan 12, 2012 : 7:54 p.m.

another retailer down sighting parking as an issue. It's not necessarily lack of parking it's the price and most of all the zealous enforcement.