You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 5:58 a.m.

Downtown Ann Arbor retailers, restaurants plan price cuts, menu changes for Ann Arbor Art Fair

By Lizzy Alfs


Local entrepreneurs say that lower prices and condensed menus can help convince Ann Arbor Art Fair attendees to leave the street to visit downtown restaurants and stores. file photo

Ann Arbor restaurateurs and retailers agree that the annual Ann Arbor Art Fair represents a major opportunity to generate sales — but actually convincing customers to make a purchase requires a defined strategy.

The Art Fair — which takes place July 20-23 and attracts more than 500,000 attendees — raises the stakes in the competition between downtown entrepreneurs.

Some restaurants said they would shrink their menus to serve more customers, while some retailers said they would lower prices to get people in the door.

“The Art Fair is definitely a huge time of the year for local businesses,” said Wendy Batiste, owner of Poshh clothing boutique on Liberty Street. “This is one of the biggest times of the year for us, and a wonderful time for us to boost our business and get ready for the fall.”

To ensure that the Art Fair generates a surge in revenue, some retailers plan to entice customers by lowering prices and marketing big sales.

Chris Pawlicki, co-owner of The Ravens Club at 207 S. Main St., said he will alter the restaurant’s menu and lower food prices to attract more customers.

“We are going to have a few more salads and sandwiches,” said Pawlicki. “We’ll have lower priced menu items for Art Fair because from what I see, people don’t want to spend a whole lot of money on dining out during the fair.”

Lee Coller, an employee at The Getup Vintage clothing store at 215 S. State St., said his store is renting sidewalk space for a clothing tent that will be stocked with $5 items.

“Between our $5 tent and half-off some of our jewelry, we have really intense sales,” Coller said.

Laura Arbaugh, owner of the Bella Rosie Boutique, said that by renting sidewalk space and offering some sales, her shop sees a huge uptick in business during the four days of the Art Fair.

“Putting stuff outside is especially good for us because we are a lower-level shop,” Arbaugh said. “It helps get a lot of people in and wandering downstairs, which is good for business.”

Sava Lelcaj, owner of Sava’s Restaurant at 216 South State Street, agreed that having a presence outside during the Art Fair is good for business. She said she plans to rent space on State Street for a beer garden where people can hang out and drink largely Michigan-based brews.

“I think the businesses that are more active out front typically do a lot better than the ones who have an artist in front of their shop,” Lelcaj said.

For many Ann Arbor restaurants, a huge increase in customers has also resulted in reducing the number of menu items they serve during the Art Fair in order to serve larger quantities of people.

Lelcaj said she alters her menu and tries to prepare food quickly so that Art Fair-goers can get back to shopping as soon as possible.

“We shrink down our menu by about 50 percent because of the volume of people we feed all day, every day,” she said. “We try to turn over food pretty quickly.”

Ben Hammond, assistant manager for Good Time Charley’s, said that part of serving customers quickly and decreasing wait times is making sure that the restaurant is fully staffed at all times during the Art Fair.

“We treat this just like a football Saturday,” Hammond said of the restaurant, which is located at 1140 South University Avenue. “We have full staff on all day.”

For first-time Art Fair retailers at Mark’s Carts, part of drawing in crowds to the food courtyard behind Downtown Home and Garden involves scheduling entertainment events for the 2,700-square-foot parcel of land off East Washington Street.

Phillis Engelbert, co-owner of The Lunch Room vegan food cart, said there will be live music in the courtyard from 12-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. all four days of the Art Fair. There will also be large pieces of art lining the courtyard fence.

“We’re trying to create a massive crowd here during Art Fair,” Engelbert said. “We are doing everything we can from a music stage, teen artists, coupons and giveaways. If everything comes together right, we could make a month’s worth of sales in just those four days.”

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



Wed, Jul 20, 2011 : 7:59 p.m.

I refused to go to a particular downtown restaurant for several years after they had significantly raised their prices for art fair. I put up with the traffic and the crowds with the understanding that the art fair is good for Ann Arbor. Having to pay a lot more for the same meal I had just had a week before the fair was adding insult to injury. I joked to the waitress that I should get the townie discount, which just made her even grumpier.


Sun, Jul 17, 2011 : 1:45 p.m.

I guess the Red Hawk restaurant on State didn't get the memo on the special "art fair" menu and lowered prices. I was there a week ago and they have dramatically changed their menu and dramatically "raised" their prices (now serving dramatically overpiced food), just in time for art fair! Way to go!


Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 11:29 p.m.

Just to be clear the prices may go down during art fair but the portion size is also reduced. The restaurants are actually charging more per unit/volume of food that they sell. That is why restaurants create "special event" menus, it allows you to change portions and prices without regulars noticing as much. This may not be a bad thing, if all restaurants went on the "art fair" plan maybe the obesity rate would fall and businesses would make a larger profit. So sonnydog09 don't worry, your not getting ripped off the rest of the year.


Sun, Jul 17, 2011 : 6:41 p.m.

What I am saying is that it is not as if the art fair crowd is getting some kind of great deal that we are not getting the rest of the year. So think of it this way, we are all getting "ripped off" equally during art fair and the rest of the year. I put "ripped off" in quotes because as some other posters have stated the restaurant business is low margin in the majority of cases. Main street food is expensive largley because the cost of operating on Main is very high. Restruant owners pay a premium for the hope of steady crowds and high visibility. Try not to take the high prices personally restaurants are not out to get you, in most cases restaurants will charge what customers are willing to pay. Given the high levels of competition on Main almost all restaurants are trying to get you in the door(high end spots like Chop, West End and Logan may be exceptions). Think of you night out on the town as if you were looking at real-estate, rent or buy you pay for location, location, location.


Sun, Jul 17, 2011 : 1:46 p.m.

Guess I don't follow. If prices go down and portion sizes go down and restaurants are actually charging more per unit, as I stated in my post above, then you ARE getting ripped off.

Lets Get Real

Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 10:07 p.m.

Don't you love it. A bunch of one time purchasers flock into Ann Arbor for Art Fairs and the merchants and restauranteurs fall at their feet with lower prices and special menus. For those of us that live and work here and who visit these establishments regularly and consistently, higher prices and smaller portions. How wonderful. I am so pleased to know how I am valued. Really makes me want to run right downtown to get charged more than if I was simply a one day a year visitor to Ann Arbor. How sad. Brighton, Chelsea, Dexter and Saline are looking better and better for dinner.

Peter Baker

Sun, Jul 17, 2011 : 3:10 p.m.

It's called volume, and it changes the economics of a lot of things.


Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 8 p.m.

When I was a young girl downtown stores called it "Bargain Days."


Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 5:27 p.m.

For the people who seem upset to hear that retailers and restaurants will be lowering prices during the art fair, do you also get upset during the sales between Thanksgiving and Xmas?


Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 4:52 p.m.

The West End Grill has the right idea. They close down during Art Fair.

Ron Granger

Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 3:37 p.m.

In Seattle, many of the Pike Street Market vendors offer the local neighborhood residents discounts (20-30%, very significant). The regular prices are for the tourists.


Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 9:58 p.m.

I would LOOOVE to see Ann Arbor do something like this. The first Art Fair is pleasant but all the rest have been a pain due to the influx of confused tourists and rerouting of traffic downtown. I really hate this time of year.

Pamela Rome

Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 3:10 p.m.

We went to the Art Fair last year and purchased only two things because it was so expensive. A purse and a neck cooler. It was so hot that we did went into an air conditioned restaurant and sat for an hour and it was great. I wanted to buy so much but I thought I was getting ripped off by high prices last year. We are going again and I am glad they are cutting the prices so I won't think I am getting robbed and I can buy what I like. Well, we will see how low they dropped their prices.

Randy Parrish

Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 3:08 p.m.

Higher volumes, less selections on a menu would equal lower cost. Most restaurants and retailers downtown are struggling for survival right now.


Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 3:06 p.m.

Do lower prices mean smaller portions? A restaurant I've been going to for many years has increased prices every year and decreased the portion sizes and quality every year. I would venture to say that restaurants who are "altering" the menu for art fair, will alter portion sizes downward and as well as prices. So patrons will likely get small portions for a cheaper price, but it may still be a ripoff. It's common knowledge that art fair visitors are ripped off at the art fair in terms of food, both in the restaurants and the fair vendors. The food vendors located around the fair continually raise prices in spite of being located in a very high traffic area. Let's hope the water vendors don't charge $3.00 (or more) for bottles of water during the hot weather. My suggestion: bring your own water from home, and eat before you go to the fair.

Susie Q

Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 3:06 p.m.

@ xmo The Obama Depression? Give me a break. The current economic downturn started well before Jan. 20, 2009. I may not agree with all the decisions that have been made since then, but this didn't happen on THIS president's watch. Our political leaders need to stop worrying about the next election and start working together as Americans to get us out of this hole. Lower prices at A2 restaurants, bring it on!


Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 2:33 p.m.

The smaller pizza places raise their prices


Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 1:27 p.m.

I used to live in a tourist town out east where many restaurants would significantly raise prices for the same menu during the 6 week summer track season. That used to anger my husband so much that he would permanently refuse to patronize the restaurants that did this. I think it's good marketing to create a special art fair menu with fewer choices and lower prices. I enjoy dining at main street restaurants and would do so more frequently if not for the difficulty and expense of parking.


Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 2:01 p.m.

Well, sometimes it is just easier (and quicker) especially in the dead of winter, to go to Carlyle or Caseys where you can easily park in their lots, rather than slowly spiraling your way up in a multi-level parking garage and then walking however many blocks to your destination.


Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 1:46 p.m.

Parking in downtown is never difficult. Parking within three feet of your destination can be. If people were far less lazy and willing to walk (oh my god) a whole block or two, they would find plenty of parking in A2 at all times. (Except, perhaps, during major events like the art fairs.)

Homeland Conspiracy

Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 1:21 p.m.

Reminds me of how Comcast runs it's business.


Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 5:07 p.m.

You mean Xfinity. :)-


Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 3:08 p.m.

Comcast, without any competition, continually rips off customers and continually increases prices. I'm ready to cut them off.


Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 12:41 p.m.

Maybe the Ann Arbor City Council should note that the business managers are LOWERING PRICES and altering their menu in an effort to attract new customers. This is a customer/business friendly environment! Just think what would happen if Ann Arbor tried something like this, we would be out of the Obama Depression and have people flocking here with businesses and jobs! But we would be destroying the planet if you believe that nonsense. :)

Dog Guy

Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 5:17 a.m.

Common sense in Fantasyland? Next you'll be de-masking Goofy.


Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 5:29 p.m.

I thought the jobs were supposed to come after the tax cuts for the rich. Waiting...


Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 2:47 p.m.

Wow, really? Some people think this is a political issue?

Mr Blue

Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 1:03 p.m.

I'm sure that many serious conservatives wince when they read comments like this.


Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 12:23 p.m.

How about they lower prices all year round? Main street food prices are high. Let's just admit that there is room to lower them.


Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 2:36 p.m.

So tell us all what you think the average restaurant profit margin is after expenses? Take the cost of the food, the rent, insurance, labor, taxes, china, glasses, menus, maintenance. It is a very low margin business.


Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 1 p.m.

Why are prices cheaper at a big store like WalMart? Volume has efficiencies. It also has deficiencies -- they are providing fewer choices during Art Fair.


Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 11:48 a.m.

If temperatures turn out to be as high as predicted, people will enjoy going into an air-conditioned restaurant, taking a load off and sampling what Ann Arbor's fine restaurants have to offer. I think I will make a point of checking out the Raven's Club as I have not yet been there.


Sun, Jul 17, 2011 : 2:47 a.m.

"If temperatures turn out to be as high as predicted, people will enjoy going into an air-conditioned restaurant,"... ... Or, they may just decide to stay home, in A/C comfort, or maybe just go jump in a nice cool lake, somewhere! Why anyone would want to broil on the streets of A2 during 90+ degree heat is just beyond me. If you've seen one Art Fair, you've seen them all. Not to mention, the economy... !


Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 11:47 a.m.

By lowering their prices for the art fair crowd, aren't these businesses admitting that they are overcharging their regular customers during the rest of the year?

Peter Baker

Sun, Jul 17, 2011 : 3:06 p.m.

Wow, seriously? You bring half a million people to town every week and we'll talk about having room to lower prices.


Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 2:33 p.m.

No, if you read, they are altering menus. They are selling those items that appeal to an Art Fair crowd. They are completely different than the person who goes out to eat with a date on a Saturday night in July. Other retailers are counting on large increases in volume. How many times through the course of the year are there 500k people never a location in Ann Arbor? That volume can never be achieved and those prices would not be sustainable. Think of Black Friday type retailing. A retailer would never survive on those margins year round, but to get people in means they can sell more volume. Finally, there is no such thing as over charging. If somebody is willing to pay a price for something, and you offer it, then you should get it. If I go to my boss and say I want a $1 billion dollars for my work, and he agrees, then it is not over charging, it is him valuing my work at that number.

Dexter Bear

Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 2:02 p.m.

Uh, no, it means they are taking a hit in profit that can only be made up with the increase in volume of sales during the 4-day period. They are selling at basically a bulk rate that is not achievable during the other 361 days in the year. It has nothing to do with overcharging.

Charlie Brown's Ghost

Sat, Jul 16, 2011 : 1:09 p.m.

What it means is they know Ann Arbor people (some of them) are gullible enough to pay those high prices the rest of the year.