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Posted on Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Top 5 vacant retail spaces in Ann Arbor: What's next for these sites?

By Lizzy Alfs


The building at 414 E. William, once occupied by Maru Korean restaurant, was sold in 2012. It's still vacant, but seems like a prime restaurant corner just across the street from the Zaragon West student high-rise.

Melanie Maxwell |

The start of 2013 spurred a hot streak of retail and restaurant activity in Ann Arbor.

More than a dozen restaurants have opened their doors this year, while both independent and national retailers are pursuing Ann Arbor as an attractive market to join.

That’s continuing this summer as high-profile projects — such as the redevelopment of the former Borders building downtown and the construction of the Arbor Hills shopping center on Washtenaw Avenue — near completion, bringing a mix of new retailers to the area.


Arbor Hills, set to open Aug. 22 on Washtenaw, will bring a mix of retailers and restaurants to the area. file photo

The active retail landscape also means Ann Arbor real estate is limited. Retail and restaurant vacancies in Ann Arbor are slim, according to local real estate agents, who say “high-quality” space can be hard to find.

“We are literally running out of high-quality space in the (Class A) centers,” said Michael Lippitt, a commercial real estate broker with Landmark Commercial. “That’s why you’re going to start to see some new development.”

Lippitt said retailers and restaurant users are attracted to Ann Arbor because sales per square foot are typically higher than the rest of southeast Michigan.

“On the same note, the amount of retail per capita tends to be lower in Ann Arbor,” he continued. “Consequently, you get higher sales, but also higher rent. The top restaurants and retailers all want to be there, but then the mid-tier and more price-sensitive retailers are priced out of the market.”

Swisher Commercial’s Randy Maas said real estate in downtown Ann Arbor and near the University of Michigan’s campus is “hot” in heavily trafficked areas such as South University, Main, Liberty and State. When one space is vacated in those areas, a new and optimistic business owner is often ready to fill its place.

“We see a lot of interest, and I get calls from people asking, ‘Is there anything else?’” Maas said.

Still, there are vacant retail spaces around town that have sparked my curiosity. Maybe the space has been vacant for a while, maybe it’s high profile, or maybe a recent sale has left me wondering: What’s next? Here are my top 5 properties to watch in Ann Arbor:


The Middle Kingdom and Chocolate House buildings on South Main Street were sold in 2012.

Courtney Sacco |

1) Middle Kingdom and Chocolate House buildings, 330-332 S. Main St.: These adjacent properties on downtown Ann Arbor’s South Main Street were sold in late 2012 to related business entities, managed by Asuman Erturk. The plan, relayed in December by the new owner’s attorney Bill Schlecte, was to reopen Middle Kingdom “as soon as possible,” and to open a restaurant or a retail establishment in the former Chocolate House building. Middle Kingdom never reopened, and attempts to reach the new owner — and the owner’s attorney — have been unsuccessful. Because both properties are located in the city’s Main Street Historic District, any building alterations would require approval from Ann Arbor’s Historic District Commission.


Arborland will have a 14,500-square-foot vacancy when Arhaus furniture vacates the center next month.

Lizzy Alfs |

2) Soon-to-be vacant Arhaus furniture space in Arborland : Arhaus furniture design center is preparing to move from its space in Arborland to the under-construction Arbor Hills shopping center in August. The move will leave Arborland with a roughly 14,500-square-foot vacant space on the eastern edge of the center, which Lippitt is marketing for lease.

“It’s kind of an in-between box-size,” he said. “It doesn’t lend itself to splitting it up, but fortunately, there are a variety of retailers looking at it right now.”

3) Former Maru Korean restaurant, 414 E. William: In fall 2012, a sign in the window of this Korean restaurant at 414 E. William St. read “closed for renovations.” Maru never reopened, and the building has sat vacant ever since. City records show the property sold for $460,000 in December 2012 to William and Thompson LLC, an entity registered to John Lagos. Lagos — whose family owns several Ann Arbor properties — did not respond to requests for comment on his plans, but the property seems like a prime restaurant corner. It’s situated just across the street from the newly constructed Zaragon West high-rise and NeoPapalis Pizza restaurant.

4) Freestanding former Arby’s building, 3021 Washtenaw Ave: The Arby’s restaurant at 3021 Washtenaw Ave. closed in 2012, shortly after the 1,825-square-foot building was listed for sale. It’s located on the north side of Washtenaw Avenue, near the Huron Village shopping center and across from Arbor Hills. The property has a 2013 assessed value of $271,600, and is being marketed for sale for $550,000 with William LaKritz of Mid-America Real Estate Group.


Arby's closed last year on Washtenaw, shortly after the building was listed for sale.

Kyle Mattson |

From Mid-America’s marketing materials: “This freestanding former Arby’s is an excellent food site located near Whole Foods, between the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University. A new center is being constructed across the street. The area consists of a strong population and income.”

5) Redeveloped building on the southwest corner of the Maple-Miller intersection: The 2,200-square-foot building on the southwest corner of the Maple-Miller intersection was redeveloped in 2008. Although Subway franchisee Mike Heffner signed a lease in August 2011 to occupy half the building at 1251 N. Maple, the restaurant has yet to open and Heffner hasn’t returned requests for comment. Construction work was underway at the space last week, although it appears the restaurant has a ways to go before opening.


The building at 1251 N. Maple Rd. is still empty, almost two years after a Subway franchisee signed a lease for half the space.

Lizzy Alfs |

Meanwhile, plans fell through for a Charlevoix-based specialty wine shop to open in the remaining half of the building, leaving a 1,100-square-foot vacancy. The owner of the property is Lagos Investment Company LLC, an entity registered to Basile Lagos.

The building sits empty as real estate activity continues near the Maple-Miller intersection. Most recently, a Speedway opened on the intersection’s northeast corner. In addition, Juicy Kitchen and several other restaurants opened this year in the shopping center just north of the intersection.

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


Josh Hakala

Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 4:40 p.m.

What's going on with the space that's under construction on W. Liberty Ave. just east of W. Stadium across the street from the animal hospital? (where the Dollar Store used to be)


Sun, Aug 11, 2013 : 8:35 p.m.

So lets throw it out to the people:Why do you suppose these PRIME locations aren't being rented?


Fri, Jul 26, 2013 : 3:12 p.m.

I'd like a link as too what rental/lease rates are for these spaces. I'm in the market for a space for my business!


Fri, Jul 26, 2013 : 4:56 a.m.

knock em down and start over


Fri, Jul 26, 2013 : 4:52 a.m.

The Maru site seems like a natural fit for Blimpy Burger

Sean Thomas

Fri, Jul 26, 2013 : 5:13 p.m.

you are so right.

The Picker

Fri, Jul 26, 2013 : 2:52 a.m.

The former gas station at Summit and Main ? The former Chinese next to the Blue Front (Blimpy!)


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 10:11 p.m.

I've often wondered what can happen at that vacant spot that I THINK was a gas station; that little property that comes to a point where two roads meet, across from where Bay Design USED to be. That's been vacant since I can remember, like back into the 90's.

Chip Reed

Fri, Jul 26, 2013 : 1:20 a.m.

A design for a new building to replace the old Clark station is moving through the approval process now, I think. Before it was Bay Design, it was a Mercedes dealer, and before that, they sold Studebakers.

Thinkin' it Over

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 8:08 p.m.

Any update on Krazy Jim's? Will one of these places be the new location for food that's cheaper than food?


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 7:20 p.m.

Dear Lizzy. Thank you for your question. Can you ask Detroit Edison (the power is in your hands people) why they are holding on to the brick and glass building at 987 Broadway. Thanks Lizzy.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 7:17 p.m.

Am I the only person who is amazed by the love of chain restaurants among readers of this blog? If I had magic wand I would erase them all, as a blight on the landscape (the horrors of branding, now unfortunately also espoused by universities), on the palate and the waistline.

The Picker

Fri, Jul 26, 2013 : 3:01 a.m.

Agreed 100% ! But then while on the road we would be subject to the ups and downs of road food, which is also a bummer. Maybe just erase the ones that compete with Funky Ann Arbor!

Nic F.

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 6:31 p.m.

NO MORE RESTAURANTS UNTIL WE GET A FLIPPIN' P.F CHANG'S!!!! I hate chains but that place is awesome!


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 5:12 p.m.

I guess Hooter's will never set up shop in Ann Arbor.


Fri, Jul 26, 2013 : 2:41 a.m.

Build it on the gateway to AA, the former Arbys building on Washtenaw!

Usual Suspect

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 5:40 p.m.

Hooters would work better in Ypsi.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 5:33 p.m.

Despite my constant requests for such in these columns. I thought for sure we were going to get one on South State near Costco and the hotels, but not yet. How about in Arhaus instead of PF Changs?


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 5:10 p.m.

It would be great if a P.F. Chang could move into the space of the soon to be former Arhaus location.

Joseph Maino

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 3 p.m.

Arhaus is moving to Arbor hills?!!! No!!!!!! Ewwwww!!! What a waste.

Usual Suspect

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 2:03 p.m.

I'm thinking the building at Maple & Miller was redeveloped before 2008. It has been sitting in it's current sate longer than that. The owner is reportedly rather fickle and difficult to work with, so I'm not surprised to see the words, "plans fell through" yet again.


Sat, Jul 27, 2013 : 2:44 a.m.

I talked with a retailer in the strip mall near the new Speedway a year or two ago and he said the Miller/Maple bldg has sat vacant as the owner lost a family member (son?). The redeveloped property was to be left to the family member by the owner.

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 2:31 p.m.

@Usual Suspect: Yes, I think it was in the process of being redeveloped for many years, although I'm not sure the exact timeline. The building was completed in 2008. Here's an interesting story from that time --


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 12:55 p.m.

The empty building at 1251 N. Maple is a joke. Seriously, the parking lot is WAY too small for anything. Waste of space. Tear it down.


Fri, Jul 26, 2013 : 2:40 a.m.

The owner has kept it landscaped and clean. Can't say that many other vacant buildings are treated as well. The Speedway seems to be really busy most of the time.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 12:47 p.m.

372 East Hoover - the old Purchase Radio location. It's been vacant / "for lease" for about 6 years.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 12:32 p.m.

414 E. William is an excellent location for Blimpy Burger!


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 5:30 p.m.

Rather see it on William that space on Ashey is one of those doomed spaces, nothing seems to last for long in there.

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 4 p.m.

When I did a Blimpy update in May, Rich said he was looking at two spaces. From that story: Magner said he's looking at a space on East William Street near the University of Michigan's campus, and one space on the west side of downtown (near Fleetwood) So you could be right about that @semperfi


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 2:54 p.m.

I heard a rumor that Blimpy is going to move to the building a few doors south of the Fleetwood Diner.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 2:34 p.m.

SemperFi, you beat me to it!


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 12:55 p.m.

That would be a great location for Blimpy Burger. We just went to the current (old) location for probably the last time. So Yummy!


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 12:12 p.m.

What about the 618 South Main apartments project? The last article by Ryan said the development was going to start in July? I go by there everyday and no sign of work yet?

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 2:30 p.m.

Good call. I'll ask Ryan to check in for an update.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 12:02 p.m.

What about the vacant location on South State St. On the east side of the street formerly occupied by the Tamale restaurant? North of Eisenhower...


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 11:56 a.m.

Man. I want Middle Kingdom back.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 4:24 p.m.

Amen. It's hard to find comparable food. Johnny is definitely done with owning a retail place and one hopes that anyone reopening can duplicate the quality.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 11:50 a.m.

Any information on the notorious former night club building on 4th Ave.?


Sun, Jul 28, 2013 : 4:43 p.m.

That former night club would be a PERFECT location for Blimpy's!

Melanie Maxwell

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 8:59 p.m.

I would love to see a Trader Joe's downtown! I wonder if that space would be large enough? It's right next to a parking deck, too.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 5:27 p.m.

Whoever ends up in there please do something with the facade besides paint. It is awful.

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 2:29 p.m.

I forgot about that one until you mentioned it. No update yet. I'd like to see a new brewery!


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 11:23 a.m.

I've been wondering how the 2 spots next to the Blue Front party store on State (or is it Packard?) can be vacant for so long. Also the 2 adjacent spots next to the little Mexican restaurant downtown; both vacant. Also where Leopold Brothers on Main was (another move-out because of rent being raised in insane percentages; I really love the purposeful ejection of paying tenants with crazy rent increases, then the place is just vacant for years; lovely bunch, these real estate companies are that own 3/4 of the town)

The Picker

Fri, Jul 26, 2013 : 11:44 a.m.

Usually the Real Estate companies manage the buildings for others.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 5:26 p.m.

I thought that was a good Blimpy Burger spot on Packard but the street parking is almost non-existent compared to Division, and the adjacent buildings are seperate owners; Leopold Bros. is an office space, I guess it is considered part of the high-tech campus downtown.

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 2:29 p.m.

The Lagos family owns one of those spaces near Packard and State. A couple people mentioned it as a possible Blimpy Burger location.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 11:08 a.m.

The new Arbor Hills " community lifestyle center " is a lovely development. Maybe the center across the street will be shamed enough to move to Canton where it belongs!

Kyle Mattson

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 3:55 p.m.

There was actually a proposal to construct a very similar retail development in Canton on the property of Fellow's Creek Golf Course a while back, but push back from residents resulted in it being shot down by the township. A comparable development went through around the same time up in Rochester Hills (2002) Link: It seems to have been fairly successful and does provide a slightly different shopping experience than the traditional strip mall. Although the traffic issues of Washtenaw Ave are noted, I would suspect this development should do well in the Ann Arbor market and actually draw shoppers from the western-Detroit suburbs to Ann Arbor to shop.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 11:07 a.m.

And what about the two retail lots, now with buildings demolished, on the west side: the former Sezchuan (sp?) West restaurant site next to the car wash, and the former Chinese restaurant in front of English Gardens at Maple Village? Also, the never-built-upon retail land in front of Aldi? Or the Mich Con property off Broadway?

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 2:28 p.m.

I also think it was attractive for Noodles to just renovate an existing building rather than construct a new one. @Nerak: Good point about the Aldi land. I was just wondering about that the other day, but I don't have an update for you at this point!


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 12:56 p.m.

It's still very limited for a restaurant. I counted about 21 spots. Figure in a dumpster and the cut through behind the car wash and there is less space than you think. I think it would be cost prohibitive to build a small building there. You would need to combine it with the car wash to have a decent sized buildable lot. I'm quite sure the restaurant and car wash are on one lot.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 12:41 p.m.

Actually, I think that parcel runs pretty far back, with all the parking behind the (old szechuan) building belonging to that parcel.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 11:44 a.m.

The old Szechuan West property is a tough sell as they have almost no parking on that space. They don't own spaces in the Bell's Diner /Stadium hardware parking lot. I suspect that's why Noodles Inc pulled out of building there and moved down the street. The lot is also connected to the car wash so maybe the whole thing may be developed later. I wish they would do a simple landscape rather than leaving it a gravel lot

Chip Reed

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 10:55 a.m.

If the old Shell gas station at Maple & Miller is one of the top 5 vacant retail spaces in Ann Arbor, does that mean that someone will actually use it for something, someday? It was redeveloped in 2008, but when was it last utilized before that?


Sat, Jul 27, 2013 : 4:11 a.m.

It has been so long that I can't remember, and I grew-up on that side of town and have lived within a couple miles of it for many years... it hasn't been anything since the Shell station closed for more than a few months. I think the Shell station has been closed for over 10 years, if not 15.

The Picker

Fri, Jul 26, 2013 : 11:41 a.m.

Shell Station


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 12:42 p.m.

I grew up on that side of town, its been years and years since that gas station was open.

Hugh Giariola

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 10:51 a.m.

Lizzy, how about that old Chi Chi's on South State St. by Airport Blvd. near Costco? Also, anything new on the closed Great Lakes Chinese restaurant on Carpenter near Packard Rd.?


Fri, Jul 26, 2013 : 3:21 p.m.

Bring in Hooters to the old Chi Chi's!!! I will do well!

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 2:26 p.m.

Great call, I forgot about that vacancy. Did you see this update on Great Lakes? Not sure what's next for it..

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 10:39 a.m.

Readers: Any other vacancies around town that you're curious about?

Sean Thomas

Fri, Jul 26, 2013 : 5:12 p.m.

oh man I didn't know flat top closed :C

Ann English

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 11:03 p.m.

What about the vacant land in front of the Ann Arbor-Saline Meijer?


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 10:21 p.m.

Yes. Michigan Book Supply, thanks, guess it will always be Ulrich's to me. Missed that update on Walgreens..guess you can't have one without the other (CVS)! ;-)


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 7:20 p.m.

Dear Lizzy. Thank you for your question. Can you ask Detroit Edison (the power is in your hands people) why they are holding on to the brick and glass building at 987 Broadway. Thanks Lizzy.

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 2:45 p.m.

@pchbob: The Michigan Book & Supply you mean, right? Walgreens signed a 20-year lease for the space.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 2:33 p.m.

@Vivian, the former CVS on Liberty/Stadium will be a GFS(bulk purchase place. if you want a 20-lb. bag of frozen Swedish Meatballs for that upcoming family reunion, stuff like that).

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 2:25 p.m.

@spikefb: I wouldn't be surprised to something turn quickly for that Flat Top space. It's definitely high-profile, and with Arbor Hills opening across the street, seems like it would be an attractive space for a restaurant chain. @A2Guy1: That is seriously my favorite building downtown!! So, it used to be a futon shop or some kind of furniture shop, I think? Someone correct me if I'm wrong. I've asked people about that space, and I think the woman who owns it has plans of her own. Actually, I saw a couple people taking measurements outside a few weeks ago. But it has the cutest little patio area, I think it would be a great restaurant spot. Not sure if that's possible since there's no kitchen at the moment.. @vivian: That's going to be a GFS Marketplace store.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 2:20 p.m.

Thanks Lizzy, how about the former Ulrichs store on the corner of State and N. University?


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 2:06 p.m.

What's happening in the space formerly occupied by a CVS on W. Liberty at Stadium? Construction is ongoing.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 12:27 p.m.

The former Georgetown Mall. Will it become a park or really be developed by schubinger?


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 12:17 p.m.

Liberty at Ashley next to a2 Art Center. It's been vacant for a number if years.


Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 11:02 a.m.

What about the vacant FlatTop Grill that is also in the area of the new Arbor Hills development?