Tyner Furniture owners: Nearby Costco could change South State intersection 'overnight'
Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com
But 2010 sales bounced back, giving the 30 employees at the family-owned store on the northwest corner of South State Street and Ellsworth Road in Pittsfield Township an indicator that the economy finally may be healing.
That makes the calls from suppliers and comments from customers all the more grating to Miller as he realizes that they’re drawing the wrong conclusion when they hear news about wholesale giant Costco planning to build a store on adjacent property.
“I had a liquidator call to handle ‘our liquidation,’ “ Miller said. “They said, ‘should I make an appointment? Did you sell to Costco?’”
The answer, says Miller emphatically, is no.
The third-generation store that’s been in Washtenaw County for 53 years — now transitioning to the watch of Eric Miller, grandson of founder Irving Tyner —continues to operate as it has for decades: Offering quality and service to a regional customer base.
Sales are trending up. Displays are still full. Visitors can view 50 upholstery settings, 70 different occasional settings, 50 recliners, 50 bedroom sets and 35 dining sets. Thanks to the strong custom-order service, more than 1,000 fabrics are available.
Yet as many in the community welcome Costco’s plans for the 17 acres immediately to the west, the new store is putting a focus on nearby property.
Part of the reason is Pittsfield Township’s effort to make a decision on Costco’s plans after concluding its master plan revisions, which will address key commercial districts in the township.
Prominent among them: The intersection of South State and Ellsworth, where many developers and township officials have long forecast more commercial possibilities.
Properties at or adjacent to three of the corners have been approved for redevelopment into multi-tenant retail buildings. The Speedway gas station is undergoing a complete rebuild and upgrade. Next door, a retail center is planned along with an outlot. A retail center could be built in the former Enzo’s restaurant.
And the former Pinter’s store on the northwest corner - long for sale at just under $1 million - is among the properties approved for more retail.
If Costco is built nearby, "it could absolutely be transformed overnight," Eric Miller said.
Just behind that corner property marked by the former Pinter’s sits Tyner, occupying a former Kmart store. The building is 68,000 square feet, and there’s room to build to the north of the store.
Between the corner and the store lie 629 parking spaces, a number that Fred Miller describes as “way too large.”
A furniture store doesn’t need that kind of parking capacity, he said.
Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com
Tyner Furniture has been in business since 1944, when Irving Tyner took over Smith’s Furniture in Ypsilanti and eventually opened Tyner, too, operating under both names in Ypsilanti for decades.
In 1992, the family moved the business to today’s store at 3900 S. State Street, filling the former Kmart store with its higher-quality furniture lines and closing Smith’s. Sales still were run out of the former Tyner on East Michigan Avenue for some time, but today the building is used for storage.
Throughout the company’s lifespan, real estate has played a background role as the main purpose of the family focused on furniture.
Irving Tyner made a point of buying the buildings that housed his stores. He sold the Smith’s building at 15 S. Washington to Jim Pate, but the family still owns the East Michigan Avenue building.
And on South State, Fred Miller jokes that his father-in-law “bought the property and they threw in the building.”
Redevelopment was always part of the plan, but it never took shape after Tyner died in 1993. He’d wanted to expand the store into home improvement products, but the explosion of Lowe’s and Home Depot stores made that less practical.
Fred Miller made a verbal offer on the former Pinter’s property, but isn’t willing to pay the asking price.
Developers have talked to the Millers over the years, and the phone has been ringing since Costco’s development news next door became public. One Realtor is pursuing a new health club on the vacant land just north of the store.
If a deal takes shape for part of the property, Fred said, the family “would go to an architect and probably do some out lot (development) and totally reconfigure the whole area, including the store.”
But, the Millers say, they’re not developers. They’d find a partner for that aspect, and have sought advice over the years from family friends in the development business. Among them is Tom Goldberg, co-owner of several shopping centers in Pittsfield Township.
“It’s a spectacular property,” Goldberg said. “It was spectacular before the Costco announcement and it’ll be more spectacular (if the store is built).”
“Their patience,” he said of the Millers, “will be rewarded.”
As the Costco proposal remains active in the township, the Millers also can answer the question raised by many in Ann Arbor after the Costco news broke: Why isn’t Costco trying to build on the Tyner’s site?
The retailer did approach the family “years ago,” Fred said.
For the warehouse business - including a gas station - the property is about 3 acres too small, he said he was told.
And turning over the property for a big-box retailer wouldn’t leave room for Tyner, he added. He and Eric emphasize that they're not moving for Costco. Instead, they're hoping for increased visibility.
“We’re in the furniture business,” Fred said. “Our goal is to stay in the furniture business.”