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Posted on Thu, Nov 11, 2010 : 6:03 a.m.

Tyner Furniture owners: Nearby Costco could change South State intersection 'overnight'

By Paula Gardner


Tyner Furniture has been in the former Kmart store on South State since the early 1990s.

Lon Horwedel |

Fred Miller calls 2009 “the downer year here” as the long-term housing slow-down took a toll on sales at Tyner Furniture.

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.


Eric Miller now runs the store that his grandfather started in Ypsilanti in the 1940s.

Lon Horwedel |

What it does is allow the family to set a long-term vision: “We’d like to redevelop the property so it makes sense … to complement the store and service the community,” Eric Miller said.

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.”

Paula Gardner is Business News Director of Contact her at 734-623-2586 or by email. Sign up for the weekly Business Review newsletter, distributed every Thursday, here.


Anne Jackson

Fri, Nov 12, 2010 : 10:04 p.m.

The Tyner furniture area (State St. & Ellsworth) is a grossly neglected part of Ann Arbor. When I drive in this area I, too, see the potential and shake my head at the lack of development here. If I had the money, I would locate a business in this area. I think Costco would be a great addition, plus some smaller business development and some green development with benches and walkways. I hope that this area gets developed properly.

Michael K.

Fri, Nov 12, 2010 : 12:56 a.m.

Pittsfield Township needs to be sure that they plan for appropriate roadway improvements at that intersection to handle the increased volume of traffic. It is already quite a mess through there at rush hour. The businesses should create a "special assessment" zone to pay for the upgraded services that something big like the Costco will require, and which will directly benefit them. One town in Colorado allowed developers to build 6,000+ homes on about 1,500 acres. This was in a town only had about 2,000 existing residents, mostly on 5 acre+ lots. They then found out that, well gee, they needed to raise taxes on the existing residents - the mill rate almost doubled - for road improvements, new parks, a new high school, etc. What a surprise! Slightly different situation in this case, but a similar principle. Do adequate planning, get the businesses to commit to the improvements as a condition of revising zoning, etc. Or life will just get worse for all of the existing residents when the infrastructure is stressed beyond capacity. In addition, some of these smaller, part time, local units of government are almost obsolete in this day and age. Just too many layers of redundant administration and services for a much more mobile age - Lodi Township, Scio Township., York Township, etc. The large developers have a full time legal and planning staff of 12. The townships have part time employees who are generalists. Then they have to ask for a special millage to defend their existing zoning laws when they don't give approval to any developer who asks for exactly what they want, plus a tax abatemenmt for doing it. (That applies a bit more to the smaller townships, but still true in this case.)


Thu, Nov 11, 2010 : 1:38 p.m.

Not sure if AATA bus goes that far south, but with a Costco there it might make sense to add a route. Then with all the extra parking spaces, why not work out a deal with Tyner for a "park and ride" lot? At least on a temporary basis until the corner is fully developed.

Garden Goddess

Thu, Nov 11, 2010 : 1:07 p.m.

I truly enjoy Tyner's quality. I have always found the quality high, and willing to work on payment plans in the past. Would be nice to have them back in Ypsilanti, I miss being able to shop locally. Speaking of Fitness Training Facilities the best already is located in the complex behind Tyners, BodySpecs!!!!

Momma G

Thu, Nov 11, 2010 : 1 p.m.

I'm glad Tyner's is hanging strong. I think Cotsco will increase their business. THey are very reputable and I would much rather deal with them than Harry's or Art Van. Quality furniture is the best.


Thu, Nov 11, 2010 : 12:31 p.m.

This sounds promising. I drive by that corner everyday and I think about the potential. From the aging parking lot and former flower shop to the old K-Mart garden center with all the weeds growing in it. Hopefully at least a little clean up and a fixed up parking lot will come out of this if not all of the plans mentioned.


Thu, Nov 11, 2010 : 11:27 a.m.

I'm agree as well - Tyner's quality and is 'way above say, Art Van and the prices are often comparable. Very glad to see they're sticking around.


Thu, Nov 11, 2010 : 10:33 a.m.

I love Tyner, they have wonderful products/great service. I bought my last sofa, bed frame, console, table, chairs, etc. from there about 8 years ago and everything still looks new. However, I can't afford to shop there at this point as they can't offer payment plans/no interest deals...and I don't have 5000-10K laying around to buy furniture right off the lot *so to speak*


Thu, Nov 11, 2010 : 9 a.m.

Tyners is TOP shelf! If you want quality, that is the place to go. I custom ordered my first sofa there right after the war. Key words are quality and service, the other short does not hold a candle to Tyners


Thu, Nov 11, 2010 : 7:57 a.m.

I like the quality of the furniture at Tyner's. It's definitely better than most of the chain furniture stores. I think the Costco will most definitely help their business. But from Pittsfield Township's point of view, they'd like to see the corner "fixed up" when all the dust clears. I think it would be very good if some other business (like a health club) took a piece of the property. One big issue as the article says, is the huge chunk of wasted property with all that extra parking they don't need. Also, if the Pinter property on the corner were turned into something else, that would use up a piece of property.


Thu, Nov 11, 2010 : 7:48 a.m.

So I take it they are just going to leave the Ypsi.Building alone.It looks like another vacant store front in Ypsi.Like Ypsi.needs another vacant Building.Ypsi is looking more like Detroit every day with vacant Buildings store front`s.It`s depressing to see it every other street corner a vacant Building.Glad to see the city is taking some of them down.


Thu, Nov 11, 2010 : 7:19 a.m.

I am glad Tyners is planning on staying in the furniture business. We have been customers for over 25 years and have found them to be the best people to do business with. Reputable and reliable. They are a fine example of how a furniture business should be run.