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Posted on Mon, Jul 18, 2011 : 4:58 p.m.

What's next for downtown Ann Arbor Borders store after chain closes?

By Paula Gardner

The liquidation of Borders leaves real estate questions in the wake of the failing book store chain across the U.S., but as the hometown retailer turns its final page, it's the flagship store downtown that's attracting attention in Ann Arbor.

The chain was founded on South State Street and grew into its international brand downtown. Then, as an anchor retailer on East Liberty, it filled a former department store as the chain grew.

That an anchor position downtown — a 37,000-square-foot storefront — is poised to go dark leaves nothing but questions for the city that's counted on Borders to draw shoppers to the corridor for many years.

borders_aa.jpg files

The property — 612 E. Liberty, with frontage on East Liberty and Maynard streets — has been listed for lease in recent days, according to real estate sources.

That move indicates that the store is not among the 30 stores that may be sold to an unnamed buyer instead of liquidated.

The listing with Michael Lippitt and Bruce Simon of Landmark Commercial Services in Metro Detroit calls the property "a landmark location."

"This opportunity is unprecedented, representing the largest available footprint of any retail building in the corridor," according to the listing.

The newer listing by Landmark is catching many real estate insiders by surprise, raising questions about what Borders had been planning for the location even before proceeding with the company-wide liquidation that it announced Monday.

The downtown store — it's about triple the size of nearby Urban Outfitters — comes onto the market at a time when retail tenants have downsized their footprints nationally and even locally, such as at Briarwood Mall, which recently consolidated Gap and BabyGap stores.

"In this retail market it's going to be nearly impossible to fill with one large user, so it'll have to be split up," said Chris Grant, vice president of First Martin Corp., which owns an office building across Maynard from the Borders store.

"There aren't many 37,000-square-foot users, period," said Grant.

Still, the loss of the store raises questions about its position as a downtown anchor after years of struggles for the retailer to survive amid a changing book industry.

"I don't think it'll have that much of an effect," Grant said. "I don't think there was much cross-shopping with other stores."

Borders liquidating

The retail building is actually three buildings united behind a single facade, and there's 48,000-square-feet of office space that has been unoccupied for years, since Borders moved its corporate headquarters to Phoenix Drive.

The total property combines multiple ownership entities, including a family trust and Agree Realty Corp., which has controlled the property after a complex series of leases and land leases, according to real estate experts.

The size of the property, when combined with the adjacent office space, creates a unique redevelopment opportunity for downtown Ann Ann Arbor, said Grant.

Jeff Harshe, vice president at MAV Development in Ann Arbor, agreed.

That's the opportunity for Ann Arbor, he said, "in terms of what's next for it, how it's configured and how it's best maximized."

The building formerly housed Jacobson's department store, noted Jim Chaconas of Colliers International. The transition for that store to Briarwood Mall in the early 1990s "was the kiss of death for that whole area," Chaconas said.

This time, the building's transition leaves a diverse retail tenant base around it, one with at least two additional anchor stores - Urban Outfitters and American Apparel - and one of the most sought-after retail corridors in Michigan.

Chaconas said that situation means the loss of Borders will have less impact on downtown than the one in 1991.

"I think we have lot more draws there now than we’ve ever had," Chaconas said.

Chaconas agreed that the site has an attraction for retailers, but echoed that the size of the building will be a concern.

Most of the new retailers and restaurants seeking to open in the area, which in part is so active due to its proximity to the University of Michigan campus, only want up to 2,500-square-feet of space, Chaconas said.

As the city considers what's next for the downtown Borders store, its location amid downtown parking structures could help give it leverage when prospective tenants look at the space.

Mayor John Hieftje said he's hopeful a new 700-space public parking structure downtown — expected to open next spring two blocks away from the downtown Borders store — will help with the attraction of a new tenant to fill the space Borders is expected to vacate.

He said some of the current daily users of the Maynard parking structure next to Borders even could be moved to the new parking structure to make more spaces available directly next to the store.



Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 4:59 p.m.

Just thinking: what if Ulrichs, Michigan Book & Supply and a number of the independent book stores formed a cooperative or consortium (whatever would work) to set up a "Book Mall" consolidating all those stores in one location? Also thinking: Borders Books has long been just a name. That's a value too: some enterprising business genius looking to retire from, say, the Governorship of Michigan (after being recalled) could buy the name and "start all over" with a family run book store under that name. That may not even be necessary because the name $nyder's Books is kinda catchy as a brand name. :-)


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 2:29 p.m.

I remember Jacobsons having that spot for years. Loved their prices and everything about them. When they moved to Briarwood they were too expensive for my taste. Before Briarwood it was a homey feel. Jacobson became too hi class and this killed them into oblivion. As for Borders? I never liked the area. Could not find a parking place to save my life. Arborland was great. I can't stand Barnes and Noble. They have this air about them and it stands out. Plus they are pricey. Borders was also down to earth pricing. Sorry Barnes, but I am going Amazon now for all of my book needs. Wish it was Barnes and Noble going bankrupt, not Borders. So, when is the sale again?


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 1:43 p.m.

If a new entity could be formed after the liquidation, I would love to see Borders keep and operate one store if at all possible in the downtown Liberty location. I hate to see it close its doors forever. Also, how about online? Can it sustain itself against Amazon or other businesses?

Cindy Glovinsky

Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : noon

What my husband and I wish is that Barnes & Noble would buy the space and create a bookstore like the Coop in Cambridge, MA, which they own. The Coop is a beautiful, academically oriented bookstore that sells only books, not junk, the kind of store Ann Arbor deserves to have. Borders used to be that way, but they changed after they sold out to Waldenbooks, which seemed to have a "one-size-fits-all" policy that didn't suit a university town very well. I knew they weren't going to make it the day I walked into the store and was greeted by a huge display of Carl Rove's latest book -- this is a blue town - hello??!


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 1:01 p.m.

It's too bad Shaman Drum couldn't have held on a little longer. They'd have the market virtually to themselves now. It's amazing to think that the downtown of a major college town will be left without a single general interest new book seller (although there are still a couple good specialty stores left). It would be great if a local company such as Nicola's would put a smaller bookstore in part of a subdivided space.


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 11:59 a.m.

I'm all for local but its such a big space, it would be great to see another big retailer, like Crate and Barrel, move in. Someone mentioned there is no dedicated delivery area - how does that affect the type of retailer that might be interested? I don't know how helpful it would be for the retail scene there to break this space up into offices.


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 4:47 p.m.

Lack of loading docks - in this country - means there's no way to supply a grocery store. Grocery stores get all of their stock via 50-foot long trailer trucks. Those trailers are packed with pallets stacked about 7 feet high. Maneuvering the trailers takes a master driver in most cases and unloading them takes skill too (as well as an adequate vocabulary of profane words). In several major European cities they have even more cramped delivery facilities: but they shunt all delivery vehicles to low traffic periods and get by with much smaller trucks (just a lot more of them). If some grocery chain could figure out how to do what they do at that location I'd be all for it but there's little chance that will happen.


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 11:39 a.m.

Let's face it Ann Arbor is over rated.


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 3:57 a.m.

How about Barracuda taking all of the space and converting it into a new office campus, bringing all their local staff downtown?

Left is Right

Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 2:26 a.m.

How about Borders 3.0? In smaller space but with room to grow.


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 1:12 a.m.

Half of Ann Arbor denies knowing any of the Borders family <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 11:18 a.m.

Invalid link...

Lynn Liston

Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 1:06 a.m.

How about an indoor atrium of small shops? A book store, a gift shop, a coffee shop...oh.


Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 12:54 a.m.

I'm hoping for a couple chain joints so everyone can continue to whine that &quot;local&quot; businesses will be hurt.

Joe Hood

Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 12:18 a.m.

A lack of a dedicated delivery area probably doesn't work for a downtown grocery store.

say it plain

Mon, Jul 18, 2011 : 11:54 p.m.

&quot;Mayor John Hieftje said he's hopeful a new 700-space public parking structure downtown — expected to open next spring two blocks away from the downtown Borders store — will help with the attraction of a new tenant to fill the space Borders is expected to vacate. He said some of the current daily users of the Maynard parking structure next to Borders even could be moved to the new parking structure to make more spaces available directly next to the store. &quot; That's gotta win as the lamest pseudo-justification for the parking-structure spending I've seen yet lol....


Mon, Jul 18, 2011 : 11:39 p.m.

Maybe BongzNThongz can open up a spinoff called PipezNWipez.

Rachel Lapcynzski

Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 4:16 p.m.

hahaha and what kind of wipez is this referring to?


Mon, Jul 18, 2011 : 11:38 p.m.

Mr. Grant's right about the space being split up. I'm not so sure that it won't have an effect, though. I was a student when Jacobsen's moved. I don't recall it being the &quot;kiss of death&quot; for the area. Jacobsen's had already tried to go more upscale, and didn't really fit the campus area. I only tried to shop there once as a student, and the place had very few customers that day. A bigger problem now is that the rents there are quite high, but the economy is still fairly weak. Although if you're going to do retail in the Michigan economy, it's hard to beat Ann Arbor close to campus.


Mon, Jul 18, 2011 : 11:15 p.m.

how could anyone possibly consider American Apparel as an anchor store, as the article suggests? I have seen only a handful of customers in there over my 13 years of working across the street from them.

Silly Sally

Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 12:52 p.m.

The mayor can turn the storefront into an indoor parking garage for bicycles!


Mon, Jul 18, 2011 : 10:20 p.m.

If you leave it up to the Mayor / DDA I am sure they will want to tear it down and build another parking structure.


Mon, Jul 18, 2011 : 10:03 p.m.

I say give it to the University of Michigan! Sell the whole thing to them!

Jimmy McNulty

Tue, Jul 19, 2011 : 10:38 a.m.

So that will leave another Ann Arbor property off of the tax rolls?

god's hammer

Mon, Jul 18, 2011 : 9:54 p.m.

Apple! Please! Briarwood is too crowded!