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Posted on Sat, Jun 2, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Former Borders store an important ingredient in downtown Ann Arbor's future

By Tony Dearing


The downtown Borders bookstore closed its doors a year ago.

Steve Pepple |

We don’t know what the future holds for the former Borders Book Store building on East Liberty Street in Ann Arbor, but we are encouraged to see that the property is being positioned for some new use. reported that Hughes Properties, based in Bingham Farms, has acquired long-term rights to redevelop the two-story, 44,000-square-foot retail space at Liberty and Maynard.

In a recent online poll, readers were split among such options as a student high-rise, a national retailer, a full-service grocery store or a retail/restaurant mix. Some commenters called for another bookstore, and a few wished for a return of Jacobson’s.

Hughes hasn’t indicated its plans for the property, which has been an anchor for East Liberty retail as far back as most people can remember, hosting two of downtown Ann Arbor’s more iconic businesses - Borders, and before that, Jacobson’s.

In a reader poll conducted by, we saw an array of preferences for the future use of the building. More than 1,000 people responded, and they were split among such options as a student high-rise, a national retailer, a full-service grocery store or a retail/restaurant mix. Some commenters called for another bookstore, and a few wished for a return of Jacobson’s.

The desire to retain or recapture what we’ve had in the past is human nature, but the vitality of downtown depends on being able to look toward the future. It’s been disconcerting to see several small, locally owned retail shops close on Liberty Street over the past year. Some have blamed lower foot traffic and concerns about parking or panhandling. We’re not myopic, but it’s easy to overstate such concerns, which have existed to varying degrees over time.

Overall, we see downtown evolving, not regressing. What happens to the former Borders building will be an important ingredient in the reshaping of Liberty Street. We hope to see some creative, forward-looking use of the property that can help solidify the retail environment on the street and continue to point downtown in the right direction for the future.

(This editorial reflects the opinion of the Editorial Board at


Nels Eriksson

Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 2:13 a.m.

I think they should open a Deja Vu nightclub in the former Borders... perfect size and it'll bolster sales at nearby bars! Local economy rescued!


Wed, Jun 6, 2012 : noon

Don't worry, the U of M has probably bought the building by now.......

Diane Ellis Racano

Sun, Jun 3, 2012 : 10:46 p.m.

Am I the only one who remembers this site as originally a Jacobson's? Even though I don't live in A2 now, I have fond memories of that corner and my first job at Jacobson's. Perhaps another nice department store would be in order.

Heidi Koester

Mon, Jun 4, 2012 : 1:58 p.m.

The article does mention Jacobson's. I agree -- it was a wonderful store. I got my wedding dress there, stopping by between classes in grad school to pick out the dress, get fitted, register for gifts, etc. They had everything there, very nice stuff but not extravagantly expensive. Unfortunately, I doubt another department store could survive there these days.


Sun, Jun 3, 2012 : 2:05 p.m.

Well a Dillards dept store would be nice in the area


Sun, Jun 3, 2012 : 2:01 p.m.

Students don't need any more high-rises. There's plenty of room to live already, if they can get over the glitz that apparently has become commonplace with Michigan student housing. I vote grocery store. There isn't an affordable, full-service grocery store within downtown.


Mon, Jun 4, 2012 : 11:51 a.m.

And with downtown rents being what they are, there will continue to not be one.


Sun, Jun 3, 2012 : 2 a.m.

i would love to see another bookstore. how about a powell's or a strand? definitely not another student high-rise or 7/11, cvs type of chain. i'm not down on chains. like i said, i'd love to see powell's there. but let's not put something down there that you could find on a corner in livonia.


Sat, Jun 2, 2012 : 11:25 p.m.

Just what is Tony Dearing doing here? What is the point of this other than to cheerlead for whatever project appears in the former Borders store? Hughes Properties is owned by Ron Hughes, who is partnering with Dan Ketelaar to put up the tedious, kit-built and soon-to-be-eyesore University Village apartment building on South University that's now being clad in cheap and boring brick veneer. The goal of the local real estate industry, which has Ann Arbor by the throat, is to build at the lowest cost possible and maximize return on investment, without regard for the impact on the city's livability. Ann Arbor has nurtured many outstanding architects who don't seem to get much work here. Yes, let's look forward and avoid the many recent mistakes that developers and their allies in local government have imposed on the city.

David Paris

Sun, Jun 3, 2012 : 2:39 a.m.

I disagree on your point about University Village, I saw masons laying brick a few weeks back. The building seems well built, more-so than does 411 Lofts, for example. The biggest complaint is the size of its shadow, I'm so thankful that the project was down-scaled from it's original plans.

Elijah Shalis

Sat, Jun 2, 2012 : 11:06 p.m.

Stop posting a story about the former borders store every other day. God.


Sun, Jun 3, 2012 : 12:43 a.m.

God didn't post the story.


Sat, Jun 2, 2012 : 4:54 p.m.

Things that needed to be avoided. 1. UM should not buy the building and take it off the taxrolls. 2. It should not be made into a homeless shelter


Sat, Jun 2, 2012 : 3:48 p.m.

Do people really view this as part of "downtown"? I don't. Like @Linda I see it as "campus downtown" -- quite different and distinct from the "real" downtown on Main St.


Sun, Jun 3, 2012 : 12:16 p.m.

I spent quite a bit of time downtown (i.e., Main St.) in the 80s/90s and I sure don't remember any tumbleweeds. BTW, I was living here then just like I am now. With a few exceptions campus downtown is where you go to get a latte, a Michigan T-shirt, a Michigan window flag, a Michigan toilet seat or to get hammered at a sports bar.


Sun, Jun 3, 2012 : 12:43 a.m.

How long have you live here? Up until the mid-nineties the only thing missing after 6:00pm on a deserted Main Street was tumbleweed blowing across the road.

Linda Peck

Sat, Jun 2, 2012 : 2:24 p.m.

I always call this campus town, and it does seem to gravitate toward the young students in shop offerings and atmosphere. It is also the home of great music, dance, opera, and theater. I think Jacobson's drew in a diverse age group while it was there, as did Borders. Hopefully, the next engagement will do something of the same. Some of this area needs more street cleaning and washing, which would help to draw me back in.


Sat, Jun 2, 2012 : 1:59 p.m.

public library?


Sun, Jun 3, 2012 : 3:47 a.m.

Who is going to pay for it? Is there a money tree around somewhere? Isn't there a library downtown already?

Dr. I. Emsayin

Sat, Jun 2, 2012 : 1:55 p.m.

Borders was a store that could appeal to any shopper and to browsers as well. There are few types of businesses that have such wide appeal and can engage shoppers for varying amounts of time spending as little or as much money as desired. I'd like to hear what other readers think can anchor downtown/campus the way Borders did.


Sat, Jun 2, 2012 : 4:59 p.m.

Another Borders-type store, with books, magazines and newspapers, and book-signing events just like Borders used to have.


Sat, Jun 2, 2012 : 2:47 p.m.

That's what the prior article did and was summarized above.