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Posted on Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 5:58 a.m.

Top 5: Signs that Bongs & Thongs indicate downtown Ann Arbor is at a crossroads

By Paula Gardner

My first visit to downtown Ann Arbor came when, as a freshman at the University of Michigan, I met a city native on a fall bus ride from North Campus.

We talked about the city with our respective friends, and I asked many questions about it.

Finally, I said: “Is there a bad part of town?”


Lizzy Alfs |

The four of us walked a few blocks along East Liberty, passed the old University Cellar bookstore at South Division and made a turn. Then, as we stopped mid-block on South Fourth Avenue, I got a peek at Ann Arbor’s red light district.

Standing in front of the Capital Market and neighboring adult book store, I didn’t feel much tension between the city’s haves and have nots. I didn’t feel unsafe. I didn’t even feel like going inside.

Those establishments weren’t as benign to the downtown as they seemed to me that night, but the recent news that Ann Arbor’s newest retailer blends “smoking” products and adult novelties brings back a little nostalgia.

And - while I admit that I sound like I’m no fun at all when I say this - the new Bongs & Thongs store also makes me feel like downtown is at a new turning point.

We’ve seen gentrification. We’ve lived the fears that high prices will drive the soul from the city. We’ve battled for parking, for affordable housing, for design standards and to hold onto retailers as restaurants took over. Some in town fought to "clean up" Fourth Avenue.

As a community, Ann Arbor has passionately defended its downtown and protected it from changes deemed unworthy.

And as a result, we’ve become a jewel of Michigan and a marketer’s dream.

I’m a fan of the free market as downtown retail and restaurant spaces change. Small, independent and quirky retailers can still find a home here. But we do have to wonder why this space was empty since fall 2009 - and what it says about the city when Bongs & Thongs sets up a block from Main Street.

After the store opens, it may mean that the next national travel writers tour sponsored by the Convention & Visitors Bureau probably will be directed along East Washington Street. Shakolad fits a tourist magazine much better than rolling papers and lingerie.

Parents might linger with their children at the Cupcake Station instead of Kilwin’s.

But the rest of us also might need to consider these Top 5 reasons that downtown Ann Arbor is at a crossroads.

1. Bongs & Thongs: We know there’s a market for both, since Ann Arbor already supports non-conjoined versions of the stores. Take the Safe Sex Store on South University - it’s faded into the “longtime retailer” generalization for anyone talking about the street. But in a town that not too long ago welcomed rumors that Crate & Barrel might open downtown, the contrast - in image, backing and inventory - is rather striking. We used to worry about chain stores coming to Main Street. Now it’s more about discount drug paraphernalia.

2. That shooting: What shooting, you ask? The one on Thompson Street on June 29, when two people robbed a man during a drug deal, then shot him in the leg as he ran away. The incident is a collection of red flags. It happened before 11 p.m. It was an open-air drug buy. It happened in the shadows of a multi-million apartment building under construction where people soon will pay top-dollar for housing. It’s a couple of blocks off the Diag. The shooter aimed at a moving target. There’s a boldness there that should make us uncomfortable.

3. That silence over the shooting: Remember when crime downtown could get merchants and city officials fired up? The latest incident sparked no public rallying cry. Don’t we want a downtown advocacy that gets a little strident when something threatens perceptions of public safety? Or even a strong voice or two to get some more police patrols? Maybe the University of Michigan should be chiming in, too, since the shooting was a block from a couple of dormitories.

4. On-street parking. Once a rarity downtown, the ability to find a metered parking space seems to have dramatically improved. Yes, this is just anecdotal - the Downtown Development Authority is still compiling annual data. But it’s also the observation of several serious downtown-watchers, who wonder: Is this a serious trend?

5. Empty tables during what should be the lunch rush at restaurants. Think operating a restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor is, as one developer likes to say, the goose that lays a golden egg? Visit any successful restaurant at noon and you’ll get a different perspective - and one that immediately will inspire you to agree with assessments that attracting more office tenants to the district needs to be a priority.

Adding one store with "edgy" inventory to the downtown mix won't drastically change it. But it does give Ann Arbor a chance to look at what it means amid other changes in the district.

Paula Gardner is News Director of Contact her at 734-623-2586 or by email.



Mon, Jul 11, 2011 : 9:18 p.m.

I'll take Bongs and Thongs over Target or Olive Garden any day of the week. As far as the shootings, Ann Arbor survived as a city while John Norman Collins and Ted Bundy were on the prowl. I'd be just as concerned- if not more- about the bank robberies. That shows real desperation. The same goes for the recent tragedy in Grand Rapids. People are hanging on by a very thin thread and Michigan has gotten out the butcher knives rather than asking those with means to support their state. It's being raided and Ann Arbor is the honey pot. One of them. It would be nice to know that when the chips are down, we pulled together as a community but the current political environment suggests the opposite is true. THAT is what should concern you.


Mon, Jul 11, 2011 : 6:37 p.m.

This piece illustrates how many of us in Ann Arbor and others view our city and downtown, and the writer seems to be transitioning from their youthful years in the past towards an old coot who will tell us "back in my day..." 1. Bongs and Thongs is stupid. I have no problem with head shops and sex stores. They both represent that youthful edge that everybody loves about our town and they are practical and profitable. But we have three head shops in downtown already, and three stores that sell sex related items. Is it necessary to create more competition in this area downtown? The idea is that one store could blend these two together, and young people would jump at it, I mean, bongs AND thongs? "Awesome dude!" is what I'm hearing in my head. It can be profitable, but it would be at the expense of the other stores that do the same thing in walking proximity. It represents how people come to Ann Arbor/downtown for these seemingly more liberal aspects, and it will always bring money in to our city. But this is more economic prostitution than a truly cool store. The author of this piece looks at these places as seedy and needing a "clean up" but they've always been a great part of Ann Arbor. However, downtown doesn't need this. 2/3. Crime exists in Ann Arbor and this idea is shattering people's comforting imagination about Ann Arbor. Downtown is a hot spot for population, and it should be no surprise that drug deals happen there. And one did happen, and it went sour, and somebody got shot. The author of this piece seems to be in disbelief that something so brash could happen in our town. This belief that Ann Arbor is so peaceful, so different from other places is one thing that characterizes our city, but it's simply a comfort mechanism that people use to feel good about this city. Crime happens, it happened, don't pack your bags and leave though. I have always been troubled by the idea that people have that Ann Arbor is ultra righteous.


Mon, Jul 11, 2011 : 6:53 p.m.

The economy is still bad, and even the rich people who eat and shop around downtown are slowing their spending. But everybody seems to have a problem with large chain stores coming in. I'll admit, downtown's lack of that is what makes it so special. As great as those places are, we have to be realistic that we are a city trying to attract young people. If you want to attract this group, you need to supply them with stuff that they will actually go to. Let's not forget that the University of Michigan is what drives our whole town, and our town needs to be a youthfully appealing area. So having places like CVS is not bad at all. The fact is that Ann Arbor has a considerably wealthy population and now people with less money want to be here and enjoy things, and the more wealthy are uncomfortable with this! Oh yeah, and as for any "bad" parts of Ann Arbor, I doubt you'll find any of them downtown post 1990. I can name you plenty of bad areas that so many seem to forget when they begin to romanticize Ann Arbor as a holy peaceful location.


Sun, Jul 10, 2011 : 2:18 p.m.

Good news, bad news.... too soon to tell!


Sun, Jul 10, 2011 : 5:57 a.m.

My opinion? I read one story about the growing trend of young mothers. All the readers commenting talk about how young people need to protect themselves and that such a trend is scary. Then some of the same people commenting on bongs and thongs saying that this store and the safe sex store are eyesores and not wanted downtown. I say we do need them! If you want young people to protect themselves, its a great idea to have these stores so close to U of M campus within easy access for students.


Sun, Jul 10, 2011 : 4:53 a.m.

This story's right up there with the piece done about the Ex Governor that Nathan wrote yesterday . Ya better better keep on your toes boys & girls.... is it me or is Ann Arbor.con getting more like FOX the so called news.


Sun, Jul 10, 2011 : 2:51 a.m.

Empty tables during what should be the lunch rush at restaurants? Two words - Mark's Carts.


Sun, Jul 10, 2011 : 2:46 a.m.

"... we've become a jewel of Michigan and a marketer's dream." A jewel to whom?! Certainly not to the residents, who pay high taxes for relatively little in the way of services they actually benefit from. Third world streets and roads, and a declining public safety presence notable among them. The downtown has been nicely staged as a fancy food court for the University and its many well-heeled visitors, but there is very little there that the average resident needs for day-to-day life, other than an occasional drink or restaurant meal. Perhaps the reason for more on-street parking (if that is, in fact, the case) is that fewer are willing to pay to be there... period. This "jewel" is closer to cut-glass than a fine gemstone. Looks good at first glance, but doesn't hold-up to close scrutiny. And as far as the "marketer's dream" thing goes - does anyone really think that is a desirable thing for A2 to become?! I don't. Besides, if that were true, there would be a lot more folks living here already, instead of stagnant-to-declining population numbers. The marketers can have the tip of my boot up their backsides, as they scramble for the exits... one less species of vermin to contend with.

Mike Martin

Sun, Jul 10, 2011 : 1:49 a.m.

What? I just don't get it. I was lost and bored after the first few sentences. Strikes me as another case where we all revel in how unique, quirky, and cute Ann Arbor is. I think we all need to get over ourselves.


Sun, Jul 10, 2011 : 1:39 a.m.

Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.


Sun, Jul 10, 2011 : 1:06 a.m.

Paula, we get it, you really are no fun


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 11:23 p.m.

I just wonder what Paula would have thought about us hippies back in the 60's in Ann Arbor? Sound's like she would have sided with Sheriff Harvey. LOL


Sun, Jul 10, 2011 : 3:31 a.m.

I'm confused. The Grande was on Grand River near Livernois, not in A2.

Paula Gardner

Sun, Jul 10, 2011 : 1:21 a.m.

Actually, I have an original Grande Ballroom poster in my family room. Pretty cool, just a little before my time:)


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 11:03 p.m.

"As a community, Ann Arbor has passionately defended its downtown and protected it from changes deemed unworthy." I'm not sure I can agree with this statement. I've lived in the city of A2 for 30 years and have seem many many changes downtown that were indeed "unworthy." Main Street has become "restaurant row" and there is far too little diversity regarding the shopping. Where is the department store? Where is the drug store? Where is a reasonably priced restaurant? Where is a bookstore? Where is a reasonably priced gallery (oh, that's right, 16 hands had to leave because of high rent). What we are left with after 30 years are high priced restaurants and overpriced shops lining Main Street. Sorry, but my view is that downtown has made a lot of bad choices, mostly due to increasingly outrageous rents that only support high profit enterprises (expensive restaurants and boutiques).


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 10:30 p.m.

I can see the Bong part in Ann Arbor but the Thong? Hopefully, they are the type for feet because there are not that many women that could a Thong in Ann Arbor and look good! (No, I not saying your fat!) :)


Sun, Jul 10, 2011 : 2:32 a.m.

Good job channeling Bill Maher this time!

Wystan Stevens

Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 8:59 p.m.

dogpaddle, I hope you have not often led such skewed "historical" tours of State Street. Urban Outfitters never was a Borders Bookshop location -- it was the fabulous Art Deco Moderne State Theatre, from its construction in 1942 until U.O. moved in. (Originally a single, huge auditorium, it was later quadded: two of the sad little quadded boxes survive, upstairs.) Next time you're roaming the sidewalks down there, direct the goggle-eyed gaze of your visitors to our snazzy new CVS drugstore. In 1971, the Borders brothers, Tom and Lou, started business upstairs on that very site with two rooms in which they sold USED books. (An earlier tenant of those rooms was the legendary Iggy Pop.) Next, the Borders shop (still used books) moved briefly to a ground floor slot in the Maynard House apartment building on William Street -- then jumped back to State Street, filling the former Wahr's bookstore space, where the Red Hawk Grill is now. There they ditched the used stock and switched to new books, employing an innovative computerized book inventory system that fueled their stunning success. (Before bar coding was invented, a miniature IBM card was inserted in each volume, to be removed at time of purchase.) Finally, when the venerable Wagner's mens clothing shop went out of business, Borders Bookshop seized the opportunity, moving across State Street to occupy the doublewide storefront where M Den is today. That was Borders' last Ann Arbor location where the brothers were still in charge.

Mr Blue

Mon, Jul 11, 2011 : 3:55 p.m.

@Hankamp. You're welcome to your opinion shared by those living in caves, yet you fail to to tell us what the other words/phrases you would use to describe the godfather of punk. It appears that you don't care for anyone questioning your lack of rock history and its connection to A2.

Michigan Man

Sun, Jul 10, 2011 : 2:32 a.m.

Mr. Blue: You seem troubled by my post? Having a bad day? What happened to opinion diversity in Ann Arbor? I have no desire to rewrite Ann Arbor history, I am, however, in favor of correct history, thus my insightful comments on Iggy Pop. Do not let the PC police intimidate you!

Mr Blue

Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 10:35 p.m.

Other than a minority opinion of Iggy Pop's importance to Ann Arbor (not much really) Wystan Stevens knows more about Ann Arbor history than every single poster here.

Mr Blue

Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 10:30 p.m.

As much as you might like to, Stephen, even you can't rewrite history or the relevance of James Osterberg to rock and roll. Even with your limited view of the importance of Ann Arbor's recent cultural history, Iggy Pop, by most informed and educated views, remains an icon in the world of rock culture.

Michigan Man

Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 9:49 p.m.

Wystan: Hate to inform you that Iggy Pop, for most Ann Arbor types like me, is really not legendary. A variety of other words/phrases to describe Iggy Pop come to mind that probably should not be printed in this public forum. Sorry to share this news with you! Hope I have not shattered whatever image you may have of Ann Arbor "back in the day".

say it plain

Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 8:54 p.m.

Blech. All Paula represents is the voice of a real estate agent, a 'marketer' as she aptly puts in in her piece, of downtown real estate. I love the omg reaction to a shop that combines *two* of the things that might cause her 'beloved' Ann Arbor to lose its true value--as a 'marketer's dream' lol. Oh, build more overpriced condos, because we have nothing 'offensive' here lol, the only sex shop and headshop area is near the student apartments, the official 'downtown' has only restaurants and cupcake shops. I think the loss of almost all the independent bookstores in town represented more of a 'crossroads' than this yawn-worthy change indicates. This feels almost like a neighborhood association representative moaning about the tacky new residents and how "there goes the neighborhood", but when the more relevant changes were happening--like the seven-elevens and the cvs and so on, it was all's well that rents well, hotels and conventions like seven-elevens and cvs just fine and dandy. But how will the imagined tourists feel about bongs and thongs, gasp?! Yes, the crime thing downtown needs to be addressed. Perhaps if the mayor and city leaders and the DDA were less concerned with more parking we don't need for a convention center we don't need and more concerned about city services, we could feel safe downtown...the brazen daytime drug-deal shooting didn't happen because suddenly its easier to get bongs near the city hall, it happened because everyone knows there is less police presence downtown. Let's not muddy the waters, confusing free-market attempts at retailing ideas--as tacky as we might think they are (and lord, check out big cities anywhere and even smaller, 'cool' ones where there are young sexually active people about and you'll see interesting sex shops, it's maybe not something people paula's age are comfy with, but still...) with shootings, c'mon now.

Tom Joad

Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 8:45 p.m.

Bongs and Thongs is selling shovels for the medical marijuana gold rush. What has become a rite of passage, 18 year olds scamming a script to buy their dope legally. So an opportunist sets up shop to purvey them with their smoking sundries. Well, heck, why not? Stairway to Heaven is hard to find. Now with the city endorsing illegal dispensaries to sell medical marijuana it won't be long until Ann Arbor is known as Little Amsterdam.


Sun, Jul 10, 2011 : 12:03 p.m.

There was a time when pot posession was a $5 ticket here, and yet we somehow managed, against ALL the odds, to survive that and become the coolest city in America if not the entire universe. I think we'll survive this store as well. And I have one word for all of you who are getting your you-know-what in a bunch over this: thongs.

Mr Blue

Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 8:15 p.m.

Bongs and Thongs. That begins with "B" and rhymes with "T" and that means trouble in River City. I really don't think that Paula's short stint here or her 9 years of observing and reporting on the local business and real estate scene qualifies her as a townie. For one I am glad that the dreams of downtown uber growth and expansion has slowed and landlords have to compete. It was seriously overheated by speculators and banks for many years.


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 7:23 p.m.

@Brian M: It's not illegal to sell racy clothes or glass pipes or what have you; otherwise 42 Degrees and such places would have been shut down long ago. How will this new tenant/tax payer/occupant of empty space get their customers and themselves in trouble? When I have out of town guests come in, I do make a point of spending at least a day/evening in Downtown to show my visitors the unique qualities of our downtown area that includes campus, historic sites (the Kennedy plaquw, the Michigan Theater). I walk them in front of Urban Outfitters and say, "This used to be the original Borders before they went national (and bankrupt). I would walk them to as many of our unique shops and cafes and restaurants as we could fit in and had energy for. Not CVS or Subway. Even though our unique quirky Downtown businesses are shrinking and chains are slowly creeping in, there are still enough to fill a day walking around with a visitor. I'd like to keep it that way and I welcome Bongs and Thongs as one of those places. Some of us applaud you and are glad you're giving it a shot especially in these rough times. And for the rest of you concerned it might be "tacky", I have two things to say: (a) so? and (b) how do you know - maybe they will be an upscale place say like 42 that sells "art" combined with the "class" of Victoria's Secret (let's hope not). If they really want to succeed, they should have items/fun clothing for men, too, not just women (I know, some men wear thongs - I meant, more "manly" items - say made from leather and not in the shape of a thong?).


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 9:59 p.m.

For an more detailed history of Borders locations, see Wystan Stevens post, below.


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 9:48 p.m.

FYI - the original Borders was not where Urban Outfitters is. It was a couple doors south of there where Steve and Barry's (sweatshirts and tees) was before it, too went bankrupt. Urban Outfitters space actually used to be lobby and foyer space for the original State Theatre. Those were the days!


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 7:05 p.m.

Well. I, for one think this is the silliest post I have ever read...second only to Julianna'a rant about loose dogs. Lighten up, kids. This is Ann Arbor!


Sun, Jul 10, 2011 : 3:03 a.m.

Yes, lighten up... and one can start by actually VISITING Bongs and Thongs when it opens and not buy the thongs. Jeez. This is Ann Arbor!

Brian M.

Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 4:43 p.m.

Frankly "Bongs and Thongs" just doesn't sound like it will do well. How are you going to use that much space for that market when there is already so much entrenched competition? Plus the owners sound a bit brash, just from the name of the store and having such a store in that space, and will probably get themselves and their customers in trouble. The shooting was a strange incident but it doesn't worry me too much. There were at least as many messed up incidents last summer. At least this was a drug deal.

Michigan Man

Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 4:09 p.m.

To those who will need items at this new Ann Arbor store might get in line fast because the shelf life of this business will be measured in minutes and/or hours. While Ann Arbor does need new jobs, these new jobs are not the Ouimet/Synder style jobs such as the recent addition of 500+ high paying, stable jobs at the U of M Health System.

Nadine alpern

Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 3:52 p.m.

I agree with gastroboy--linking the opening of Bongs and Thongs to the Thompson St. shooting is a real stretch and inappropriate.


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 3:12 p.m.

Paula Very nice article you do a great job of covering our downtown business and we appreciate it. I am in business in downtown and no I do not welcome this type of business. The Liberty Main to State district if just starting to come around and the foot traffic from Main to State has increased and gives visitors to our city another great walking shopping area. Business's like Sole Sisters, Mania, the cluster in the Mckinley Building, Tios, Bar Louie, and Renaissance, are the kind of business that keep people coming back to A2 and what we need. We do not need this business or the type of customers they will attract at a head ,thong shop. I realize that landlords need to have their buildings occupied, but they should also have a responsibilty and pride in our town to rent to tennants who add to an overall plan of business growth. I don't want this tennant, but I want the landloard to think about the next business for the space when he re-rents it in a year. That is how long I think Bongs and Thongs to last.

M. South

Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 2:44 p.m.

Ann Arbor has a "red light district"? Jeez, I've lived here since 1964 and didn't know that. Yes, I know about the adult bookstore...but "red light district"...I don't think so.


Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 5:44 p.m.

sorry, themselves...


Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 5:44 p.m.

The working "girls" no longer limit themdrlves to 4th Ave., but do spend most of their time close by...and yes folks, we do have hookers!


Sun, Jul 10, 2011 : 12:33 a.m.

Unless you count the massage parlor that used to be over the Capital Market on 4th where you could get more than your ordinary massage!

Paula Gardner

Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 2:56 p.m.

That's actually the term that i heard people use back then! I appreciate the irony, too.


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 2:40 p.m.

Wondering about the silence over the shooting? I'll tell you why I think "the silence", because there is no local paper that would bring us that news. I ask people if they saw what was posted on and no one I know reads it. I then ask them where they get their local news. They don't. Thus the silence.


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 2:17 p.m.

Ridiculous conclusions. 1. Restaurants EVERYWHERE are suffering during lunch. The $5 foot long and McDonald's of the world have taken a toll on sit down dining in a big way. Many restaurants I talk to tell me they are fine at dinner, but lunches are WAY down. Not just in Ann Arbor, but all over the country. By the way, the trend has been for less sit down dining and more take out business since the early 1990's. This according to the National Restaurant Association 2. Parking spots are a silly way to determine activity in a city. ESPECIALLY during the months that people in this area tend to vacation and a large segment of the population is out of school. There are also buses, and pedestrians who help fill the area. 3. Crimes are worse today than in the past? Please. There have been crimes that happen in Ann Arbor, or in any other town of over 100k. The shooting was not a random crime, it was a crime against specific person. If you aren't involved with these characters you are likely pretty safe.


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 2:16 p.m.

Seriously? One head shop in downtown Ann Arbor, and the hand-wringing begins? This is Ann Arbor, not Teheran or Kabul. If you don't like it, walk on by.


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 2:15 p.m.

I have to second the "tacky" comment. Ann Arborites pretty much are accepting of just about anything, even if it is tacky or trashy, which is the word I would use


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 1:51 p.m.

Ms Gardner, I don't understand your viewpoint at all. Would you as an editor accept a restaurant review from a reporter who didn't dine there? Or a book review from some one who merely perused the front and back covers? I mean come on now. As one commenter noted you have to do the reportorial "leg work here". Ann Arbor has a lot of people interested in exploring their sexuality and who like to smoke cannabis. That's just a fact and has been the case for a good long time. If you're that uncomfortable you can always take a friend with you.

Paula Gardner

Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 2:54 p.m.

I'm sure people will shop at the store. That's not what this is about. My viewpoint comes from covering real estate and downtown development in Ann Arbor since 2003 and watching the changes in perception, tenants and rental rates ... all while Ann Arbor focuses on workshops, etc for what they want downtown to look like.


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 1:27 p.m.

you know it is summer. there are always more parking spots and easier access to restaurants during this time of year. A better indicator would be to wait until the Fall term starts and then see if the town seems less active.


Sun, Jul 10, 2011 : 12:30 a.m.

You're so right. In the 60's and 70's downtown was literally deserted in the summer, when the University closed down. The coming of stores and restaurants, as well as some unusual shops was heralded at first as a sign of Ann Arbor as a cool place to go in the summer.


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 1:17 p.m.

It's a clever piece, but I would have loved to have read the more-legwork-edition that researched some of the ideas that you posit.

Don B

Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 1:09 p.m.

My first thought after reading the piece is that Ms. Garden seems to think that we live in Oz (movie version, not TV). News flash. We're in bad economic times. I travel a lot, both away from downtown A2 and away from MIchigan. Nothing is going on here that isn't happening nationwide, whether in big cities or small towns, average places or areas that consider themselves to be jewels and marketers' dreams. Parking availability is up and restaurant traffic is down almost everywhere. Office and storefront vacancies are relatively common, which makes attracting any particular kind of tenant or rejecting a prospective store owner, very problematic. Ann Arbor is not immune. Being nostalgic is nice but facing reality is much more productive. Suggesting that something is wrong in Ann Arbor when the situation merely mirrors the rest of the country is counterproducive. I haven't seen Bongs and Thongs. I won't assume what it sells, except maybe smoking devices and underwear, or what window displays show. However, it strikes me as the kind of store name that I'd expect to see in a university town. That's what A2 is. Or is the store only a problem because it's west of State Street? The mental division of the city into U and non-U has struck me as strange in a town this size since I moved here a few years ago. As an aside, I'm much more concerned about the effects that 7-11, CVS, and other chains have on the character of downtown Ann Arbor than I am about B&T. Finally, with respect to the shooting, public yapping and hand wringing accomplishes nothing except to give people the impression that something is going on. I'd suggest assigning a local news reporter, to the extent that any are left at, to investigate what has or hasn't been going on since the Thompson Street incident and why.

say it plain

Sun, Jul 10, 2011 : 12:53 a.m.

yes, exactly. But Realtors have lived in Oz til someone the little dream was over, but they hope for a return, looking for the next convention or walk-thru of travel writers looking for cupcake shops to recommend to people (do *national* travel writers really care about our cupcake shops?! ) to push us over the edge into 'gem' status, and be able to write up marketing plans lol. I don't know anything about Bongs and Thongs either, but since the hot new demo to market condos to is probably retirees (the healthcare and all), they likely won't approve. But of course in a bad economy art galleries like 16 hands (are they really gone now?! I had no idea! that's a bigger deal than a new student-y themed sex and smoke shop coming in, no?!) don't do so well, but small-outlay shops selling little gifts and novelties probably do much better, no? Why anyone though "Squares" would work--without a convention center across the street lol--is beyond me, but I agree that *that* too was more notable than this B&T shop being close to the pretty Main Street gauntlet of martini bars and remaining art galleries/upscale retailers. Paula speaks only from the perspective of marketing spaces on main street, and I'd argue feels this is a 'sign' and 'turning point' only because the marketer's dream bubble feels finally burst *now* even though this sign is actually a symptom, if even that.


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 1:02 p.m.

I seem to remember several violent incidents (as well as headshops) when I was growing up, not to mention the serial killers and rapists we weathered: 1. Erwin Mitchell--serial rapist and murderer 2. Coral Watts--serial murderer 3. Rueda brothers murders 4. Kid getting punched in the parking structure on Maynard and dying when his head hit the pavement 5. Diag burnouts openly using hard drugs 6. Aggressive panhandlers--everywhere 7. Semi-homeless, drug using, thieving teenagers--everywhere. 8. The rash of bank robberies in the late 80's/early 90's 9. Kid firing into downtown crowd after a minor fight, killing someone. 10. I could keep ticking off incidents Things seem much BETTER now than they every have. There is a universal truth in history: things are always getting better while people are always saying they are getting worse. The nightclub attracted scumbags, and it was quickly closed down. Bongs and Thongs has a stupid, exploitative name. If it was "leather and glass" and I doubt it would've attracted much attention. To say that Ann Arbor is at a tipping point is a little hysterical IMO.

Jake C

Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 2:49 p.m.

Amen. People have short, rose-colored memories. "Things were better back in my day, we had all sorts of unique quirky stores and local characters." Sure, and you also had drug use and panhandlers and areas that people didn't feel safe walking in. But people were willing to overlook it because they were in their 20s and felt invincible (or maybe they were friends with the weirdos too). When you start "getting old" and just want to take your 5-year-old downtown for lunch or dinner, suddenly everything looks a lot different.


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 2:39 p.m.

The stabbing at Mickey Rats!


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 1:22 p.m.

Didn't some kid get stabbed at Mickey Rats? Add that to the memorable crime of the 80's.


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 1:04 p.m.

Quickly closed down after the shooting, needed to qualify that. That club was open way too long. Thx.


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 12:32 p.m.

I don't have much to say about Bongs and Thongs - whatever, it will either survive or not - and that will be some sort of statement. However, I slowly stopped heading in to downtown starting about 6 years ago - when parking was a pain, the cost started going up, the bookstores I visited starting leaving, the price of fun meal because disturbing. Now, its a rare occasion and we don't go just to hang out. We are very specific what we do - we go have dinner about twice, maybe 3 times a year. Thats it. Its just not that interesting or attractive to make the trip. Which is really OK as long as enough people are living downtown to support whats there. I don't think there is and I don't think there will be given the goofy development process.


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 3:35 p.m.

thanks for the assumptions but I had several places that were interesting to me but they are gone. It has all become a blurr of eateries of various kinds and with the pain and expense of getting there - I just those same things at other places - without having to pay an arm and a leg to breath the air.

Jake C

Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 2:44 p.m.

Perhaps it's not Downtown that has changed so much, but yourself. Parking is probably less annoying now than it has been in the last 10 years around Downtown right now (in my opinion). The price of a fancy meal has always been expensive, just as the price of a cheap, fun meal has always been (and still is) reasonable, as long as you're willing to look for it. I won't argue with your point about some bookstores closing if that's your main reason for visiting Downtown, but there's plenty of bookstores still hanging on and you can blame "the Internet" as much as local economic forces for that problem. @deborah fuleky: You'll probably see more objectionable things for children in the storefront windows at Vault of Midnight, or strolling past Victoria's Secret in Briarwood than you will at Bongs & Thongs... I doubt children walking by will even notice it -- too busy wanting to go into the ice cream shop next door.

deborah fuleky

Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 1:07 p.m.

I recently took a group of delighted small children on the "fairy door walking tour." So great that now "Bongs and Thongs" will be right in the midst of it!


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 12:17 p.m.

Paula - I love your townie insights and cosider you a critical voice for Ann Arbor, but I find this a bit off... Shooting: I agree - this bothers me. Everytime there's a violent crime in Ann Arbor it is a sobering reminder tha we no longer live in a small midwest haven, but rather a large American community facing common ills - homelessness, drugs, crime. Sadly, it is nothing new. Bong & Thongs: First of all, comparing a glorified gift shop that hasn't even opened to a shooting is jut plain wrong. Are you that much of a prude? These are two very different issues. YES, you can argue that a head shop is a "gateway drug" (pun intended) that ultimately leads to violent crimes, but I think it's a stretch. It's much more likely that folks at Kilwins will giggle about it rather than going accross the street to a cupcake shop they can visit in any number of metro Detroit suburbs. I'm much more troubled by the 5th Quarter and the old Maudes spots becoming another club. Second, I welcome retail and diversity to what you acknowledge to be a gentrified and cleansed Ann Arbor. I'm guessing that when you took that magical first walk through Ann Arbor you were also enchanted by the many vibrant local shops. It's a tragedy that today the majority of new retail that opens in Ann Arbor is CVS, American Appareal and other mass-market chains that can afford the rent. Remember Generations? Voila? Suwanee? SchoolKids? Shaman? Ultimately you may not need to worry about this shop unless they received a pretty generous signing bonus as they will likely fall to steep rent rates within a year. How about writing a piece lamenting the loss of 16 Hands on Main Street? Or questioning why "Squares" was the best option to fill the old Dinersty spot. Thanks for reading my rant.


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 12:13 p.m.

WRT the poll, you could have used another line, "Whatever, but there are better locations." That "welcome" word is a little strong. Washington or William have lots of locations that would have been fine. Main, Liberty, and State around Liberty seem like they should be more PG or PG-13.


Sun, Jul 10, 2011 : 2:04 a.m.

I'm going to assume you're new to Earth. We have these things called "movie ratings" that help people decide whether to watch movies with kids. I'll spare you most of the details (you might have trouble understanding), but a 'G' rating means general audiences - with young kids - and the main streets in Disneyland are 'G' rated. I said, "PG or PG-13" (look at the very end - I know four sentences can be hard.) That means there might be some things objectionable ('not good') for young kids. So 'G', which you suggested, and "PG or PG-13", which I said, would not be the same thing. I know it's hard, but if you "Think!" about it, I'm sure you'll eventually understand.


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 3:26 p.m.

When did Ann Arbor become the latest Disneyland gated community?


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 12:05 p.m.

Wait until the downtown Borders is vacant. Things seem to be heading back to the 80s/90s. You left out the 'fight in the parking deck' video, too. Downtown is great during the day, but except for things with a good police presence at night - like Top of the Park - we're not heading down there at night. Too little police presence during a recession. Let's hope we stop before we get back to Bob Seger's Main Street.

Elaine F. Owsley

Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 11:42 a.m.

My mother had a word for such stores as "Bongs and Thongs" - Tacky. There was something kind of charming about Middle Earth, but this place just doesn't make it. Maybe if they'd called it by another name..........? Nah, that wouldn't do it either.


Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 3:24 p.m.

How can you judge what something is and weather it will flourish if you have never been to the store? It hasn't even opened yet. How about reserving your judgement until you have visited the store?

Linda Peck

Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 11:14 a.m.

This is not new to downtown. We have had head shops and lingerie shops before. What is the address of the new shop?

Paula Gardner

Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 11:18 a.m.

119 E. Liberty. Here's the link to yesterday's story: <a href=""></a>

tom swift jr.

Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 10:20 a.m.

Very well written.


Sun, Jul 10, 2011 : 12:25 a.m.

And well reasoned.

Paula Gardner

Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 11:14 a.m.

Thank you both. Adrienne, typos were caught in the editing and corrected as this was loaded into the system. There was a glitch and I ended up re-doing a lot of it - and the original typos slipped through. I just made corrections.

Adrienne Cormie

Sat, Jul 9, 2011 : 11 a.m.

Except for the typos, does need to hire a new editing staff?