Poshh boutique to close after a decade in downtown Ann Arbor, creating another vacancy on Liberty Street
Lizzy Alfs | AnnArbor.com
Owner Wendy Batiste-Johnson announced today that she will not renew her lease for her space at 535 E. Liberty St. and the boutique will close on Oct. 30.
Batiste-Johnson said several factors brought her to the decision to close, including an unstable economy, the neighboring Borders flagship store closing and personal reasons.
“The timing was perfect to close,” she said. “It was our 10th year, I would like to spend more time with my children, and in my opinion, the street seems a bit shaky. If there was ever a time to bow out gracefully, it would be now.”
The news comes a week after Borders closed its 40,000-square-foot flagship store in downtown Ann Arbor as part of its liquidation. It also comes a few months after a new restaurant chain concept called @burger closed its only restaurant a few hundred feet to the west on Liberty Street.
Although Poshh is an upscale boutique and the price-point is on the higher end, Batiste-Johnson said that she doesn’t think her prices scared customers away. In fact, she said customer demand helped her store evolve into what it is today.
“My job is to make my customers happy, and my customers told me the items they wanted to see in the store,” she said. “But the economy hit everyone and people have taken a step back to reassess their spending habits.”
As a 22-year-old recent graduate from Cornell University, Batiste-Johnson opened the high-fashion, upscale boutique 10 years ago, at a time when she said downtown Ann Arbor was “drastically” different.
Now, she said high rents, increasing safety concerns and high tenant turnover rates are driving both retail tenants and customers away from downtown Ann Arbor.
“When I came to Ann Arbor, it was listed as one of the safest cities in this country,” she said. “You could feel a sense of safety. Now, there’s a huge homeless problem on Liberty Street and let’s be honest, it’s driving customers away and affects my business.”
During her time on East Liberty Street, Batiste-Johnson said there has been a lack of consistent retail presence, with many tenants unable to make it longer than a couple years.
“Even though I’ve been a staple in that area for 10 years, I’ve had like six different neighbors,” she said. “Part of it is that the rent prices are completely inflated and unnecessarily.”
She also points to the increasing number of restaurants downtown as a factor that negatively affected her business and other retailers, because she said fewer people are coming downtown to shop.
“I think the downtown area is too flooded with food,” she said. “Before realtors put more food in every open space, I think they should look to see what they can do to make the area more attractive to locals, and retail helps that.”
Mike Giraud of Swisher Commercial, who is marketing the 1,350-square-foot space on East Liberty Street, said retailers are having difficulty everywhere, not just downtown Ann Arbor.
“I think retail is difficult wherever you are,” he said. “It’s dependent on market trends and the economy. But I think the fact that Poshh has been open 10 years is indicative that retail can make it there.”
Although the store is closing, he credits Batiste-Johnson, who he describes as a “spectacular business woman,” for helping to make State and Liberty a retail corridor.
Giraud said he’s now marketing the space and has already received interest for both retail and food uses.
“From a leasing perspective, our goal is to fill it as quickly as we can to the strongest possible tenant, and we also want it to be something that benefits the area,” he said.
Batiste-Johnson said she worries about the future of East Liberty Street, and offered advice to current and future tenants: Work together to try and draw more traffic to the area.
“I feel bad for new people who are coming in, because I fear that if they don’t take an initiative to draw their own traffic, there just won’t be any. There is a big question mark as to what will happen on that street, and it’s posing a problem for all the businesses in the area," she said.
After Poshh closes on Oct. 30, Batiste-Johnson said she plans to take a few months off to spend time with her family, and then she’ll dive into some other retail project.
“I’m closing my brick and mortar, but I have every intention to be a part of retail in some shape or form,” she said.
Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lizzyalfs.
Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 12:42 a.m.
It has always been the case that major landlords are happier to have a place stay empty- often for many many years- rather than charge a per-sq-foot rent that makes them money and also lets the renter do well. Must be one of those tax loopholes ^H^H^H^H^H incentives that keeps rental corporations thriving and thus befitting our economy by increasing their personal incomes.
Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 12:04 a.m.
BRILLIANT!!! I'm sure this respectable business owner of 10 years in our downtown community will take pleasure in knowing that people like some of you who have never even stepped a foot into her business are judging her "real" reasons for closing at the end of her lease term??????? Really??? I happen to be a loyal customer & I think that Poshh is a wonderful place to shop & the people there are always friendly. There was nothing like it in Ann Arbor, I always found the most wonderful pieces of clothing & I'm sad to see it go. And I wish her the best of luck. She issued a wonderful letter to all of her customers regarding the closing & it mentioned nothing about some homeless problem being her reason! She is a mother who wants to be home with her kids instead of being bashed by "supporting" Ann Arborites like yourselves. Wake UP People...This is just Ann Arbor News at its best spinning the real story & you guys are taking the bait! It's a sad day in Ann Arbor when locals consider a 10 year old business closing a "failure". No wonder she wants out, I wish her the best!
Tue, Sep 20, 2011 : 4:02 p.m.
Wendy Batiste-Johnson, what exactly have you done to help the homeless population? Blaming them for the soon to be closure of your store is laughable. Your store is closing because your prices are inflated, and the sizes available are seriously deflated. Admit that your business failed. Don't blame the homeless. I shop and dine in that area frequently and never once have I been turned away by someone less fortunate than myself.
Tue, Sep 20, 2011 : 2:34 p.m.
Homeless are the reason for the business closure? Not economics ? Not high prices? Wow! Those are some very powerful homeless individuals. I only find irony in the idea that homeless individuals are blamed for the shutdown of a place called Poshh.
Tue, Sep 20, 2011 : 12:49 p.m.
Way to blame the homeless people everyone. As a 25 year old shopper who loves fashion, I popped into this store every now and then but never bought anything. The closing was too expensive and the stock was limited so if the items weren't exactly your taste you'd be turning around and leaving pretty quickly. So maybe, just MAYBE, it was the store?
Tue, Sep 20, 2011 : 12:09 p.m.
Another one bites the dust.Maybe the whole downtown should close,rebuild,and start all, over.
Tue, Sep 20, 2011 : 3:03 a.m.
I never understood why such a nice clean safe city would want to make it acceptable for panhandlers to harass shoppers in downtown stores. It certainly does not make me want to come downtown and shop. It doesn't quite seem as safe as it once did. Having personally known a panhandler I was aware that he did not panhandle to get food, but instead to get money for drugs and alcohol. He said there were always places to get free food around town and he utilized them but wouldn't stay at a shelter because they have too many "rules". One of those rules was that you can't take drugs or be drunk so he never stayed there but instead in a tent. People who give money to these people are just making their problem worse. If people would stop giving them money they would move on to some other city. He always said he loves Ann Arbor because he can make an easy $100 a day and won't ever have to work. I used to own a store in another town and this would never have been tolerated. I would have called the police if a panhandler showed up outside of my store and started soliciting my customers for money. Why on earth is it allowed here?
Tue, Sep 20, 2011 : 11:56 a.m.
Liberal guilt ! Thats why
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 11:55 p.m.
I use to go downtown Ann Arbor weekly, until last summer when those vagabonds showed up sitting on the sidewalk with signs asking for money for pot. They were not "homeless" they were young adults on a drug fueled travel adventure. I refused to subject myself or my children to their harrassing remarks or their presence. I do not frequent downtown anymore. I spend my money elsewhere. If town officials do not care about the comfort and safety level of the patrons of the local businesses, then why should I shop there? Regarding Possh, I think the owner is not fully realistic about her store. Overpriced and "Fredericks of Hollywood" styles in tiny little sizes. There was nothing couture about their selection, and everytime I went by it, I never saw customers. But she does have a point, Liberty certainly has become the spot for vagrants to hang out. Unless town officials change things there is going to be nothing left.
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 11:31 p.m.
Probably time to point out that panhandlers and the homeless are not the same population, though there is about a 20% overlap.
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 10:45 p.m.
The name too couldn't have helped. Possh? Doesn't seem like a name that would attract the people who frequent A2. I know I would avoid.
Tue, Sep 20, 2011 : 4:45 p.m.
Who are the people that would frequent Ann Arbor? Do you mean poor people without money? Because Ann Arbor actually attracts quite a few people with money. Lots of money actually
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 10:42 p.m.
Wow, I had never even noticed this store. I am in downtown A2 several times a year for various things...but shopping for clothes hasn't been one of them. I think there's more behind the fall of a store like this. Demographics change as people get older--people move in and out. 20 years ago I worked in downtown A2 and may have shopped at a store like this. But things change. Kids come along. It's just not an efficient use of my time to drive all the way downtown for a few specialty type stores. Having said that...the question should be asked, why do so many people drive out an A2 to shop?? I know so many people that go to the Detroit area malls frequently. Why? Ann Arbor just doesn't have enough here. And what they do have is spread out all over the place with nothing too interesting in between. Just recently my daughter and I drove to Toledo area to shop at newer Shops at Fallen Timbers. Beautiful outdoor shops and just the right amount of stores all right in one area. So nice that we could shop, drop off packages in our vehicle and continue on shopping. The drive was all highway and not the least bit stressful. Also stopped at Westfield Mall in Toledo (old Franklin park). Advantage there is all the mall stores are there and then Kohls, Old Navy, Target and more all within an easy mile. A2 as a whole--not just downtown--really lacks when it comes to providing the public with reasons to want to shop there.
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 11:12 p.m.
Is that the place with the Johnny Rockets? If so, it did look nice, surprised Ann Arbor doesn't have an outdoor-type mall like that.
say it plain
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 10:37 p.m.
I'm sorry she's leaving... I haven't been a customer, but wish I'd stopped in now that I hear how wise, observant, and beautifully candid she is about what is currently wrong with Ann Arbor! I'm sad to see yet another local retailer leave, to be replaced with lord knows what, another chain convenience store, or a another restaurant, sigh... I feel the comments from leasing agents are a little disingenuous at best, aren't they?! The ridiculous rents around here have negatively affected our community in a big way...
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 7:38 p.m.
I totally understand her frustration. I, as a customer, have lost all interest in downtown. There are no longer stores to shop at, the restaurants have only a few really good ones, and the bums/street folks are discouraging to the atmosphere. I have been saying to my friends for the last 5 years that the appeal of downtown is gone with no shops.
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 7:23 p.m.
I am thinking of opening up a store called "Panties and Shanties". We will sell womens undies and ice fishing gear. I think it will fit in perfect with the new business' on Liberty.
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 7:14 p.m.
Hey Mike, During your sales pitch, you forgot to mention the square foot price for that 1350 sq' space on East Liberty Street.
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 7:08 p.m.
Always found fun, inexpensive jewelry at Poshh, but they never even came close to stocking my size...maybe when I was 15-18 years old and a size 2-4 (and broke), but now I have the cash to shop there but am to big for the sizes *laughs* I would have liked to have seen some clothing that was tailored instead of stretch-fabric. Stretch fabric has its place, but really is no substitute for a well-cut, quality garment.
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 7:02 p.m.
Whatever the opposite of irony is, it's somebody closing a shop called 'poshh' because of the 'homeless problem.'
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 6:51 p.m.
The clothes in the window of Poshh often appealed to me, but once inside, I was always turned off by their prices. I have no problem spending money on pieces I feel are made of good materials and are well constructed, but I never found anything at Poshh that didn't look and feel cheap. It never helped that they offered few items that seemed to be for girls larger than a size 6. I think she's placing far too much blame on the homeless "problem," too. I seriously doubt that was to blame. Nevertheless, I'm sad to see another local business go. Would love to see another boutique...hopefully one that is a bit more affordable (or at least carries quality pieces). We'll see if that's possible, given the high cost of rent.
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 5:47 p.m.
The DDA, Mayor, and Council need to take note of the comments from Ms. Batiste-Johnson. As a city we are not doing a very good job of creating the environment where retailers can make a long-term investment and expect to have a reasonable chance of success. We cannot look at the success stories for answers about what it takes to start and grow a business in downtown; we have to look at the closures (I don't consider Ms. Batiste-Johnson a "failure"). Learn from the businesses that close or those that look at ann Arbor and decide not to come here. We can learn more from those businesses than we can by holding up a few shining examples of "success". Unfortunately, I can feel safe in betting that those in positions of responsibility will look at this as just another person who had enough and decided to do something else: "keep moving folks, nothing to see here".
Tue, Sep 20, 2011 : 3:17 p.m.
@Johnnya2 I certainly do not want government at any level to control prices or bailout businesses. What I suggest is that we pay much more attention to the issues and root causes cited by business owners who leave the city than those we hold up as shining examples of "success". If rent for space is truly too high we should consider why it is too high -- especially with what I see as a lot of empty commercial space in this town (I can be wrong, but that is my impression). The decision to quit this business could be the "death of a thousand cuts" -- each one not sufficient on its own, but together just to much the bear. We should use each of these businesses leaving town as an opportunity to learn what their issues are and use this knowledge to change or adjust city/DDA policies AND do this in a consistent, orderly, managerial way.
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 11:37 p.m.
Well she cited rent. Do you want the city to force lower rents? She cites Borders closing. I guess you are for a city led bailout of the entire Borders chain. Here is the question I have. The fact is, this woman wanted out. She mentions "spending time with her children". I guess the city should stop business owners from having children. The other things that people dont seem to read is she started this store as a 22 year old. She is now 32. Life circumstances change as to what you want in life, or how much you are willing to put into a business at 32 versus 22 in relation to family and children. I see her talking about doing an online business, NOT moving the business to somewhere with lower taxes, cheaper rent, less crime, or fewer homeless people. I see her saying, I cant compete as a brick and mortar, so I am going online. It is EXACTLY what the Ann Arbor News did.
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 8:15 p.m.
Asking council to learn anything from constituents is asking an awful lot of them.
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 5:32 p.m.
I think the real issue is there in the last paragraph. "I'm closing down my brick and mortar...." She's another retailer leaving physical space for the internet. Since that's how people are shopping, it makes sense. All the other issues (parking, homeless, food) are the problems of running a bricks and mortar business, not specific to AA. Good luck to Ms. Batiste-Johnson in the future.
Tue, Sep 20, 2011 : 2 p.m.
I guess we women should all just stay indoors, lest we entice some strange man to assault us simply because we dared to walk by ourselves. Silly men, don't you have more self-control than that?
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 11:12 p.m.
RE: Forever27..... "Any city is a potentially dangerous place for a woman to walk alone, at night. Common sense could have prevented a lot of those crimes" Way to go, blame the victim.
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 7:26 p.m.
She hides the fact that brick and mortor style stores are falling to the wayside altogether. While the (as notnecessary so eloquently stated) "cross-country road trip" hippies are annoying, they are far from the reason that the store location is closing. Also, to blame it on a lack of safety is ridiculous. While there have been a increased number of sexual assaults over the past year, they are far from a crime wave and generally haven't happened during normal business hours. Any city is a potentially dangerous place for a woman to walk alone, at night. Common sense could have prevented a lot of those crimes.
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 5:21 p.m.
The homeless are indeed a problem. It's not the ones that are bussed in from Detroit that bother me so much, it's the ones that are on some sort of hippy cross country road trip with their dreadlocks, heartworm infested dogs and guitars. I'm not going to give you a dollar to get a coffee from Cafe Ambrosia. Get a job, a place to stay, and some Maxwell House like every other poor person with a brain.
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 11:52 p.m.
Cool. Let them do what they want, I have no problem with their lifestyle - just don't ask for my capitalist money and stop blocking the sidewalk (i like to be pedestrian friendly)
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 9:04 p.m.
Those people whom you deride for the most part live off of the wasted food, clothing, etc. that our society generates. These young people are often searching for an identity and an understanding of the world around them. I have solidarity with people who try to live simply, who question authority, and who make an attempt to build their own family/community. If you don't like hippies, you've picked the wrong city in the mid-west to live in.
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 5:16 p.m.
The points most relevant to what's wrong with Ann Arbor, I think: ..."high rents, increasing safety concerns and high tenant turnover rates are driving both retail tenants and customers away from downtown Ann Arbor." And it bears repeating: "When I came to Ann Arbor, it was listed as one of the safest cities in this country," she said. "You could feel a sense of safety. Now, there's a huge homeless problem on Liberty Street and let's be honest, it's driving customers away and affects my business." And it bears repeating: "Part of it is that the rent prices are completely inflated and unnecessarily."
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 11:32 p.m.
Again, who are you to determine what is "inflated and unnecessarily high" for rent? Ok, tell us what Ms. Batiste-Johnson paid in rent. Then tell us what that rent SHOULD BE. I guess YOU wan to decide what is a fair rent? Nothing in the world is over priced except in cases of monopolies or things you are required to buy (DTE). If you make a business plan, you know the rent from the first day you discuss a lease. I know MANY successful businesses who have decided against coming to Ann Arbor because they can not make it make sense with their business model. I also know many businesses who pay Ann Arbor rents and seem to do just fine. Want some long term examples? Ulrich's, Urban Outfitters, Mr Greeks, Necto, Douglas J, Ashley's, Zingermans. I hjave also seen large companies move into town with deep pockets despite high rents (7-11, CVS and Five Guys) There would still be vacancies in downtown Ann Arbor if rent were free. I have looked at crime maps, and the numbers are far worse by Briarwood. By the way, how have things worked out for the people who lease stores there? Jacobsens went bankrupt. Sears filed bankruptcy. Macy's bought out Marshall Fields which bought out Hudsons. There are plenty of other stores in the mall that change almost monthly. If your retail enterprise can not cut it in the downtown market, then it should not be located there.
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 7:17 p.m.
johnnya2, prices in general are in general determined by a market, but other factors can be heavily involved as well. You've probably noticed how long places can stay vacant in A2; they don't set competetive rates to keep tenants or speed up getting new ones, they set insanely high ("inflated and unecessarily") rates in the hopes that someone will decide even the ridiculous price is worth it and maybe they'll be able to turn a profit. Half of downtown could be vacant for 5 years (with every vacancy caused by high rents), and it's completely possible that the rents would not change. It's not like these massive developers react to the market the way soda pop prices do. And yeah, I think it's one of the bigger problems they have with the vacancies. I only wish the big chain stores would avoid it for a while too, until McKinley and the rest realize this isn't New York City. And yeah, the the other things that bore repeating ARE getting WORSE. And homelessness isn't even necessarily contributing to the crime here, either; I can easily see a store suffering being across from Liberty Square, which seems to be getting fuller and rowdier with some variation of indigents.
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 7:12 p.m.
johnnya2: Yet, we still can't manage to retain any permanent commercial fixture on that stretch of downtown... You can decry the proposed reasons as non-issues, but you still have to face the fact that there is something (or things) wrong that is preventing businesses from keep their foothold in the downtown area.
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 5:52 p.m.
Rents are determined by the market. If businesses wont pay them, then the rates will go down. Funny how that works. Borders downtown was profitable with higher rent than Arborland. Your point is wrong and not valid. As for safety, give me a break. Ann Arbor is safe. As with ANY other city crime happens. Saline had a marijuana dealer shot by teenagers. I hate those mean streets of Saline.
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 5:09 p.m.
To me parking is always the number one drawback to shopping or dining in Ann Arbor. It is just too expensive and a complete hassle. The shortage of street parking near your destination, too many cars, too much money and the horrendous kisok ordeal. It is hard to calculate how much of my families money these areas have missed because of this, oh wait! I'm sorry . . . .all of it. I refuse to be annoyed over parking.
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 7:20 p.m.
part of what makes an urban center worth going to is the concentration of things to do in a small area. If you want a decent selection of things to do, you're going to have to deal with there being an increased amount of people in the area. Park in one of the many parking structures within a two block radius of any downtown center and walk. The only places that are able to offer street parking for every shopper are small towns like Chelsea and Dexter that have far fewer people shopping there to begin with.
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 5:04 p.m.
Too Posh I guess.
Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 5:10 p.m.