(p. B6) ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A patch of sidewalk on the south side of East Liberty Street, four blocks from the main University of Michigan campus, has returned from the dead with remarkable speed.
At almost any hour of day, and especially at mealtimes, a mix of bargain-seeking undergraduates, white-collar tech workers and middle-class townies weave in and out of the restaurants, coffee shop and bank that now line the corridor.
The foot traffic is almost enough to make many in this city feel lucky that the single previous occupant of this red brick low-rise building on the 600 block went bankrupt five years ago. Almost, that is, because that previous tenant was the flagship Borders store.
“In some ways, the neighborhood is stronger and more interesting and more vibrant than it was when Borders was here,” said Susan Pollay, executive director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. “As much as I loved Borders — and I mean, I loved it — in the evolution of this building, it’s better than it was.”
Such talk is probably still sacrilege for some local nostalgics, who remember that the store was started by a pair of brothers and Michigan graduates before it turned into an international book chain, but it is difficult to argue on a dollars-and-cents basis with the transformation.
For more than 70 years, the site in this pivotal city block was occupied by a single-business anchor, first a regional department store, Jacobson’s, and then, for decades, Borders.
The chain’s bankruptcy — which, by 2011, was almost overdue as customers had long since turned en masse to the internet to buy books — created a once-in-a-generation release of a large piece of real estate. Suddenly available: a 50,000-square-foot former bookstore that fronts a full block of busy Liberty Street and a 45,000-square-foot adjacent building that previously housed Borders’ corporate headquarters.
There were many ideas about how to use all that space, but one option was immediately taken off the table: installing another anchor tenant.
“We wanted, on purpose, to have a multipurpose building,” said Ron Hughes of Hughes Properties. “I think it’s better for the city as well.”
For the full story, see:
STEVE FRIESS. “Square Feet; Going Small Energizes a Downtown.” The New York Times (Weds., NOV. 9, 2016): B6.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 8, 2016, and has the title “Square Feet; At the Former Home to Borders Books, a Tech Hub Now Sprouts.”)