John Leidy Shop to Close in Late February

Family-owned business on E. Liberty for 58 years
The entrance to the John Leidy shop at 601 E. Liberty, adjacent to the Michigan Theater. (Photo by the writer.)

The entrance to the John Leidy shop at 601 E. Liberty, next to the Michigan Theater. (Photo by the writer.)

Just after noon on Sunday, several people had already assembled in the John Leidy gift shop on East Liberty: three generations of the family-owned business, and two self-described “Leidy Ladies” – long-time staff at the 58-year-old store.

A Chronicle reader had contacted us with news that the store planned to close. So we stopped by to talk with the Leidy family, who were gathering there after coming from church: John Leidy’s widow, Ann Leidy, their daughter Liz Arsenault, who manages the store, and son Peter Leidy, who’s acting as spokesman for the family.

Postcards were mailed to their customers over the last few days announcing plans to close at the end of February, when their lease is up. But on Sunday, Peter Leidy told The Chronicle that they weren’t yet ready for an interview. There’s a lot of emotion, he said, and gratitude to customers – but it’s a hard time for them.

Instead, Leidy emailed a written statement. Here’s their message:

It has been a truly wonderful and fulfilling fifty eight years. The shop, customers, and employees have been a gift to our family.

We understand that many people will wonder “why?” Some factors that led to this difficult decision are changes in how people shop, requirements by suppliers, competition from suppliers that sell directly to the public, and increased freight costs.

We are sad to be closing, and we are grateful for the friendship of our loyal customers and the Ann Arbor community.

The Leidy Family

John Leidy opened the business in November of 1951. The shop’s current stock reflects the merchandise he first carried: fine china and crystal, silver, dishware – with brand names like Royal Doulton, Wedgwood and Baccarat. These are the kinds of items you’d list on a wedding registry, which hundreds of Ann Arbor couples did there over the decades.

In addition to its wedding registry-type inventory, the store today carries a wide range of other merchandise, including jewelry, candles and figurines. At this time of year, it’s also packed with holiday ornaments and Christmas-themed items – many of them now deeply discounted.

In the 1960s, Leidy opened a second store on the opposite side of the theater. The family consolidated the two stores into one location in 2006. That same year, the store was featured in an Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly article, marking the 55th anniversary of the business. The article quoted Liz Arsenault, who described how the store kept very close to the traditions established by her father, who died in 1993. “We wouldn’t have a computer if UPS didn’t require us to use it for shipments,” she told the magazine.

The John Leidy shop is the latest in a series of business closings over the past year. Some of them, like John Leidy, have been fixtures of the downtown area for decades – most notably Shaman Drum Bookshop on South State Street, which closed on June 30 after nearly 30 years in business.

Store hours at the John Leidy are Mon.-Sat. 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. and Sun., noon-5 p.m.


  1. By Bob Martel
    December 27, 2009 at 4:39 pm | permalink

    Yet another sad moment in the transformation of our beloved downtown retail scene. If we don’t shop locally, there soon won’t be a “local” anymore. I wonder what the future will hold? Will downtown just become on huge food court?

  2. By anonymous
    December 27, 2009 at 5:33 pm | permalink

    National chains are killing locally owned stores. This is a national phenomena. Sections of New York City, once dominated by locally owned retailers, are overrun with National chains. Ann Arbor is no different….

  3. December 27, 2009 at 6:01 pm | permalink

    Where will local folks be able to purchase the
    Michigan Dinnerware Plates??

  4. By August
    December 27, 2009 at 10:38 pm | permalink

    It’s sad that EVERY downtown is the same in all 50 state’s towns; nothing is unique or unusual. The same old Target, Walmart, and Taco Bell-McDonalds-Burger King fast food joints! Good-bye Mom & Pops.

  5. By Leah Gunn
    December 28, 2009 at 7:04 am | permalink

    Please log on to to find out which retailers are local. Then go buy from them.

  6. By Mary Morgan
    December 28, 2009 at 8:31 am | permalink

    Clarification: The Think Local First website is

  7. December 28, 2009 at 9:23 am | permalink

    The city, as an addition to its public policies such as affordable housing, should help “incubate” small start up retail. One of the deterrents to starting a new shop is that the typical space is 20 feet wide by 80-100 feet deep. This size is way too large and expensive to decorate, inventory and manage. Additionally, these spaces require a 3-5 year lease. One possibility for the DDA to investigate: take the first floor parking of 4th & William or any sidewalk fronting parking downtown, and modually build it out as 15 feet by 25 wide and offer 1-3 year leases. These start ups will pay the city/DDA more than they receive from the parking and these incubator retail spaces will enliven the sidewalks. There are many entrepreneurial folks in town eager to be the next John Leidy or Quality Bakery. Peter Allen

  8. By Brad T.
    December 28, 2009 at 10:32 am | permalink

    Ann Arbor does still have vibrant local retailers, but this certainly is a hit. The successful local retailers tell me that they’re constantly talking to the customers and adjusting their product accordingly. One of their advantages is being close to the customer and able to move quickly. Having a wonderful personality with a bit of Ann Arbor eccentricity tossed in doesn’t hurt either.

    My favorites include Downtown Home & Garden, The Arcadian & Caravan Shops, Van Boven’s and of course Zingerman’s.

  9. By Joanne
    December 28, 2009 at 11:57 am | permalink

    I love and will miss this store and those wonderful ladies-Annie, Ellen, Lynn, Maria, and of course, Liz. While one can argue that large box stores drive out small businesses, the things offered at Leidy are not found in box stores (except Macys or such at the malls or Bed Bath but not all items.) People no longer think of small “formal” stores as places where to register for wedding gifts or where to shop for birthday or anniversary gifts. They think only of the larger stores. Too bad. Maybe more wider marketing would have made them more visible. Maybe if we were still a more formal society and less casual in our day to day lives, more would shop there. There’s quite a mix of reasons which drive out businesses such as Leidys.

  10. By Leah Gunn
    December 28, 2009 at 3:53 pm | permalink

    Thanks, Mary for the correction on the web site.
    As to Peter’s idea about the DDA – we did a study about retail in parking structures, and it is doomed to fail. Why? Because parking structures do not have frontage on main streets and lack the pedestrian traffic necessary for success. It is also a problem whether or not the DDA should help individual retailers when others are struggling as well – it doesn’t seem very fair to me.

    The best I can say is shop your local stores, whether they are downtown or elsewhere in the county. If everyone makes the effort, it might just work.

  11. December 28, 2009 at 5:57 pm | permalink

    Leah, did the study consider the ‘startup’ type of retail spaces that Peter described (i.e., smaller and with shorter lease periods)? The Beer Depot across from the 4th & William structure has survived. People walk in and out of the structure, past it to and from the bus station, the library, and Main Street. Seems like sufficient foot traffic. Is the study available on the DDA site? I looked but didn’t see it.

    Fairness would seem a lesser concern when local businesses are closing and a sector is underserved. Helping startups might actually strengthen downtown such that other retailers benefit. Those startups might move into vacant spaces that are currently empty and have a better chance of surviving with some experience under their belt.

  12. By Dave Askins
    December 28, 2009 at 6:21 pm | permalink

    Re: Peter Allen’s suggestion in [7] that the city think of incubating small business retail in a fashion somewhat parallel to the city’s affordable housing policies. That stirred a vague memory of city council deliberations … from April of this year, when the council was amending the A2D2 zoning proposal. From The Chronicle’s report of that meeting, where Sabra Briere (Ward 1) proposed a square footage incentive to be offered to developers for providing affordable retail space:

    Amendment 12 (Briere): Add Small Business Premium.

    * Currently no definition of “small business” in zoning ordinance.
    * Standards for affordability would need to be developed.

    Result of Deliberations: No premium created for “affordable small business space.”

    Deliberations: There was a great deal of support in concept, but as Smith put it, the proposal needed a lot more “meat on the bones,” in order for her to support it. She noted that “small business” needed to be defined – as volume, gross sales, people, floor space, or some other means. Others also expressed support for the concept, but found the proposal insufficient in detail.

    Outcome: Motion fails on voice vote.

    That effort got no traction at the time, but seemed to be due to a lack of specificity in the proposal, as opposed to a philosophical disagreement. Now that the A2D2 zoning has been approved by the council, maybe the idea of “affordable retail” premiums could be taken up in a more focused way.

  13. December 28, 2009 at 7:59 pm | permalink

    The success in creating downtown walkability and “exciting the sidewalk” is evident by anyone walking from Liberty to William as compared to walking Main St from Huron to Washington. All walkable sidewalks must have “storefronts” with a windown line adjacent to the sidewalk and with permeable windows showing off the retailers goods. If it is a government, law office or bank, it should display the onwers”product, or historical, cultural, artistic or non-profit displays. Or people doing something interesting. Anything of interest to the passers-by, just not blank walls or slabs of marble or granite.

    I could point to 25 places where new startup retailers would add to the vitality of downtown and to the bottom line of the owners.

    If there is interest, I might be able to excite students in my class next term to canvas the stakeholders and owners to identify the sites, make the case, and illustrate the before and after.

  14. By Leah Gunn
    December 28, 2009 at 8:30 pm | permalink

    Well, there you have it – no support from Council for such an idea. And who is to say that an existing business should not be helped as much as a “start-up” business? (Could your tax money have kept Shaman Drum or John Leidy open?) What IS a “small business” (define)? What does “start-up” mean? Is this proposal limited only to retail? Define “retail”. Is this the way tax money should be spent? Everyone has a lot of good ideas, but no one seems to have the momentum or money to follow them through. Good ideas seem to die when practicalities emerge.

    Note to Steve Bean: this study was done when we built the Forest structure, long before everything was on the web site. I will see that we get a copy for you. (After New Year’s, please.) The owners of Grizzley Peak had also proposed usage of Ann/Ashley, but that did not pan out.

  15. By suswhit
    December 28, 2009 at 8:46 pm | permalink

    Well, Gunn certainly has the market cornered on why Peter Allen’s idea wouldn’t work. It doesn’t seem that cut and dried to me though. I remember a similar idea at Kerrytown with the tiny little space upstairs. What I imagine Allen is talking about are very small spaces that would not be the “threat” to existing businesses that Gunn is so worried about.
    And too bad on the Grizzly Peak/Ann-Ashley idea. That is certainly one of the deadest spots in town, a usage by Grizzly Peak could only have been a good thing.

  16. December 28, 2009 at 11:06 pm | permalink

    Thanks, Leah. I’d appreciate seeing a copy. I can pick it up from Susan (or Joan) if one of you email me when it’s ready.

    This concept wouldn’t necessarily cost anything if a portion of the rent went to pay back the construction investment made by the DDA. Peter’s opinion is that they would make more money than use of the space for parking, which seems a reasonable assumption. Of course, coordinating it with other parking and transit practice/policy changes would help.

  17. By Chuck Anderson
    December 29, 2009 at 8:13 am | permalink

    The problem is that most people don’t want a “downtown” or to shop “downtown”. A small elite might want it, but not the vast majority of people. To create something you need to fill a need; the “need” here is of interest to such a small group that it is not economically viable. That’s why these stores fail.

    People want low price. Small businesses are not economically viable in such an environment. People want convenience. I love Ann Arbor, but convenient it is not. People want things that are fast and accessible — not a definition of downtown Ann Arbor.

    A cute place to walk around? Yes. A good place to shop? Who are we kidding?

    In addition, businesses have to adjust. To say, “We wouldn’t have a computer if UPS didn’t require us to use it for shipments,” probably says more about the store’s failure than anything else. What else didn’t they do to adjust to a modern business environment and customer service expectations?

    We don’t need tax dollars used here, we need businesses that supply every aspect of customer expectations — price, quality, customer service, range of goods and services, accessability, etc etc. Otherwise, we will be wasting tax dollars.

  18. December 29, 2009 at 9:17 am | permalink

    Isn’t the real problem for John Leidy that the demographics of the area changed so that its customer base went away? When I first moved to Ann Arbor, State Street was a place I wanted to go for many shopping and entertainment reasons. It is now so fully student-oriented that I don’t go there much any more. I remember when Roger Hewitt and Karl Pohrtt supported the building of a huge student apartment building on the site of the former Olga’s in order to bring customers to State Street. Well, that didn’t work. I doubt many students shopped at John Leidy. If one must make a special trip to a place where parking is limited and increasingly expensive, and where one rarely goes otherwise, trips get fewer and fewer.

    I suspect that the inflated real estate market of the last decade has been the biggest culprit, with rents and/or purchase price forcing “real” stores out and bringing chains and student-only enterprises in.

    One reason I loved to hang around the old State Street was its sense of authenticity. Wonder how much I’d be tempted to hang out under a parking structure.

  19. By Cosmonican
    December 29, 2009 at 9:40 am | permalink

    When Leidy’s opened, the ladies of the town with maids at home would gather in that area. Hats with veils, white gloves and pearls were the uniform of the day. A hair touchup at Jacobson’s, shopping at Jacobson’s, Leidy’s and other boutiques of the day, followed by a matinee at the Michigan and high tea at French’s Tea Room were the places to be seen and go gossiping.

    The demographics didn’t change, society did.

  20. By Rod Johnson
    December 29, 2009 at 10:38 am | permalink

    I’ve lived here for (mumble) years now, and have never once gone in Leidy’s–in fact I’ve barely even noticed its existence. Still not sure exactly what kind of store it is. Thanks to this article I now have a little bit of an idea, and it seems like it’s selling merchandise for a market that barely exists any more. How often do you need to buy fine china or “figurines” (I’m in my 50s and have never bought any of either)? There are no doubt many reasons for their closing, but how about the possibility that no one wants to buy what they sell?

  21. By John G.
    December 29, 2009 at 11:15 am | permalink

    A number of other cities in North America and Europe have thought through Gunn’s practical questions and figured out what balance of zoning and incentives help smaller retail to survive and co-exist with larger retailers. A lack of will and competing financial interests seem to be the problem here. And who are “most people,” Chuck, and why do you presume this anonymous bunch see value as solely a matter of price? Those who thrill to the cheap bulk dog food at Sam’s Club might also prize a thriving and diverse downtown. Maybe most people only seek a truly cheap Jimmie John’s sub made to order, but evidence says otherwise.

  22. By Leah Gunn
    December 29, 2009 at 12:34 pm | permalink

    “Lack of will and competing financial interests” hits the nail right on the head! A business cannot run without making a profit, and is it the best use of our tax money to underwrite businesses which don’t make a profit? Should this not be the job of the private sector? How fair would it be for the DDA to help a new garden store “start-up” to compete with Mark, the Amaryllis King (who, incidentally, advertises in the locally printed New York Times – talk about marketing genius!) at Downtown Home and Garden? He not only owns his building, but has improved it and added to the City’s tax base. (By the way, lest you think that additional value goes to the DDA, you need to know the the DDA collects ONLY on new construction, and then only the first pass. Any increase in SEV after that goes back to the original tax entities, e.g. city, county, library, etc. This is different from most DDAs in Michigan.)

    I am anxious to see how the Main Street Business Improvement Zone works – the DDA has underwritten this effort by over $80,000 (your tax money). So, let’s see how it works (or not). Then perhaps we can look at all these ideas more closely. The really big problem is how can you attract people to purchase items downtown when the stores don’t carry what you want to buy? ‘Tis a dilemma! And does it make more sense for a family struggling to make ends meet to shop at one “big box” store at a low price, than to wander around trying to find what they want downtown?

    I loved the description of the ladies going to Jacobson’s, John Leidy’s and French’s Tea room – that has not happened since the 30′s!!! It sure wasn’t happening when I was here as a college student (mumble mumble years ago).

    Everyone have a Happy New Year.

  23. By Cosmonican
    December 29, 2009 at 1:03 pm | permalink

    The ladies who lunch were still going strong in the early 60′s. Makes me wonder how many people are left who remember that the Martian Room at Drakes was always closed to the public because of glow-in-the-dark radium paint on the murals.

  24. By Rod Johnson
    December 29, 2009 at 1:46 pm | permalink

    Whuh? I used to eat and study in the Martian Room all the time in the 70s. Should I be checking my white cell count?

  25. By Cosmonican
    December 29, 2009 at 3:49 pm | permalink

    It was usually blocked off, I only snuck up for a peek once. The counter help may have let you by if the owners were out.

  26. By Dave Askins
    December 29, 2009 at 5:54 pm | permalink

    Regarding some of the comments on the idea of “affordable small business space,” I realize that what people have in mind is probably retail.

    But it would also be nice if there were space for programmers, developers, internet consultants, marketers, and people of that general ilk to operate from, without having to invest more than, say, $300 a month in rent.

    And whataya know, circulating today in the corner of the Internet where The Chronicle sometimes hangs out is an announcement of space on Main Street Ann Arbor at The Brickyard, just downstairs from Le Dog. Per desk: $280/month.

    It’s a slightly different arrangement from The Workantile Exchange’s $100/month space, where I am a member — chief difference being that WorkEx’s $100/month does not get you your very own desk that is available every single time you go there. (Though it’s worth mentioning that WorkEx is developing a dedicated desk option as well.)

  27. By Joel Batterman
    December 29, 2009 at 7:24 pm | permalink

    I’ve seen retail in the first floor of parking structures in cities as varied as Detroit and Portland, OR. Although our structures might not be on prime shopping streets, I think these spaces have potential, and one could argue that it’s in the public interest to foster an active, pedestrian-friendly face along the street. The Fourth and William structure is well placed to take advantage of pedestrian activity from Blake Transit Center. An active face of shops along Fourth would help safety and offer welcome relief from the current bare stretch of cars.

  28. December 30, 2009 at 12:39 am | permalink

    I loved the “ladies with pearls and going to tea” description too! And heck, I’m in my (mumble mumble late mumble) 30s and I totally want to do that! That’s awesome :)

  29. By Joanne
    December 31, 2009 at 1:20 pm | permalink

    As for parking structures with stores-anyone remember the fiasco of the Liberty Plaza shopping center that had stores in the basement, neon lights, and food stalls no one visited? Quickly closed. Coming downtown is a treat but one that happens weekly, not daily for me, and mostly it is Borders, Leidys, Michigan or restaurants. Once in awhile it’s Urban Outfitters or Bivoac or Aveda. Yes, it’s too student focused; yes, easier, plentiful parking would help; that they got rid of one way streets has helped (even if as a pedestrian they’re not helpful); and there’s a large gap between State Street area and Main St. that could be filled with stores (one must drive from part of town to part of town and they got rid of the shuttle.) There’s no one way to help Ann Arbor. What succeeds is hit and miss. Maybe it’s better marketing, maybe it’s stores closer together which people want to shop at and know about. All we can ask is that retailers keep trying to move to A2 and give it a chance. Maybe the DDA should be aware of businesses in need and have ways to advise and help them stay in business. I’m sure Leidys would have stayed in business somehow if they could have.

  30. By Martha Johnson
    December 31, 2009 at 2:02 pm | permalink

    My sister and I still fondly remember “shopping” at the entrance to the parking garage of Shilito Department Store in Cincinnati. We couldn’t leave without some cookies, candy or treat for the trip home. The parking garages have built-in customers for retail, in my opinion. What about service businesses? Cleaners, delivery services, etc.

  31. By Suzanne Parker
    January 2, 2010 at 7:04 pm | permalink

    I grew up in Ann Arbor, was born in 1955, went to Mack School, Slauson Junior High School, Pioneer and then the big UM. John Leidy’s was THE place to get unusual, high end gifts that could not be found just anywhere. Mr. Leidy was a very nice man who knew his customers well. My parents being of Finnish heritage bought Finnish goods there because that was the only place to find it. Now you can find Iitala, Merrimekko, Dansk, etc just about every where else especially on the internet. That is why it was such a cool place to shop. I visited Liberty and State just recently (this fall) and the place is a mad house compared to the 60s and 70s. Everything has changed with the times and Leidy’s shop is certainly not fitting in anymore. Too bad. This is what happens with time, but I will always shop locally. Where I live now, Traverse City, Michigan, I do just that for the same reason as everyone has mentioned above. Good-bye John Leidy, I will always remember your lovely stuff all under two roofs. My mom still has the rocking chair she bought there in the late 60s (when they ventured into furniture for a brief moment).


  32. By jo mathis
    January 5, 2010 at 2:20 pm | permalink

    Maybe a few of us could be Ladies Who Lunch just for an afternoon. I have an extra set of (faux) pearls if someone could lend me some little white gloves.

  33. By Rici
    January 13, 2010 at 11:39 pm | permalink

    I’ve lived here nearly 20 years, and I’ve only been in the Leidy Shops once – and that was to buy girl scout cookies from someone working in the store! I’m just not in the social or economic class that shops there, I suppose.