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April 10, 2008 - Image 18

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The Michigan Daily, 2008-04-10

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The Michigan Daily - Thursday, April 10, 2008

Thrdy Aprl 1, 20866 Th Mihign Dily 7

)R I IN M Nu
GEOFFREY GAURANO
DAILY STAFF WRITER

he baristas are wearing
green aprons,black pants
and hairstyles that fit the
dress code. They swipe
your card and serve your
I I I drink in a paper cup with
a logo printed on the
--uk---- ffront, and you slip on a
"You know a lot of complementary colored
busi ess s ha e asleeve. You sit on the
businesses have a earth-toned couch, next to the display of Sarah
McLaughlin CDs and the rack filled with issues
lot of lip service and of today's The New York Times. Next to you is
an undergrad struggling through her physics
rhetoric about com - problem set and an awkward couple on a "Hey,
do you want to get a cup of coffee?"
nunity and securing t Its comfortable, aafe and the cffee i t-
ty good. You can order the same thing in Ann
abunch of custom - Arbor, Mich. as you can in Topeka, Kan. or any
one of the 171 Starbucks locations in Manhat-
tan. Starbucks and its chain-store brethren
have been blamed for the demise of thousands
afront or any- of independent coffee shops, bookstores and
no a a yrestaurants around the country. But some small
stores have survived. In Ann Arbor, many of
thing like that." them have found a way to thrive.
"People who go there would never step foot
into this place," Jimmy Curtiss said Monday
JIMMY CUR TISS as his shift at Cafe Ambrosia neared its end.
Cafd Ambrosia He was talking about how different this place
is from the chains that surround the Maynard
Street shop. "I think the difference between us
and them, at the most fundamental level, is that
we attract a different demographic."
A brunette graduate student mingled with a
customer while acashier in tight jeans served
black coffee to an Ann Arbor father and his
eight-year old son. The barista cranked up the
radio. It was playing an upbeat song that most
on campus probably wouldn't recognize, but
the Program in the Environment students sit-
ting in the corner nodded in approval at the

selection.
"You know a lot of businesses have a lot of
lip service and rhetoric about community and
securing a bunch of customers," Curtiss said.
"But here it's not a front or anything like that."
Mingling with the cashiers, though, isn't
what a lot of people are looking for in a coffee
shop, and that's why there's room in the market
for Starbucks too.
"It doesn't matter if the barista knows my
name," said LSA senior Abby Morris as she
sat in Starbucks last night. "I recognize all
these people and I'm sure they know me, but it
doesn't really matter. I still feel like it's a com-
munity, but I don't want to talk to everybody
for twenty minutes."
A guy carrying a guitar over his shoulder
walked past and headed downstairs. Curtiss
mentioned that Ambrosia is a big supporter of
local art.
"It's kind of become our reputation, since
we've opened up our basement and started
having shows down there," he said.
It's things like those basement shows and
attracting "a different demographic" that
keep stores without the focus-grouped interi-
ors, marketing budgets, selection and buying
power of Starbucks or Borders in business.
Ambrosia dominates the hipster graduate stu-
dent market. Despite having a much smaller
inventory than the behemoth down the street,
Shaman Drum survives by cleaning up on
textbook sales and catering to professors.
And people who want to smoke a cigarette or
hookah while they work have no place to go
besides South University Avenue's Rendez
Vous Caf.
Rendez Vous owner Nizar Elawar attributes
the restaurant's success its unique products.
"We provide high quality fair trade coffee,
which isvery appealing," he said. "Not to men-
tion the biggest crepe menu in Ann Arbor."

Shaman Drum bookshop sits less than a
hundred yards away from Borders. Although
not jammed with 200,000 different books, its
collection contains esoteric titles that attract
academics - many of whom see their own
obscure works on the shelves at Shaman.
"Our core customers are people who take
the life of the mind seriously," said Shaman
Drum owner Karl Pohrt. "Over the years that
more often than not has meant professors
and graduate students in the humanities,
although everyone is welcome."
Shaman Drum also has what could be the
ultimate niche market: textbooks. The book-
store makes the bulk of its revenue twice a
year, at the start of fall and winter semesters.
This lets it operate a bookstore that, on its
own, would probably fall prey to the big store
down the street that probably has the book
you're looking for in stock.
While independent stores survive by cor-
nering a niche market, chains make their
money by being bigger and stronger.
"People come here because we carry a vast
selection," said Borders spokeswoman Anne
Roman. Compared to a smaller bookstore,
Borders is a mega mall: there's an all-in-one
caf, lounge and an area for musical perfor-
mances. Still, Borders strives for a small-store
feel. Roman said Borders customers value
"that community feeling."
There's something unique about a place that
can support a Shaman Drum down the street
from a Borders, a Caf6 Ambrosia around the
corner from a Starbucks. Perhaps that thing
is the immense appetite for difference and a
diversity of tastes.
"The intimate, eclectic nature of Ann Arbor
is reflected - actually defined - by many of
the retail stores, theaters and restaurants in
the area," Pohrt said. "I certainly hope we
contribute to the vitality of this fine city."

(TOP) Ambrosia lends itself to an ecclectic crowd of loyal locals. (ANGELA CESERE/Daily)
(BOTTOM LEFT) Shaman Drum goes beyond textbook sales with its focus on obscure titles that the chains don't carry. (JENNIFER KRON/Daily)
(BOTTOM RIGHT) Customers relax outside Rendez Vous on their patio that overlooks South University Avenue. (ANGELA CESERE/Daily)

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