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Eighty-nine Years at the Corner of Main and Stadium

Grace Shackman

Schneiders' corner has been a fruit farm, a gas station, and a haven for hungry police officers

In 1903, blacksmith John Schneider sold his shop on Washington Street near Ashley and bought a fruit farm and a farmhouse on South Main Street. The family remained in business on the corner continuously until last summer.

The Schneiders' fruit farm was bounded by what are today Stadium on the south, Edgewood on the west, Main on the east, and Berkley on the north. Later, Snyder Avenue was cut through in front of the house. The new street was actually named for the Schneider family: the Anglicized spelling was a concession to anti-German sentiment during World War I. The war also brought the family a new line of work, when John's son Titus opened a single-pump gas station at the Main Street corner. Titus built a house for his young family next door to the station; originally it faced Main, but an addition in the 1930's gave it more prominence along West Stadium. Titus Schneider ran the gas station until 1946, then leased it to Standard Oil. In 1950, he sold it to his sons John and Titus, who is usually called "Ti." In 1957, the brothers replaced their first building with a new gas station built to Standard Oil's specifications. A perfect specimen of the immaculate, enameled-steel roadside icons of the postwar era, it's still there today, but it has changed use twice.

"In the early Seventies," Ti says, "there was a gas shortage. We couldn't get enough gas, so we started repairing cars. Then things started easing up, but by Seventy-Nine or Eighty, things got tight as far as parts go, and there was computer technology in the cars. So we changed to a convenience store."

The conversion was simply a matter of closing up the big garage doors and changing the blue letters on the wall to read "Grocery" instead of "Standard." But Schneider*s party store had only a brief period of prosperity. "That was sort of the beginning of a boom for convenience stores," Ti says. "Soon they were overbuilt. Every time a new business opened, it would take five or ten percent of ours. So we decided to sell in Nineteen-Eighty. In Nineteen Eighty-Six, we almost sold to Seven-Eleven, but the city wouldn't rezone it," he says. "They said it would make too much traffic. The politics in Ann Arbor has always been anti-business. The business climate isn't anything a small business can deal with."

John Schneider retired in 1984. In 1986, when he thought 7-Eleven would be buying the party store, Ti bought the Fredonia Grocery in Freedom Township. He lives on Pleasant Lake next door to the grocery.

Schneider's party store finally closed this past summer. But while the Schneiders have left their corner, they still own it. Nick Chapekis of Capitol Cleaners and Saline police chief Jim Douglas and his family have taken a lease with an option to buy.

Chapekis and Douglas's first goal is to run a drop-off cleaners on the site. But in September, Schneider was hoping that City Council would approve rezoning of the station, the house next door, and the empty lot next to that. In that event, the Chapekis-Douglas option to buy will go into effect and they'll put up a new building to house the cleaners and some offices. Rick Fabian of Fabian realty company moved his offices to the West Stadium house last January, and he holds the lease on that part of the property. If the rezoning is approved, the new building will include offices for Fabian, who is also the agent for the lease and sale negotiations. "It's the best location in the city for visibility," Fabian says. "I don't have to walk too far to the football games, and I even have some parking thrown in."

Although it's not part of the deal, the old farmhouse facing Snyder is also in the throes of change. Last year, it was renovated by John Sirnpkins for his Group Four realty company. "We were thinking of tearing it down," Simpkins says. "But at that time, we went to Williamsburg in Virginia, and they were restoring buildings that didn't have one-third of the quality of the building we have here.

"You can't write about Schneider's without writing about football Saturdays," Simpkins says. "That was the place for the policemen to park and eat. They made the best hot dogs in town."

"I've been there on many a cold day warming up on a Schneider dog; we all called them 'Schneider dogs,'" police officer George Patak confirms. "We start around nine-thirty or ten on those days and stay straight through as late as five or six. Frequently we don't get lunch. In the morning, when we get there, they say 'Be on point by . . .' and tell you the time you're supposed to be at your place. That left time to stop at Schneider's. For a lot of the guys, that would be the only meal they'd get all day. I called it 'the police tailgate party.' There'd be hot dogs and coffee and whatever his wife and daughter [Betty and Linda] had baked up that day. You'd just throw some money in a jar. I don't know what we're going to do this year."

[Photo caption from the original print edition]: The street leading into the Schneider farm was chauvinistically renamed Snyder during World War I, but the war also brought the family a new line of work when Titus Schneider opened a gas station in a tidy frame building on the Main Street Corner (top). His sons Ti and John replaced it with an enameled-steel Standard Oil station in 1957 (above), converted it to a convenience store about 1980. Ti Schneider closed the store last summer and leased the building to Nick Chapekis's Capitol Cleaners.

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Grace Shackman