Beer Depot's landmark 'Drive Thru' sign will be restored at downtown Ann Arbor business
Photo from interfluence.com
The vintage sign will be repaired and reinstalled at the business, which is located on East William Street in downtown Ann Arbor.
“After a lengthy appeal process, we’re ecstatic to be able to tell you that the historic Beer Depot sign will be restored to its original Doo Wop Era glory!” according to the Beer Depot’s “Save our Sign” blog.
The owners of the store launched the blog last year after a strong gust of wind sent the vintage sign crashing onto the ground. The sign, which is believed to be about 50 years old, was significantly damaged.
But as store owner Joe Kouza went to pull permits to reinstall the sign, he was informed a city ordinance would not allow the original sign or a replica to be erected again due to city height, size and setback requirements.
Ryan Stanton | AnnArbor.com
According to the ordinance, which restricts signs prior to May 1, 1975, “No nonconforming sign shall be repaired or erected after being damaged if the repair or erection of the sign would cost more than 50 (percent) of the cost of an identical new sign.”
Ian Gray, a media consultant for the Beer Depot, said the cost to restore the sign would total $20,000 — significantly more than half the cost of a new sign.
So, after gathering public input, Kouza decided to take the issue to Ann Arbor’s Sign Board of Appeals and was granted a variance in April.
“Since the Historic District Commission determined the proposed sign is iconic to the area and supports the reinstallation of the sign, (planning) staff finds that re-erection of the original Beer Depot sign will result in substantial justice being done,” according to the city’s planning staff report.
Photo from Jim Bolton
City Planner Chris Cheng said the Beer Depot now has the go ahead to reinstall the sign.
“They are approved and it can go up anytime,” Cheng said. “We’ve been waiting; we want it back up, too.”
Gray said Jim Bolton of Michigan-based JanSigns currently is repairing the sign. He expects the restoration work will be completed in the next few weeks.
The main concern, he said, is the pricetag: $20,000 to restore the sign and $2,000 to go through the appeals process with the city.
“The main delay in restoring the sign since (the variance was granted) has been financial,” Gray wrote in an email. “There has been some question as to whether or not the sign being blown down was covered by the Beer Depot’s insurance policy, and as we all know, Michigan’s economy has been on the rebound.”
He said Kouza is slowly paying for the restoration work out of pocket. He’s considered fundraising efforts, such as T-shirt sales or a Kickstarter campaign.
But despite the costs, Gray said Kouza is “committed” to restoring the sign — which Gray calls a classic piece of Americana.
Although the sign is not technically considered historic — it’s estimated it was installed sometime in the 1960s — it has remained a staple at the store even after the drive-thru was discontinued in 2005.
Gray said that without the sign, the Beer Depot is just a “blocky building.”
“(The sign) is an integral part it gave it character,” he said. “It’s an icon of an era. It lends a real uniqueness at a time when Ann Arbor is losing a lot of its character.”