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Posted on Fri, Sep 14, 2012 : 2:57 p.m.

Beer Depot's landmark 'Drive Thru' sign will be restored at downtown Ann Arbor business

By Lizzy Alfs


The Beer Depot signed is being repaired and will be erected at the downtown Ann Arbor business.

Photo from

A year and a half after the Beer Depot’s landmark “Drive Thru” sign crashed to the ground, the saga has come to a happy — albeit expensive — end for the owners of the long-time convenience store.

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.


The Beer Depot sign, located at 114 E. William St., before it fell over in April 2011.

Ryan Stanton |

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.


The Beer Depot sign is currently being repaired by Jim Bolton of JanSigns.

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.”

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at Follow her on Twitter at



Sat, Sep 15, 2012 : 8:38 p.m.

Well, after all the negative comments, I just have to say that the sign (even if no longer needed to guide drive-thrus) IS iconic and IS a memorable sight down-town. I'm glad that it was both possible to re-install it, and that it is going to be restored.

Jay Thomas

Sat, Sep 15, 2012 : 4:01 p.m.

I think Shamoon and Najiba Kouza are also the owners of the party store at 201 N. Main, a block or two away.


Sat, Sep 15, 2012 : 1 p.m.



Sat, Sep 15, 2012 : 12:24 p.m.

The truly sad thing is that Ann Arbor has a "Sign Board of Appeals."


Sat, Sep 15, 2012 : 12:10 p.m.

Yes indeed, hooray for the sign.

Honest Abe

Sat, Sep 15, 2012 : 6:36 a.m.

I would give $20,000.00 to feed some unfortunate children and buy them coats for the upcoming winter before I would go get my Beer Depot sign refurbished. I would think the $10 packs of cigarettes they sell or the $2.00 20 oz pop's over the years would have the owners worries whittled near next to nothing. And apparently I am right. This poor soul is having problems getting his $20K sign project off the ground. Sorry. This is article is not news. Perhaps an article on finding the Ann Arbor attacker/rapist would be more useful/helpful. Seems we do not heat much about that anymore. what's wrong?! Don't wanna scare the students who just arrived? Maybe you just do not want to tarnish precious Ann Arbor.

Honest Abe

Sat, Sep 15, 2012 : 6:37 a.m.

**Correction** Seems we do not hear much about that anymore. what's wrong?! Don't wanna scare the students who just arrived? Maybe you just do not want to tarnish precious Ann Arbor.


Sat, Sep 15, 2012 : 2:47 a.m.

$20,000 for a SIGN? Does no one find that odd? I'm looking at the picture, and I see the different lights and framing, etc. but $20,000?!! My car cost less than that, and it has an internal combustion engine, heat, lights on the front and back, seats, etc. Does no one else think that seems like a lot for a sign? Even a big lit-up one?!


Sat, Sep 15, 2012 : 1:28 p.m.

Yea, if the beer depot owner was taking bids, I suppose I would have been more than happy to do it for half price, $10k. Takes special tools? No problem, I'd buy a very nice tig welder, diamond grinder, etc, and have $5k left over...


Sat, Sep 15, 2012 : 2:36 a.m.

The Beer Vault was better, but hail to the Beer Depot


Sat, Sep 15, 2012 : 1:11 a.m.

Only in Ann Arbor will politics prevent a sign for simply being put back into place, after a natural event accident knocked it down, for nearly two years. It's pathetic that it took this long, but I'm glad for Beer Depot to get their signage back.

Honest Abe

Sat, Sep 15, 2012 : 1:02 a.m.

Has Beer Depot ever done anything for any of you readers? Least without you paying for it!!?? That is what I thought! I could care less about Beer Depot's sign woes. So, I will say it again.........From the ridiculous prices they charge....I'm sure they can pay for their sign, permits and all. Geesh.


Fri, Sep 14, 2012 : 11 p.m.

So, even a blind squirrel can find a nut sometimes.

Elaine F. Owsley

Fri, Sep 14, 2012 : 10:19 p.m.

Good grief!!! Sometimes the Histerical District Commission gets it right.


Fri, Sep 14, 2012 : 10:03 p.m.

That was a truly heartwarming story. However, in my opinion, Beer Depot should not even advertise that they are a brewer's supply store. Why? -They have a completely random collection of supplies that are incompatible with each other. Example: the only carboys they carry are 1 gallon size, while the only bungs they carry are absolutely massive. I normally shop at a brewer's supply store in Minneapolis (, which has a massive inventory, and I still cannot fathom what the bungs that Beer Depot would fit int. -The prices are completely insane. Using the 1 gallon carboys they stock as an example, when I stopped in there, these cost $10. Yes, that is $10 for an empty glass 1-gallon jug. You could buy a gallon of organic apple cider in a glass jug and pay less and get the cider to go with it. -The person who works there (or at least who was working there at the time) has zero knowledge about brewing (not to mention, apparently limited knowledge about what they sell), and therefore could not answer my question as to whether they had a certain variety of sanitizer on hand. Is it a great place to stop in and buy a 6-pack? Maybe it is, but I can't attest to that. What I can say is it is an utter waste of time to stop there for brewing supplies, unless you are walking in with no expectations.


Fri, Sep 14, 2012 : 9:42 p.m.

Insurance will only cover it if it was insured for current replacement costs.


Fri, Sep 14, 2012 : 9:34 p.m.

Good News! The insurance company should cover the costs associated with the damage.


Fri, Sep 14, 2012 : 9:29 p.m.

Re-open the drive thru! That was iconic too! Good to hear that the city of AA has found a way to make money off of somebody's misfortune.


Fri, Sep 14, 2012 : 9:17 p.m.

I've always been a fan of this place since I started homebrewing years ago. Not a huge selection,but I give them credit for being the only place within a huge range to carry brewing supplies way before it was trendy.


Fri, Sep 14, 2012 : 8:56 p.m.

I'd rather see them restore their drive-thru service.


Sat, Sep 15, 2012 : 3:27 a.m.

True dat. The drive thru was WAY more iconic than the sign.

Honest Abe

Fri, Sep 14, 2012 : 7:45 p.m.

Beer Depot is RIDICULOUS on their prices! So yeah, I'm sure they can have the sign restored, no problem.


Fri, Sep 14, 2012 : 9:55 p.m.

Honest Abe: I agree completely. See my post below.


Fri, Sep 14, 2012 : 9:43 p.m.

well there are plenty of krogers and a new costco for you to shop at!

Linda Peck

Fri, Sep 14, 2012 : 7:32 p.m.

Hooray for the sign! I always patronized the Beer Depot for my milk and bread! Seriously! I drove through their in my young days. Always sweet people working there, always lovely. Makes me want to own a drive-through milk and bread depot.

Patty Bradley

Fri, Sep 14, 2012 : 7:31 p.m.

Hooray! Thank you to everyone involved in the restoration.