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Posted on Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 10:37 a.m.

The Beer Depot gets new sign with familiar look

By Ben Freed


A worker from JAN Signs, LLC prepares to weld the new "Drive-Thru" sign into place at the Beer Depot on William Street in downtown Ann Arbor.

Ben Freed |

After nearly two years of battling and fundraising, a restored “Drive-Thru” signed hung outside of downtown Ann Arbor's The Beer Depot early Thursday morning.

“It’s more rewarding than anything else,” said Ian Gray, a media consultant for the store.

“We’re doing so many things in this city with the high rises and new developments that take away from the character of the city, it’s great to see this get back to the way it should be.”

A storm damaged the sign, which hung outside the store at 114 E. William St. since the 1960s, in April 2011.

City ordinances initially frustrated owner Joe Kouza’s efforts to restore and re-install the downtown fixture.

“In the end, the city was very helpful,” Gray said. “The codes and ordinances just aren’t designed to make something like this very easy.”

The Beer Depot’s website had a “Save our Sign” blog and the store launched an indiegogo campaign to fundraise. Gray said that while the campaign was not an overwhelming success, the attention it attracted led some anonymous donors to approach the store privately and offer larger donations.

In September 2012, Gray said the cost to restore the sign was approximately $20,000.

“The big snag was with the insurance company,” he said. “They refused to pay, so we had to take them to court where we got a closed-door settlement.”

Once everything was squared away with the city and the funding, Wayne-based JAN Signs, LLC was contracted to restore the sign. Just the shell of the sign was up on Thursday, but Jim Bolton of JAN Signs said that neon lighting would be installed sometime after February 11, once the electrical permits are taken care of.

“People say that supposedly a sign doesn’t impact business,” Gray said.

“But sales have been down 10-20 percent over the past two years since the sign was down, so we really can’t wait for this to help pick things back up.”

Ben Freed covers business for You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Reach out to Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2



Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 7:42 a.m.

Have not been there for 20 years. Ill have to drive up from Tecumseh and buy some Corona this weekend...for old times sake.


Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 1:07 a.m.

I was SURE that (way back) when the Million Dollar Penthouses on Main were sold, the aerial view of the Beer Depot and related activities was the big draw. ( ... probably why the donations for restoration..., ...:-)!!! )


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 10:45 p.m.

AS usual the arrogant members of the city council make things more difficult than better for OUR city!

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 11:04 p.m.

They didn't make the current sign law. Every city has sign laws. Sign laws protect us from ugly signs. Sign laws are critical.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 8:56 p.m.

Nice, I was more of a Beer Vault person back in the day, but this is still nice to see.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 8:43 p.m.

If you can't drive thru, why does the sign say "Drive Thru" ??? Just sayin'


Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 7:09 p.m.

The store owner tells you but the article does not - that it is a historical sign, so it can say it, even though it is not a drive-thru anymore.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 8:35 p.m.



Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 8:28 p.m.

I found the old sign an eyesore. This sign looks much better.

Linda Peck

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 6:34 p.m.

This is great news! A bit of the old stye back in town. We need to do this more, and what about our Blimpy Burgers? How can we retain some of that old style? Pray for them to get a new place and do it the same? Sigh.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 6:09 p.m.

Now if we could only drive thru again.


Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 3:09 p.m.

There were two drive tru's in town, one on Detroit St across from the farmers market ( behind Delong's, now Teriyaki Time )exiting to Fifth Ave and this one.

Ben Freed

Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 3:09 a.m.

According to Lizzy's last article, the drive thru was discontinued in 2005 when the current owner acquired the liquor license for the store.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 7:14 p.m.

Agreed, often I find myself awake at night pondering about the lack of drive thru beer stores. Seriously.

ms 2013

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 5:46 p.m.

glad its back cause i missed it alot


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 5:13 p.m.

"Jim Bolton of JAS Sign said that neon lighting would be installed sometime after January 11, once the electrical permits are taken care of." I know this is obvious, but I'm assuming this meant to say February 11.

Ben Freed

Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 3:07 a.m.

Thanks Ben, you're absolutely right, we went back and fixed that. Ben


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 4:26 p.m.

I thought beer sales were really impacted by the new law requiring a name for a keg.

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 9:58 p.m.

@SMAIVE: You're right about that. We wrote a story a while back on falling keg sales.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 4:09 p.m.

Thanks for the heads up. I'll put it on my route to see how things are going and what the new sign looks like. I can't wait. I always wondered when they were going to do this. I imagine they got a permit this time. I don't drink but I know people who do and they enjoy the variety of beverages. I once purchased some whiskey as a gift and I was in and out in a jiffy. Cheers.

Ben Freed

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 4:59 p.m.

Conundrummy, They did get the necessary permits from the city, it just took a while to make sure everything was on the up-and-up.