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Posted on Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Future of Ann Arbor auto shop unclear after brewpub owners purchase building

By Lizzy Alfs


John Carter, the owner of Carter's Auto Service in Ann Arbor, is operating on a month-to-month lease and might have to vacate his building after it was sold last year.

Joseph Tobianski |

Editor's note: The name of the building owner has been changed to reflect the most recent information available on state records.

For John Carter, it’s business as usual at Carter’s Auto Service on Ann Arbor’s Old West Side, but change could be coming to his 16-year-old repair shop following a building acquisition last year.

City records show the building, located at 507 and 509 S. Ashley St. in the Old West Side Historic District, was sold in August for $225,000 to AQRE529 LLC, registered to Joel Flowers. Flowers is involved with a number of Michigan companies, including Iridium Consulting LLC and Big Buck Brewery & Steakhouse.

Now, Carter said he’s operating on a month-to-month lease and was told by the new owners he might have to vacate the space.

“When they first bought this place in August, (the new owners) said at any point when they give me notice, I have to be out in two months time…they believe they’re going to turn this into a brewpub,” he said.

Carter, also a part time instructor at Washtenaw Community College, opened Carter’s Auto on South Ashley Street in 1996, replacing the long-time Ashley Auto. He was leasing the space month-to-month from Ashley Auto owner Daniel Lyons, who died several years ago, and later from a Lyons family trust. Carter said he shared the building with TC Auto for years, until the owner moved out a few months ago.

The 3,616-square-foot building was listed for sale in 2011 with Colliers International Ann Arbor.


The building at 507 S. Ashley St. in Ann Arbor was sold last year to a brewery owner.

Photo from Colliers

If Carter is told by his new landlords to vacate the building, he hopes to open another auto shop nearby.

“I could be staying indefinitely. I don’t know yet,” he said. “But I’m actively looking around for another location. It would need to be close by in order for my customers to follow me.”

The new building owners did not return multiple requests for comment throughout the past several months. It’s unclear what their plans are for the building, and no permits have been filed with the city of Ann Arbor. City planning manager Wendy Rampson said planning staff discussed brewpub plans with the owner more than a year ago, but the city hasn't heard anything since that time.

Because the Carter’s Auto Service building is located in the city’s Old West Side Historic District, all plans would require approval from the Historic District Commission. Carter said the building needs “major improvements,” including infrastructure repairs to fix leaks.

The property is located in the city’s D2 zoning. It’s also located in the floodplain, meaning there are certain restrictions on building renovations or expansions. Jerry Hancock, the city's stormwater and floodplain programs coordinator, said an expansion to the building would be extremely difficult, but it could be renovated as long as plans receive approval from the HDC.

Founded in 1995, Big Buck Brewery & Steakhouse once operated several brewpubs in Michigan and one in Texas. The only remaining restaurant under the Big Buck name is in Gaylord after a series of financial troubles for the company, several leadership changes, plummeting stock, a bankruptcy filing, and eventually going private.

According to a Detroit Free Press article from 2004, the Wayne County Employees’ Retirement took a $6 million hit from the Big Buck bankruptcy. The county pension system had invested $12 million in the brewpub chain prior to the filing.

The Big Buck Brewery & Steakhouse website says the company makes a line of liquid products, including artisan spirits, beer, wine, soda and cocktail mixers. “We complement our line of liquids with a casual family dining experience, quality food and excellent service,” the website says.

Although Carter hasn’t heard from his new landlords about their plans, he intends to continue operating his auto shop until he’s told to leave. If he moves, he hopes his customers will follow him.

“I have customers going all the way back to 1983,” he said. “I was fixing cars in the area for a long time before I decided to open my own business.”

“I believe Ann Arbor is very attuned to the idea of shopping locally and preferring to come to a place like this rather than spending money on a huge conglomerate company that has locations everywhere,” he continued.

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


Dr. Libert

Mon, Feb 4, 2013 : 4:09 p.m.

I'm just glad he finally got back from Barsoom.


Mon, Feb 4, 2013 : 3:39 p.m.

Doesn't Ann Arbor have enough microbrew pubs.


Mon, Feb 4, 2013 : 3:26 p.m.

Sounds like a good place for a pizza or burger joint.


Mon, Feb 4, 2013 : 1:17 a.m.

Have always had good work done at Carter's Auto. May he and his shop land nearby.

Seasoned Cit

Mon, Feb 4, 2013 : 12:01 a.m.

Can someone point out the purpose of the story? Things are really slow on the Real Estate beat. At least the UM didn't buy the building so we don't have a Blimpy Burger repeat.

Paula Gardner

Mon, Feb 4, 2013 : 12:24 p.m.

Slow?! Hardly. We value reporting what's going on with property before the average customer notices a "closed" or "coming soon" sign on a building.

Richard C

Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 11:17 p.m.

This sounds like a recipe for a property closed and shuttered for 5 years or more. I hope Carter's survives this.

cornelius McDougenschniefferburgenstein jr. 3 esq.

Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 10:48 p.m.

best place to have your CARTER carbareuter rebuilt.a brewpub there is doomed ask leopolds.its south of william+out of the loop.


Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 3:50 p.m.

Big buck is so low on the craft beer radar; I'm wondering who will occupy the place when their gone, before they open ?

Linda Peck

Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 3:16 p.m.

I would think Carter's repairs would be at least as valuable as another brew pub. People downtown need cars fixed, too. These basic services are needed downtown.


Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 3:40 p.m.

Haven't you heard the master plan? People downtown aren't supposed to want or need or have cars. But they do need to drink.


Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 3:10 p.m.

I get the distinct feeling that the future of this building is going to involve a brewpub.


Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 5:27 p.m.

I think the future of this building is going to involve a bulldozer. It's not historic just really old and decrepit.


Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 3:39 p.m.

Yep. Just down the street from the new high-rise on the Fox Tent property. There goes the neighborhood ...


Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 2:12 p.m.

I sortof agree with Billy. That price seems pretty nice. Why didn't Mr. Carter buy the place? If I were him I would have made every effort to buy.


Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 5:09 p.m.

Thats a bummer but understandable. Thank you Elizabeth. :)

Lizzy Alfs

Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 3:02 p.m.

Carter said purchasing the building wasn't an option for him financially. He also went and looks at Muncy's when that was closing to talk about purchasing the business, but the price was too high for him so he didn't consider it.


Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 1:41 p.m.

"The building, located at 507 and 509 S. Ashley St. in the Old West Side Historic District, was sold in August to Linda Fath-Azam for $225,000, city records show. " I'd like to note that price is EXTREMELY.....I mean GROSSLY AND DISGUSTINGLY low for TWO commercial parcels in a historic district of this city. Why was it sold for so cheap?


Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 3:41 p.m.

Flood plain + historic district meddlers = trouble

Lizzy Alfs

Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 3:01 p.m.

The building has an assessed value of $141,900. I was in there last week, and it's really in rough shape, including the leaking walls.


Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 3 p.m.

It's probably so cheap because of the hassles involved in dealing with the Hysterical Commission to make any changes.

Hot Sam

Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 2:16 p.m.

As Paul Harvey would have said..."the rrrest of the story..."


Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 12:46 p.m.

Why was a pension fund investing in a brewery-restaurant chain? A pension got stuck with the Lower Town land when the developer went under. Hopefully, we are past our "irrational exuberance" phase. But that is really not what this article is about.

Lizzy Alfs

Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 3:03 p.m.

Here is a Detroit News article from 2012 that talks more in depth about the pension fund and its failed investments over the years:

Elaine F. Owsley

Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 12:45 p.m.

So, it's a building that's been used for auto repair - must be some environment impact - and it's in need of many repairs, and it's on a flood plain and in the Historical District. What miracle could possibly turn it into a restaurant and brew pub?

David Paris

Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 3:44 p.m.

@Ignatz: No offense to Mr.Carter, but I've never seen his shop featured in a Hot Rod poster. In other words, I wouldn't compare Carter's to Vinsetta's. Not to mention the Flood Plane that adds a nice touch!

Lizzy Alfs

Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 2:59 p.m.

@Ignatz: Vinsettas Garage is a great example. I grew up in that area, and it's pretty incredible how they transformed that building.


Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 2:25 p.m.

Elaine, An auto repair shop in Berkley has already made a successful transformation to a restaurant; Vinsetta's Garage.

Nicholas Urfe

Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 2:08 p.m.

"What miracle could possibly turn it into a restaurant and brew pub?" Easy - The DDA giving them our money.

Hot Sam

Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 1:24 p.m.

"""What miracle could possibly turn it into a restaurant and brew pub?""" Cater to the homeless??


Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 12:31 p.m.

I believe the Big Buck in Gaylord is closed.


Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 2:34 p.m.

I was there in December and it was closed. It was mid week, maybe it is only open on the weekends.

Adam Zeeb

Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 1:17 p.m.

I was there in September. It was open then, and I haven't heard anything about it closing.


Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 11:47 a.m.

There was a Big Buck on I-75 in Auburn Hills, right across from the Chrysler Tech Center. It had good food and beer and just closed overnight around 2007. I believe it was a dispute with the landlord over new lease terms. Now the building sits unopened, but appears to have all of the furniture, fixtures, and equipment still inside.

Lizzy Alfs

Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 2:57 p.m.

You're right about the dispute over lease terms. Here is an article: It's interesting that all the equipment and furniture is still inside. Probably means they've been searching for a new location for a while, but plans may have been sidelined with the downturn.

Dog Guy

Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 2:39 p.m.

Downtown Ann Arbor has many big bucks restaurants and big bucks parking as well.