#LifeOnTheAvenue is a series that will profile the people, organizations and places in the University Avenue Corridor that make the region unique, compelling and – most importantly – vital to Flint’s bright future. Follow along on social media using the #LifeOnTheAvenue hashtag.
Carriage Town Auto and Truck Repair has been part of the University Avenue Corridor region for more than 30 years, serving the community and its residents.
Community support has made a significant impact on the business and its ability to continue operating over the years.
“Definitely being part of this area is great. The community comes together,” said Mike Ritzert, Jr., owner of Carriage Town Auto and Truck Repair. “It’s been family-owned and operated since the beginning. I want to stay here because of sentimental value and even though it can be stressful at times, it’s worth it to keep moving forward.”
The auto shop is just around the corner from Kettering University and Einstein Bros Bagel, across the street from Durant-Tuuri-Mott Elementary School and about a mile from downtown Flint.
Ritzert took over as owner of Carriage Town Auto in August of 2013 after his uncle Paul Ritzert passed away. He questioned whether or not he should simply sell it and move on. But the University Avenue Corridor Coalition (UACC) rallied behind Mike Ritzert and the business.
The UACC, founded in 2012, is filled with neighborhoods, small businesses, schools, nonprofit organizations and anchor institutions all working to create greater community collaboration with a singular long-term goal -- creating a thriving, vibrant region in the heart of Flint.
The region extends from McLaren Hospital on the west to the University of Michigan-Flint on the East. It is bounded by Hurley Medical Center and Whaley Children’s Center on the north and the Flint River on the south. The organization’s mission is to transform the region into an attractive and crime-free community that is conducive to sustainable development.
Carriage Town Auto has seen firsthand what community involvement can do for a business, its employees and its customers.
“It was actually a great feeling for them to say, ‘We want you to stay in business. We want to help you out,’” Ritzert said. “It meant a lot.”
Jack Stock, Director of External Relations at Kettering University, was the first one to step in and get to work at Carriage Town Auto. Ritzert said his employees had a good laugh when they saw Stock in a suit and tie power washing the building to prepare it for painting.
For Stock, it made sense. It was an auto shop that Kettering staff and students used and helping it stay open was a better alternative for the community than seeing the business close.
"Look, when you spend your money locally -- be it on food, for automotive care, for entertainment -- it creates jobs and allows for a sustainable, stable community,” Stock said. “We have a big job ahead of us, and the only way we are going to improve the area and create jobs is if we support those businesses who are choosing to stay in our neighborhoods."
Volunteers then stepped in to give the building a fresh coat of paint and clean up brush and the sidewalk area.
Over the years, Ritzert has watched hordes of volunteers make a difference in the corridor. He’s watched multiple clean-up days take place, a landscaped boulevard be put in down the avenue and the razing of several blighted properties.
Volunteers have beautified and maintained landscaping, fixed broken windows, painted residences and businesses and – most importantly – brought a fresh perspective and collaborative spirit to the avenue. They've also inspired other community partners to launch similar initiatives modeled after Kettering's successful Service Saturdays program.
“I’ve really liked watching the transformation. It’s just a better look and a better atmosphere,” Ritzert said.
Three years ago Ritzert kept Carriage Town Auto and Truck Repair open for his family, for their customers and for the community. He hasn’t regretted that.
“We try to be honest and reasonable, a trusted shop. That’s what my Uncle Paul always taught me. Just be honest,” Ritzert said.