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Downtown auto – practical service at a convenient location

Aaron and Stephanie Schmitt have owned Downtown Auto in Green Bay since August 2019

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December 28, 2022

GREEN BAY – Downtown areas are often known for their restaurants, coffee shops, recreational opportunities, office buildings and a handful of entertainment options.

Because of their limited space, city centers normally don’t have auto service shops – “normally” being the key word.

Downtown Auto Service (434 E. Walnut St.) is located smack dab in the middle of the City of Green Bay, and Owners Aaron and Stephanie Schmitt said they aim to be unique when it comes to patron convenience – both in location and service.

“I’d guess about 50% of our business comes from people within the downtown area who drop their vehicle off in the morning, walk to work and then walk back to get their vehicle at the end of the day,” Aaron said. “We have other clients as well, but I think that’s what makes us unique.”

Celebrating more than three years since the couple purchased the business from former owner Dave Shaw (August 2019), the Schmitts said they take pride in the service their business offers.

“Dave’s philosophy was simple – ‘Do it right,’” Aaron said. “It seems simple, so we keep to the basics.”
A meant-to-be moment
Aaron said the story behind how he and his wife acquired the business is a story within itself.

“(In 2017), when Dave was looking to retire, he reached out to me,” he said. “I was working at a shop on the east side that closed, but I had an old resume on I didn’t even know existed. He asked me if I wanted to be a mechanic, and I said, ‘No, I’m looking at buying a place – I already have two I’m looking at.’”

Stephanie said she and Aaron thought it was best to go independent at the time.

“You don’t know what you have until you own your own place and can monitor everything,” she said. “We wanted to have our own place so we could do what’s right for customers, and we were in the process of doing that.”

Aaron echoed his wife’s sentiments.

Downtown Auto Service owners Stephanie, left, and Aaron Schmitt have owned the business since August 2019. Rich Palzewic Photo

“I’ve worked in places in the past where it didn’t align with my views, so we wanted to make a place where people could bring their cars and be confident there was trust between everybody,” he said. “Dave called me, we met and I told him I’d work for him for two years before purchasing the building. We talked about his clientele and his retirement plans. He said he wanted out in a maximum of two years and wanted to make sure whoever took over had the same values as he did. He owned it 25 years to the day he sold it (to me).”

Stephanie said Dave took the same approach with Aaron that was taken with him 25 years earlier.

“(Dave) started that way as well,” she said. “He was a tech at Downtown Auto for four years before purchasing, and it was a smooth transition for him. He wanted to do the same, which was great because all the customers learned about Aaron and knew him as we took over. It was one of those weird meant-to-be things we didn’t know was going to happen. We didn’t have a chance to be nervous – being naive about (being a business owner) was a good thing.”
Being business owners
Since taking over, like many other businesses, the pair has had to weather the COVID-19 pandemic and supply-chain-issues storm.

“We’ve never changed our values with customers because there are people who come in here all the time,” Aaron said. “I’ve been coming here since I was a kid with my parents, so it was cool to take it over.”

Aaron said it’s been “eye-opening to own a business.”

“No matter how many people tell you how much work goes into owning a business, you don’t know until you do it,” he said. “I went from being a technician to being a business owner overnight. It also took me out of the shop, which hurt from a productivity standpoint because we were down a tech at that point.”

New to the realm of business ownership, Aaron said they hired a business coach to help walk them through what was needed to make the shop run smoothly.

“I came on board more at that point,” Stephanie, who is a registered nurse by trade, said. “I work in HR (human resources) and am the business manager. When we leave here at night, you’re still responsible for your employees.”

Stephanie said they are constantly thinking and figuring out different ways they can do things better for everybody – customers, employees and themselves.

“It’s the cost of doing business,” she said. “We’ve worked hard on our culture – that’s the big buzzword right now. You need to have a good work environment, so people don’t leave and job-hop. We don’t want that – that’s no fun for anybody.”

Aaron said he likes the work environment he, Stephanie and the employees have created.

Downtown Auto Service co-owner Aaron Schmitt said the shop is currently booking appointments about a month out. Rich Palzewic Photo

“If you ask any of our technicians, service advisors or (our) receptionist, I’m confident they’d tell you they enjoy coming to work,” he said.

Stephanie said part of Downtown Auto’s work culture focus is making sure to not overwork themselves or their employees.

“That’s part of the reason we’re not open on the weekends,” she said. “Could we open Saturday and have enough work to keep us busy? Absolutely. But we don’t want to do that. We want everyone to have a nice work/life balance. We need our time, too. We have younger kids, so it’s important to have family time. Weekends downtown are more about events.”

Downtown Auto hours are Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Space is limited
Because space in a downtown area can be somewhat limited, the couple said they have to get creative with space.

“Space is very limited,” Stephanie said. “We have five bays, so we can get five cars in at once. We usually do about 12 vehicles a day, which comes out to about 50 or 60 a week. It all depends on what the vehicle needs done.”

Changing with the times
As the automobile industry begins to see changes – through a gradual shift to more hybrid or electric vehicles (EV) – auto repair shops are also making changes to service them.

Aaron said Downtown Auto is no different and has evolved as well.

“We recently ordered an electric vehicle hoist so you can put it on the outside edges of the vehicle so you can drop the whole battery chassis over the middle,” he said. “We wouldn’t be able to do that if we didn’t have that hoist. Some of our technicians have also gone through EV training.”

Aaron said they’ve already worked on several EVs in the shop.

“We’ve had a few Teslas in here,” he said. “They still have tires, brakes and suspensions and need alignments. Most electric vehicles are like standard (cars), except they don’t have oil leaks – they have coolant leaks. They still have cooling systems that cool the battery packs and electric motors. There’s still a lot of maintenance on them.”

Business is booming
The couple said it’s a bit abnormal right now, but the shop is currently scheduling appointments about a month out – which is twice as long as normal.

Stephanie said after the initial concerns of the pandemic passed – people weren’t driving as much then – business returned and has remained steady.

“We are very busy,” she said. “Lately, I think our business is good because everybody wants to keep their cars in good shape because the vehicle market is so terrible right now. The month out is more recent – maybe in the last six months. Normally, it’s only a couple of weeks – that’s a little easier for customers to stomach.”

Aaron said supply-chain issues vary from week to week.

“It’s more the price of things going up,” he said. “We used to get (brake) rotors for $12 apiece, but now they’re $45. The cost of a brake job for a customer has gone from $250 to like $500 – it’s tough. Everyone understands because it’s not just our industry.”

Downtown Auto also offers a shuttle service if customers work further away than within walking distance.

“We used to have a loaner fleet, but we shut that down due to cost,” Aaron said. “If you need something a little more long-term, we can help with a rental car as well.”

For more information on Downtown Auto, visit

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