Sixty years ago, or so, you’d roll your car into a service station and a friendly attendant would run out to fill the tank. While they were at it, they checked your oil, washed your windshield and, when they were done, they waved you on your way.
Those corner service stations also did car repairs. The mechanics’ names were usually Joe, or Sam – maybe Earl – and those names were stitched into the chest pocket of their shirt.
Those mechanics knew your name and they knew your car.
These days, car repairs are generally done in large shops at the dealership, or through corporate facilities who don’t know your name until they run your bank card.
But the traditional car repair shops of the past, while rare, are not completely gone and if the owners we talked to have their way, they’ll be around for a long time yet.
Take Belmont Collision on Goldstream Avenue, for example.
David Baird opened the shop in 1975 and ran it until he passed it on to his son, also named David Baird. The second David Baird ran the shop until five years ago when he passed it on to his son, named (you guessed it) David Baird.
“I was about nine years old when I started working here, sweeping up the shop, cleaning cars and generally just learning about cars,” said the most recent Baird.
“It’s in my blood, and I love what I do.”
Baird recognizes that the corner mechanics of yesteryear are a dying breed but is confident that his shop and those like it can and will survive.
“Cars have changed, and there’s a need to constantly update our training and equipment. We do that regularly,” said Baird.
“But the real difference in shops like ours is that we can, and do, just about everything: from body work, to mechanical. We repair electric cars and are always preparing for what’s coming next.”
What sets his shop apart from some of the competition is the fact that Baird still knows his customers.
“Seventy per cent of our customers are repeat clients,” he said. “We fix what’s wrong and never try to upsell a customer.”
Over on Burnside Road, Judith and Ray Marigold of Marigold Service are similarly proud of the work they do.
“These people are our neighbours, and we help them as much as we can, giving them a personal touch. It’s little things like changing the battery in their key fobs when they need it, or fixing a door that sticks,” said Judith.
Judith’s husband Ray has always loved car repair.
“Ray’s always been the guy who could fix anything,” Judith said. Some people are just born to it.”
Though Judith and Ray and their staff keep up with the latest technology, they have a special love for older vehicles and specialize in cars of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.
“We love those old cars, but we’re also not stuck in the past. Our techs are trained to work on just about anything that comes onto the lot,” Judith said.
The truth of the matter, Judith admits, is that the cars of today are probably better built than their predecessors.
“A lot of the attraction when we deal with older cars is the nostalgia. People look back sort of idyllically and about 50 per cent of driving an old classic is about remembering the era,” she said. “But I get it, both Ray and I love those old cars. We’re just realistic about why we love them.”
Both the Marigolds and Baird agree that smaller, more locally-focused shops like their own have a future and won’t be disappearing any time soon.
“People want a personal touch. They want to know who they’re dealing with,” Judith said. “Plus, they discover that, in smaller garages, there’s more attention to detail. We care about your car as much as you do.”