After 49 years of tune-ups, fill-ups and warm, welcoming handshakes for their customers, Lloyd Frey’s Garage Ltd. is closing its roll-up door for the last time this month, a decision which was made with mixed emotions by the three Frey brothers who own and operate it. “When we came to the decision that we were going to sell, we had our concerns, but we had peace about it,” said Dennis Frey, the oldest of the Frey brothers.
Dennis began his work in the auto-repair trade early, fixing an engine (under his father’s close supervision) at only 12 years old. Now, 40 years later, his body is wearing out from the load. He, alongside his younger brothers Durrell and Merlin, has been running the shop since his father Lloyd retired from the trade almost 20 years ago. Lloyd, now 80, opened up the repair shop in October of 1961.
“I was following dad along, I was on his heels ever since I was a kid,” Dennis said with a laugh. “I would have been getting dirty when I was very young, but it was probably more of a hindrance to dad than a benefit.”
Dennis quit high school when he was 16 years old and entered the apprenticeship program. He was fully licensed by the age of 20 and began working alongside his father. Durrell and Merlin came on board over the years, and eventually, Lloyd passed the business along to his sons, knowing that it was in good hands.
“Dad used to come by the shop, even long after he stopped working here, and sit here and watch us work,” recalled Dennis with a laugh. “I think he trusts us to do a good job with it now.”
If you stop into the garage for a tune-up or repair, it is likely Dennis who will greet you at the door and Durrell who will open the hood and look for the problem area.
“My favourite part of the job is helping people out of a problem,” said Dennis. “Looking after the counter, answering the phone, talking to the customers. For Durrell, it’s the diagnostic challenge: he likes the figure out just what the problem is.”
Currently, all three of the Frey brothers own shares in the company. When they first discussed the idea of one or two of them moving on, they faced the challenge of determining just how much their individual shares were worth.
“It just proved too complicated to split it up when we don’t even know the property value,” said Dennis. “So we all just kept limping on for some time. We figure if we sell it now, we will know exactly how much it is worth.”
Over the years, the Freys have seen many changes to their business. The original building was torn down and a new structure was built in the 1970s. The challenges faced by auto mechanics are much different now than they were back when the shop opened, explained Dennis.
“Back then we saw far more mechanical problems. We did lots of valve jobs and engine jobs, whereas now it’s all electrical.”
This is good for drivers, he notes, but not so good for people in the auto repair industry.
“Back then you were lucky if your car made it to 150,000 km. We knew we had business coming in on a regular basis and drivers needed tune-ups every fall,” he explained. “Now, cars can go 300,000 or even 400,000 km. Some people may dispute this, but I think vehicles are made a lot better now.”
The Freys estimate that they have around 1,600 return customers, and it is those friendly faces that will be the hardest to part with.
“I know for me, it’s the people that I will miss most,” said Dennis. “For some, this may have only been a short time, for others, as long as we can remember. But I trust that our paths will cross in other places and I look forward to that.”
Initially, the Frey brothers were hoping to sell the property, tools and inventory all together as a working business. They spread the message via word of mouth, but had no offers. Now the business and its bits and pieces are being put up for sale by public auction and everything is for sale – right down to the ratchets and the spare tires which have been left behind over the years.
“We would love for someone to buy the business and keep it running,” said Dennis. “But we can’t dwell on the past and what we would have liked to happen. When someone buys the property, we won’t be thinking, ‘Oh, that’s not what I would have done with it.’ It’s theirs now.”
Dennis said that although there are most certainly things he will miss about running the business with his family, the transition may bring some welcome changes as well.
“We have never been able to go on holiday together because someone always had to be watching the shop. I hope we can do some of that now.”
Durrell said that many thoughts have gone through his mind about what he might like to do next, but he has not yet settled on that perfect role.
“I am used to being on my feet and being on the go all day,” explained Durrell. “I don’t think I can handle sitting in an office chair.”
Dennis serves as district chief of the Floradale fire station, something he hopes to continue and maybe even pursue further after he closes up shop.
“Although I don’t know what I will do next, I’m not worried about it.”
The final day of business at the shop will be Apr. 14, and then the brothers will work on preparing their tools, equipment and inventory for auction. The auction will be held on May 1, beginning at 9 a.m.
“There won’t be any grand finale,” said Dennis. “But we hope that we will see some familiar faces at the auction – whether to buy a tool or two or simply to say goodbye.”