New owner takes over auto shopPublished 9:34am Thursday, May 15, 2014
Despite the fact that he was been in charge of Dowagiac Auto Service for only a couple weeks, new owner Gary Belardinella is already hoping to pack up his and his wife’s bags and move to the city.
“When I first came up here, I fell in love with the building, and I fell in love with the area,” Belardinella said. “Everybody up here is so nice, and so friendly.”
The community’s openness toward him isn’t entirely unwarranted: if it wasn’t for his recent purchase of the business, Dowagiac Auto Service may not exist today.
After two years of operating repair shop in her husband’s memory, previous owner Cindy Lavell decided it was time to close that chapter in her life and shut down the business.
However, after the Granger resident heard that the nearly two-decade old Dowagiac business might be available for purchase, he jumped at the opportunity to acquire it. Lavell was very receptive to the idea of selling, and the two closed on a price fairly quickly, Belardinella said.
“We reached a nice deal to keep the place going,” he said. “It was an extremely smooth transition, probably the easiest thing I’ve ever did. It was a good fit for her and a good fit for me.”
Belardinella is no stranger to the automotive repair industry. Back in Granger, he started his own repair company, Bittersweet Automotive Repair, which he continues to own and operate today.
Despite his 28 years of experience in the field, the business owner originally fell into the automotive business almost by accident, he said.
“I took a cashier position at service station after I was laid off from my previous job in high school,” Belardinella said. “One day, the owner handed me some tools and told me to go change the brakes on one of the cars. Before I knew it, I was one of the mechanics. Two years later, I was managing the place.”
Belardinella continues to spend a portion of his time at his shop in Granger, but, since taking over at the beginning of May, he has devoted much of his attention toward Dowagiac Auto. The owner had the opportunity to meet some of his new customers during an open house the shop held on May 2.
“I met a ton of people,” Belardinella said. “From 12-7 p.m., I didn’t stop shaking hands. Everyone up here is so nice and warm. I think we really hit if off.”
Him and the four existing employees at the repair shop have gotten off on the right foot as well, Belardinella said.
“I’m a hands-on kind of guy, but I’m also more on the relaxed side of management,” he said. “It’s a fun environment, we joke around a lot with each other. You got to make the job fun.”
Business remained steady since he took over, with the garage routinely full with vehicles in need of oil changes, tire rotations and other repair services.
“The biggest stereotype about auto repair is that the mechanics will rip you off,” Belardinella said. “We’re not that way. We’re a service you can trust.”