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Auto repair shops feeling coronavirus crunch

To help mechanics stay busy, one auto repair shop in Logan Square suggested workers bring in their personal cars for service.

Pete Heliotis, owner of Pete’s Automotive, Inc. at 5413 W. Higgins Ave., poses for a portrait at his shop,
Pete Heliotis, owner of Pete’s Automotive, says business is down but he intends to keep his shop open.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Nabor Romo hoped to see an uptick in business at his North Side auto repair shop with most Chicagoans ordered to stay at home and with time on their hands to check things off their to-do lists.

That hasn’t been the case.

Beginning about a week ago, business dropped about 80 percent, said Romo, who runs Logan Square Auto Repair, 2442 N. Milwaukee Ave.

“Most other shops around here have seen a similar drop,” said Romo, who’s reduced the hours of his staff and will reassess in the coming days to see if staying open is the right thing to do.

To accommodate social distancing, Romo began offering door-to-door pick-up and drop-off service that included wipe downs of car surfaces. But it hasn’t sparked business like he hoped.

To keep his staff occupied, he’s allowed them to work on their personal vehicles. Netflix was also installed on the television in the breakroom.

“And the sarcasm level is through the roof, and that’s saying something because it’s pretty high normally among mechanics,” he said.

Business is also down at Pete Heliotis’ shop in Jefferson Park but as long as his workers are healthy, he plans to keep his doors open out of a sense of civic duty.

“What if someone needs to get to the doctor or grocery store?” asked Heliotis, who owns Pete’s Automotive, 5413 W. Higgins Ave.

“Business is down at least 20%, and I’m sure it will fall more. I don’t worry about that. I do worry about my employees,” said Heliotis, who’s continuing to provide them full hours wages.

“You know, it is what it is. It’s tough, but you got to get through it,” Heliotis said. “Fixing cars, we can fix them the next month or the month after,” he said.

Business isn’t down everywhere.

“My business is actually doing very well,” said Alex Linkowski, owner of Gordon’s Auto Repair, 7319 S. Western Ave.

“I think it’s because we’ve been around since 1986, and we’ve built honest relationships with customers and keep prices fair for people,” he said. “Also cars in my area are important things to people because most families only have one car.”

Linkowski admitted he is a bit surprised he’s not experiencing the crunch many of his counterparts are feeling and is aware it might hit him soon.

“It’s always in the back of your mind. It just depends on the economy and what’s going on in the world,” he said.

Jeffrey Cox, president of the Automotive Maintenance and Repair Association, said the problem is a national one and any shops doing well are outliers. The national trade group represents mostly large chains such as Midas and Pep Boys in the Chicago area but some neighborhood shops, too.

“It’s slow all over, people are staying home. They aren’t going into work and putting miles on their vehicles,” he said.

“And many are putting off maintenance due to uncertainty over paychecks.”

Cox said he is confident the problem would be a short-term one and urged anyone looking for a deal and quick service to take their car in for service.