Photos by Dave Burnet, Heather McKay, & Dick Bennett
With Rochester’s notorious winters, one local business you can hardly help but patronize is your local auto repair shop. Whether to purchase and install snow tires or get a fix for that ice-induced fender bender, you have a number of businesses here to choose from. Luckily, they all seem to have good reputations. They also epitomize the family businesses of a neighborhood like ours.
It’s my first winter in Rochester. I’m from Seattle, which, contrary to popular belief, is not very cold, just grey and rainy. I’m used to miserable weather, but I’m not used to this cold and snow. Part of me wants to hole up for the winter, hibernate until spring. I’m afraid to brave the icy roads in my little Honda Fit. But if I do get into car trouble, I know I’m in good hands after interviewing the folks at our local garages.
When starting this piece, I was a little intimidated. Here I am, a millennial female who knows nothing about cars. I hate to confirm stereotypes about my age and gender. When I heard that Milt and Ron’s specializes in transmissions, I pretended that I knew what a transmission was. I nodded along to the lists of services each shop provides with feigned familiarity. I did not even know what questions to ask. But each person I spoke with put me at ease. It turns out the South Wedge is home to whole families of friendly auto mechanics, the most famous of which must be Schrader’s Garage.
Now operated by its third and fourth generation, Schrader’s Garage was opened by Charles Schrader in 1932 and moved it to its current location in the South Wedge in 1947. His son Charles Jr. ran things until 1986, when his sons Richard (Dick), Bob, and Alan took charge. Linda Jones, Charles Jr.’s daughter, serves as the accountant. The latest addition, Dan Schrader, began working in the garage in 2007. Although (Granny) Doris Schrader no longer works in the office, she stops by daily for coffee. Multiple generations seek their auto repair at Schrader’s. Some customers have been coming here for close to 60 years. “We were cleaning out the attic recently and found old books from the 1950s. I kept finding names I recognized from families that are customers here to this day,” said Dan.
Another business with deep roots in the South Wedge Area is Milt and Ron’s. You may have noticed some changes around Milt and Ron’s recently because ownership has changed hands from founder Ron Swartz to his nephew Don Swartz, who now runs the business under the umbrella of Airport Transmission. But they are still repairing transmissions like they have since 1959.
Vail Automotive and Prime Automotive are both run by father and son duos. Owner Dan Vail’s shop has been in this location since 1991, when he moved from their original location on Mt. Hope. His son Matthew, 26, has joined him in the business. Together, owner Myron Pidkova and his son Kaz run Prime Automotive.
David Way and Bruce Lista of D&B Auto Service started their business in 1995 when they left an auto shop they worked at together to strike out on their own, and the two friends have been working there for over twenty years now.
According to Manager Stewart Winston, L&S Auto Parts “hasn’t been around long, just 40 years”; coincidentally, the same amount of time he has been there.
Some garages in our area have specialties, and as a result, other shops will send business their way. D&B and Schrader’s send transmission work to Milt and Ron’s. Milt and Ron’s does work many auto shops will not do, including automotive repair on classic cars. “We have the know-how and the parts. It’s a fading art,” said Service Manager Travis Hickey. They count among their clients classic car owners from as far away as Florida and most of the time there is a waitlist.
They aren’t the only ones with customers who come from far and wide to the South Wedge for their auto repair. Prime Automotive specializes in framework for cars that have been in collisions. Other shops often refer clients to them or outsource to them the framework they need for a major repair. Word of mouth is their primary means of marketing, and it seems to work well, since they have had customers from Florida to Arizona.
It seemed like all of these shops transcended the stereotype of car mechanics that want to squeeze every penny out of their customers. Their good reputations preceded them. They collaborated with each other. They kept their customers from generation to generation. And they had long histories of serving the South Wedge neighborhood and beyond. By visiting these garages and speaking with their staff, I got to learn more about their businesses and our neighborhood, so I got out of the house and beyond my stereotype, too.
I wondered if there was anything I could do, assuming I must at some point drive in the Rochester winter, to keep my car running well. To maintain your car in its best shape this winter, Bruce Lista of D & B recommends you keep up your general maintenance by checking the tire pressure, the anti-freeze temperature setting, and the levels of fluids. What can Rochesterians do about rust from salt exposure? “The only thing to do is wash it on a warm day,” said Dan Vail of Vail Automotive. Good luck finding one of those.
686 Clinton Ave. S.
Monday through Thursday 7:30 AM – 6 PM
Friday 7:30 AM – 5:30 PM
D & B Auto Service
90 Mt Hope Ave
Monday through Friday
8 AM – 6 PM
L&S Auto Parts
30 Mt. Hope Ave.
Monday through Friday
10 AM – 6 PM and by appointment
Milt and Ron’s
849 S. Clinton Ave S.
Monday through Friday 8 AM – 5 PM
370 South Ave
Monday through Friday 9 AM – 6 PM
757 South Ave
Monday through Friday 7:30 AM – 5 PM