Mechanic is looking for a few good customers

Old School Garage owner Joe Gjerstad can keep your old car running. - Charlie Bermant
Old School Garage owner Joe Gjerstad can keep your old car running.
— image credit: Charlie Bermant

Joe Gjerstad owned his own North Seattle car repair business for more than 20 years, commuting from his home in Silverdale. So earlier this year when someone made him an offer for the business he decided to accept, if only to cut down the four-hour daily drive that was cutting into his life.

“This was an opportunity to decrease my commute,” he said. “After this I made an extensive search of Kitsap County and decided on Port Orchard as the best location for my new business. The city fathers are business-friendly, and they made the permit process really easy.”

This is all part of an effort by Gjersted, 57, to simplify his life and spend time doing what he enjoys most. For the past 20 years he was owner and lead technician of Gilmour Automotive in Seattle. A U.S. Navy Vietnam-era veteran, where he served as an aircraft ground support equipment mechanic, he also spent many years on professional auto racing circuits.

Aside from cutting the commute he has also gotten small in other parts of his new routine. His new facility, dubbed the Old School Garage, is 3750 square feet but he is the only person on-staff. Supervising other people was never the best part of his day, so he decided to simplify.

Located in the Port Orchard Industrial Park, the garage is large enough to manange several simultaneous projects; keeping them organized as he waits for parts orders to arrive.

While he will work on any make or model, he specializes in vintage collector, classic and custom vehicles. This week he was working on a 1960s Volkswagen convertible, and had a 1960 Morris Minor wagon on display. He eagerly displays pictures of the cars repaired through the years, as if they were foster children.

“I like to work on a car and get it back to the owner in perfect repair,” he said. “Ownership is not important to me, in order to get enjoyment from the car.”

Gjerstad said that many car owners have “a special and caring relationship” with these vehicles, and want to entrust their repair with someone familiar with the quirks of that particular model.

That he is Old School’s only employee is both limiting and invigorating. He cannot always guarantee same-day service, as it depends on who else is in the queue.

“I want to build a rapport and a feeling of trust between myself and my customers,” he said. “And I don’t need to have a large amount of customers, only a small number of very good ones.”

While this isn’t the best time to start a business, Gjerstad is working in an area that he knows and loves. And like many other businesses, he is able to find a way to make the slow economy work for him.

“At Gilmour, I found that when the economy got worse my business would get a little bit better,” he said. “During those times people were looking to get a few more miles out of their old cars, spending a little money on maintenance rather than having to buy something new.”

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