An estimated 250 to 300 guests took part in the customer appreciation day at Mel’s Garage on July 6th to help the merchant celebrate 30 years in business in Rutledge.

Mel’s Garage in Rutledge recently celebrated 30 years in business with a customer appreciation celebration held on July 6th. Guests gathered at the facility, located at the intersection of Highway M and Maple Street and enjoyed lunch courtesy of the business owners, Sanford and Christine Martin.

The couple has owned the business since 2005. They purchased the shop from Sanford’s parents, Melvin and Jane Martin when Mel’s health began to fail him during his battle with ALS. Mel’s garage originally opened in 1989.

“They made improvements and remodeled the original shop,” said Sanford. “It had one garage door, wooden floors and a pit when they purchased it.”

The facility had been a garage and gas station for many years, after originally being built in the early 1900s when it first served as a dry goods store.

“It is said it was built with brick  made just outside of Rutledge,” said Sanford.

The floors were replaced with concrete and the bay doors were installed and lifts replaced the pit.

On February 11, 2011  the shop was destroyed in an early morning fire.

“We decided to rebuild and with the help of the community and friends this was possible,” said Sanford. “We are thankful and blessed to be part of a community that comes together to help each other in times like this. Many folks gathered to help clean up although there was not much to salvage.

Thanks to the community outpouring, the family was  able to reopen for business in July 2011, with the new  fuel system coming online in September to allow the sale of gasoline and diesel fuel.

“We rebuilt the shop with three bays and have added specialized equipment and tools,” said Sanford. “We installed a state of the art wheel alignment system and have added high-end scan tools including OE and aftermarket tools to give us the ability to program computers and to diagnose and repair today’s complex vehicles.”

Mel’s Garage also features tire changing equipment that makes it possible to handle most low profile and large wheels that are becoming popular on later model vehicles. Other specialized equipment featured at the garage includes a transmission cooler, Hot Flush machine, and air conditioning equipment to handle the new 1234yf systems that have recently been introduced.

“The automotive repair industry has seen a lot of change in the past 30 years, shifting from mostly mechanical to using a wide array of computers and electronics,” said Sanford. “This calls for a different skill set, tools and equipment. Like a technician friend of mine said, ‘you  just can’t fix everything with a screwdriver and wrenches anymore.’ I counted the number of electronic control units (computers) on a 2019 Chrysler Pacifica minivan and found 48 available depending on options. That is a lot of electronics.”

The mechanic compared that to a 1999 Chrysler Town and Country with less than 10 ECUs, highlighting the proliferation of electronics and the complexity that goes with it as a constant challenge for shops and technicians to keep up with.

“Our longtime Employee Dale Haldeman and I attend training, keep current ASE Certifications and subscribe to service and repair information, including OE, to keep learning as the automotive world changes,” said Sanford.

Mel’s Garage is open  from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7:30 a.m. to noon Saturday.

The family thanked the community for its support over the 30 years in business, an accomplishment highlighted by 2018 data  from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those numbers reveal that roughly 20% of small businesses fail in the first year wit nearly half not making it past five years. According to the Family Business Institute  Only about 30 percent of family-owned businesses survive into the second generation.

“Based on those number, I feel like it is a special milestone to reach 30 years in business, 14 of them as a second generation business, in an economic climate that is less the friendly to small businesses,” said Sanford. “And I recognize that it would not be possible without the Blessings of God and our loyal customer base.”