Sunday, April 24, 2016

Crocker's Auto Service Closes: The Death of the Blue Collar Auto Mechanic

One of the last full-service gas stations has closed.
Crocker’s Auto Service, 3021 SW 10th Ave., Topeka, closed on Feb. 29, 2016, after 41 years in business.

Photo Courtesy of KS Commercial

Customers will remember pulling into the gas station and being greeted by a man wearing a blue collar shirt with his name tag on it. The gas station attendant put fuel in your car, cleaned your windshield and checked the oil. Free air was available for your tires. 
Owner Pete Crocker knew many customers by name. He treated you with respect and did business with a handshake.
“We’re losing the original business model where a family-owned service station took care of you the customer regardless of who you were or your standing in life,” said Mark Rezac, vice president retail sales and leasing with KS Commercial Real Estate Services, which has listed Crocker's Auto Service for sale.
Pete Crocker and his wife Velda ran the business together along with their son Ed and a few other employees.
“We finally had to get out of there,” Pete Crocker said in a phone interview. “It wasn’t holding up for two families.”
Velda is 80 and Pete will be 80 soon.
Pete said his son, Ed, got a job with the Chevrolet dealership in Osage City and his longtime employee, Josh, got a job in Wichita.
“We had a lot of good customers,” Pete Crocker said. “We took care of all people. We always made sure the car was in good mechanical shape. If something was wrong, we would call the customer and tell them about it and let them decide if they want to fix it.”
I have been a customer of Crocker’s Auto Service for 17 years. Pete, Ed, Josh and the other employees kept our cars running on the road. I have had two cars that ran over 225,000 miles, and I attribute Crocker’s for keeping them going for so long. They changed the oil and the tires, and fixed all kinds of mechanical problems. They replaced filters, mufflers and belts, including timing belts. 
On one of the last days open, Rezac said he saw a customer walk into the station, saying “I just got the money to pay for those windshield wipers that you sold me five days ago.”
Rezac said, “Who does business like that anymore?"
During business hours at Crocker's, you might see a 1930s Ford parked out front.
Ed Crocker’s 1933 Ford was featured in the movie “O Brother, Where Are Thou?" starring George Clooney. Crocker’s car was driven by Babyface Nelson (Michael Badalucco) on a dirt road while money from a bank heist flies out the car’s windows. Ed found several spent shells and fake $10 bills in the car after it was returned to him.
I was especially fond of Crocker’s honesty. If there wasn’t anything wrong with your car, they wouldn’t make something up just to get your business.  They always told you straight up, what was wrong with your vehicle and how much it would cost to fix it. I remember one time pulling into the station because my car wouldn’t start very well. Pete found the problem quickly, a loose battery cable. He fixed it free of charge.
From the 1920s to the 1980s, full-service gas stations were everywhere. But tougher regulations and changes in the marketplace made it difficult to keep these old-fashioned business models going. Gas stations changed to convenience stores. Many places don't even offer mechanical services.
I want to thank the Crocker family and Josh for all their hard work over the years. They did a fabulous job. You kept me safe on the road. I’m going to miss Crocker's. Topeka has lost a crown jewel in the auto repair business.







4 comments:

  1. We will miss him too. I guess without Crocker's, we'll just have to move. Nice story.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for your comment Scott. I don't know what we are going to do. I need help maintaining our vehicles.

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