A 25th Anniversary Celebration for Midtown Auto Repair

While plans are still in the works, this year marks a milestone for Midtown Auto Repair. The Arthur-based motor vehicle repair business will be celebrating its 25th anniversary in May.

“We will probably have a few events like monthly draws leading up to the May celebration,” says owner Will Gimblet. He operates the business with the assistance of three technicians, his sister MaryAnn Jackson who does the bookkeeping, and wife Deb who prepares invoices and greets customers. Their children, Zoey, 19, Nathan, 17, and Hannah, 15, also help out on occasion.

Located at 254 George Street in a building which Will purchased in 2004, after starting the business at 321 Smith Street in 1999 (which is now Tim Horton’s), Midtown Auto Repair is a landmark in the downtown core and has a long-established clientele.

“Most of our clients come from within a 50 to 60 kilometer radius of Arthur, but there are others who have moved away and still book an appointment when they are back in the area.”

Some of those distant customers live in areas stretching from Windsor to Ottawa and north to Sudbury. There are even a handful of out-of-province residents who, on return visits to Arthur, will drop in to say ‘hello’ or to obtain some car-related advice, he says.

Although Midtown has existed for 25 years, the roots of the business go back much further. The Gimblet family has resided in the Arthur community for over 100 years and Will’s father, Bill, set him on the path which eventually led to the creation of Midtown.

When he was 14, Will helped his father start B’n’W Small Engines, a home-based small engine repair business. His father was a licensed welder and a certified small engine technician who started the business after the factory he worked at closed. The B’n’W is an abbreviation for Bill and Will.

“He always tried to help everyone he could,” says Will, recalling the time he and his father worked until 2 am on a Christmas Eve installing an engine in his aunt’s car and then driving the car to the aunt’s home on Christmas morning so her family could visit other family members and friends that day.

As a student at Norwell District Secondary School in Palmerston, Will studied a number of trade-related subjects such as automotive, machine shop, welding, and electrical/electronics and was the top student in his Grade 11 electrical class. In his Grade 12 welding class, he was part of a group of 12 students that helped start the high performance class.

“Our first project was a Chevy Nova drag car, building everything from chassis, body, engine and driveline. As well, we built a few high performance engines.”

As he really enjoyed electronics and automation, he had initially considered studying electronics in college. Instead, he chose a career as an automotive service technician and apprenticed at Trevor Roberts Auto Repair and Towing.

The three-year apprenticeship also included an eight-week- a-year academic session at Conestoga College. “We studied everything involved in the workings of vehicles,” says Will, adding that at the end of the academic session he received the top student award.

Will completed his apprenticeship and was licensed in June 1998. However, his father passed away in early 1997 and for about two years he was doing double duty running the family business and working at Trevor Roberts. “It got to be too much.”

So, he decided to concentrate solely on the family business and expand it to include automotive repair.  After renting space in a building on Smith Street, he launched Midtown Auto Repair in May 1999.

The location proved to be very advantageous. In another section of the building, local businessmen George Tremain and Ken McDougall operated a car dealership. When there was a back-log in car servicing, they would assist him in small jobs such as bleeding brakes or just to lend an extra hand.

As well, Ken was an antique car collector and Will often had an opportunity to work on his collection of Packards, Samsons, Ruggles, and other vintage cars.

“Every day was a surprise. You would never know what Ken or George would drag into the back shop.”

In 2004, the business took another turn when Will bought the George Street building where Midtown is now located. At the time of the purchase, it hadn’t been maintained very well. Following a two-month repair and restoration, conducted mostly at nights and on the weekends by friends and family, Midtown Auto Repair opened in its new spot in December of that year.

Starting and keeping a business going for 25 years is no small achievement and Will was asked about the challenges he has faced and the lessons he learned along the way.

“The challenges include finding the right employees, worrying that you have made the right decisions because your employees and clients are your responsibility – and just keeping the lights and heat on through both the good and bad times.”

At the same time, there have been many rewards. Like many small business owners, Will is very active in the community. Midtown Auto Repair sponsors a number of service club events and, on a personal basis, he has coached a boys’ baseball team and assisted with his daughters’ baseball teams.

In 2011 Midtown was chosen as the Local Business of the Year by the Arthur & District Chamber of Commerce. Will attributes that achievement to the fact, “that we always treat clients as individuals and not numbers.”

In reflecting upon his life as a small business owner, Will remembers his time as a Grade 12 coop student at Mahood Automotive in Palmerston. Besides giving him experience working on a number of vehicles, the owner provided a quote that still resonates: “A wise man has more questions than answers.”

And although he is the sole owner of Midtown Auto Repair, Will is careful to point out that “my family, friends and many loyal customers sure helped me make it to where I am today.”

WRITTEN BY: DAN O’REILLY | PHOTOGRAPHY: ANDI SOLOWKA | RESOURCES: MIDTOWN AUTO REPAIR

Author: LivingSpaces

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