A good auto mechanic gets all kinds of referrals, but for most, “my grandfather told me to call you” isn’t high on the list.
The exception to that rule was Buda Automotive, a family-owned business that closed its doors for good Jan. 23 after 32 years in business.
Actually, Jan. 28 would have marked 33 years, recalled Ellie Warmington, who with husband Tim has reported for work every day at the little shop down an unpaved driveway off Loop 4 in Buda.
Behind the service bays is a small office area where Ellie mans the phone and computer amid a jumble of photos, trophies, games, toys and other paraphernalia from the years of visits by their children and then grandchildren.
They hadn’t intended to close but, they say, the decision was forced on them when their landlord died and his son-in-law took over and more than tripled the rent. “He made ridiculous demands and took all our parking away,” Ellie said. “He wanted a $1,500 security deposit.”
“It all happened kind of quick,” Tim chimes in, explaining that they got the lease papers on Jan. 16. They haven’t even told all their customers yet, though they are in the third generation with some. But they do have a direction for their future.
Tim Warmingon says he has met with the owner and manager at Reliable Automotive and will be a service writer there. His longtime assistant Lorenzo Lara is going with him. Another employee has a lead on a job nearer his home in Lockhart.“All my guys are taken care of, hopefully.”
Though the years, “we were really lucky we could have our family with us – we were truly a family-owned business,” Tim said.
The couple says all of their six grandchildren have worked at the shop in some capacity or other. “Our oldest grandson has never met a stranger. He was here the 8th week of his life.”
The family is well known in Buda. One son wound up in college and got a degree due to the simple fact the Buda United Methodist Church gave him a small scholarship.
It was just $300 but it was “enough to wrangle him in,” Tim says.
In addition to his work at the shop, Tim for a while gave automotive advice live on air at Austin TV channels. In fact, Ellie remembers being in the hospital with their firstborn, watching her husband field questions.
Helping people out is why he got into the auto repair business and why he has stayed, said Tim, who turns 62 next month.
“I don’t know if I can deal with not having a shop to play in,” he said. “It’s always been a struggle for a small business. We’ve been kind of off the grid – never a part of Buda downtown, the Chamber of Commerce and all that – just kind of on the fringe.”
He remembered 1983 when they were first married and living in Sequoyah, and phone service wasn’t even available yet. “We had to wait three months to get a phone – there weren’t enough phone lines.” Ellie would go to the Buda grocery store every Sunday to call her mother.
“Her mother’s like, ‘where did you move my daughter where you can’t even get a telephone?’”
Regardless of the continuing growth and change the area is experiencing “now you have traffic jams in downtown Buda. It’s crazy.”
Some of their customers have been with them from day one. And yes, people do come in on the advice of their grandparents, something he called “fun.”
“It makes it easier because we’ve been so happy here, leaving isn’t bad,” Tim said.
After the doors closed, the process of cleaning up began. For the time being, tools will go into storage “until we figure out what we’re gonna do with them.”
Some sort of small shop at the couple’s home is also possible. “Hopefully we’ll at least have a garage at the house I can piddle in.”
While they’ve got a lot to clear out – both in the office and service bays – one thing’s coming with them. Ellie pointed proudly to a section of wall by the door where the height of children over the decades was meticulously recorded.
“We’re going to take that with us,” she said.