After 73 years, Wiesenthal’s Auto Service Closes

first_imgDon Wiesenthal watches as grandson Noah jacks up a car. (Photo courtesy Wiesenthal Auto Service)“Glenn has been a lot more involved with the business than I have for a number of years now,” Don said. “He’s good at setting the prices for repairs and handling the paperwork associated with the business. We will apply that knowledge in the future. He knows so much about BMW automobiles that dealers call him when they are having a repair issue they can’t handle.”Don said he will likely concentrate on his hobby: working on his three classic Ford cars: a pair of 1963 Galaxy models and a ’61 Thunderbird. He keeps them purring like kittens and takes them out for car shows on the Boardwalk or for parades in town. He said that he has been organizing his tools and his garage at his Somers Point home since the business closed last week. His wife Jan and the rest of the family will be seeing a lot more of him as he plots his next move. “I don’t want to say we were blindsided, but we didn’t have a whole lot of notice, either,” he said. “I’ve been so focused on getting all of our heavy equipment out of there and into storage and all the other things we had to finish up, the closing really hasn’t hit me yet.”“When they finally knock down the building, that is when I will probably realize it’s over,” he added. “As long as the building is still there it seems like (Wiesenthal’s) is still alive.  That’s where the memories are. We’ll always have those memories. But they won’t live there anymore when there’s a bank on that corner.”The Wiesenthal brothers prepare to remove their sign to close the shop. (Photo courtesy of Wiesenthal Auto Service) Don, left, and Glenn Wiesenthal atop the roof of their repair shop prior to dismantling the sign. (Photo courtesy Kim Wiesenthal) By Tim KellyWhen a business has continuously operated in Ocean City for 73 years and at the same location for the last 51, it’s not a stretch to call that business an institution.In the case of Wiesenthal’s Auto Repair, which closed its doors for the last time on Saturday afternoon, it wasn’t just the end of a local landmark. It was the close of another chapter in Ocean City history.Much of the growth of Ocean City as a tourist destination was built in the post-World War II years when automobile travel exploded nationwide. Most middle-class families from Philadelphia and its suburbs no longer needed a train or bus. They simply piled into the family car and made the hour’s jaunt to the South Jersey Shore.A big part of creating that travel boom was the abundance of gas stations and repair shops along the way as well as here in town. But no more. “We were the last of the Mohicans,” said Don Wiesenthal, 73, co-owner of the repair shop at 860 West Avenue, the northwest corner of 9th Street and West Avenue, with his 66-year-old brother, Glenn.  “People are going to adapt, but what they are going to lose is the convenience,” he said. “There are other places to get gas or to get your car fixed, but they’re a little bit off the beaten track. We were in the corridor.”“There should always be a gas station and a repair shop right here,” he went on. “I’m not saying it should necessarily be us, it could be another owner. What I’m saying is, it’s best for the town to keep a repair shop and a gas station right there.” Moe Wiesenthal founded the business at its original location at 8th and Asbury, in 1946. (Photo courtesy Wiesenthal’s Auto Service Facebook page)These sentiments are not those of a disgruntled former business owner. They are shared by many customers and online reviewers, who gave Wiesenthal’s a 4.5 star (out of five) rating.“Just by talking to the people you can tell it’s a family business,” one reviewer praised. “Friendly staff that does good work at an extremely fair price.”“The job came in $50 under the estimate,” said another. “Excellent service and very accommodating!”These are not cherry-picked good reviews, but rather the norm, and an affirmation of Wiesenthal’s original mission when it was founded by Don and Glenn’s father, Moe.“We always operated on the assumption that if you were straight with people and good with them, they would return and give you repeat business,” Don said. The gas station that shared the same building with Wiesenthal’s repair shop had been sold and independently operated for a few years. When that gas station and the Sunoco station next door shuttered last fall, it spelled the end of gas stations along 9th Street, the main artery in and out of town.The lone remaining spot to purchase gas on the island now is the Sunoco at 34th Street and West Avenue.  The Wiesenthals had attempted to relocate in Ocean City and also in Somers Point and in a part of Marmora that was convenient to Ocean City customers. Those plans did not work out, and the brothers reluctantly made the decision to retire.“When it became clear we couldn’t keep it going, we tried to wrap up the jobs we were working on and then steer people to other (repair) places in town,” Don Wiesenthal said. Employees, from left, Aaron Molett, and Chris Hartman and the Wiesenthal brothers on their final day of business. (Photo courtesy Kim Wiesenthal)Their employee mechanics Chris Hartman and Aaron Molett landed on their feet and will continue to work in Ocean City at Millevoi Best Tire’s repair shop at 604 Asbury Avenue. However, the gaping hole at 9th and West will remain long after the building is replaced, reportedly by a branch of Republic Bank.“The thing I remember most is my dad was always there,” said Kim Wiesenthal. “If I had a problem … and by that I don’t mean it had to be a car problem, dad was always there.”She moved away from Ocean City for a time, but when she returned to live here five years ago, the familiar shop picked right up where it had left off in her life, Kim said. “There were a lot of weeks where I would be at the shop with my son (10-year-old Noah) just about every day,” she said. “Noah learned how to change lights on a car, how to take off a tire. We spent a lot of time there.”The Wiesenthals lost their lease of the building in November and scrambled to find a way to keep it open. “We wanted to figure out a way, especially for all the elderly people who can’t always take care of routine maintenance or change a tire or just get some free air for their tires,” Don Wiesenthal said. “There’s so much construction going on in Ocean City and I’ve always said construction and flat tires go hand in hand.”“I worry about all the older folks, and guess what? Now I am one of those retirees,” he continued.He said he will steer his former customers to Best Tire and to Island Auto Repair at 713 Haven Ave.As for the future, Glenn Wiesenthal will focus on his involvement with the BMW Racing team and test track driving, his brother said. Glenn and his wife Joyce have a son, Grant, 35.last_img read more