RIVERSIDE – When deciding whether to buy an automobile repair shop, Rick Rovella counted heads.
"I actually went and sat on the bench across the street from the train station and watched the guy's business to see what he was doing," Rovella said. "I realized he had a really good business here. He just didn't have a lot of help to help him do it."
It was 1983 when Rovella and Larry Czerwanski took over a struggling Union 76 and turned its fortunes around. Nearly 30 years later, Riverside Garage is now a neighborhood institution with many faithful customers.
Rovella grew up in Cicero and first learned auto mechanics at Morton East High School. He then worked at a Buick dealership in Berwyn and was encouraged by an employee to receive additional training at Washburne Trade School in Chicago.
He and Czerwanski met while working together in the auto repair division of Montgomery Ward's in North Riverside. They wanted to try their hand at running a business rather than working for other companies.
When they found out that the Union 76 in Riverside was up for sale, they decided to make their move. And how did they stumble across this information?
"There was an ad in the Suburban Life," Rovella said.
Czerwanski and Rovella have six employees: Three part-time junior mechanics and three senior mechanics. They make sure that Riverside Garage remains active in the community. Rovella, for example, helps organize the annual Cruise Night and Car Show events put on by the Riverside Chamber of Commerce.
"It's definitely the people," Czerwanski said when asked what it was about Riverside that allows the business to thrive. "This is a dream come true."
Rovella said that Riverside Garage has clients who practically grew up with the business. The mechanics now work on the cars of people whose parents have been customers for years, he said. And some of these residents are now married and bringing their family car to the shop, Rovella said.
"A lot of our clients are from right around here, mostly from the neighborhood," Rovella said. "We try to do the little things that businesses should do – whether I'm out there jumping their cars or putting air in their tires – that kind of thing."
Despite being tucked behind the Metra commuter train station at East and Pine avenues, Rovella doesn't see it as a detriment to be in an out-of-the-way location.
"I love working back here. We're behind the water town by the train station; it's really nice." Rovella said. "A lot of places are on main streets, real busy. I don't have that problem of traffic going by. We just fix cars and enjoy it."