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Area garages are keeping essential wheels rolling

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Gearing up against COVID: garages and auto part suppliers in South Grenville and area have been deemed essential service workers. Many are still at work with new and different challenges, like John Vanshie Jr. of Augusta Motors on North Campbell Road.

Not all essential services are directly connected to health and social services. Some are involved in the special science of keeping the pedal to the metal.

Owners at West End Motors, King Edward Auto and Augusta Motors have been working with reduced staff since the beginning of the pandemic. They all agree people are more dependent on their vehicles than ever. It is vitally important to ensure you can safely get to work, doctor's appointments, and the grocery store.

John Vanshie of Augusta Motors is still on duty, alone, at his garage and used-car lot on North Campbell Road in Augusta Township. He reports a 70 percent drop in his business, but is still at work providing his own essential service.

"I think the downturn in business can be accounted for due to multiple reasons," he says. "Most people are obeying the rules and only coming out for necessary errands. Others are worried about money."

"Also they might think garages are closed right now, but we have been on the government's essential service list since the beginning," he adds.

Right now, Vanshie is keeping busy with the few people who do realize he is open. Changing snow tires out for seasonal sets is the most common request, followed by the usual array of vehicular problems such as brakes, batteries, general repairs and looking for a newer, more reliable vehicle.

Vanshie has had his car lot and repair shop in the same spot for 15 years; his duration added to his father's - John Sr. - gives the business a 65-year heritage in the township. He says he has never seen any conditions quite like this, and neither did his dad.

In Prescott, repair garages and car-part suppliers are still hard at work. Like Vanshie, the Woods family at West End Motors has also been in business for more than five decades, and are still going strong.

"This has always been a mom and pop business and we've been here through everything those years have thrown at us," says Alan Woods from his King Street West shop last week. "Sure, we've changed how we do some things right now - but we're still here."

His wife Linda agrees. "We have had to ask people to stay outside so we can do our part to keep everyone safe."

She explains that one tactic they are using is having people drop their vehicles off outside, leaving the keys in them. After the work is done, she calls and the client arranges for someone to give them a ride back to pick it up.

"We've been around so long that most of our customers are people we know," says son Keith Woods, the only employee working with Alan and Linda right now. "And we go nowhere - except home to sleep," he adds with a smile.

The auto parts delivery people who supply West End are dropping off their parcels outside the door, says Linda, who wipes all the packages down with Lysol wipes, wearing gloves all the time.

The people making those deliveries are also taking all necessary precautions. Dean Wartmann, store manager at King Edward Auto, says he is going out of his way to keep customers and staff safe.

"The actual store is locked right now but we are doing curbside delivery to garages and residential clients. Auto parts are still a necessity if you want to keep essential workers on the road," says Wartmann.

He credits the slight increase in residential deliveries to the fact that more people are forced to be at home right now, and if they have "any mechanical ability at all it makes sense to do the repairs yourself rather than taking it to a shop."

"We are gloving up and wearing masks, which our customers really seem to appreciate," he adds. "Business has been up and down, but this is still the usual time of year for repairs that people have put off all winter."

"Everyone who has to go out to a health-related job has expressed their gratitude for us and for all the vehicle-related businesses which have remained open. If you need new brakes, it doesn't matter what's going on here or in the rest of the world. You still need new brakes," says Wartmann.

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