Wednesday, September 30, 2015

LOVE MY CITY: The Portage Sunoco

NOTE:  I really love my city (South Bend).  I understand it doesn't always have the best reputation, and it certainly has its issues, but it's pretty amazing as well.  This "Love my city" series will focus on some of my favorite parts of my city.

1335 Portage Ave., South Bend 46616

I first moved to the neighborhood (Keller Park on the northwest side), straight out of college.  It was a time where I was getting out on my own for the first time and realized I needed to start finding service providers locally, instead of driving home to Fort Wayne like when I was a student.

When my car first had trouble, I was referred by a fellow church member to "go see Ray" in the service station in the Martin's parking lot around the corner.  As a kid who still felt foreign to the city, I was uncomfortable with that proposition, so I decided to tackle the situation passively.  I was going to look them up online and make a proper appointment.

The only problem was, I found no promotional reference to them anywhere.  Eventually, I found a listing of "Snyder Bros. Garage" on some random third party website, and called the phone number.  It rang for minutes with no answer.  I was going to have to just "go see Ray".

The next day, I took my car in.  I headed for the big dilapidated Sunoco sign and walked inside the nearest building.  I was greeted by no one, and after tracking someone down, I was told to "write my car, problem, and phone number" on a sticky note on the cluttered desk and leave my key on top of it.  That was it.  No detailed appointment, no write-up.  I was feeling a bit apprehensive.  Was this place legit?

It was.  Days later, I had my car returned, fixed appropriately, and for cheaper than I could have imagined.  In the years since that point, I have come to love the quirky old-school style of the Portage Sunoco.  In a world of fast pace, money first, image-driven society, the Portage Sunoco feels like travelling back in time to a place where community relationships and authentic reliability trump big business polish.

The Sunoco was founded years ago by community stalwart Ray Snyder (who runs the local Little League among many other civic roles).  Often when handing the business over to the next generation, financial pragmatism rules the day and community takes a back seat.  Here that didn't happen.  The shop known only as "Sunoco" on Google Maps, without a website of its own, serves the NW South Bend community well.

Here are some of the unique stories I've heard or experienced:
  • An elderly friend was once allowed to drive the owner's car to get around while his car was being repaired.
  • They once finished my car while I was out of town, and (knowing I was unavailable) parked my car in front of their own house so it wouldn't sit unattended in the lot all weekend. 
  • I've seen them stop and help put a windshield wiper on an elderly woman's car who just pulled up.
  • They sell cheap used tires that keep our neighborhood on the road and able to get to work.  I imagine they have kept many people from losing jobs as a result of their auto work in our community.
  • I have had to ask (on several different occasions) to pay them more for services than what they were charging me, so I wouldn't feel I was taking advantage of them.
  • Many times they have told me, "This is what's wrong, but if it were my car, I wouldn't worry about it unless it gets worse."  They have never tried to up-sell me on anything.
  • They are really decent guys who serve our local schools and neighborhoods well.
I love the Portage Sunoco.  Yes, you won't be greeted by a polished receptionist and you may not even get the phone answered when you call.  And yes, it may not always be as quick of a turnaround on repair time as other places.  And yes, you may have to leave your key on a sticky note.  But they get all the important things right: people, honesty, compassion.  And our community wouldn't be the same without them.

If you have a great Portage Sunoco story, share it in the comments!