TowNews Posted June 7, 2018 Share Posted June 7, 2018 After 62 years under the hood in Western Springs, Wally's Garage owner retires Wally Kloog is retiring. The mechanic and the owner of Wally’s Garage in Western Springs is 78 years old, so it’s not hard to understand why he might want to retire. “Quite frankly, at age 78, I don’t appreciate laying down on Ogden Avenue to hook up a car (for a tow),” he said. But after 62 years of work, Kloog is something of a fixture in the community. His father started the shop in 1945 and while the garage will remain open, for the first time in the better part of a century there will be no Wally at Wally’s. Kloog signed over his shop on Hillgrove Avenue this week. There’s a hand-lettered sign on the front door announcing the closure, thanking customers for 73 years. His customers, too, are thankful. Since the sign’s appeared, he’s received cards and letters thanking him for his work in the community and longtime customers have stopped by to let him know he’ll be missed. “I hate to see him go,” said Jack Doyle, a longtime friend and customer. “He’s a part of Western Springs.” Doyle said he’s been a customer for decades. Doyle said he’s something of a local historian and he enjoyed talking to Kloog about the community’s history. “I walk every day and for the past 20 years or so, if I’m not doing business with him, I’m talking to him,” Doyle said. “I hate to leave them,” Kloog said of his costumers. “But the new people are good and the people across the street are good. And it’s just time to move on.” But Kloog hasn’t moved on quite yet. He’s still inside, wrapping up loose ends, preparing for his last day, sometime in July. On Thursday morning he was meeting with an estate sale agent, preparing to sell his wrecker and a tow truck. Kloog is looking toward the future. He said car designs are so good now, making money as a mechanic has become a lot tougher in the last few years. So his decision to hang it up reflects math as much as age. The whole business of car repair has changed, a reflection of how cars have changed since Kloog first got his hands greasy. “We have always depended on cars that didn’t run very well, or at all,” he said. “And we’ll get cars now that run three, four or five years that will run without an oil change.” Even oil changes aren’t great for business. Oil changes, Kloog explains, are loss leaders — deals designed to get customers in the door, sold below their value. “The revenue is $16 or $17 and you’re paying your mechanic $26 an hour,” he said. “You’ll find a lot of shops are doing the $22.95 offer and to make money you’re going to have to sell work. We’ve never sold work that’s not needed. Our customers appreciate it, but it doesn’t help the bottom line.” And that’s not all that’s changed. In 1956, the year Kloog began helping his father out at the shop, most of the work was mechanical. Computers weren’t part of the equation and even power windows, which were rare, were not complicated. Today, though, the mechanics are run through onboard computers and mastering those systems requires an understanding of engineering. “The skill that it takes to be an all-around good mechanic, you could have stayed in school to be an engineer and make $125,000 a year,” he said. “So why would you want to be in the car business?” When Kloog began repairing cars, his shop offered bodywork, towing and mechanical work. Then, 20 years ago, Kloog said State Farm required him to add significantly to his bodywork operations in order for them to continue using his shop for claims. Kloog couldn’t, so he dropped the bodywork. Towing, especially police towing, had been a steady stream of revenue. “Over the years I have towed accidents, break downs and police impound tows,” Kloog said. “Somewhere in the neighborhood of 80,000 cars. That’s a lot of cars. I figured it out at one time. If every car I towed was lined up bumper to bumper the last car would be in Indianapolis.” In the 1980s, with the advent of plastic bumpers, Kloog had to invest in a flatbed towing truck and, more recently, he said computers in new cars will automatically shut the car off if its been in an accident. He said even new capless gas tanks require special tools just to fill up gas for stranded motorists. “You’re towing a $70,000 or $80,000 car, and you’re thinking, I don’t know how to do this,” he said. So, in January, he stopped police towing. It was one in a long line of nails. “It came down to the fact that we’d always made a good living here,” he said. “We weren’t wealthy, but we always had a couple of bucks in the bank. Then, two or three years ago, the profitability started to disappear and I thought of the options of trying to improve the place.” Kloog estimated the updating would cost between $75,000 and $100,000 and he’d need two years at least to earn a return on that investment. He’d be 80, at that point. “It was too much change, too much to think about,” he decided. The older of his two mechanics decided to retire this year, and the other has found a job elsewhere. Kloog said his wife, Loretta, is also retiring from her job with the University of Chicago in July, so that also made his decision easier. Kloog said he hasn’t had a vacation in 38 years, and he doesn’t know what he will fill up his days with after he is finally through with his garage work. One thing he won’t do, though, he won’t tinker around with cars. Kloog, it turns out, isn’t much of a car guy. “I don’t care for cars at all,” he said. “I got over it. The new cars are so terribly designed. You open the hood and there’s no motors. It’s just a sea of plastic you have to take off. And every car is like that.” Kloog doesn’t care for classic cars either. He drives a 1999 Toyota Avalon with 143,000 miles on it. “I love that car,” he said. “I don’t think you could call it a classic. I have no desire for them. If you’re lucky you get burned out on them before you waste your inheritance on them.” Looking back on his legacy, Kloog said he’s not upset giving up the garage. The first week he stopped working on cars was great. “In the week we’ve been closed, I’ve been sleeping better and eating better,” he said. “What, me worry?” RESOURCE LINK with more images Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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