Eighty-five years later, Ben's Auto Body is at 11 Mirona Road in Portsmouth, N.H. and run by the fourth generation of Berounsky sons, Jason and Mike Jr. Their commitment to their community and their customers is as strong as ever.
"All our roots are here," said Mike Berounsky, who runs Ben's Auto Body with Jason. Mike handles the office and finance end of the business while Jason handles the shop.
The family-run business meant Mike and Jason were introduced to the work early on, just like their father and grandfather before them.
"I started hanging out around here when I was 10," Jason said. His father would give him little jobs to do – sweeping the floors, painting lines on the shop floor. Jason said he was always into cars and knew he'd be working at the shop.
As a teen, Mike had other ideas, got into accounting then circled back into the family business taking over the comptroller responsibilities from his grandmother, Sophie.
"Jason had the hands-on in the shop, and I had the accounting knowledge to run the office," Mike said.
In the 1930s, Ben Berounsky was living in Amesbury, Massachusetts, and according to Mike, had a buddy in Portsmouth on Rogers Street with a two-bay garage who needed help repairing cars. With cars becoming the growing primary source of transportation, Ben saw the need for a garage that did auto body repair, and thus began Ben's Auto Body in January 1932.
Ben died in 1940, leaving the business to his sons, Henry and Ardie. They moved the business in the fall of 1941 to larger quarters at 801 Islington St., where it grew to a shop that could accommodate 20 vehicles.
The business was on hiatus during World War II as the Berounsky brothers were drafted, closing the business in spring 1943 and reopening in July 1946.
The post-war years boomed for the family business, according to the family history. Henry – also known as "Ben" – was the president and general manager. It was Henry who spearheaded the business's next move – from Islington Street to Mirona Road, then just a largely empty road on the outskirts of town.
"All his buddies told him he was nuts putting it this far outside of Portsmouth," Mike said. Now, of course, Mirona Road is a commercially active thoroughfare connecting Peverly Hill Road with Lafayette Road.
Henry retired in July 1993, leaving the business in the hands of the senior Michael. With senior's retirement in 2013, the business went to the control of Michael Jr. and Jason.
Today, after a couple of expansions, Ben's Auto Body encompasses about 26,000 square feet and can accommodate up to 40 vehicles at once.
Theirs is strictly a collision repair shop, no custom auto body work for them. "We feel collision is our niche, and that's what we do," said Jason.
And it's an independent repair shop, not contracted to any insurance company. That, according to Mike, makes it better for the customers.
"We pride ourselves on the fact that we are here for the consumer," Mike said. "We have no insurance contracts. We solely work for the consumer to give them the best possible repair we can give them."
According to Mike, when insurance companies estimate the repair of a damaged car they want a shop to base the cost on so-called after-market parts, not factory original parts. After-market parts are less expensive.
"Like everything else in this world, there's a reason they're cheaper," said Mike, noting the fit and finish aren't normally as good as factory.
Ben's Auto Body, said Mike, will give the customer the insurance company estimate specifying the fact that after-market parts will be used, and he'll apprise the customer of what the cost would be with factory parts.
"We give the consumer the option to pay the difference," Mike said. "Our big thing is education."
Customers can try to get their insurance company to pay for the work with factory parts, and, if it doesn't, decide if they want to pay out of pocket for the factory parts difference.
"Insurance companies have a beef with us because we educate the customer," Mike said.
The shop gives its customers a written lifetime guarantee of its work. Letters displayed in the reception laud the shop on its work, many of the notes citing "above and beyond" effort.
Their effort extends beyond the shop, as well, with Ben's Auto Body being a generous contributor to local organizations, particularly youth baseball, which they both played as kids.
Cars, because of the technology that goes into them, are far more complex today than they were even 10 years ago.
According to Jason, it's not as simple of getting a replacement door and installing it into a newer car. There are other factors to consider, such as the side airbags and the electronics tied into the car's primary software system.
Jason said he keeps up with the latest mechanical and technological advances by doing a lot of reading and attending trade shows. Car manufacturers have websites that are helpful.
For all the technology in a car, however, the likelihood of getting into an accident is still pretty good. Mike said the average driver will get into an accident once every 7.2 years, and he believes distracted driving is the leading cause of accidents these days – be it from a handheld electronic device, such as a smartphone, or even some of the technologies built into the cars themselves.
"They can put any safety feature in a car, but people are more distracted in a car than they've ever been," Mike said.
It's still very much a hands-on job in the shop. A big challenge is finding the skilled labor for the kind of work they do, including welding and metal finishing. The brothers cite a need for a return to vocational training at the high school level.
"You can make some decent money in this trade," Mike said. "These guys are highly skilled."
We would like to thank Portsmouth Herald/Seacoastonline.com for reprint permission.