Bothel’s, a family-owned mechanical and auto-body repair company in Cape Elizabeth, ME, is celebrating 65 years in business this year, and brothers Stephen and Robert are proud to be carrying on as the third generation owners, writes Kayla J. Collins at keepmecurrent.com.
The shop has been located at 94 Ocean House Road since their grandfather, Henry Walter Bothel, established it in 1949. Several years ago it operated as an automotive repair business called Bothel’s Garage with two bays and an Esso gas station, but over the years it has essentially become two separate businesses, Bothel’s Mechanical Repair and Bothel’s Autobody Inc., which operate under the same roof.
Stephen and Robert are nine years apart in age and have worked side by side since they were teenagers.
“I started working here in the summer of ’72,” said Stephen Bothel. At the time Bothel was 19 and worked as a mechanic next to his father, Walter Robert Bothel. Back then, the shop could only accommodate space for two vehicles, but now, decades later, there is space for 11, Stephen Bothel said. The business discontinued selling gasoline in the 1960s.
Since 1949, Bothel’s has grown from two employees – someone pumped gas and another did service work, like oil changes – to six employees, with three on the mechanical repair side and three at the body shop.
Growing up, the brothers lived in a home just hundreds of feet from the shop, said Stephen Bothel, who now has two daughters and two sons of his own.
Stephen said he remembers handing tools to his father when he was 7 years old.
“It wasn’t something I really planned on doing for a lifetime,” said Stephen Bothel, who left his family’s business for six months to work as an operator for a phone company in Portland.
Because he knew he wouldn’t progress at the phone company, Bothel said, he decided to go back to Bothel’s where he said everyone is treated fairly and works like a team.
In the 1970s, as technology changed, Walter Robert Bothel went to work next door at the auto body shop and Stephen took over the mechanical repair aspect of the business. He said, “it’s been a constant learning experience ever since then.” Three to four times a year, Stephen takes courses on diagnostics to keep up with the ever-changing technology in the automotive repair business.
“It’s to help us make repairs faster on cars and helps us understand some of the newer technology that is out there, and what we should be gearing up for,” said Stephen Bothel, who takes great pride in his work.
Stephen and Robert’s grandfather passed away in 1976 and their father died in 2000. Ever since, the customer base has continued to grow. Some of the customers have been bringing their vehicles to Bothel’s for 30-plus years, said Stephen Bothel.
“Everybody here cares about the customers,” he said.
On Monday morning, one customer, Terry Ann Scriven, said she’s been bringing her vehicle to both the mechanical repair business and auto-body business since the 1990s and that she appreciates the Bothel brothers’ honest work and efficiency.
“I love using somebody local,” said Scriven. “These guys are a big part of the community, too.”
She said, along with fixing her vehicle, “I love that they tell me about the mechanics of the car. They are always respectful and thoughtful,” Scriven said.
Stephen Bothel said the fact that the employees treat each other and their customers fairly is one reason why business continues to thrive and the customers keep coming back.
Stephen is the owner of Bothel’s Mechanical Repair and Robert owns Bothel’s Autobody, which are both located at the same address, but operate separately.
“It’s the same family, different aspects,” Stephen Bothel said.
Though he and Robert are proud of their businesses, Stephen said that he is not sure if, when, or even how they will be celebrating their 65-year milestone. Most of the advertising over the years has been word of mouth and more recently on the Bothel’s Mechanical Repair Facebook page.
“I think the most important thing is that we really care about getting the job done right the first time,” said Stephen Bothel. He said at Bothel’s, employees treat their customers the way they would want to be treated. Some that have moved out of state still call the shop for advice and estimates on repairs, said Stephen Bothel.
“They would call me and get a second opinion until they settled down in their new location,” he said.
“We explain things to the customers so they know what was done to their vehicle and so they have more of an understanding where their money went,” he added.
When asked why people should take their vehicles to Bothel’s, Jim Baker, a mechanic, said, smiling, “You’re not going to get ripped off.” Baker has worked as a mechanic at Bothel’s for eight years and said that employees are not only treated fairly, but they are well compensated.
Robert Bothel said he spends 80-100 hours per week at the auto body shop. Along with auto body repair, he said that employees also do some mechanical work on vehicles that have been involved in collisions.
He remembers bumpers in the late 1970s, early ’80s weighing much more than they do now, and sometimes it would take two men to lift them. While auto-body work can be gratifying, it can also be very challenging, said Robert Bothel.
“My father started doing body work here in the ’60s and it was mostly doing overall paint jobs and patching cars up,” he said. “When I started in high school, we pressed more for collision work.”
He said, as a business owner, “One thing about being in one place for a long period of time, you tend to get attached to a lot of different people.” When asked about what he enjoys about doing auto-body work, he said, “I really don’t know, but thankfully, I don’t hate it. I will probably be here when I’m 70.”