Down Shifting at 55

Down Shifting at 55

Popular automotive garage ownership changes hands.

St. Patrick's Day 1949, an automotive garage opened on Richmond Highway. Fifty five years later it has changed hands. And the Doran brothers get to take a vacation.

Doran's Auto Parts, 8541 Richmond Highway, has been through a series of metamorphosis. But there has been one constant, Frank and Ted Doran. Or as one business neighbor and long-time customer referred to them jokingly, "The brothers grim."

The business was started by their father Edward P. Doran, as a complete auto repair shop and accessory store. "We've been a lot of things since we opened — a speed shop, Firestone Tire store, and garage/automotive accessories shop," Ted Doran said.

"And we've been open six days a week all these years. We haven't had a vacation in 25 years," Frank Doran added. When asked what he was going to do with his free time, Frank replied, "Take two weeks off and think about it."

In addition to seeking a change, the brothers also said, "People aren't looking for real service anymore. It's all this fast in and out stuff. And the extended warranties on new cars has had a real impact. Our customer list has dwindled over the years because of that and many have died."

But those who have remained are fiercely loyal and not particularly happy that their favorite garage, manned by their favorite people, will now be a part of Mount Vernon history. Doran's Auto Parts was not just a automotive repair shop, to many customers it was a second home.

"We moved here 34 years ago and shortly after started depending on them for all our auto repairs," said Dr. Thomas Cleary. "They've also been very good for my teenage children. They have been a lot more than our auto mechanics. They are very good friends."

For Dr. Robert Gibson of Lorton, whose medical office is right behind Inova Mount Vernon Hospital, the Doran's shop was "like Cheers only it was a garage. I can't remember when I've enjoyed such comraderie as I have at Doran's.

"On days that I didn't have to go to the hospital, I'd stop by just to say 'Hi,'" he said. "And on the weekends it's great just to go by for coffee and donuts."

As a 15 year customer, Gibson knew, "When I'd drop off one of my cars or trucks for repair I would always get the best of service."

IN ADDITION to the owners' expertise, that was also due to the expertise of 25 year employee Bill Scott who is retiring as well.

One of the Doran's most famous customers was former Redskins quarterback Sonny and Margo Jurgenson.

"The first picture that comes to mind is coming in the door and being conscious of a haze of smoke hanging from the ceiling," recalled 32-year customer Helen Walutes, a Mount Vernon area resident.

"I looked around, then realized that there was Sonny behind the counter, reading the newspaper and puffing away on a cigar with Ted Doran on the other side smoking a cigarette. I went home and told my family, all devoted Redskins fans, that I saw Sonny," Walutes said.

"One time I took the side mirror off my old Jeep Wrangler while backing out of an underground garage. I went to Doran's. I gave them the Jeep; nothing was said about the damage," Walutes remembered.

"The next day I came by to pay the bill. Once the transaction was complete, Ted leaned across the counter and in his best "counseling" voice asked, "Now dear, how did you do that?," she revealed.

AS THE OLDEST single ownership business along the Route 1 corridor, Doran's Auto has the feel of a small town business where customers are also friends, not just part of the passing parade. "They even save fresh corn for my wife when it's in season," John Tippin acknowledged.

"They've been very good friends for a number of years. And it all started for me just as a car repair shop," he admitted.

Although the garage has operated six days a week, the brothers Doran have been involved in a host of other activities throughout the years — most related to automotive activities. "We used to have "Funny Cars" here in the late 60's and 70's," Ted said.

And they raced Go-cars. On the wall was a picture of the two brothers in younger days in their "racers." Ted with no helmet.

True to their sardonic sense of humor, they noted, "We watch at least a wreck a week on the highway right out in front here. It's good for business." They were also pleased with the fact that the shop was "a police hang out."

Extra proud of their Irish heritage, there is memorabilia everywhere verifying that connection.

"One St. Patrick's Day we had the line on Route 1 painted green," they boasted.

As Mount Vernon residents Bill and Bonny Stilwell wrote in a recent letter to the Gazette, "We will miss the old green shamrock with the Luck of the Irish and the friendly Irish banter, and more importantly, we'll miss the Dorans."

Attesting to their automotive expertise, last year Frank built an exact replica of Henry Ford's first auto. And in the back of the garage, under a protective tarp, was a handcrafted dragster.

Both married, each have two children. Ted and his wife Mary, residents of Mount Zephyr, have a son, Teddy III, and a daughter, Mary Catherine. Frank and his wife Marie, reside on Margate Court with their son Frank, Jr. and a daughter Stephanie. Frank Jr. is a student at Virginia Tech.

AS OF THIS WEEK, Doran's Auto Parts became Engleside Car Care under the guidance of its new owner, Louis Berkeszi. He will retire as a 22 and a half year veteran of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department this Saturday.

"We're going to operate our automotive repair shop with the same honesty and integrity the Doran's have maintained over their long career," Berkeszi assured. "And we plan to be an active member of the community."

A resident of the Franconia area, Berkeszi has been doing both firefighting and auto repair work over the years. "While being a firefighter I was also a fleet mechanic for Galaxy Electric for the past seven years," he said.

"Last year I went independent as a mechanic. When this became available it all just seemed to fall into place with my retirement from the fire department," Berkeszi reasoned. "I feel I can step into this and operate in the same mode as the Doran's." He plans to operate with five employees to start and build from there.

As Ted and Frank collected their treasure of memories, from shamrock dollar bills to the pictures of their parents, Edward and Evelyn, to holiday decorations and Redskins photos, their final thoughts were, as they had been over the years, for their customers.

"We sincerely want to thank our customers. They have been great to us and we have made a lot of friends. It's always been fun. But it's time."