Duane Stewart has established a high bar when it comes to finding an enjoyable job and sticking with it.
Last week Stewart retired from the auto body repair business, closing D&L Body and Plastics, which he's operated at the same address in Bellingham for more than 50 years. Stewart and his father, Les, opened the shop at 1421 N. Forest St. in 1962.
Stewart already had quite a bit of experience in auto body repair and fiberglass work even before founding D&L with his father. Now nearly 80, he started working in the industry as a teenager when Les started Superior Autobody in 1949.
"I've enjoyed a good run," Duane Stewart said. "I knew that I loved this work as a teen and didn't want to do anything else. I remember I was making $100 a week and would ask, 'Why do I need any more than that?'"
Sticking with a job for the long haul appears to be contagious at D&L. Tom Gates has been an employee for 48 years, starting when he was 15. Duane's daughter, Lori Beyerlin, has been handling the financial books for the company since 1986. Gates hopes to work a few more years in the industry locally, while Beyerlin is going to take some time to decide what she wants to do next.
"Tom is such an easy-going guy, while I had the shorter fuse that I learned to get over," Stewart said with a laugh. "He's been a great guy."
From the street the D&L building looks modest in size, but with its basement area the company could store up to 20 cars. With his background in fiberglass, Stewart established a niche, working on (and designing a few) dune buggies, then becoming well known locally for his work on Corvettes.
With such a long span in the same business, Stewart has seen plenty of changes in the car industry. Ironically, as vehicles have become safer with the development of air bags and body design, Stewart has had to advise customers to scrap a damaged car and buy a new one more often because it's more expensive to repair the vehicle.
One other big change is how damaged cars are handled. Early on in D&L's history, if someone damaged a car the owner would pick a place to get it repaired. Today the insurance company advises the customer where to take it, and many customers don't realize they have a choice.
While they've enjoyed the work, Beyerlin said it's the customers and the former employees, many of whom are now longtime friends, that made the biggest impact.
"We will miss the customers coming in with a problem and being able to say, 'Let's do this right,'" Beyerlin said.
When asked about what advice he would have for people thinking about their career, Stewart offers a simple response.
"Don't worry about how much a job pays, do what you love," Stewart said. "The journey is what's important in life, so enjoy the ride."
NEW CHEESESTEAK TRUCK COMING TO BELLINGHAM
Mark West is bringing his brand of Philly cheesesteak to Bellingham.
West, who operates Just Philly inside the Rome Grocery Store at 2908 Mount Baker Highway, is opening a truck trailer operation near Cornwall Park. It'll be at 3219 Meridian St., in the parking lot of the Jim Harber State Farm insurance office.
West plans to have the trailer ready Monday, April 1. Once open, hours will be 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily except for the occasional trips made to special events. The trailer will have the same menu items currently served at the Rome store.
"That spot will be our base," West said.
Just Philly at the Rome Grocery Store will continue to operate until Sunday, June 2, which is when the lease expires, West said.
NEW OWNERS AT EVERSON RESTAURANT
A couple with deep roots in the Everson community has purchased Bobby Lee's Pub and Eatery.
Shirley and Keith Kastler officially purchased the business on Friday, March 1. Shirley was born and raised locally and is the granddaughter of Bernard and Pat Barlean, the former owners of Pat's Place in Everson. Keith, who retired from the post office in 2004, has worked as a bartender at Bobby Lee's for the past three years.
The new owners are making a few cosmetic changes to the interior of the building and have updated the menu, adding some salads, homemade soups and appetizers. They are keeping some of the menu favorites, such as the hand-breaded fish and chips.
The restaurant hours are 11 to 11 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. For details, call the restaurant at 360-966-8838.
The Cobra Lounge at 1323 Cornwall Ave. closed last week. The hookah bar opened in November 2007 amid controversy as various governmental agencies debated the smoking rules for the establishment.
Chad Chambers has opened a used car dealership called Chad Chambers Auto Sales near the Guide Meridian and Pole Road intersection. Chambers' family operated Jerry Chambers Chevrolet Cadillac on Northwest Avenue until it was sold to Lithia Motors Inc. of Medford, Ore., in April 2012.
Less than one year after opening, Scotty Browns' airport restaurant is expanding. The Port of Bellingham's Board of Commissioners approved a lease modification that adds 526 square feet to the restaurant and another 576 square feet at the airport for Scotty Browns' office and storage. With the expansion, the restaurant will occupy nearly 2,000 square feet, not including the new office and storage area. It presently provides seating for about 80 people and will provide additional seating after the expansion.
Retail Tip Sheet runs each Sunday.