ORIGINAL ARTICLE AT NPR
Auto repair shops are considered essential businesses and have stayed open throughout the novel coronavirus pandemic, keeping frontline workers on the move. But Eli Allison’s garage has been essential to the LGBTQ community for a long time –and they hope that will be true for a long time to come.
Voices of the Pandemic features people in the Seattle area on the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak, in their own words.
I think we’re trained to be like, “Hey, how you doing?” “I’m okay.” As a just a standard response. And the truth is right now, a lot of people are not okay. And so being willing to engage in those deeper conversations, I think I’ve learned a lot from that. No time to have an ego.
My name is Eli Allison. I’m the founder of REPAIR REVOLUTION in Seattle, Washington. We are a feminist, LGBTQ owned and operated auto repair shop. And we are community driven with a social justice heart.
With all the changes with the stay at home order: right away, we saw a drop in customers. And you know, having the realization that we were a vital service, we had to stay open. And so we’ve done a lot of things in order to stay open and stay safe.
We started doing pickup and delivery services for customers. We are having to disinfect vehicles both before and after servicing them. And then we are also disinfecting the facility multiple times a day. I actually have a staff person who’s basically dedicated to cleaning, I would say about 70% of their time.
Currently, we’ve been having to have way more checkins. People are having a lot of feelings. You know, when we have 50% of the normal volume coming through the door… that’s a scary thing, because it’s not a sustainable thing.
I don’t think it’s an accident that I picked auto repair, because I love to solve problems. I love a puzzle; I love something that’s hard to figure out. I think that being able to respond well in a crisis is really helpful when you are a business owner, because you have crises every single day. Things that you’ve never thought you would ever have to deal with, things that you never thought you would have to say.
We’ve had quite a few customers come in that lost their jobs pretty abruptly and had to make some pretty hard decisions about their living situation. One customer comes to mind that worked at a restaurant and lost their job and had to make a decision to move back home with their family, because they weren’t going to be able to afford rent anymore. And home was on the East Coast.
So it was, you know, a 3000-mile drive. So they brought their vehicle in to us to get a safety inspection and to get an oil change and some of the basics checked before they headed across the country, to make sure that it was a safe trip and make sure their vehicle got them there.
The other thing that I’ve definitely seen more of his, you know, we’ve got a lot more folks that have made the choice to live in their vehicles – made the choice or have been forced into the choice, I guess I should say. But a lot more folks that are experiencing homelessness and living in their vehicles.
And, you know, that really changes how important their vehicle is to them and that really changes how we service their vehicle as far as prioritizing them on the schedule. You can’t really hold a vehicle overnight when that’s somebody’s shelter for the night.
My biggest fear is losing my business. My biggest fear is not being able to pay the bills, and not having this community space for my customers.
For the folks that have come here from all over to work in a shop that treats them equally, that honors their difference – that celebrates, I mean, beyond honoring. That celebrates that they’re different and that celebrates that they’re queer.
It’s taken a long time to build that and losing it just feels really scary and really hard. And I think we’ll be okay, but it’s the thing that keeps me up at night.