The SoDo Shop That Demystifies Auto Repair for Everyone

How queer-owned Repair Revolution centers community empowerment.

By Lindsay Lee Wallace  June 24, 2024

IF YOU STOP BY REPAIR REVOLUTION IN SODO, you’ll notice many classic hallmarks of an auto repair shop: music blasting, folks in coveralls, and car parts doubling as art mounted to the walls. But at this shop, the music may be performed live by one of the local bands for whom the garage serves as a concert venue. The coveralls are worn by auto technicians, sure—but also by drag performers who regularly turn the hydraulic lifts into the proscenium of a glittering stage. And the paintings are from local artists. Plus, unlike other shops, Repair Revolution has a disco ball.

The shop was founded by queer auto technician and activist Eli Allison. Allison started their career in social work, where they were overwhelmed by the enormity of caseloads and what felt like an inability to meaningfully meet the community’s needs. Burned out, they returned to an old love: cars. As they worked to earn their ASE certification for car repair and continued to train at other shops, they saw how the automotive industry reflected many of the same issues they’d confronted in their other work and throughout their life. They also saw how it offered the opportunity to address those issues.

“The auto repair industry is not super welcoming to women, or queer people, or people of color,” says Allison. Walking into a repair shop can be intimidating for anyone—78 percent of people say they find it hard to fully trust their mechanic. On top of that, women and queer people are often overcharged for repairs, and people of color are frequently charged higher rates for car loans and purchases.

“I think our communities tend to feel like they’re more likely to be taken advantage of, or didn’t have the same opportunities to learn about car stuff,” Allison says. “When we talk about economic inequality, we often think about housing insecurity and food insecurity.”

The Repair Revolution team: (L-R) Hyunu Choi (they/them), Acton Seibel (he/him), founder Eli Allison (they/them), Roly Espino (they/them), Addison Hayden (she/her), and Colleen Richardson (she/her).


Transportation, Allison points out, is just as important. Having been unhoused for a period of time as a teenager, they know exactly how crucial a reliable, safe car can be. In 2011, Allison opened Repair Revolution with the goal of creating a space for marginalized people—both technicians and customers—to feel at home.

When someone brings a car to Repair Revolution, the shop’s techs meticulously document not only everything that’s wrong with it, but also everything that’s right. This way, people can understand the reasoning behind the repairs they’re paying for, and plan for future expenses resulting from normal wear and tear. Customers then receive a report via email, with links to animations explaining their vehicle’s various systems. The animations were originally intended for technicians to show at the shop, but Allison felt there was no reason customers shouldn’t be able to take the knowledge home with them.

“I want any of my customers to be able to walk into any shop, anywhere, and feel like they know what they’re talking about,” says Allison. “I want them to feel empowered to make informed decisions.”

LGBTQ+ friendly reading material is available in the lobby; a cheeky caution sign points the way to a storage area.


That empowerment is derived not just from the repair experience, but from the shop’s dual identity as a community space. “I have the privilege of having space for my business, and I want to be able to expand that to community whenever we can,” Allison says.

One example? In April, the shop hosted a reading and car ownership workshop with Chaya Milchtein, a queer advocate and automotive educator whose book, Mechanic Shop Femme’s Guide to Car Ownershipaligns with Allison’s vision of making information about car ownership accessible to all.

“Helping folks that have been historically underserved and intentionally kept out of automotive repair spaces is not just the most important and genuine way to do my work, but it’s also the most impactful,” Milchtein says. “And I can prove it economically benefits repair shops and dealerships to treat us like human beings.”

“For people in the queer community, there’s so much you have to navigate. Going into a safe space for what you need becomes important,” says longtime Repair Revolution customer Jennifer Quigley. She first learned about the shop when she attended a fundraiser hosted there for a nonprofit focused on domestic violence. “I remember thinking what a great place it was and how comfortable it felt.”

“I’ve had some terrible experiences in the past as a car owner, feeling uncomfortable and like I’m not having the truth told to me. But I feel like I’m told the truth every time I take my car there,” says Quigley. “It’s radically different from what I’ve experienced in the past.”

Like it did many small businesses, the pandemic hit Repair Revolution hard. The shop had been running multiple community programs for years, including car care workshops, partnerships with local organizations to offer discounted and free repairs to those with low or no income, free exterior light replacements for Black and brown people, and an apprenticeship program for aspiring techs underrepresented in the industry. As business slowed, paying for the programs became harder and harder—even as their necessity grew.

Roly Espino works on a vehicle.


“And so I decided to be wild,” Allison says. Instead of pausing the programs to save funds, Allison leveraged their early-career experience to launch a new nonprofit, Auto Repair Transformation, which builds on the shop’s community programs. Right now, splitting their time between the shop and the nonprofit is making for 80-hour weeks for Allison, but they’re hoping to be able to hire soon.

Allison says they hear from people all over the country who are on a similar mission to make car ownership less intimidating and create pathways for marginalized auto techs—like Audra Fordin, founder of automotive education organization and shop directory Women Auto Know. Some are even inspired by the work Repair Revolution is doing, including former Repair Revolution tech El Scherker, who brought the philosophy to Portland, Oregon, where they opened Stargazer Garage, specializing in modified 4×4 trucks.

Allison is hopeful that as Auto Repair Transformation grows, they’ll be able to share more resources online and via social media, to create more access to information. “Change is gonna happen when a bigger light is shined on the need,” says Allison. “I’m hoping we can join forces with some like-minded people that envision the same better auto repair space we do.”