Since it opened its doors in 1992, Uptown Body & Fender has been fixing cars and providing its facility to local non-profit and arts community organizations for fundraisers, showings, performances and meetings. If you check Uptown’s monthly schedule by signing up for their email newsletter online at www.uptownbody.com, you’ll find events such as the First Friday Art Murmur, silent auctions, jazz performances and much more—as many as 12-15 per month, in some cases.
Co-Owners Lisandro Allendre and Giovanna Tanzillo started Uptown Body & Fender to create a place where its customers could come and “forget why they are here,” according to Tanzillo. Both owners are service-focused and well aware of the fact that the customer experience is just as vital as the repair, Allendre explained, but their connection to the community is just as important.
“We’re very concerned about doing the highest quality of repairs we can, but in the end, we also value our role in this neighborhood,” Tanzillo said. “Over the years, we’ve been able to help so many people by loaning our facility to non-profits and by encouraging local artists to display their works here. As a result, we’ve become a part of the creative scene here in Oakland. We believe in doing more than repairing cars, because we want to be more than just a body shop and valuable to the community.”
The Uptown district is a formerly depressed industrial area in Oakland that has recently undergone a lot of changes and today is a Mecca for new restaurants, cafes, performance spaces and art galleries. Right smack in the middle of it all, Uptown Body & Fender has become an integral part of this burgeoning scene, Tanzillo explained.
“It’s an exciting time for this area, because it’s going through changes and in a good way. We have a place that stores classic cars right next to us and nine art galleries around us. We love being here, because every day is different and the people we encounter are wonderful, vibrant and creative individuals and we feed on that type of energy.”
The body shop’s sleek and original design was created by Oakland’s Ace Architects, and it’s been praised in publications such as World Architecture News and San Francisco Chronicle magazine. An enclosure that contains all of the shop’s offices is called the “Car-Beast.” It’s a steel enclosure that looks like a truck that married a tank. This amazing structure is the centerpiece of Uptown’s shop and surely a conversation starter for first-time customers coming through the door.
Tanzillo started her career in collision as a bookkeeper for an auto body shop in downtown Oakland in 1978. Her late husband at the time was in the insurance business, so he helped her to get a job at a busy shop and find relief from their four teenage children, she said. After learning the business while working there, Tanzillo started Uptown Body & Fender with her business partner Lisandro Allendre 20 years ago. He is a body man with more than 50 years of experience and together they’re a formidable team. She runs the office, interacting with customers and making them comfortable about the repair process, while he operates as the shop’s production manager, overseeing the repair of approximately 200 cars monthly.
“Lisandro and I met while working at Downtown Auto Body and that’s where I learned the business,” Tanzillo explained. “I started out writing estimates and pretty soon the customers thought I was one of the owners. When we left to start our own shop, people asked us, ‘Where are you going?’ I told them there’s only one place to go from Downtown and that’s Uptown!”
The shop has received a ton of business by donating their beautiful facility to non-profit organizations, but that’s not why they do it, Tanzillo said. “By allowing non-profits, other community groups and the local art community access to our facility, it definitely creates goodwill and a lot of people who would never know about our shop come here for art shows and fundraisers. We don’t even need to advertise anymore, because people find out about us through these events and through our ongoing involvement in everything around us.”
Karen Sternstein with the Oakland School for the Arts holds an annual fundraiser at Uptown Body & Fender. Without the shop’s facility, her organization’s event might not take place every year, she said. “Giovanna dropped out from heaven to help us. They saved us at least $1,500, which is huge for a non-profit operating on a small budget. I’ve also been to other events held at Uptown Body & Fender, and each time it’s a professionally run operation. These people are special, because they’re not just all about the money. It’s refreshing to know that folks like Giovanna and Lisandro are here in Oakland to give, instead of just taking—like so many companies do.”