Friday, 05 April 2013 09:25

Bellingham, WA, Shop Closes as Owner Retires

Duane Stewart closed his long-time auto body repair business, D&L Body and Plastics, Inc., in Bellingham, WA,  on March 29.

Stewart and his father, Les, opened the business at 1421 N. Forest St. in 1962. Now 79, he started working in the industry as a teenager.

After 50 years in the business, Stewart retired from the business he loved and from which he operated at the same address in Bellingham for more than 50 years, the Bellingham Herald reported.

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,” 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?’”

Long-time employee, Tom Gates, has worked at the shop 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.

D&L 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 business, Stewart has seen plenty of changes in the industry. Ironically, as vehicles became safer with the development of air bags and body design, Stewart more often had to advise customers to scrap a damaged car and buy a new one 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.

Beyerlin said it was the customers and the former employees, many of whom are now longtime friends, who 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.