Eldridge Auto Sales & Body Shop a Rogersville, TN, Institution

Monica and Otis with a customer's car. Photo credit: Randy Ball

Eldridge Auto Sales & Body Shop owner Otis Eldridge is well-known for his classic car collection and the “Memory Lane” village he built beside his business and his home.

But, none of the would have been possible were it not for the fact he earned iconic status as an ace body man over the past five decades.

Otis, who opened his auto body shop May of 1971, started early in auto body work.

He remembered, “I was painting cars when I was in high school. In 1966, I started doing body work and painting with my brother. I worked at Eastman for six months and decided it wasn’t for me. Then I taught school for four years.”

In the late 1970s, he began hiring employees for the body shop.

He said, “I always had great employees and we were blessed with more work than we could do.”

The business grew to 12 employees. Early on, Otis bought wrecked cars to repair them to resell. He said in the 1980s, they were overwhelmed with insurance work. He began buying property to move the shop to another location, but eventually decided to “tough it out here on Caney Creek.”

The body shop focused on collision repair.

Otis said, “We’re still blessed with all the work we can do; we have many, many repeat customers.” The auto sales has been “always on the side” and Otis has had a dealer’s license since 1977.

Otis remembered going to three auto auctions per week years ago. He and his wife and their daughter, Monica, made an outing out of the trips.

All the time spent around autos had a strong effect on Monica. Although she earned a degree in forensic psychology, she left that field to return home and manage the body shop.

Otis said Monica “writes estimates, orders parts and keeps everything going.” Monica said, “I grew up in the body shop, I love it. Some of my best memories are going to sales and swap meets and the garage finds and barn finds we made.”

Memory Lane was started in the late 1990s. Otis said he needed a break from the business and began work on a general store building over the hill from the shop.

It has grown to include several buildings, including a diner, drive-in theater, car dealership, gas station and church. Otis said when he started building it, “I had no intentions of doing as much as I did, but it has been worth every bit of effort.”

Memory Lane has been used in television shows, commercials and music videos. Otis added, “Some of my happiest times have been building Memory Lane.”

While Otis said he’s proud of Monica and she has become very knowledgeable about the automotive work, there may be a third generation in training.

Monica’s young daughter Zella is showing interest. Otis said, “Zella loves to help her mama in the office and she is pretty mechanically minded.” Monica said, “Zella notices damage on cars and she has tried to sell visitors a car.”

The business is still doing well after 51 years. Otis said a lot credit goes to the employees. “Most of our employees have stayed 10-12 years. Some have branched off on their own. Our bookkeeper has been here since 1984.”

Otis said, “I’ve had lots of enjoyment here, good family, good friends, good customers. I don’t foresee doing anything different, I love working here.”

Eldridge Auto Sales and Body Shop is located at 459 Caney Creek Road. For more info, call (423) 272-2938.

We thank The Rogersville Review for reprint permission.

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