NJ Body Shop Owner Gets an Offer He Can't Refuse

NJ Body Shop Owner Gets an Offer He Can't Refuse

Shop Owner Joe Rodi came to Italy in 1956 and thanks to a recent sale to Wawa, a large retailer, he will soon be able to return to visit his homeland of Calabria for an extended vacation.

Joseph Rodi, 78, is the owner of Rodi's Auto Body in Cherry Hill, NJ and happy to say that he is living the American Dream. He's proud of his two sons who work in the business and of all the things he has achieved through his shop in its 56 years of existence. And that's why the Rodi family and many members of the community in Cherry Hill were a little concerned when Wawa, a large retailer, started looking at Rodi's property and subsequently approached him to purchase his shop and the strip mall he also owns nearby.

The proposal was for a 5,600-square-foot super store with a gas station with an adjacent site that would be reserved for future construction of a 6,000-square-foot retail center and Rodi's initial response was an emphatic "no."
But things changed considerably on March 21, when the town's planning board held a hearing to review the application for the 2.5-acre site and to say the least, Rodi was pleased about the end result. "It was a win for us," he exclaimed. "They made us a considerable offer and we said yes. We will be here for at least another year, but we are happy with the way it came out. The planning board's decision is very fair and I think everyone won with this one."

A Wawa representative could not be reached for comment about the proposed store, which would be the chain's fifth outlet in Cherry Hill. Plans show that a new convenience store will be constructed where Rodi's Auto Body sits today and that a fueling station will replace Rodi's Mini Mall, where tenants include a bartending school, a title business and a hair salon.

Rodi wasn't initially enamored about the idea of having to either move or close his shop, but in the end, the deal was too attractive to walk away from. "I've been here 53 years," he said. "I guess I intend to stay here to my last breath. I have worked hard for many years to be a good business partner with the community here and have built a reputation for being honest and fair with all of our customers. I'm not ready to walk away into the night quite yet, but maybe soon."

Well, soon became next year, when Wawa made Rodi an offer he could not refuse, he explained. "They are giving us enough money so that we can step away, at least for now. I have always lived by my version of the Golden Rule and that says, 'he who has the gold makes the rules.' In this case, Wawa offered me a lot of gold, so they make the rules. If we decide to open up somewhere else, we will do it, but for now, we just want to take this money and enjoy it."

Enjoying the money means that Rodi and his family will be able to visit the place of his birth in Calabria Italy. Talking about it made Joseph a little emotional, which makes sense, especially when you know his amazing journey.

Joseph Rodi is a true American success story. He was born in Italy, the eldest of five children. When he was 11, his father passed away, leaving him to support his family. In 1956, Joseph, his mother, two brothers, and two sisters left Italy for a new life in America. Although no one in the family spoke a word of English, Joseph, then 17, was filled with hope to achieve the American Dream. His family was greeted by relatives who brought them to South Camden, New Jersey, to begin their new life.

Rodi says he is living the American Dream and the collision repair industry has been a big part of it all.

Rodi took a job in a bakery where he labored 15 hours a day, seven days a week. After several months, he tired of the back breaking work and chose to return to the trade he knew and loved -- auto body repair.

He worked for several years honing his skills at several shops in the area while taking trade classes at night at Camden's Woodrow Wilson High School. In 1965, he put $100 down on a parcel of land in Cherry Hill and opened Rodi's Auto Body in an existing barn on the site. Word grew quickly of his quality work and customers flocked to his business. In three short years, Joseph was so successful that he was able to sell the business to pursue other endeavors. In 1975, the buyers defaulted and Joseph was back in the auto body business -- this time to stay.

Joseph has made many friends over the years and has been active in many civic and philanthropic causes in Cherry Hill. His community service includes 16 years on the Camden County Planning Board, terms on New Jersey's Economic Development Commission, and four years as a member of New Jersey's Racing Commission. Joseph also served four years on the Board of Directors of Cooper Medical Center.

Rodi has also been the recipient of many honors over the years. One that he is most proud of is being named Man-of-the-Year by the Sons of Italy in 1998. More recently, in 2006, he earned his Doctor of Business Administration from Somerset University, which is pretty impressive since he was 68 at the time.

In roughly 12 months time when Rodi's Auto Body will be closing its doors, Joseph Rodi will finally take a deep breath and figure out his next move after consulting with his two sons and one daughter. But the first thing they're doing to do is return to Italy for an extended vacation, a "bucket list" item that will take priority, he said.

"Once I see the check, I will believe it," Rodi said. "And then we can go back to Italy, because home is where the heart is. It has been a great journey and we've made so many great friendships over the years. I could complain, but why? I'm a happy man and I have had a great career in this industry."

Ed Attanasio

Ed Attanasio is an automotive journalist and Autobody News columnist based in San Francisco.

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