HOLMES BEACH -- An automobile service station that has seen its share of history -- both good and bad -- is starting over by going back to the future.
Early last month, longtime Holmes Beach residents got a dose of real-life nostalgia when Grooms Motors & Automotive opened its two lift bay doors for the first time since 1998. The resurrected business, which operated for 30 years on Marina Drive catty corner from Holmes Beach City Hall, is back at the heart of the city's business district.
Owner Barry Grooms said his father and former Grooms Motors owner, Rodney Grooms, didn't want him to repair cars for a living. But he would have been proud to see his shop reopen.
"I don't have to do it," said Grooms, who has worked the past 15 years as a Realtor with ReMax Alliance Group's Bradenton office. "I thought it would be cool."
The Grooms family has owned the 2,300-square-foot steel and block shop building since it closed 16 years ago. It brings back happy memories for Grooms,
who grew up fixing cars alongside his father. He said he's enjoyed welcoming customers and their cars to the shop. He was even happier to see the smile on his 84-year-old mother's face when Grooms reopened for business on Feb. 3.
"I feel really great about it," said Faye Grooms. "I think it's bringing Rodney's spirit back to the island."
The shop has also been a source of stress. The building burned in 1996 and had to be rebuilt. And then the ground started oozing.
Six years ago, a dark stain showed up in the parking lot of a neighboring property. At the time, another repair shop, Island Auto Repair, was leasing the building. A Department of Environmental Protection investigation found arsenic contamination, and pointed to the shop as the likely source. The agency found that the shop's waste oil containment vessel was leaking.
Shortly thereafter, Grooms started a costly, four-year, state-mandated soil cleanup. He won't say exactly what the cleanup cost, revealing only that he could have purchased a small rental property for what he spent.
Grooms canceled Island Auto's lease last August. The company moved to Bradenton in January.
Rather than rent the shop out again, he decided it was time for Grooms Motors to make a comeback. It's what his father, who died in 2000, would have wanted.
Grooms isn't giving up his day job. He hired his nephew, Rob Riley, to be the shop's general manager, and a high school friend, Robby Self, as head technician. Together, and with the help of some friends, they scoured the shop with baking-soda based cleaners, painted it with environmentally friendly paint, and reopened. On Monday, as shop staff worked and got ready for an official grand opening ribbon cutting, the shop fairly gleamed from the $114,000 makeover.
The shop has been busy in its first month. Self, who has owned several auto shops on the islands, has drawn enough of his longtime clients to keep the shop's two lifts full every day.
"I have some that follow me all over," he said.
Riley, who comes out of a background in the auto parts industry, said he jumped at the opportunity to work for his relatives. He plans to move his wife and children to the area from Branden in the coming months.
"Being part of a legacy, to bring that back, means a lot to me," he said.
Grooms said he wants the business to be known as a green and giving member of the community. When he purchased equipment for the shop, he said he didn't shy away from more expensive equipment, such as fully enclosed oil recovery units that prevent waste oil from even having contact with outside air, let alone the ground. All waste automotive fluids at the shop are stored in double walled, above-ground containers.
Hearkening back to the free bicycle safety clinics his father used to sponsor, Grooms said he will give at least 10 percent of his shop's net profit to charitable causes this year. Chief on his list is purchasing three wide-tired wheelchairs for the city's beach that will give disabled people access to the sand and water.
Groom also wants to find a way to keep the past in the past when it comes to the spill. Having spent part of his youth learning about auto repair from Island Auto owner Rick Rickerson, he said he is hoping to work with the Rickerson family to determine who was at fault. He said the two families are currently "at an impasse" on the issue.
Speaking from Island Auto's new shop near McKechnie Field Monday, Aaron Rickerson said he believes responsibility lies with the owners of a former gas station that used to be located next to Grooms Motors & Automotive.
Grooms will rarely be seen working on customers' cars at the new shop. But, he and his 16-year-old son, Collin, are planning to spend a lot of time there rebuilding a 1972 Chevrolet pickup truck. The training could come in handy if Collin decides to go to college for mechanical engineering.
It could also be the basis of a pretty good part-time job that his father would be happy to provide.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.