In a region known for its rapid growth, perhaps no neighborhood is a better model for the pace of change than the Village of Shirlington. And Shirlington Service Center has been a part of the story since nearly the beginning.
Our little shop started as a Gulf station in the 1950's, back when Shirlington was a small retail center created to support the burgeoning community growing up around the new Pentagon building and related military outposts. Residents could drop their car off while dining at the local Hot Shoppes or shopping at one of the shops in the village. As the area grew, the business thrived.
In 1972, Frank Palaio was getting ready to retire and head to Florida. One of his vendors, Ray Bowes, had his eye on the shop and made Frank an offer he couldn't refuse. Frank sold the shop and Ray began his 45 year tenure as owner and operator of Shirlington Service Center.
Ray has grown this little shop into one of the foremost automotive repair facilities in Northern Virginia. We now have 6 service bays, as well as a Virginia State Inspection station. We care for about 8,000 vehicles a year, servicing cars from our local community as well as customers from across the nation. It is not unusual to have three generations of customers from the same family and, in some cases, four. And Ray has been here through it all. He hasn't been alone; many of our service advisors and technicians have been a part of this business for decades and have years of experience in the industry.
In 1972, engines were carburated and computers were still using punch cards. As vehicles have changed, the tools and technologies of the business have changed as well. Ray and his team have been leaders in adopting and adapting these new technologies. Shirlington Service Center now possesses some of the most advanced diagnostic technologies in the industry. However, we have not lost the hands-on diagnostic skills necessary to service vehicles spanning nearly a century.
Ray's son Brian started working at the shop in the 1990's and joined the team full time after graduating from the Virginia Military Institute. He has learned this business from the ground up while incorporating some of the new best practices in the industry. These days, Brian handles a lot of the day-to-day operations of the business so that Ray can continue to do what he really loves to do: tinkering with cars and troubleshooting the more challenging vehicles, as well as chatting with old friends as they bring their latest vehicles in for service.
The old village of Shirlington continues to be a quaint stop in the thriving metropolis that has grown around it. We still have the tree-lined streets and the small shops and eateries that have been the hallmark of the area. And we still have that little shop on the corner. The one that stays open, even when nature throws her fury on the streets of the city; open early in the morning for those quick tire checks or jump starts; open late in the evening for those commuters desperately trying to get home safely. Because Ray knows that being part of the community really means caring for the community.
And what is a community without that little shop on the corner?
by Fritz Wiant