“Do you fix cars?”
“No. We take care of customers.”
This long-running joke makes Tim Dowell, owner of TJ’s Auto Repair, chuckle as he tells it, but it is true. For almost thirty years, the family-run business has been in the business of people. “My employees and customers come first,” Katrina Smith, TJ’s Production Manager says. Katrina and her dad, Tim, live and breathe the shop, she explains, “It’s our everything.” And it has been since Katrina was a girl. At 12, her dad bought a piece of land on Alternate Highway 101 before it was booming and built his first shop. Before then he had been working on cars in his garage with the support of his hardworking family. His wife, Lori ordered parts during the day while Tim worked eight to five at Les Schwab. Katrina cleaned the parts so Tim could get his work done by midnight and he could be up the next morning. Katrina and Tim are still working together to get the job done today.
“Katrina and I are here to take care of everybody,” Tim says. After Lori’s death in 2018, Tim and Katrina have been leaning on each other, Katrina explains, keeping her ideals in mind. “My mom was big on taking care of the employees and the customers, she’s the one who ingrained in my mind the importance of taking care of those who help take care of us.”
Lori was a role model and an asset to the business, working the books at a desk just steps from Tim’s. “There is a line you just don’t cross,” Tim laughs as he describes working with family. So, working with both his wife and daughter, he knew where those lines were. Tim and Katrina haven’t always seen eye to eye though. “In high school, we butted heads, but as you grow up, you grow together,” Katrina smiles. “We had some struggles, now we pretty much know what each other needs.”
The TJ’s team includes four certified technicians and two service writers. Between the four mechanics working at the shop there is a plethora of experience. Tim says the team has a great balance between new school and old school knowledge. The future of cars is electric and requires a lot more technical equipment, Katrina explains, so her techs have to grow with the field. “The general principles haven’t changed,” Tim laughs, and neither does the business model, no matter the car or the system, it is all about people at TJ’s.
Tim and Katrina support their community by fixing engines and repairing radiators as well as helping people when life gets hard. This practice began at their annual anniversary party. It started as customer appreciation event, but turned into a way to help people. The business has raised money for Warrenton Kids, Warrenton High School Scholarship Fund, American Cancer Society and sometimes just people. “It all started with someone saying, ‘Hey we need help,’” Katrina explains. At holiday time or in the middle of the night, people call on TJ’s, because they know they are willing to lend a hand. “We’re born and raised here,” Katrina says in explanation. “This is our home.”
Tim grew up here, around cars, “All kids like to tinker with stuff,” he laughs. He used to buy cars as a teenager, “Never paid over thirty-five dollars.” He took them apart, put them together, drove them around. Before working at Les Schwab, he worked with his dad at Lovell Auto in Astoria. “I worked down in the basement and dad worked on the line.”
Tim wanted to do more, he had a vision of a full service shop focused on accountability to the customer. He started TJ’s with the help and support of his family and the rest is history, “We fix anything here, he explains. “Except broken hearts.” And the team will fix it all with no solvents or solutions that will harm Mother Earth. With a soap that eats up oil and an oil water separator under the business they have been deemed “eco-friendly’ by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
So for service, support or a friend, TJ’s Auto Repair is a sure bet. Katrina, Tim and their team will help their customers through any obstacle, leaving their car and community better than before.