Down-Home Car Repair at Joe’s East Coast

by Peter Schmidtke

A quick peek around Joe’s East Coast Car Shop on the 600 block of East Center Street reveals a thriving twelve-year-old business whose wheels are greased with the personal attention and care of its owner, longtime Riverwest resident Joe Fix. The phone rings off the hook, customers pop in and out to talk with Fix, and the afternoon light reflects brightly off a large first-place roll-over trophy won by shop employee Stan Davis. (Davis rolled a car two times, and Fix himself flipped a car one-and-a half times at Crazy Jim’s Demo Derby in Hales Corner.) Nestled among the cars on a hydraulic lift is one of Joe’s eleven antique tractors, and sitting in the parking lot is a cherry red ’57 Chevy that belongs to fellow employee Sergio Bettencourt. The main floor is a beehive of activity with employees raising cars and trucks on hydraulic lifts and shuttling compressors and equipment amongst the cars. According to Fix, anywhere from five to fifteen cars are on the main floor at any given time. “In the winter, we’ll probably have twenty of them squeezed in there.” Fix’s shop does all repairs on foreign and domestic cars and trucks, including major body work, tire installation, clutch and brake repairs, oil changes, and tune-ups. In addition to Stan and Sergio, Tony Deau and Connie Fix also work at the shop. Fix, who has been towing cars since he was sixteen, also repairs other companies’ tow trucks and offers daytime and nighttime towing services. “I have a tow operator who tows during the days, and then I do a lot of the towing during the evening,” he said. His customers come from Riverwest, the East side, and all over Milwaukee. “From Holton to 90th and North to Capital and the Riverwest area, I have customers who’ve been coming here since the first time we ever opened.” He said he sees a lot of new faces, including three customers who lived in his own old apartment on Clarke Street. Although it’s billed as a car shop, Joe said he routinely sees people who bring in non auto-related equipment. “I had a lady come in the other day with a lawn mower. We had a guy come in with a weed wacker. We have ladies come here with rubber swimming pools that they want blown up for their kids.” All of this tinkering, car repair and otherwise, happens under the roof of a rectangular, 1890s era brick building that Joe purchased last January. “We’ve been doing a lot of updates on the building-fixing a leaking roof, fixing the electric, the plumbing. Now we’re replacing all of the broken windows.” (He already put glass block on most of the windows on Center Street.) He hopes to have all the windows on Center and Pierce changed by next fall. Fix would like to paint the building before snowfall, and he plans on putting up lighting along Center Street and Pierce Street. Fix is in the process of applying for a facade-improvement grant from the Milwaukee Department of City Development, a $5000 grant that offers reimbursable matching funds for commercial and mixed-use buildings. He said he would use the funds to help offset the cost of new paint and windows. Fix partially attributes his desire to continue improving his Mom-and-Pop style shop to his roots in the community. “I was born on Holton and Center, and my mom and dad still live there. I have two sisters on Booth Street and a brother on the 700 block of Clarke. I don’t plan on selling the building; I’ll probably give it to my kids. My one son is 14 years old, and he’s helped me replace a lot of the windows already.” To those who want to open their own repair shops, Fix offers one simple warning: “You better like fixing cars!” Fix can be reached at his shop on 631 E. Center at 263-2883. For more information on the municipal facade-improvement grant program, leave a message at (414) 286-8201. Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 9 – October 2002