Business: After Nearly Half A Century, Al’s Auto Body Lowers Bay Doors For Good

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Business

Patrice Michel and Scott Hagan will be closing Al’s Auto Body on Enterprise Drive in Chatham after nearly 50 years. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – After 46 years of making battered vehicles look good again, Scott Hagan will be lowering the bay doors at Al’s Auto Body on Enterprise Drive for the last time next month.

Al Loring opened Al’s Auto Body near the end of the road’s cul-de-sac in 1975, and Hagan began working there on Aug. 1, 1977 right after high school. The business had a mechanic and Hagan was hired “to do the outside” of vehicles.

“I used to get fired every other week,” he quipped of those early days. He grew up on White Pond and knew the townspeople and their vehicles, and learned all that Loring and others could teach him, initially working out of a single bay. Gradually the business expanded into the rest of the metal building, encompassing several bays.

Anyone who’s dropped off a car for repairs or stopped in to get a state inspection sticker knows that Al’s Auto Body is your typical vehicle garage: cluttered with curious parts, and old signs, including “Chatham Auto Parts” and “Digit Hall” (Chatham Bars Inn’s old conference building). There’s a certain comfort in the smells and sounds of a working garage.

There’s satisfaction in seeing a vehicle come in smashed or battered and then watching it drive away restored to its original condition, Hagan said. Not much has changed in that respect; the work involves custom painting, glass work and restoration on foreign and domestic vehicles. But some of the details have. Unibodies have replaced frames on many vehicles, there are more plastics and computers involved, and the cost of paint and maintaining safety standards has risen.

The business has also included towing (though no longer) and began issuing Massachusetts vehicle inspection stickers in the 1980s. That side of things has also become more complicated and reliant on computers and cameras installed by the state.

“Much as I hate the stickers, I like seeing the people,” said Hagan. It’s the customers that will be missed the most, added partner Patrice Michel, who joined the business about 23 years ago.

“We like the customers and they like us,” she said.

Often working seven days a week for years, Hagan has had to slow down a bit in recent years after losing the lower portion of his right leg following a motorcycle accident in 2007. He’s undergone three surgeries and still has pain in the limb.

But that won’t stop him from being active after closing up the shop. He’s looking forward to having the time to work on his own vehicles, including a 1966 Chevy Impala convertible. The couple, who live in Harwich, also plan to travel, including continuing to visit regular spots like Key West and Maine.

The property is being sold to a local group tentatively planning to put up storage units on the site. The business will shut down May 15, with the closing on the property set for June 1. Hagan thanked his loyal customers and said the best thing about the business has been the friendships he’s made over the years. He’ll miss seeing folks who came in for stickers as well as vehicle work.

After nearly half a century, it’s bittersweet, added Michel.

“But it’s our time to move on, to do things for ourselves,” she said.