This family business an 80-year tradition

By Danielle Sanzone
The Record (Troy, NY)

Monday, February 23, 2009

COHOES — Most people would not even think of starting a business in tough economic times like the country is currently facing.

But that is exactly what Dave Berdar’s grandfather did during the Great Depression when he opened a car garage on Saratoga Street, which is still serving residents eight decades later.

Anthony Berdar, a Polish immigrant, opened Berdar’s Auto Service in 1929 using a $300 loan from the pastor of St. Michael’s parish.

“Considering how tight money was, that was a lot of money back then,” said Dave Berdar, the third generation of his family to own the shop. “Since my grandfather was from Poland, he didn’t have any credit so when the property became available he asked his pastor for a loan.”

With 10 employees and 16-hour days, seven days a week, the garage was probably one of the few car shops in the city of Cohoes. His grandfather leased the site from Mobil until 1969 when he purchased the property, which is the current location of Dunkin Donuts.

Berdar said he had the privilege of working with both his grandfather and his father, Joseph, when he started at the car garage in 1977. He had three sisters and a brother but he was the only one who took an interest in the shop.

“I was born into this,” he said. “I enjoy what I do, especially when I interact with the different people.”

After more than 62 years of working on cars, his grandfather retired at the age of 81 in 1981 and his father retired in 1997 after 50 years.

The business, which includes flatbed and recovery trucks for 24-hour roadside assistance, has since moved to an adjacent property.

Aside from Berdar, there are five full-time mechanics who are all Auto Service Excellence certified and work on seven bays. The shop has a customer base of about 2,200, said Berdar.

“It’s not easy staying in this business since things have changed so much over the years,” he continued. “Our technicians go back to school to keep up with the times. If there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the great employees we have.”

He said that cars do not breakdown as much as they used to so his garage does more maintenance jobs than repairs. The shop specializes in general repairs, wheel alignments and computer diagnostics.

On a normal day, the garage’s staff works on 20 cars and on a busy day that might increase to about 30. And, even with the poor economy, Berdar has seen an influx of new business which he attributes to more people fixing their old cars instead of buying new ones.

A graduate of Cohoes High School, Berdar has been married to his wife Nel for seven years. He plans to stay at the garage until at least its 100th anniversary in another two decades.

“I’m sure the business will change a lot before then,” he said referring to the new hybrid car market. “But, it’s been a great ride so far.”

As far as the possible fourth-generation future of the business, Berdar has three daughters: Katelyn, 5, Ryann, 3, and Lauren, 2.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if my middle daughter took an interest in cars. She seems to be a bit of a tomboy,” he added.

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