For over 40 years, Lester Park Skelly has been a part of Duluth
“There aren’t many places where you have a one-on-one interaction with the owner,I think this interaction adds to the trust factor.” -Tom Atkinson
By Mike Biebl
A small building sits in the shadows of a newly remodeled Super One. This small building has an even smaller parking lot. The parking lot is filled with vehicles waiting to be fixed. Every kind of car from a Subaru Outback to full size Chevy Silverado sits in the parking lot. This building has seen constant change in the community around it but has been one of the few to make it through unchanged. Lester Park Skelly has a long and rich history in the Lester Park community. “I remember when there use to be 12 full service gas stations between 42nd avenue and 60th Avenue East,” said Tom Atkinson, owner of Lester Park Skelly, a repair shop. While the local community has seen its fair share of change, this small repair shop has continued to find success based on trust and hard work. “People trust me and I know who I can trust,” said Atkinson During the morning hours of last Friday, business was slow. Between 8:30 and 10:00 a.m. only three people came through the door. “Can I get my oil changed?” said Mike, a longtime customer. “Sure, should be done in an hour,” said Atkinson. “Do you need me to pay now,” said Mike. “Just pay me when you pick it up,” replied Atkinson. Atkinson relies heavily on relationships created throughout the 40 plus years Lester Park Skelly has been serving the community. “I still get customers who use to have my father work on their vehicles”, said Atkinson. Tom’s father, Jim Atkinson, first started the business in 1965 and as Atkinson puts it, “He was an intimidating individual.” Tom Atkinson has been working here since his junior high days and bought the company from his father four and half years ago. Vehicles have changed and Lester Park Skelly has adapted to meet the changing needs of customers. “We don’t do tires, we don’t do exhaust, we don’t do air conditioning work and I am starting to get away from diagnostic repairs,” said Atkinson. With the current state of the repair industry, the diminishing amount of services offered actually helps a small repair shop like Lester Park Skelly. Equipment needed to accomplish these services can be as expensive as $5,000 dollars according to Atkinson. These incredibly high prices can single handedly create a financial issue for these smaller businesses. “We tend to stick to brakes and suspension work,” said Atkinson. These services tend to be the most reasonably priced and bring in the most profit. “Duluth actually helps us here,” said Atkinson referring to the poor shape of many of the Duluth roads. His office is surprisingly clean for a repair shop. The back wall has a shelf filled with old repair manuals. “We had a backroom filled with old manuals that we just finished throwing out. We filled a bucket of skid steer,” said Atkinson. “Actually I think it was two buckets,” said Chris, who was hired last July. Atkinson points to technology as the biggest change in his 40-plus years of the business. A quick look at his desk reveals this first hand. A brand new iMac is sitting on top of his desk. “It is so much easier keeping track of customers with a computer. My customer list has about 1,200 people stored in it,” said Atkinson. During the interview he answered the phone, and while he was talking he went on a parts-store website to give the customer a price almost instantly. “Technology allows us to do everything that much faster,” said Atkinson. The struggle between old and new technology represents a metaphor between small repair shops and larger shops. Larger shops have the ability to offer more services to the customers and while more might be better, this in and out policy of helping people never lets you get to know the actual person. “There aren’t many places where you have a one-on-one interaction with the owner,” said Atkinson. “I think this interaction adds to the trust factor.” The Lakeside and Lester Park communities have shown that small businesses can be successful in the area. People take pride in their community and enjoy having these small businesses work on their items. After the third customer of the hour came into the shop, Atkinson got up. “Time to get to work,” and he was out of his chair and into the garage.