For Marty and Ted Griffin, taking over the family business wasn’t a convenience, but a necessity.
“It was right in the middle of the Vietnam War. Dad died at 45, I was only 13,” Ted recalled solemnly last week, shortly after closing on the sale of their iconic family garage. “It was a trying time.”
Their father, Lou, started out with a Flying A gas station on Main Road in Mattituck in 1957, now a BP station. Two years later, the tenacious proprietor and mechanic built the repair shop, Lou’s Service Station, at the corner of Sound Avenue and Pacific Street in Mattituck. “It got busier and busier and busier, so he had to go bigger and bigger, and built this place.”
The brothers spent their summer days hanging around the shop, learning the value of hard work from their father. Years ago, the rear building used to house buses for the Mattituck School District — all five of them.
“Part of our chores growing up was getting the buses clean, gassing them up, and getting them running in the wintertime so when the drivers got here, they’d be ready to go with the heat,” Ted said.
Tragedy struck in 1968, when Lou died suddenly, leaving behind his wife, Justyna, and two teenage sons.
“When he passed, we kind of had to learn as we go,” Marty said. The following year, after finishing automotive school, 19-year-old Marty began working and managing the shop full-time.
Ted joined his brother in the early 1980s, after attending BOCES and working briefly at other auto shops.
“The family talked me into coming here,” he said.
Now, after nearly 60 years in business, the family is saying goodbye.
“I’m getting old and we really had nobody to keep the family business going,” said Marty, who turns 69 this month.
His son had worked at the shop before taking a job on Plum Island.
“We didn’t hold him back,” Marty said. “He grabbed the opportunity.”
In a changing industry, it was time, the brothers agreed. As cars continue to evolve and become more high-tech and computerized, customers gravitate more and more toward bringing their vehicles to dealerships. Years ago, anything that needed to be fixed on a car could be done at a shop, Marty said.
“We’ve done well keeping up with it, but it’s going to explode shortly with electric cars,” Marty said.
“And cars with no drivers,” Ted added. “We’re still doing business the way Dad and Mom did it.”
There are no computers in the shop: receipts are still handwritten, jazz plays over a staticky radio, a landline telephone rings steadily and print newspapers and magazines still invite waiting customers to flip through them while waiting for their car to be serviced. Sixty years of spare parts crowd workbenches in their garage that offers olfactory snapshots of grit, gasoline and decades of elbow grease.
Marty plans to retire and split his time between Connecticut and Ormond Beach, Fla.
“My wife [Tanya] and I are big into modified racing. And I don’t want to see snow anymore,” he said.
Ted, 63, has no plans to stop working.
“I’m just gonna take a deep breath and go from there,” he said.
They may not miss the grueling, 12-hour days but both said they would miss their loyal customers.
One customer has been with them since the beginning, Ted said.
“He started with Dad in ’57 and he still comes to us. He’s devastated.”
Marty added: “You build your whole life around your customers, and they become friends.”
For 35 years, they also serviced the fleet of Southold police vehicles. “Whatever it took to keep them safe and on the road,” Ted said.
Police Chief Martin Flatley said the men became like family to the officers and they’ve maintained the police vehicles as needed and on demand.
“If anyone has earned their retirement, Marty and Teddy Griffin certainly have,” the chief said. “When you must operate a fleet of police vehicles that are on the road 24/7 that cannot afford to be sidelined with mechanical issues, this is huge.”
Chief Flatley said the department is attempting to set up a mechanic’s shop in the town’s Highway Department buildings as a new space for vehicle maintenance.
“This will all be a new venture for us,” he said.
It only took three months to sell, according to Marty.
“The location, that’s what sold the place,” he said.
Joe and Phyllis Morgano, who together own Power Equipment Plus locations in Southampton and East Hampton, will take over Lou’s and transform the space to accommodate their business.
Their stores provide a variety of construction and landscaping equipment for sale and rent. Mr. Morgano said Mattituck is a great location for his expanding business.
“It’s centralized,” he said.
He plans to renovate the footprint of the existing building, and anticipates a spring 2019 opening.
“We’re looking forward to bringing more of a selection to the North Fork,” he said last week. “A place where you can go to rent a rototiller, or simple stuff like carpet cleaner or a snake to clean the drain out,” he said.
The Griffin brothers agree that it was a good fit.
“I think [Joe] is gonna do an excellent job. He’s coming in with new ideas, he’s gonna spruce the place up and I think it’s really gonna be an asset to the whole town,” Marty said.
Photo caption: Marty, left, and Ted Griffin took over Lou’s Service Station after their father, Lou, died suddenly in 1968. (Tara Smith photo)