“He’s retiring? I’m shocked.”
“I’m gonna have to call him and ask him to recommend another mechanic.”
That was one customer’s reaction when he heard that Tony Antongeorgi of Tony’s Repair Shop in Mattituck was saying goodbye after more than 35 years in business at his Main Road garage.
Dozens of customers shared similar reactions. “I feel like I’m letting them down, but it was time,” Mr. Antongeorgi, 69, said from his Mattituck home Tuesday.
Earlier this month, the ink dried on a deal to lease the two-bay garage just west of Magic Fountain to a new pair of mechanics, Maynor Betanzo and Silar Palma of Riverhead. “They’re young, they’re very thorough,” Mr. Antongeorgi said of the new owners. “They promised to take care of my customers.”
He’s not quite used to retirement yet, but is looking forward to the free time to spend with his family. He’s already planning to work this summer on an old El Camino with his teenage grandsons.
Mr. Antongeorgi began renting the garage from Bergen Oil in 1982 and eventually purchased the property in the early 1990s. At any given time, there were maybe three mechanics total working in the space, which he promises feels bigger inside. “[The size] is what I liked about it. You’re just focused on the cars you have for that day,” he said.
Of course, emergencies arose — a flat tire, a dashboard indicator light, a breakdown at a nearby traffic light. “That would mean someone’s working outside,” he said, laughing.
Before opening his first auto shop in Cutchogue, Mr. Antongeorgi, a Huntington native, worked as a mechanic at Wells Pontiac-Cadillac-Oldsmobile, Inc. in Peconic. After going to automotive school to study Cadillacs, he worked at Pace Auto for about 12 years.
“It was always my ambition to go out on my own. Back then, that’s what you did,” he recalled. Along the way, he found that all the small auto shops in the community supported one another. “We’d send work back and forth. It was nice because we were all local. You know everyone, they trust you.”
Working on cars came as second nature to Mr. Antongeorgi, who grew up learning the trade in his stepparents’ auto shop in Huntington. “It never felt like work,” he said.
He credits a former boss, Arnold Sims, for his work ethic. Now 93, Mr. Sims had been a loyal customer at Tony’s for more than a decade. “He set me on the right track from the beginning. He taught me how to act when you’re dealing with people. He really was an inspiration,” Mr. Antongeorgi said.
Aquebogue resident Pat Dolan will be hard-pressed to find the kind of customer service Tony’s offered. “Tony even made house calls. He was just the best,” he said, reached by phone Tuesday afternoon.
Mr. Antongeorgi has known the Dolan family — and their cars — for three generations. “Tony worked on my father-in-law’s cars, in the late ’70s,” Mr. Dolan recalled. Though Mr. Dolan’s sons live in Long Beach, they still relied on their hometown mechanic. “They’ll drive out here, leave the car and I’d drive it up to Tony. He was a very trustworthy mechanic, which is difficult to find.”
Photo caption: Tony Antongeorgi and his daughter Lisa Horton in his Mattituck home. (Tara Smith photo)