Taking a car in for repair is never enjoyable, but the folks at the Comstock Park Body Shop know how to make it a little more pleasant. “What makes people most happy is coming back to a clean car, vacuumed and washed,” said Nick Purwin, who with his brothers Tony and Jim, and their mother Phyllis, own and operate the body shop, founded by father and husband Bert Purwin. Nick Purwin added that an advantage to their location at 4019 West River Drive in downtown Comstock Park is that customers can walk on the White Pine Trail right across the street or relax at one of the restaurants or the library in the next block while they wait for their car.
More than a half century ago Bert Purwin was working at a body shop in Grand Rapids when he was offered a partnership in the business. That inspired Purwin and another employee Russ Johnson to open their own body shop business. Purwin’s wife Phyllis happened to be driving on West River Drive when she saw a building she thought would be just right for the business venture, and the shop’s doors opened in January 1963. Johnson retired eight years later, and Phyllis Purwin became more active in the business. “It was affordable and suited to house an auto body business,” said Nick Purwin of their building that over the years had housed a tire shop, a welding shop, and steel truss manufacturer.
Bert Purwin passed away in 2008. His wife and three sons, Tony, Jim, and Nick, have continued the business in the building where the family made two major expansions, which tripled the space. The family purchased and tore down four nearby houses to make room for those expansions. They also purchased three nearby buildings and lease space in those to other businesses. Over the years, those buildings, all almost a century old, housed a grocery store, a bakery, a dance hall, and a car repair shop, among other businesses.
In 2013, the family put a new façade on the building that houses a Farm Bureau Insurance office and a pet grooming business. In 2014, they refinished the parking lot at the body shop. Both upgrades were made using a grant from the Comstock Park Downtown Development Authority’s Building Exterior Improvement Program.
The body shop was a family affair from the get-go. The family lived in Wyoming, and the three sons worked at the shop throughout high school, starting out sweeping floors. All three liked the work and eventually became partners in the business. All three have schooling or military beyond high school, but their training in the body shop business has been primarily hands-on, with Nick Purwin noting, “Dad showed us what to do.”
Tinkering on the family car is basically a thing of the past, said Nick Purwin. Employees need specialized training and continuing education on techniques like aluminum repair for important certifications. He added that changes in the industry have required a huge investment in equipment. They work on all makes and models, but their mainstay is pick-ups, said Nick Purwin. The shop has twelve and thirteen foot doors and large long work areas to accommodate RV’s, campers, trailers and such. They work with all insurances and can arrange for towing and car rental.
Nick Purwin said the family is proud that so many employees have stayed with them long term. Of the 13 employees, three have been there more than thirty years and several others more than twenty years.
Not only did the business grow, the family did too. Bert and Phyllis Purwin had five children and so far there are more than 60 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, which means, “We rent a room for Christmas,” said Nick Purwin.