(Kermit Constantine photo)
Up until Friday, Erwin “Erv” Liefer had run the oldest privately owned business in Waterloo.
“I’m probably the oldest business owner in town, too,” he said with a laugh last week.
Liefer, 88, owned Liefer’s Garage at 600 S. Market Street in Waterloo for more than 40 years.
On Friday, the business was officially turned over to new owner Shelby Ray Mathes. Liefer’s daughter, Candace Bise, will continue on as the garage’s manager.
She has been a part of the team for 33 years.
“It was a lot smaller community than when I started in 1980,” Bise said. “You knew everybody who came in the door.”
Liefer did not come from a family of mechanics, but he knew it was something he wanted to do.
He helped fix all the machinery his family had and started working on tractors and combines, which were just coming out at the time.
“I was always strong, except when I had pneumatic fever when I was 9 years old,” he said.
Liefer took classes in school from home as he recovered from the fever and got back to helping his family.
“I was driving the tow truck at about 14 years old, and the farm trucks when I was 12 or 14,” he said.
Liefer started working at Waterloo Auto Company in 1943, and it included a service station as well.
“For the first three months, there were only two of us,” he said.Erv Liefer and his daughter, Candace Bise, stand in front of Liefer’s 1965 tow truck. The truck had been in use at the garage for many years and remained Liefer’s go-to vehicle for heavy tows. (Robyn Dexter photo)
From there, the garage staff grew to include a service manager and four employees.
In 1951, he opened the original store on Park Street.
Liefer said vehicles have changed quite a bit since the garage’s beginning and were much easier to work on at the time.
“Years ago, we never had automobiles like we do today,” he said. “Very few had power steering and they were much more open.”
The location on South Market Street opened in 1970 because Liefer said he needed more space to service larger vehicles.
“I wanted to work on bigger trucks, and they just didn’t fit under the roof,” he said. “You’re not going to take the bed off of the truck.”
Throughout this whole time, Liefer also sold Chrysler automobiles.
“I have the oldest Uniroyal B.F. Goodrich tire dealer contract in the United States,” he said. “They left the contract open for me.”
Liefer’s has been a more than a workplace for many of its employees – a few of which worked at the garage for more than three decades.
Betty Lou Schimpf, Liefer’s daughter, worked at the garage for several years when she was younger.
“Dad’s had some really dedicated employees working here,” Schimpf said. “Two mechanics, both of which were here for 38 years.”
Liefer said the hardest part of running the garage for so long has been keeping up with the constant change of cars’ functioning.
“Some of them even park themselves these days,” he said.
Liefer said the business has changed with the times, as anything, because it’s forced to.
“Automobiles change and people change,” he said.
On Friday, Liefer officially turned his business over to Mathes.
Liefer said this came about because he knew Mathes’ father, who ran a similar business in East St. Louis called Shelby’s Auto Repair.
“If he manages this place like his dad ran his place, he’ll do a good job,” Liefer said. “His dad was a great businessman.”
The Waterloo garage will now be known as Shelby’s Automotive.
“We’ve been busy,” Mathes said Tuesday.
Bise said she is looking forward to the improvements and changes Mathes will bring to the garage.
“I’m excited, but sad, because we’ve had this place for so long,” she said. “But I’m up for change.”