Popular Mechanics

Servicing three generations of ­customers, Neighbourhood Auto Plus marks 40 years of independence

Photo: Mark and Jocelyn Sinclair of Neighbourhood Auto Plus

MARK SINCLAIR WAS the kid who pushed his family’s lawnmower up and down the street every summer, knocking on doors, trying to drum up some business. So, it was no surprise that at 23, he jumped at the chance to buy the gas station and repair shop where he was a mechanic.

“One day I was working in the shop with a bunch of guys who were older than me and the next day I was their boss,” he recalls with a smile. It was the first of many adjustments he would make over the next four decades.

Today, the Neighbourhood Auto Plus facility is the largest independent auto repair garage in the city. Sinclair and his loyal staff are celebrating 40 years in business, often serving third-generation customers whose families just keep coming back.

“One day I was working in the shop with a bunch of guys who were older than me and the next day I was their boss” —Mark Sinclair

The business he bought was next to Sherwood Forest Mall, what today is a Petro Canada and half-size McDonald’s. It’s possible he would still be there if Sunoco hadn’t asked him to vacate so it could lease space to McDonald’s.

“We were there from 1979 to 1993. When we moved, I wanted to stay in the area.”

He opened where he is today, on Wonderland, just south of Fanshawe Park Road. The move allowed him to expand to six service bays and bump up his staff to the present-day eight, five of which are mechanics. Included in that count is his wife, Jocelyn, who looks after multiple tasks in the office.

Sinclair, 63, is something of a maitre d’, booking appointments, keeping customers informed and occasionally even selling a vehicle. He has maintained a dealership licence and sometimes chases down a specific model for friends and family.

In addition to its longevity, one thing that distinguishes Neighbourhood Auto Plus is its fleet of half a dozen loaner vehicles, a rarity at garages not connected to dealerships. “They’re very popular, always booked,” he says. “We’ve done that for 40 years.”

Mark Sinclair with mechanic Terry Sockett

Like all garage owners, he’s had to invest heavily in technology to diagnose modern vehicles. And the mechanics take regular courses to stay up to date on the latest gizmos under the hood.

But the biggest change in recent years is something slightly less technical. “We now have seasonal bumps because the snow tire business has boomed in the last decade. Spring and fall are now busy times we can count on.”

Sinclair takes advantage of the slower winter months to head south and get in some golf. It’s his passion in the warm weather, something he’s looking forward to in the next few years as he reduces—only slightly he emphasizes—his hours in the shop. He and Jocelyn are moving from Hyde Park to Grand Bend.

“I still really enjoy what I do. I’ll still be hands-on, but maybe not quite as much,” he says, pointing to the golf bag in the corner of his office on a frigid day in mid-March.  Christopher Clark

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