- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

CHRISTOPHER, Ill. (AP) - Dennis Tomei paces through his Christopher garage. Cold air from the holes in his roof stings his face as he looks out the bay-door windows, waiting for work to pull in. This is how his winters are spent.

Tomei has been involved in the automotive industry nearly all of his life. His father built the garage where he now operates his business, Crown Rebuilders. It is a family business started by Tomei’s father, Herman Tomei, who built the garage in 1946 when he returned from WWII. He opened it in 1949 as a Chrysler dealership, later shifting to a full automotive shop.

Tomei, now 61, was hired to work with his father in 1960. He remembers waking up at 3 a.m., hauling fuel to the family’s service station, which was across the street from the garage, all before going to classes at SIU. He did a lot of his studying there in the shop.

“This used to be the gathering place,” Tomei says, standing in the middle of an empty bay in his garage. He said the old-timers would come to chat with one another and occasionally argue politics. It is a quieter place now.

Tomei said his business, which now focuses on rebuilding starters and alternators, has slowed considerably in the last 20 years. He credits the North American Free Trade Act for some of this decline. He proudly stocks American parts when he can, but said the country has entered into “the junk era,” where it is hard to find anything but Chinese import parts, which Tomei said are of compromised quality.

“The ones that are really striving to keep American stuff … are being gobbled up,” Tomei said. The focus became more about money than about quality, he said.

“It went to being everything about the almighty dollar,” he said.

Summers are his busy times. Local farmers call on him to service their heavy equipment as soon as the ground is soft enough to plant. However, as the weather starts to cool and the fields are harvested, his days grow slower. He gets work - when it rains it pours - but generally his days are lighter. Despite the shift in customer flow, Tomei still works nine-hour days, a routine he said he does not plan to retire any time soon.

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Source: The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan, https://bit.ly/2jc7FKy

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Information from: Southern Illinoisan, https://www.southernillinoisan.com

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