Moving from west to east across Towson in three different locations, the family-owned and -operated Hollenshade’s Auto Service nevertheless remains rooted in the community it has served for the past 79 years.
The founder, C. Lee Hollenshade Jr., opened a Texaco gas station in 1939 on the same spot where Starbucks currently sits on the northwest corner of York Road and Burke Avenue across from Towson University.
His son, C. Lee Hollenshade III, worked with his father during the World War II era while a student at Loyola High School, from which he graduated in 1944 before joining the Navy.
After the war, C. Lee Hollenshade III, returned to the business and eventually inherited the station from his father.
In 1972, Hollenshade’s, with the younger Hollenshade having brought two of his four children, Tom and Tim, on board as part-time workers while still students, moved to the corner of Goucher Boulevard and Putty Hill Avenue.
Five years later, the expanding business headed about 2 miles northeast, settling at 1501 E. Joppa Road, where it still operates with Tom Hollenshade, 65, and Tim Hollenshade Sr., 63, in charge.
After its humble beginnings when pumping gas and wiping off windshields were mainstays, Hollenshade’s, which no longer sells fuel or boasts the robust towing service it once had, offers a car repair and diagnostic center with 11 vehicle lifts, 10 bays and 11 full-time employees.
And while they don’t do body work, the mechanics deal with just about everything else in the automotive spectrum, from belts, brakes and batteries to transmissions and tires — and everything in between.
Don’t ask what the square footage of their property is, because neither owners has an answer.
What they do know is that in the course of a normal working day, they might walk as many as 8 miles within the confines of the brick building located next to the Towson East Motel.
Tim Sr. said that he did not attend Calvert Hall College High School like his brothers, Tom and Bob, but took an automotive curriculum at Overlea High School before joining his dad and grandfather on the job.
Tom Hollenshade, who worked at the original location while still at Calvert Hall, graduated from the University of Maryland in 1974 with a Bachelor of Science degree and eventually found his way back into the business in the late 1970s.
Their generation was assigned mainly to work the gas pumps, which in those years included checking all the fluids, cleaning the windows, airing tires and topping off oil (cars in those days consumed much more oil than today).
Tom Hollenshade said that his father, who died in 2009, demanded a quick response to customers arriving to fill up on fuel.
“It was a very busy place,” he added. “You had to jump out there right away when a car came in for gas or he’d get on you.”
Timeliness was something that was instilled in the brothers by their father and very much still holds today.
“We turn over repairs much faster than our competition,” Tim Hollenshade Jr. said. “From the feedback we receive from customers, our fast turnaround seems to be one of the more significant and appreciated aspects of our service.”
The latest addition to the business, the 31-year-old is the fourth generation of the family to join the enterprise, and one who brings a healthy respect for all the things that have contributed to its success over nearly eight decades.
“A lot has changed since then,” the Lutherville resident said. “We do everything we can to stay relevant and stay on top of our service offerings as technologies become more significant.”
Still, the core of the business, he said, is repeat customers.
“Building a relationship with a mechanic over the life of the vehicle definitely provides the most value to the consumer,” he said. “You want a trained eye looking over your car when those scheduled maintenance intervals do come up.
“We’re not the cheapest shop in town,” he added. “But don’t get me wrong, we’re less expensive than a dealer. We’re more like a dealer alternative. We try to put the car back to return the vehicle’s condition as close as we can to how it came off the assembly line.”
As the new face of the operation, Tim Hollenshade Jr. is highly educated, technologically savvy and brimming with ideas on how to streamline a business that he said invests more on an old-fashioned concept of making customers happy rather than spending money on marketing to lure them into the shop.
“Some of our rivals have significant comeback rates,” he continued. “We have to get it right the first time, or we’d be out of business.”
One recent longtime customer was smitten enough with Hollenshade’s to drop off his car for a tuneup and then walk almost 3 miles to his home in Cromwell Heights on a bitterly cold and breezy afternoon.
The reason he has been patronizing the business since 2000, Franz Fleishman said, was a matter of trust.
“The guys here always do a nice job,” said Fleishman, a part-time men’s lacrosse referee and full-time addictions counselor at Medmark Treatment Centers Timonium. “They have the car ready when they say they will.”
Tim Hollenshade Sr., who grew up in in the Knollwood-Donnybrook area and now lives in Lutherville, said that keeping up with current trends will be much easier with his oldest son navigating those issues.
After all, Tim Hollenshade Jr. owns a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, Fla., and an MBA from Johns Hopkins University.
“I’m happier now that Tim Jr. is with us,” said his father, who would sometimes do steering and suspension work as late as 9 p.m. on school nights when he was a teen. “Now I have an exit plan in place. And Tim Jr. has new ideas. He pushes me to do jobs that I didn’t want to do. But you have to stay current, or you fall behind (competitors).”
The longest-tenured mechanic on duty is Avon Winder, 59, who said that he started working for C. Lee Hollenshade III in 1993.
He said that his main job is to do oil changes, a role that has kept him employed for 25 years and helped put his two kids through college.
Pat Brown, 52, a hydraulics and brake linings specialist, has been on the staff for 15 years after holding down a variety of jobs, including forklift mechanic.
The Hollenshades are “good people who expect you to come to work and do your job. But they treat you fairly,” he said.
Both men and the other mechanics on duty have been aided on the job by technological innovations encouraged by Tim Hollenshade Jr., such as placing digital service information in their work areas that can reduce what once was a 15-minute process to under five minutes on a function that could be repeated as many as 30 times per day.
“It’s a crazy time in this business to be an independent shop,” Tim Hollenshade Jr. said. “We’re going against national franchises that are spending $10,000 a year on marketing. We don’t have that. We make every decision after looking at what resources we have. That’s where our relationship with customers comes in. We have fair prices and no gimmicks. The size of our business continues to afford us the ability to tailor our offerings to the changing wants and needs of consumers. Many of our customers prefer the smaller nature of our business; it has turned out to be a differentiating factor to our competition.”