New tread on an old buildingRolling Bay's automotive history lives on with Madison Garage.
June 9, 2008 · Updated 6:48 PM
"As one retires, others will re-tire.A venerable automotive service corner at Rolling Bay gets new owners this week, as well as some new paint and a new name - Madison Garage and Tire.The business is an offshoot of Madison Avenue Garage, which has chaffed under space constraints at its small corner location in Winslow.We're so incredibly busy, we pursued a second location to (accommodate) the overflow we currently have, said Garrett Haxby, co-owner with mechanic Ranji Dhatt of both shops.The pair purchased the Rolling Bay property, at the northeast corner of Valley Road and Sunrise Drive, from classic-car restorer Walt Johnsen, who's owned the parcel for the past 17 years. The building most recently housed Village Tire as well as Johnsen's restoration shop.Under the Madison Garage and Tire banner, the location will be a full-service outlet with most sizes in stock. Brands will include Cooper Tires, B.F. Goodrich, Michelin and Bridgestone. The garage will also offer oil changes, brakes, alignments and suspension work, and will pick up some spillover repairs from the Winslow location. Three new mechanics will be added; Haxby will continue to run the Winslow shop, while Dhatt will cart his tools out to Rolling Bay. The business was slated to open this week, with a grand opening planned for May.It's been quite the experience, said Dhatt, doubling as chief sheetrocker during renovation work last week.The Rolling Bay shop holds a place in Bainbridge history, recalling the days when upwards of a dozen gas stations and several car dealerships dotted the island. The building went up in 1939 and opened as Rodal Motors, a Chrysler dealership with its line arrayed in a showroom behind a broad glass facade.Since then, it's housed various auto-related businesses, including Acme Tire, a Chevron gas station and other now-forgotten service and rebuild outfits. The building has a worn but museum-like air that reflects both the passage of years and Johnsen's fondness for anything that isn't today. The walls are adorned with vintage signs, including a 1931 Coca Cola display salvaged from an Island Center farm where it was part of a fence. A partially restored 1946 Willys Jeep sits in the parking area, for sale.Johnsen bought the property in 1983, leasing the front of the building to Village Tire and restoring classic cars in the back. A photo montage on one wall displays the cars he's rebuilt and taken to the Pebble Beach Concourse d'Elegance, a premier automobile show. While Johnsen was thinking of retiring, Haxby and Dhatt were looking for space to expand. They came to the table through a mutual acquaintance and completed a transaction with speed and ease.They're really super people. They're excellent, Haxby said of Johnsen and his wife Bonnie. Ranji and I really appreciate the opportunity they've allowed us to have. We can't say enough about them.Said Johnsen: These guys seem very hardworking, very sincere.He's pleased that the property will continue as an automotive center even as the island changes around it; the corner has been a hub for local old-timers.There's always somebody stopping by to look at the old cars, Johnsen said, and you hear all the stories about the island.Johnsen will keep the back room for a few months, restoring two final cars with assistant Scott Norrie. When they move out, Haxby and Dhatt will knock down a center wall and install more equipment to outfit the eight-bay garage. They and others from the Winslow shop have worked into the evening for several weeks, clearing out the detritus of past businesses, putting up new sheetrock, power-washing and painting.The new location gives them 4,800 square feet of work space, Haxby said, nearly four times the shop space at the downtown location.But they have no plans to consolidate operations at Rolling Bay, even though the Madison Avenue/Wyatt Way corner has been the subject of ongoing redevelopment talk.The business has a lease on the Winslow property through 2008, and Haxby said they intend to stay put until then.We love this location - it's a killer location, he said.Dhatt said his crew will carry the garage's business philosophy with them to Rolling Bay.Treat people fair, be honest and do a good job, he said. It's no secret. "