Arborway Auto celebrates 50 years on South St. this year, serving the greater Jamaica Plain community with all of their vehicle needs.
The Gazette spoke with Mike and Lauren Zirilli, the sibling duo who run the shop, to learn more about Arbroway Auto’s history and services.
Mike Zirilli said the shop was started by his father, Sal, in 1971, and the building was originally a Hook milk storage garage that was owned by his grandfather. He said that Sal was originally in the heating business.
“My father had no idea about running an automotive garage,” Mike Zirilli said. But his grandfather told Sal that he had always liked fixing cars, and Sal had a friend who worked at Firestone, so he asked him if he could come work for him for a week to see how the business is run, and the rest is history.
“I had no plans of coming here,” Mike Zirilli said of the shop. He said he worked there during summers when he was in college just to help out, but never expected to work there full time, much less take over the reigns.
“My dad got sick and hat a heart attack,” he said, and “next thing I know I was working and ended up taking over.”
He said he doesn’t know what he would have done with his life had he not become the new owner, but it definitely wasn’t the plan. “I got caught up being my own boss,” he said, and there have been “lots of changes in JP” over the years.
Arborway Auto offers “all general repairs,” Mike Zirilli said, including oil changes, tune-ups, breaks, tires, steering, and suspensions. “The only thing we don’t do is body,” he said.
“It’s a mom-and-pop,” Mike Zirilli said. “That’s how we started.” He said his mother worked at the shop for a number of years as well, doing the bookkeeping. His sister Lauren recently took over that role.
“We do almost no advertising,” he said, and instead rely on word of mouth from existing customers.
“We pretty much handle any aspect of the vehicle and if we can’t, we know someone that does” and refer them to other area local businesses, he said.
Arborway Auto has also donated to many different community organizations over the years, including sponsoring the local softball team. He said it was always his father’s mission to give back to the community, so he has carried that on and has even increased it.
“The neighborhood has been good to us, but we give back in any way we can,” Mike Zirilli said. “Without this neighborhood, we wouldn’t be here.”
Mike Zirilli’s sister Lauren Zirilii, who came from the world of marketing to take over her mother’s position at the shop, said she has been “taking off from what Mom did for…years,” and making some new upgrades.
“This business has been here for a long time,” she said, and it is “very kind of grassroots, and I came in hoping to kind of modernize the way we manage the accounting and things like that.”
She said she has implemented a new accounting software as well as a new system to run shop operations “that allows us to speak with customers via email or text,” which makes it easier for customers to interact with the shop about their cars.
She said a few months ago Arbrway Auto “sent one of our first emails out to customers. This year, we felt it was important to recognize our customers. We were fortunate during the pandemic that people have continued to have their cars services.”
Lauren Zirilli said that many customers were receptive to this, and “we got some really nice notes.”
She said that what sets this shop apart from others is “it’s Michael and it was my dad who just really care about doing the best they can possibly do to go the extra mile, and being really honest with people. We feel like we’re a part of their lives, rather than just a place they bring their car to. We know the stories of their lives.”
She also said that the shop’s Service Manager, Greg Reardon, has been with them “for many years,” and “in a way, he’s sort of grown his career here.” She said that for the shop and customers to be able to “deal with the same people “day in ad day out” has really made a difference for the business.
She said “there’s some comfort level” of “dealing with the father, the son, and now I’m here. You have a level of trust and a kind of accountability as well. They know if something goes wrong, they’re dealing with the owner and the owner’s going to make it right.”