Retooled auto shop goes beyond repairs

*from 6/19/19

Kathryn van der Pol was appalled by what she heard.

She and her husband, Sybren, were on their way home from a cycling trip and listening to a radio program that cited a study about Americans. Only about 20 percent of them, it was reported, could name two of the five freedoms outlined in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

“That’s terrible,” said Kathryn van der Pol, a retired teacher. “I said, ‘Sybren, you know what we need to do? We need to teach people what the Constitution says. We can just pass out copies of the Constitution at the shop.’ ”

So the couple started doing that at Adolf Hoepfl & Son Garage at 4610 N. Shepherd Dr., where they’ve been the owners since 2004. A box of pocket Constitutions sits at the front counter with a handwritten note that says, “Freedom is not free but these copies of the Constitution are! Help yourself.”

The van der Pols have dedicated their lives to helping community members drive safely and efficiently, and they’ve also helped customers have a better understanding of their country and its history. Another feature in the front of their shop is the “Liberty Library,” which is a book shelf filled with literary works about American history that customers can borrow. Red, white and blue bunting hangs from above the front counter and also from the awning above the entrance to the building.

There are more patriotic decorations inside the “Texas Liberty” waiting room, including an American flag, flag-themed couch and cuttings from the Liberty Tree of the American Revolution from Annapolis, Maryland. Attached to a wall are enlarged, typed-out quotes from John Adams, James Madison, George Washington and the Declaration of Independence.

The theme will rev up even more July 1, when one of Houston’s longest-operating auto repair shops officially changes its name to Liberty Hoepfl Garage. A neon sign with the new name already has replaced the old one that greets passersby on North Shepherd.

“We wanted to keep Hoepfl in the name, because that’s our history,” said Kathryn van der Pol, whose shop opened in 1946. “And we wanted to put ‘liberty,’ because that’s who we are. That’s what we’re about.”

The rebranding will be part of a grand reopening celebration scheduled for 1-4 p.m. June 30. A man dressed up as Washington will ride in on a horse, a retired general will speak, live oldies music will be played, refreshments will be served and classic cars will be on display.

The event also will showcase the shop’s new service center, which was constructed from August through March and has been in operation since April. It is a 7,600 square foot, red-and-white building with nine bays, 14-foot doors and a much taller ceiling from which an industrial fan hangs to provide a gentle breeze.

Junior technician Greg Alvarez, who has worked for the garage for two years, described the spacious working area as a marked improvement from the previous garage.

“Right now it’s almost 100 (degree outside), but it feels pretty good to work in,” Alvarez said. “In the old building, it was just like a big hot box. It’s a huge difference.”

The increased space enabled the shop to hire seven more employees, Kathryn van der Pol said, and she estimated that sales have increased by at least 35 percent since the new service center opened. It also includes a new alignment machine that’s mounted flush to the floor so it can accommodate low-profile vehicles.

The new building includes a series of windows near the roof as well, with the idea to increase ventilation in the hotter months of the year. The windows are not yet operational, because Sybren van der Pol is still working to create a push-button mechanism that will open and close them.

“I’ll be glad when I’m finished,” he said. “Everybody likes it.”

The van der Pols have more they want to do for their customers, whether that’s automotive service or personal edification. Also on the grounds of the shop, along the southern edge of the property, is a habitat for monarch butterflies, which was recently fortified by the addition of more milkweed on which they can feed.

A butterfly release is planned for end of the grand reopening event, where visitors likely will be encouraged to disperse with a copy of the Constitution or a book about the American Revolution.

“Taking care of our customers, whatever that involves and whatever it takes,” Kathryn van der Pol said of her chief objective. “We want to make sure they’re happy – make sure their car’s right and make sure they’re happy with the service we gave them. We’re always helpful.”



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