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I saw a community come together last month and much of it happened right in front of our shop. In June, Cincinnati Police Officer Sonny Kim was killed in the line of duty. In addition to being an officer, he was a father, husband, brother, son and friend to many. I did not know him personally but his death occurred just one ZIP code away from our shop, so it has hit our neighborhood and local police force especially hard.

The procession started just a few steps away from our facility. I could not be there as I was tending to our other location in a distant community but the general manager took a few pictures on his phone and sent them to me. I wanted to be there. And the pictures told a compelling story.

In one of the photos taken right outside our shop I could see an adjuster from a large insurance company who made a special trip to be there. She was not there to write an estimate. She was intentionally there at our shop to view the procession. I saw a tow truck driver that we frequently use next to her, talking to her. I saw my 16-year-old daughter who works at our front desk outside on the street looking for the procession to start and interacting with one of our estimators.

I saw a whole family—two parents with their two daughters and son—standing in front of the shop as well. They have become personal friends of our family and have been customers, but more importantly encouraging neighbors, as our shop is just a block from their home. I saw my wife next to them with our youngest daughter. I saw the barber shop next door to us that has been in the neighborhood for over 40 years with people assembling beneath the spinning red, white and blue barber sign. Next to the barber is a graphic design studio. All the employees brought their chairs outside onto the sidewalk for a front-row seat to watch the procession. I saw in the photo that a police cruiser we were working on had been parked long-ways in our lot so that the folks in the procession could see our support and the pride we took in getting to repair their vehicles. It still had primer on the side that was facing toward the shop.

What I saw in that single photo was a neighborhood coming together in hushed tones, reverently waiting to pay their respects to Sonny Kim and show their support to our police officers and their families. I was told there were tears from many in attendance including the officers driving by on their motorcycles and the police cruisers.

I must admit with some embarrassment that when I first heard of the procession, my first thought was “Great! Production is going to stop! Our driveway will be blocked for hours and all my guys are going to be watching the whole thing anyway.” As I look back now I see that as a very selfish response and feel honored that our shop was allowed the opportunity to witness the procession and, due to our position on the main throughway, be a gathering point for many as our community came together to mourn this loss and demonstrate support for the police force.

I was reminded of the important role bricks and mortar businesses like body shops play in a local community. While many tech start ups seem to get all the media attention and investor dollars, there’s still something to be said for the small “mom and pops” that have invested in a community with their presence over the long haul, quietly providing jobs and services that neighborhoods genuinely need. And body shops in particular are hard to miss! With wrecked cars parked in our lots, we turn a lot of heads as people drive by and wonder what happened. We tend to have fairly large facilities and lots of activity as people go in and out: adjusters, parts drivers, paint vendors, customers, tow trucks and the list goes on.  

What does your shop say to the community you serve? Everything from your sign, to the condition of your building to your landscaping to your entryway—these all communicate whether you care about the place, the neighborhood where you exist. People are paying attention and neighborhoods are counting on you to care. Your presence in the community may mean more than you realize.

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