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Family-owned auto shop in Quaker Hill closing after 80 years

Waterford — A white, homey building at 73 Old Norwich Road has been the location of Scotch Cap Service Station, a neighborhood auto repair shop, where a Dunbar has been working under the hood for about 80 years.

Dennis "Denny" Dunbar said he put a sign on the front window when he took over in 1979, but the business has operated without a big sign ever since it stopped doubling as a gas station in the late 1990s.

Sign or no, his customers know where to find him, and most of his new business has been through word-of-mouth.

Now, though, there is another sign on the window.

"To our valued and loyal customers, Scotch Cap Service will be closing our repair business on September 30th," it says. "We have deeply appreciated your patronage and loyalty through these nearly 80 years my family has been here at this location."

Dunbar, the third generation of family mechanics to operate the business, is closing the shop his grandfather, Harold Dunbar, bought in the early 1940s after working for the first owner. The shop has been in the family, and has been a cornerstone in the Quaker Hill community, ever since. His grandfather passed it down to his father, Kenneth Dunbar, who passed it down to him.

Dunbar said some customers have been coming to the shop longer than he's been around, adding some regulars will stop by just to chat.

After working at Scotch Cap for nearly 40 years, Dunbar, 62, said he is going to retire. His two daughters didn't want to operate the shop, nor did his loyal assistant mechanic for the past 20 years, Patrick "Ricky" Rowe.

Rowe grew up in the house next door to the shop and was 18 years old when he started working with Dunbar. He said he got to spend 20 years working with his best friend Denny and he treasures most the wisdom, guidance and love that he's received from the Dunbar family. 

But, unable to keep up with the technology involved in cars these days, Rowe said he is ready to try something new.

With no one to hand the business down to, Dunbar chose to close it and put it on the market.

"I had a good time," he said. "I wouldn't have done it for so long if I hadn't."

So far, the building has had only one offer, Dunbar said, and he is not sure whether it will remain an auto repair shop. He said for the sake of the neighborhood, he hopes it does, but that will be up to whoever buys it.

The building looks like a home, and at one point it literally was Dunbar's home. Dunbar said his whole family lived upstairs before moving into homes on Dunbar Road, the street named after the family.

Although Dunbar said he is grateful for the business, which helped put his daughters through college, he is ready for a change of pace.

"I'm happy I finally got to a point where I can retire," he said.  "It's time to slow down."

Some of Dunbar's regular customers are not as happy about the closure.

Steve Kenn and his partner Kim McCaig were at the shop Monday, not for a car issue but to "yell" at Dunbar for leaving, as McCaig put it. Kenn said he went to school with Dunbar and has been coming to the shop for a long time.

"He'll be missed," McCaig said.

She said Dunbar was trustworthy, having been there for big moments in McCaig's family's life, such as the time Dunbar checked her daughter's car before she moved to Las Vegas.

Bryan Sayles, who has been a customer for the 11 years he's lived in Quaker Hill, described Dunbar and Rowe as "down to earth, fair with pricing and honest," qualities he said are hard to come by.

Sayles said Dunbar and Scotch Cap are a "dying breed" of friendly, small neighborhood automotive shops, noting things now are "very corporate and impersonal."

Dunbar said he worked hard to keep the business small and to get to know his customers.

"For a customer," he said, "it's good to know who is working on your car."

j.vazquez@theday.com

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