In the 50 years that he’s owned Auto Lab Alignment in Wellesley Square, John Donovan has weathered more than one storm that’s threatened the existence of his body shop. A move in the 1990s to eliminate industrial zoning in the 8 Spring St. area almost did the Wellesley resident in, practically under his nose. He says it wasn’t until the owners of the Turnabout Shoppe on Grove St. (closed in 2016) told him that there was going to be a government meeting to “rezone you out of the town,” that Donovan realized he was up against some pretty heavy hitters. Seems like a Goliath wanted him and his garage gone from the center of town, and “Everybody got a notice about the meeting except me,” he recalled.
In something like a scene out of It’s a Wonderful Life, Donovan says the late-afternoon public meeting was filled with a standing-room only crowd of supporters who got up and spoke in his defense. “People said they’d heard there was going to be a rezone on the industrial block, and they didn’t want the town to do that,” the mechanic said.
In an email to The Swellesley Report, a Wellesley resident recalled that time. “Many of us attended the hearing to protest, knowing that such a law [against allowing auto repair shops in town] would make it impossible for John to sell his business. John spoke in his own defense, as did several others. The most memorable was a woman who lived on Lovewell Road and ran a small in-home nursery school that was highly regarded. Her point about allowing such uses in town was that they provide examples to the young about manual labor. Although construction and landscaping are two examples that seem to be everywhere, other examples are invisible—for the children of white collar folks, ‘work’ is all cerebral. She made her point much more elegantly—and impressively.”
The town rejected the rezoning proposal, and Auto Lab was safe—until now. Earlier this month Donovan received notification from his landlord that his lease would be terminated at the end of 30 days. “Technically, I have to close in two more weeks. I don’t know how. I’m going to have to empty over the course of months, and they know that.”
Turns out the existential threat to Donovan’s business wasn’t offense taken by townspeople to its aesthetics. And it wasn’t greedy landlords—”The family, they had tears in their eyes telling me,” Donovan said.
Turns out the existential threat was an insurance company that refused to continue to cover the building unless the garage was evicted. Several small fires in the garage in recent years led to that decision. Donovan says he doesn’t yet know what comes next for him. The other half of the two-mechanic shop echoed that sentiment. And neither of them knows what will come next at 8 Spring St. “I just know it won’t be another garage,” Donovan shrugged.