They call themselves The Three Amigos. They have been riding together for a half-century, and though they are now heading directly toward the sunset, they’re not wistful.
This is a fraternity that would be the envy of any college.
“It’s been good,” said Ken Patress, flashing his trademark smile. “We’ll miss it because we have been here for 54 years. We’re looking forward to (retirement), but we will miss it.”
Patress, Ron Wilson and Brad Garrett are the owners of C. Bennett Auto Supply in downtown Washington. They will be closing shop May 11 at 55 W. Railroad St., off South Main.
Tri-County Patriots for Independent Living Southwestern Pennsylvania Disability Services is renovating the 80-year-old YWCA at 42 W. Maiden St., and this winter purchased the Bennett building behind it to house vehicles. TRIPIL paid $210,000, according to RealStats, which tracks real estate sales and purchases in Washington County.
So this threesome will be a team for only another month. Yet it has been a marvelous run for 54 years, since the Bennett business relocated to Railroad Street from Cherry Way in the city. All of the current owners were hired by Charles E. Bennett, the owner, within two weeks after the building opened in 1960, during the latter months of the Eisenhower administration.
While the upstart Pirates were stunning the baseball world, another winning team was being formed 30 miles to the south: a future ownership team.
“Mr. Bennett had a saying: ‘People who make the business will get the business in the long run,’” Patress said. “It’s the only place I’ve worked other than four years in the Air Force.”
He is now 72, Wilson 75 and Garrett 76. All were Washington born and raised, and all still live nearby – Garrett in the city, the others in North Franklin Township.
They are the only employees now, and have been for a while. “We’ve really been The Three Amigos for the last 10 years,” Patress said.
A lot has changed alongside the railroad tracks, especially on the tracks. “There used to be 29 trains day and night,” Garrett said, well aware of the diminished rail traffic today.
Bennett Auto still sells car and truck parts, and has stocked fire extinguishers since 1964. It also had a machine shop that closed in the mid-1990s, and long ago had acetylene and welding supplies.
“We were a one-stop shopping center at one time,” Patress said. “We had 15 employees at one time.”
There have been some interesting occurrences, few of them negative. “We were robbed once – an inside job I think,” Wilson said.
“That’s been the only time,” Patress said, “and this was a bad part of town at one time.”
The three speak in reverential tones about Bennett, who started the business in 1933 and ran it until his death in 1981.
“He was a peach of a guy,” said Wilson, who worked previously at Foremost Dairy in Houston.
“Mr. Bennett never yelled at us,” Patress said. “He treated us well.”
That has been the mantra toward customers as well.
“We get along with everybody and they get along with us,” Wilson said. “We help people. That’s good business.”
“We’ve never lost a customer,” Patress said. “They’ve either gone out of business, moved or died.”
The three likewise have interacted well with one another and have an unbreakable bond.
“We haven’t agreed all the time, but we’ve always worked things out,” Patress said.
“These two guys have made my life pretty good,” Wilson said.
“The feeling is mutual,” Garrett quickly asserted.
Bennett Auto is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday. It has always been closed on Sunday. Stock that isn’t sold by May 11 will be donated.
Though they are retiring somewhat reluctantly, The Three Amigos have few regrets. They say the business has enabled them to pay for their children’s educations and pay the bills, while working with peers they enjoy.
“We could have had better jobs, but we stuck it out,” Wilson said.
“As the saying goes, ‘We’ve always had everything we needed, but not everything we wanted,’” Patress said. “Isn’t that the way life is?”