Mike Anello has 42 plus years of great stories about his time at Woodstock Garage, which he and partner/brother-in-law Anthony Tampone are looking to sell. Most of all, Anello recalls starting off a greenhorn.
Born and raised in The Bronx, he first came Upstate in 1975. His father-in-law, Frank Tampone Sr., had been going up into the Hudson Valley for years and finally bought and built a home in Marbletown and “started looking around for something to do,” as Mike put it.
Anello, who’d gotten a psychology degree in college, moved up — a young newlywed with a pregnant wife who found himself surprised to find that being a college grad wasn’t opening up any great career paths. “It became clear I didn’t have enough education, but also that it was absolutely necessary I find work right away,” he said.
Then came what he has since described as “a blessed day.”
“That was the day my father-in-law found the station, which had been an Arco’s that had been closed for a year,” Anello said. “That was also the day my daughter was born.”
He went on to describe the way things used to unroll over a day, pre-cellphones. One man yelling “I found the place!” while the other’s yelling about being a dad to a new grand-dad.
“That started me off into the field of auto mechanics,” Anello added with a laugh. “It also introduced me to Woodstock, a place I only knew from myth, being such a novice that I didn’t realize yet that the festival took place elsewhere. I was a real city boy.”
Long hair? Check. But “it was getting shorter and shorter as I went looking for job after job,” and was pretty much gone by the time Mike started learning how to fix cars in Woodstock.
At the time, he recalls, the Woodstock Garage and its Arco pumps were bottom of the list for most in town looking for mechanics. They were the new guys in a town where you already had Bob’s Gulf (where the Cumberland Farms is now), Ken’s Esso (now Catskill Mountain Pizza), Pepper’s (out front of Maria’s, which was where the back bays were.
“Each place had a long reach, especially when you consider the Longyears out in Hurley Ridge, and Joe’s starting up Bearsville Garage when he left Bob’s. Our place had belonged to a guy named Del until the state closed him down for back taxes, and before that it was the Wilson Brothers’ with a big building out front where they sold Ford trucks,” Anello noted. “When Frank asked me to work with him my only experience was from working alongside my father in his driveway, but then he brought in Anthony, who’d been working on cars since he was a kid.”
Things were tough, with the business barely surviving through the winter by selling gas, and doing whatever jobs came their way. Within two years Anthony had left and Mike realized he had to earn more for his family; he moved back to the city and found employment with a very busy service station in Yonkers.
“That’s where I learned the trade,” he adds, looking back. “The two guys I worked with were real motorheads, really into racing. I had to learn on the run.”
And learn Anello did, right at a time that automobiles started changing. Enter the age of timing belts, electronics, catalytic convertors.
In 1979, Frank Tampone offered him a partnership and he came back, “confident that I could take on anything and everything…Frank was surprised.” The young mechanic had three kids by now, built a home in New Paltz so he could take in the view of the Shawangunks he’d grown to love.
Things were still slow — it was the middle of the second gas shortage, and most gas stations were staying open only as long as their rations lasted each day — but Mike Anello brought more than just his new mechanical knowledge to Woodstock garage with him.
“I had five mouths to feed by now; I paid attention to those guys in Yonkers starting at 7 a.m. every morning,” he recalled. “We started clearing out the bays every Christmas and hosting a big holiday party. We started building up business doing all the things other shops hadn’t learned to do yet.”
The other shops in the center of town started closing, or changing their business. Each time, Woodstock Garage did better and better.
In the mid-1980s, Arco changed its own business patterns, deciding to focus only in Western states. Mike and Frank decided to go after Mobil, and buy the business outright, but local banks weren’t having it. Word was that someone was influencing the decision…but then Mobil came in and picked Woodstock Garage and arranged financing themselves.
In 1992, Anthony Tampone returned to the business and eventually Woodstock garage added its overhead canopy. A little over ten years ago state environmental regs demanded a full property clean-up, after which Mike and Anthony decided they could do more repair work if they eschewed pumping gas.
“Gas had become a distraction,” Anello said. “That first quarter after we stopped selling the stuff our numbers were better than ever.”
We asked Mike the lessons he and his partner/brother-in-law Anthony have learned from holding down the last auto repair shop in the middle of Woodstock — Bearsville Garage and West Hurley Garage remain open — and how the two feel about letting it go after all these years.
“You work in a town this long, everyone becomes family,” he said. “You know everyone’s situations, you do the job they can afford, or suggest where they can go to get done what needs getting done.”
We sidestep into a discussion about check engine lights and computer files. There’s a pause.
“We started letting the help go. Then we cut down from six to five and a half and then five days a week,” he started back in, getting at how this was all feeling. “We didn’t want to put out a For Sale sign, or an ad in the Woodstock Times. But then we remembered that we’ve been wanting to sell for several years now, since before the downturn, and it was the only way.”
There have been family losses. Everyone’s getting older.
“We’ve had a lot of calls, both from people showing interest in the property to people wanting to know where they can take their cars now,” Mike Anello continued. “There’s been talk of a hotel going in, as well as some restaurants showing interest so no new restaurants get the spot…”
Again, we sidetrack. Mike talks about the candy selection the place was noted for in the 1990s, after Anthony came back in to the business. He brings up crazy parking situations over the years, especially when The Joyous Lake was still up and running and, say, a pop-up Phish concert would crowd the Woodstock Garage lot with camper vans and Mike and Anthony would then have to go around waking everyone so they could open their bay doors or pump gas.
“Levon and I used to talk about family,” he recalled. “Albert Grossman and Paul Butterfield were loyal customers who loved the hot dogs Anthony’s wife would serve at the spot she set up, Ziggy’s. After the DWI laws got strengthened we found more people using our lot as their place to store the car overnight…”
The two men saw Woodstock grow “much less personal” over the years. There was more transience, exacerbated most recently by the Airbnb phenomenon.
“People come in now and demand attention over our regular customers, without any patience,” Mike said. “There’s more ‘I need this and I need this now’ than there was. But I guess if you give them time they ease into the lifestyle that’s always been here.”
Given their druthers, Mike said that both he and Anthony would rather have their property stay a garage, something they feel is both a steady money maker, and a service for a small community that does much to help define that place.
What’s the future holding?
Mike’s interested in working as a house painter for a family member’s contracting business; it’s something he’s always loved doing. Anthony…he’s unsure of his plans. But he’s always going to be family; they’ll always be close moving forward.
“When I met my wife, I told her what I wanted from life is a home and a family,” Mike Anello sums up, his eyes misting ever-so-lightly and the remembrance of the woman who passed last year. “I always appreciated work as something I did for my life, and not something I lived to do.”
He paused, took a sip of black coffee. Smiled.
“There’s been great gifts along the way. People backing us up. Good people…we all got along,” He added. “Now we’re going to see the big changes come to Woodstock.”