Longtime Phillips Automotive Mechanic Worked at Location 45 Years
Daniel Santangelo started working at the Phillips Automotive off 44th Avenue and Zuni right after high school and never looked in the rearview mirror.
The longtime mechanic and owner of the quaint automotive repair shop, which has kept its same look since the building was constructed in 1929, recently decided to retire—and the sale of the building is all but finalized as of press time.
Santangelo built and maintained a loyal clientele since joining the shop in 1976. He purchased the shop from the family who owned it in 2005, only redoing the roof and keeping the same style and paint job during those years. He also added some checkered flag patterns as a nod to what automotive shops started doing once NASCAR was formed in the late 1940s.
Santangelo grew up just a few blocks from the shop on Wyandot Street. His brother first worked at the shop and the younger Santangelo followed him there once he was old enough.
“I really like cars, working on cars,” Santangelo said, adding his favorite cars to work on are classic American vehicles. A 1964 Ford pickup truck was parked outside the shop during the interview. “I worked here all through high school and then started full time right out of high school.”
Santangelo’s office is decorated with all things cars, from small models to calendars and miscellaneous novelties.
The Phillips Automotive shop Santangelo has operated for multiple decades is set to close by the end of July, but he said the official closing date is not yet set in stone.
The reviews have been overwhelmingly positive for Santangelo and his business. On Yelp, people said they were pleased with his work and his customer service, even people who said that they never write reviews.
When asked about how he has kept a loyal customer base, Santangelo said, “It just boils down to being respectful and fair. That’s how we always treated our family, and I treat all my customers like family.”
In turn, he said some customers have brought him lunch or cookies or other “thank you” gifts. It may be because Santangelo has gone above and beyond normal car repair services for many of them.
“I take my seniors home before I repair their cars, if they don’t have a ride,” he said. “When their car gets done, I go pick them up. I’ve fixed their screen doors. I’ve fixed their medications for them. While I’m at the house, (they sometimes ask), ‘Could you look at this? Could you fix these pills.’ I don’t know why, you know, just stuff like that.”
Where did Santangelo find the time for this altruism amid his busy schedule?
“You just do. You just make time,” he said. “We don’t do anything in a hurry and we get everything done the best we can to the best of our ability, always try to make sure the customers are safe. Got to protect the car so you can protect the family, right? Very important.
“We’ve been fortunate that not anyone has ever been hurt or had any problems,” Santangelo added. “No customers have gotten in an incident or accident because of our failure. We strive to be responsible.”
In the decades Santangelo has been at the Phillips automotive shop, he said he has seen some interesting events, mostly bickering between husbands and wives when he had to act as “a referee.”
“Back in the day, (some customers) came here after work and had a few beers before they went home,” he said. “It was a good place for them to come and hide from the wife. There’s still a few of them that do it today, just retired guys come by, hang out for an hour.”
In his retirement, Santangelo said he’s looking forward to traveling with his wife, Roberta, and between the two of them he said they have only taken six weeks of vacation in the last 39 years.
“Time to do something while the health is still good … and have some fun,” he said. “My wife’s been really, really patient with all this and very helpful with the books and being able to just do this every day and not put herself ahead of everything and help me with business. It has kind of been a dream of mine, and she made it very possible.”
What Daniel Santangelo said he will miss most about Phillips Automotive is the day-to-day banter with his customers—or family, rather.
Eric Heinz is a freelance journalist based in Denver. He most recently covered Los Angeles City Hall for City News Service.