Thursday, August 17, 2017
By James Lomuscio
For 44 years, seven days a week, Sandy Cooper has come to his same shop in the same location, opening at 6 a.m. and using the same cash register.
The register at Cooper’s Auto Parts at 1763 Post Road East across from Stop & Shop was a gift from a friend the night before he first opened Sept. 1, 1973.
“I was ready to use a shoe box,” he recalled, adding that his friend who had owned a gas station had an old McCaskey register.
Though some of the register’s keys saying gas, tires, ethyl and tubes have never been used, Cooper says it’s served him well. So has the narrow, tight parking strip mall that houses his business.
The auto supply shop is a vestige of mom and pop service that’s survived the passing of Westport’s backyard mechanic; the fizzling of America’s great love affair with the automobile; trade-ins every few years, and dealer service.
“When I opened up there were eight (auto parts stores) in the area,” said Cooper, 69, a Trumbull native.
“Just over the border you had Southport Auto Parts. There was J&J Kurdock on Maple Avenue in Westport. In Compo Shopping Center, there was Fair Auto. You had Friedman’s down behind the Carvel stand. You had Alex’s place.”
There was also Hyatt’s, a foreign auto parts shop on the Post Road and west bank of the Saugatuck River.
“Most of them closed down in the ‘70s and early ‘80s,” he said. “I’m here 80 hours a week. I guess nobody wants to work that hard.
“And the mentality here is that if you have a car that’s five years old, it’s an old car,” he added. “Somebody our age appreciates cars. Kids today don’t appreciate them the same way. They don’t appreciate cars. They’re into computers. They go down to the Apple Store.”
Cooper said his shop, which has one employee, John Ingram there more than 20 years, offers the same items one might find at chain stores such as NAPA Auto Parts and Auto Zone – tires, mag wheels, plugs, wiper blades, batteries, oil, bulbs, brakes, etc.
“Plus a lot of stuff they don’t,” he says about his shop, a rabbit warren of automotive memorabilia, even stacks of collectible Hess trucks.
That stuff, he says, is geared toward the remaining auto hobbyists and collectors who ferret him out when in a pinch.
“You see this,” he says holding up a small plastic bag containing two metal squares. “It’s a 1964 Chevy Impala steering column bearing assembly. Inside the assembly there are two pieces, and when they wear out, it moves.”
A customer had come in complaining that his steering column kept jumping up and down when he pulled on it.
“I had to figure out what he wanted, and where I was going to get it,” he said. “I probably had four to five hours into it for a $40 part.
“I do this because I love what I do, and I’ve been doing this since I was 12,” Cooper added. “ I love helping people.”
Cooper cut his teeth working for his father Morris Cooper who owned Cooper Auto Supply in Bridgeport from 1947 until his death in 1980.
“I made it Cooper’s Auto Parts instead of Cooper’s Auto Supply because I didn’t want to trade off his reputation, which was better than I could do,” he recalled.
Cooper said he shadowed his father at an early age and began working there afternoons, hitching a five-mile ride to the store each day after class at Trumbull High School, from which he graduated in 1966. College was not in his future.
“I always knew that when I got out of school, I would run the store,” he said.
From when he opened in Westport, Cooper has been there every day from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays.
As he spoke, customer Pete Jennings walked in, carrying a used battery. He had just purchased a new one from Cooper for his Honda and as required by law had to return the old one.
“Thanks, Pete,” he said, adding, “You have to trust people.”
Had the battery not been returned, Cooper said he would have been out $15.
A short while later Westporter Scott Williams walked in.
“You have a rear windshield wiper for a 2006 Volkswagen Rabbit?” he asked.
“If I don’t have it, I’ll chase it down for you,” Cooper replied before walking to the back room.
“I have an 11-inch; you need a 13,” he replied upon return.
Cooper then made a call to a dealer in Massachusetts.
“He’ll have it here in the morning,” Cooper said.
“I know you’ll be here; you never close,” Williams quipped.
Unlike his father, Cooper will not have any heir to take over his business. His 24-year-old daughter is studying to be a teacher.
So, he says he is going to keep working and working the rest of his life.
“Retire?” he asks. “What am I going to say? Am I going to say I’m going to get up one morning and play golf? I don’t play golf.
“This is what I do.”
Posted 08/17/17 at 05:59 AM Permalink