Full service and so much more

Dennis Motell strolls through the garage of the Harrison County Auto Repair shop It is a busy morning and there are several cars to fix. Since 1996, Dennis has been offering full-service auto repair, with an emphasis on service. Dennis and his staff pride themselves on doing good work and treating people right. Cynthiana knows this. "I haven't had to advertise in years" he says.

It’s morning and the Harrison County Auto Shop is humming. The smells of exhaust and rubber fill the air while Bluegrass on the radio harmonizes with the roaring of engines and the rumbling of compressors.

Dennis Motell is underneath the hood of an El Camino, flashlight in one hand, phone in the other, staring down intently while sharing a hearty laugh with fellow mechanics Bill Barker and Mark Wasson.

When you ask around town, this is where you take your car if you need something. Dennis has been servicing cars in Cynthiana for the better part of 24 years. People know him.

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve been coming here,” Renna Collins says as she pays for an oil change. “I trust them.”

For Dennis and his shop, service is more than just a tune-up or tire rotation — it’s about people. And that's why people trust him. “When you find Dennis, you find a friend,” says Michelle Ward, service writer for the shop.

Affectionately called “the Yankee,” Dennis grew up around cars in Syracuse, New York. He made his way to North Carolina before finally following his wife, Kara, to her home state of Kentucky in 1996. He started out pumping gas down the road from the repair shop.

Running a small business has had its challenges. Perhaps the biggest one came in 2012, when Dennis was told he had throat cancer. For eight months he underwent an intense form of radiation: he was placed in a special mask and strapped to a table so doctors could target his tonsils and throat. Dennis kept his shop running, working for stretches between treatments, while relying on the help of Bill and Mark's son.

During this difficult time, many people in the community — customers, church groups and people Dennis said he didn't even know — sent him letters of support.

"It was overwhelming" Dennis says as tears well in his eyes. "I'm very fortunate to get through all this and receive the support I did." 

As the day winds down, the shop comes to a slow and quiet halt. Michelle is counting the till in the office, while Mark pulls down the garage door and Bill tucks away the tools. Dennis sweeps the floors.

When asked about his time in Cynthiana, Dennis stops briefly and looks out the garage door. "You know, it's a great community," he says. "If you break down on the side of the road, someone is going to stop and help."

And if you do break down, you probably will take your car to the Harrison County Auto Shop, where you'll be in good hands and leave feeling a bit better than when you walked in the door.

Michelle Ward, the shop's service writer, crosses off a finished repair on her weekly chart. She has been working at the shop for more than a year and makes sure everything is in order. "I try and keep the guys in line, too" she laughs.
Dennis and Bill Barker go through an engine check. Dennis figures he has five more years, and then he will hand over the keys to Bill. "He can do it," Dennis says. "If you watch the customers, they all trust him. So the shop's for him."
Dennis explains a quote for services to Kim Biddle while her daughter, Daisy, looks on. Kim counts herself as a regular. "I remember calling in with a flat tire, and they brought my car in and fixed it in 10 minutes," she says.
Mark Wasson holds up a lug nut. His fingers are worn and weathered from almost a year at the shop. "I don't know how many times I wash my hands," he says. "But it's a lot."
Dennis (from left), Michelle, Randy Moore, Mark and Bill enjoy lunch in the staff office. "We're like a little family," Michelle says.
"Well, I'll be damned," Bill (center) says, as he and Dennis (left) and Mark pause to watch an ambulance stop outside the shop. The ambulance and police officers responded to a fight at some nearby homes.
A busy morning at the shop means everyone is on their feet. Left to right are Randy, Mark and Bill.
Dennis works on his end-of-the-month finances, with reminders and family photos spattered about. Asked about what keeps him going, he looks up at a picture of his wife Kara and kids, Sydney, 21, and Tyler, 23. "My family" he says.
Dennis and Karl Schulstadt share a laugh while checking Karl's gas cap. "He's done a lot of work for me over the years" says Karl, a friend and former neighbor. "He treats everyone like they're his neighbor."