END OF AN ERA: After century in business, Bartlett’s Garage to shutter March 30

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Bartlett’s Garage, an Old Town institution whose owners have repaired ‘Headers vehicles for three generations, will soon close after more than a century in business.

Thursday, March 30 will be the last day for one of the oldest continuously operated independent auto shops in the county, according to Greg Quillen.

Marblehead natives and brothers Greg and Mike Quillen will retire March 30, closing Bartlett’s Garage, one of the country’s oldest continuously operating independent auto shops. COURTESY PHOTO / STEVEN ROOD

A private buyer has bought the Stacey Street garage and has other plans for the property.

“It’s not going to be an auto shop after we leave,” Quillen told the Marblehead Current

By “we,” he means himself and his older brother, Mike.

The brothers are retiring from the family business that their maternal grandfather, Edgar Bartlett, acquired in the 1920s. Their father, James Quillen, subsequently took over the business and ran it for 50 years.

“This shop has been working on automobiles since the very beginning of automobiles,” Greg Quillen said.

The car garage, a stone’s throw from the Old North Church, housed a machine shop in the late 1800s, and people would occasionally bring their bicycles for repairs, Greg Quillen said.

As automobiles came into widespread use, Edgar Quillen transitioned the business to repairing them. 

Brothers Greg and Mike Quillen pose outside Bartlett’s Garage, which they have been running for about 20 years, succeeding their father, James, who ran it for 50 years. COURTESY PHOTO

The brothers took over a little over 20 years ago. Today, they interact with between 50 and 60 customers daily who are either picking up their cars, lining up repairs or just saying hello.

“We’ve been very, very fortunate. We have always been really busy,” said Mike Quillen. “We have our slow times like most any small business, but all in all, we’ve been steady as long as I can remember.”

The 68-year-old was a teenager when he began working part-time at the garage. Greg Quillen, who is 64, followed after high school. The duo grew up playing in Marblehead’s Old and Historic District streets.

“I love this neighborhood. I love the neighbors. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to work and grow up,” Greg Quillen said, as his brother nodded in agreement. “That’s what I’m gonna miss the most.”

The pair takes pride in their family’s legacy, and they attribute Bartlett Garage’s longevity to a strong work ethic, going the extra mile and cultivating a loyal customer base. 

“We actually had a lady who was 91 in here the other day,” Greg Quillen said. “She knew my grandfather, and my grandfather died in 1963.”

Granted, that particular woman, who has been a customer since the 1960s, may be the only one who can make that claim, he added.

Residents may not fully realize how much sacrifice running a small business entails, Mike Quillen said.

“Most people work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” he said. “But for us, that’s a foreign concept.” 

In their remaining days on Stacey Street, the brothers have been receiving gift cards and phone calls from customers wishing them well. To keep themselves occupied in retirement, both have part-time jobs lined up that do not involve vehicles.   

“It’s just time to close because it’s our bodies telling us,” Mike Quillen said, who will be having surgery a week after he retires. 

Greg Quillen agreed.

“That’s the hard part of this line of work,” he said. “It’s more physical than mental.”

Sign of the times: A banner announces the imminent retirement-related closure of Bartlett’s Garage. COURTESY PHOTO

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