Forty-six years after a handshake and a lease signed on the back of a napkin, White Rock Brake and Wheel is saying a bittersweet goodbye.
The shop was started by the late Eric Ellingsen, a White Rock native, in 1976. After graduating from Semiahmoo Secondary, Eric got his certification from a local car dealership, leading him to lease the Prospect Avenue property.
“Here is a community, we all know each other, we’re going to miss that. We don’t wear fancy uniforms or charge a bunch, but everybody just comes here because we do decent work,” said Troy Ellingsen, Eric’s son.
The business specializes in classic cars, making it a unique brake shop that can’t be found just anywhere.
“You can’t take these cars into Canadian Tire, it’s an old-school shop,” Troy said.
Troy was just 12 years old when his father opened the shop, with it becoming the place he would spend his summers. At first, Troy swept the floors, but eventually learned the mechanic skills he now possesses from his father.
Working as a mechanic was an instant love for Troy, right from childhood.
“We would make go-karts from the wheels off the barbecue,” he recalled.
White Rock Brake and Wheel is viewed as a landmark by many community members, having passed the test of time, including a car crashing into the shop at one point.
“Nothing’s changed. I don’t think we’ve even painted the walls,” Troy said, laughing.
He has been informing customers and neighbours that his father’s shop is closing, with the response bringing in a lot of love to the Ellingsens. Hearing everyone’s stories of Eric and the shop never ceases to bring tears to Troy’s eyes.
The closing of the business marks a sign of the times, as rental costs continue to rise and development plans spread throughout White Rock and the rest of the Lower Mainland.
Eric was beloved in the city, always willing to help out any way he could, said Kerry Riedlinger, Semiahmoo Secondary’s auto program teacher.
“I would phone him and say, ‘Eric, I’m having trouble getting a spring in’ and Troy’s dad would put a ‘Back in 5 minutes’ sign on the door and go over to my high school shop and help the students. He did that more than once,” Riedlinger recalled fondly.
Eric ran the shop until his passing in 2020, at which time Troy took it over. The business is family-run through and through, with Eric’s brother and multiple children and grandchildren having a hand in running the operation.
Troy considered holding onto the business for a little while longer, but “the writing’s on the wall,” making the closure inevitable and not worth dragging out.
“The only reason why we’re still here is because of the community… We stayed here on a handshake and a lease on the back of a napkin for 46 years, it’s pretty cool,” Troy said.
Troy grew up in Ocean Park with his family after his grandfather paid $500 for five acres of land, then moved out to White Rock when Eric leased White Rock Brake and Wheel.
A day of gratitude took place on Friday (Aug. 26) to mark the send-off of the business in a party that saw 300 people come down to the shop, sharing memories and enjoying the last few days of the notable business.
White Rock Brake and Wheel’s last official day in business will be Wednesday, Aug. 31, which will allow Troy to take some time to figure out the next steps.