As traffic slows down, business accelerates for Stillwater body shops

Local auto body shops saw an uptick in business since the first heavy snow last week.
Local auto body shops saw an uptick in business since the first heavy snow last week.

Stillwater area auto body shops have seen a sharp increase in business thanks to recent snow storms and icy road conditions.

Tony Grove, owner of Stillwater Collision, estimates he’s seen an increase in business of 25-30 percent since the first heavy snow last week.

“We do see an increase in volume,” Grove said. “Usually it’s up to a week after the snow. … It picks up pretty fast.”

Joe Schoenecker, business partner and manager of Jerry’s Auto Body, also pegged his shop’s increase in business since last week at around 20 percent.

Schoenecker and others said the influx began after the first big snow hit Dec. 2. As of Dec. 9, it still hadn’t slowed down.

“We’re seeing a lot of them come in still,” he said.

Such an increase in collision damage is typical early in the season.

“The percentage goes down as the year goes on,” Grove said. “People are more aware of the situation.”

“Before the holidays, people are running so crazy, they’re just not paying attention,” Schoenecker said.

“It’s almost like we all have to start learning how to drive again in the snow,” said Stacy Nelson, manager of Abra Auto Body and Glass in Stillwater. “I catch myself driving too fast in the conditions at the start of the season.

The severity of accidents observed vary from fender benders to severe crashes. Nelson said his shop has been trying to fix the vehicles with sever damage first, so those customers can have vehicles that are safe to drive. Some with minor damage were scheduled out farther, but he said the shop would get to them as quickly as possible.

Despite continuing icy conditions, Nelson observed that the severity of crashes seemed to decline compared to last week,

“I think … how serious the accident is has mellowed out a little bit,” he said. “The first part of the week last week, they were kind of bigger hits, more severe collisions than now.”

But he’s still seeing plenty of drivable cars coming in with minor damage.

Stillwater Police confirmed the number of accidents has gone up slightly since the snow fell. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office told of an even more drastic change.

Between Dec. 1 and 9 this year, the sheriff’s responded to 42 accidents in the area around Stillwater, including Lake Elmo, Baytown Township, Grant, Stillwater Township and West Lakeland Township. The week of Thanksgiving it only responded to four accidents in that area.

To avoid a trip to the auto body shop or worse, AAA offers winter driving tips:

• Avoid driving when fatigued.

• Make sure tires are properly inflated.

• Never mix radial tires with other tire types.

• Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas-line freeze-up.

•Avoid using the parking break in cold, rainy, snowy weather if possible.

• Put on your seat belt whenever you get into your vehicle.

For Stillwater residents, Grove has one more piece of advice:

“Don’t take the steep hills, people.”

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]