February '19

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FEBRUARY 2019 THE SHOP 29 Most of Kniola Automotive's (www.face- customers come from areas south, east and west of Michigan City, which is where Kniola was born and raised. He was introduced to the auto industry by his stepfather, a salesman at a car dealership and a big fan of stock car racing. Kniola got his first job in the sector when he was 16, then joined the service and returned to work at the steel mills, where the lucrative pay was hard to refuse, he says. BEHIND THE COUNTER Like many performance enthusiasts, Kniola started a small shop and devoted evenings to his part-time business until he decided to quit his job at the mills in 1968 to make Kniola Automotive a full-time venture. "We're in our third generation of cus- tomers that have been coming in here forever," he says. "When I'm behind the counter here, young men will come in and say, 'My grandpa used to buy parts from you' or 'My dad used to buy parts from you.' God bless them. I'm glad they still have it in their blood. If it wasn't for the repeat customers, the business wouldn't exist." Fond of Fords from the 1930s and Tri- Five Chevys, Kniola also used to race cars in the '60s, but says he always had so much more to do at the shop on weekends. He still enjoys every part of the business, from waiting on customers and attending trade shows to going to circle track and drag races, even though the shop's clientele and competition have evolved substantially over the past five decades. "I've seen the industry evolve from a lot of do-it-yourselfers to a bunch of people who brag about doing things on their own but the most work they put into their car is signing a check," Kniola says. "But that doesn't bother me at all. If they buy the parts from here or another shop, they keep the sport going." Continual advancements in technology also support an extremely competitive market for parts, with many customers turning to online sites like Craigslist, Amazon and eBay. As a result, Kniola Automotive is dedicated to keeping a diverse inventory and finding the parts customers request. It also offers parts for sale on eBay under the online store name North American Racer's Warehouse. "We chase parts every day of the week at the different warehouses that we buy from," he says. "A lot of times it's more expensive to chase it than the profit you're making, but you can't let that customer drift because there's too much competition out there. When a stranger walks into the store and is looking for an item, we pride Jack Kniola surveys the salvage area adjacent to Kniola Automotive. Welcome mascot. Customers' cars are always parked in front of the store. For decades, Kniola Automotive has been a loyal supporter of local car clubs and racing teams. One sign says it all. The store is full of merchandise of all kinds for performance projects large and small.

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