Hugh Gill has fixed more cars than he can count. For more than three decades, he's been an auto mechanic, repairing new and used cars at local dealerships. That is, until recently. Last November, the Creve Coeur resident left his job to pursue a lifelong dream - to start his own auto repair business.


 

Hugh Gill has fixed more cars than he can count.


For more than three decades, he's been an auto mechanic, repairing new and used cars at local dealerships.


That is, until recently. "I decided to go out on my own," said the 53-year-old. "I got tired of working for dealerships."


Last November, the Creve Coeur resident left his job to pursue a lifelong dream - to start his own auto repair business. "It's something I always wanted to do," Gill said.


Up until July, he rented two bays at Auto Solutions in East Peoria. Then a plot of property with a large garage, lots of parking and an apartment and office building just outside Sunnyland caught the eye of Gill and his wife, Sue.


Gill Automotive was born.


Though the building was in desperate need of overhaul and the lot was thick with weeds and strewn with debris, Hugh saw the promise and couldn't pass it up. It was his diamond in the rough.


He asked for, and was granted, a special-use permit from the city to allow for automotive repair at that location.


"The city is supportive of the Gills' efforts as we continually seek opportunities to encourage the expansion and retention of its businesses," said Ty Livingston, East Peoria's director of planning and community development. "The Gills are also rehabilitating a property that essentially has been inactive and minimally maintained for a number of years."


Over the past two months, the property has slowly transformed from untidy to orderly. "This place looks a whole lot better since we took it over, instead of sitting here, rotting away," Sue said.


The two-story building with three apartments and room for two offices is in the middle of a remodel. The two upstairs apartments are nearly complete. Work on the main-level apartment and office space is forthcoming.


"We're still trying to put this together and work at the same time," Hugh said.


Through the week, Hugh works a 10-hour workday. And just as quick as he's wiping oil from his hands, he's inside the apartment building, tearing out carpet or plastering a wall.


Sue is there by his side, painting room after room after room. She also does odd jobs in the apartments during the day, between looking for employment and helping her husband in the shop.


"It will be nice once it gets fixed up," said Hugh, proud of the work accomplished so far. "If I get some good tenants, hopefully it will pay for itself."


Behind the apartment and office building is the auto repair shop. It boasts 2 1/2 bays, a hoist, a small office and a waiting area. Each room is outfitted with the bare essentials.


Referrals from friends and family and repeat customers have kept business steady. Hugh doesn't feel the need to advertise.


"I don't want to get too big where I can't take care of people," he said.


Hugh works alone at Gill Automotive and prefers it that way. It is his genuine love of what he does that makes all the hard work worthwhile.


"He puts a lot of pride in his work," said Sue.


Added Hugh, "It makes me feel great. Customer satisfaction, that's what it's all about."


Before the Gills' dream is fulfilled, they know many more long nights of work lay ahead. But the couple agreed they wouldn't have it any other way.


"It was a good move," Hugh said. "To make a living, take care of people and provide for my family. I don't plan on making a million. That's not why I did it."


Leslie Williams can be reached at (309) 686-3188 or lwilliams@pjstar.com.