Automotive Tradition in Strawberry Mansion
Walk into Kevin Blocker’s office and it looks just as you would expect the office of an auto shop to look. Papers and carbon copy strewn liberally, old CB radios stacked on top of each other, long forgotten CD ROMs, the 5 o’clock news playing on a small TV in the corner — a sort of wabi-sabi that makes it all feel in the right place. “Sometimes I’m like, ‘man, I’m ready to sell this dump!’” Kevin says affectionately about his shop, EKG Auto Sales Inc., located at 31st and Dauphin Streets. It is relatively new, having opened in 2004, but Kevin and the Blocker family’s history of serving the people of Strawberry Mansion runs deep.
Kevin’s father, James Blocker, started Strawberry Mansion Auto in 1976 at a garage at 30th and Dauphin Streets, just blocks away from their home at 33rd and Ridge. When Kevin was 13, he started helping his father around the shop, not knowing then that he would later follow in his father’s footsteps. “I was a fast learner when I was young,” Kevin said, “he’d show me one time and I got it. And I was fast. I never liked taking something apart and not putting it back together right. I don’t make no short cuts.”
During this time for Kevin, his father and mother were not merely interested in him learning the business, but learning how to be a good member of the community as well. “My father taught me a lot. Taught me how to be a man, taught me how to raise a family. I’m blessed,” Kevin said, “My mom is a church-going woman, she raised us in the Baptist Church. We were going to church when we was little guys, you know. My mom taught me to respect people, to always do the right thing.”
Once Kevin graduated from Overbrook High School in 1982, he enrolled in college. His academic plans, however, were suddenly put on hold. “I was in an accident—a car accident. So I stopped going to school because I had to get me a lawyer and stuff like that. And that took about a year because I was going through court and all that stuff,” Kevin said, “After that my mom was like ‘you gotta do something! You gotta go back to school or you need to pick up a trade,’ so I went with the trade.” Kevin enrolled in Lincoln Technical Institute to go back to his roots — auto work.
Kevin had little trouble picking up the trade while at Lincoln Tech, saying he often felt that he already knew the automotive skills he was learning at school. It was not long before Kevin was back from school, working in the shop he grew up helping his father in.
As his father got older, he passed Strawberry Mansion Auto down to Kevin. Not long after, Kevin’s brother Greg was coming up into the business too. Rather than hanging on to his loyal customer-base in the comfort of the family shop, Kevin gave Strawberry Mansion Auto to his brother and opened his own shop just a block away, EKG Auto Sales at 31st and Dauphin.
As if Kevin’s big brother gesture of giving Strawberry Mansion Auto to his brother was not enough, he made moves to ensure his brother would be successful. “At first, it was a little tough because by leaving, [customers] came with me. So what I did was open another shop up in Germantown,” Kevin said, “that gave him an opportunity to build himself up.” Kevin stayed at his shop in Germantown for three years to allow his brother to gain his own foothold in Strawberry Mansion, referring neighborhood customers to his brother. Kevin says the plan worked. Thanks to Kevin’s stint in Germantown, the brothers enjoy a good amount of business for both of their garages with their own unique client bases.
Now that Kevin and Greg have their businesses all set with regular clients, Kevin is the image of contentment. His role as neighborhood mechanic is one that he takes with great joy, “My favorite part is interacting with customers, dealing with my workers— it’s fun, I can work at my own pace at my own time. I like helping people in the neighborhood. I like to be there for them. In my business I do a lot. I do the collisions, do the repairs, I do tags, sales, I do everything. I offer a lot.”
From our short time together, there is no doubting that Kevin likes to help people. As people filter in and out of the office, there’s a lot of laughter. The only negative thing I hear about Kevin all evening is how he should take a vacation sometime, a suggestion Kevin essentially ignores.
“I’m blesse,d man! This business don’t owe me anything. I raised my family off of this, bought my house off of this — it don’t owe me anything.” •