In addition to the notoriety that comes from occupying a bright yellow building on a busy road, Kevin Kee’s Auto Service has earned a reputation as a place of reliable service and strong camaraderie, according to the store’s loyal customers.
The close bond that guests have forged with the owner, Kee himself, made the place special – beyond being just any auto repair shop, former guests told Sun Current.
But now, after 28 years of operation, the store has closed its doors for good.
They are the “biggest customers in the world over in Edina,” Kee told Sun Current.
The Vernon Avenue auto repair shop, which closed in mid-October, has already attracted interest from those who want to transform the site. Special X Properties, LLC, which is run by well-known restaurateur Marty Collins, presented a sketch plan for a new restaurant on the site to Edina City Council earlier this month. Collins owns McCoy’s Public House in St. Louis Park and NOLO’s Kitchen & Bar in Minneapolis.
One of Kee’s first experiences in car work was with his father at a young age. In high school, he also enjoyed auto workshop lessons, which further heightened his interest in the field. He enjoyed this type of workshop course the most – above both the carpentry workshop and the metal workshop.
At the age of 15, Kee got a job at a Shell gas station, where he helped pump gas and other customer service duties. He went on to work at a few other gas stations, including Texaco stations, where he worked his way up until he worked directly on cars. He later got a job at Mauer’s Import, where he ended up working for about seven years on Mercedes, Kee said.
During this time, he also raced cars and boats in his spare time, he said.
Eventually, Kee concluded that he didn’t want to work for others, but rather wanted to open his own store. This first store was Kevin Kee’s auto service in Minnetonka in 1985. It then expanded to St. Louis Park, then noticed the vacant spot in Edina.
Instead of renting space like he did at the other two locations, Kee wanted to buy Edina’s property. So he did. It opened on the Vernon Avenue site in 1993.
Its yellow color scheme didn’t come by accident. When Kee opened his first store in Minnetonka, he also owned a bright yellow 1959 Hillman Minx, which he quickly used to conduct his business. He also embellished the car with the name of the store.
Yellow adorned all of Kee’s locations. With the Edina store, in addition to the whole building being yellow, there are many furnished items in and around the store that display color – from a toolbox, to an exhibit plane, to a small car that sits outside the store.
Throughout her time in Edina, Kee, 69, enjoyed working on cars and connecting with customers, he said. “The people were great,” he said. “It was a personal one-on-one thing.”
Kee has been a “wonderful contributor to the neighborhood for all these years,” said William Bowles, a resident of Edina who has frequented the store since it opened. Bowles said he was one of Kee’s first clients, having lived only a few blocks. Kee is “infamous” in the neighborhood, Bowles said.
As the store’s final days of activity approached, Bowles stopped to see Kee and gave him a hug. He asked Kee if he had any additional vehicles that he would be willing to sell, as Bowles’ granddaughter had just gotten her driver’s license. And he had one, Bowles said. “It’s just perfect for what she needed. So it’s a typical Kevin story.
Bonnie Scott, another longtime Kee customer, started going to the store with her husband. After her husband died, she continued to go to see Kee because she could trust him, because “it’s hard for a woman who doesn’t know anything about a car,” she said.
She remembers a case where she had just learned that she was going to lose her dog and that she was crying at the same time as Kee dropped off a car for one of her neighbors. Later, when she went to her door, Kee had left her a vase of flowers. “This guy is going above and beyond,” she said.
He wasn’t just a mechanic, but a friend, Scott said.
Bowles echoed this sentiment from Kee. “He has a bunch of very close friends that he’s made in this community,” he said. “We all see him as a member of the family.”
Scott said what he will miss the most in the store is “to have someone I can trust so much, the integrity as well as the workmanship.”
In the past year and more of the pandemic, business has slowed down a bit due to fewer people getting out and using their cars, Kee said.
But that was not the reason for the doors closing, he noted.
“It was time.… I have to do my own thing for a little while because you never know when you’re going to leave,” Kee said.
Even though his business is closed, Kee said he still plans to work on his personal cars, including his precious 1968 Chevrolet Camaro Z28, which he owned, painted green with white stripes, since he was. in high school. Other cars he plans to work on are his 1969 Pontiac Firebird convertible and his 1987 Buick Regal T-Type.
“Now the phones will start ringing. They want to know if I want to sell any of them, ”Kee said with a laugh. The answer is no.
Kee is a “local hero,” Bowles said. “Kevin is an example, I think, (of) the wonder of American small businesses, someone who can, with their own skills, do something really important for a community. “
And for Kee, working on cars is “right in my blood,” he said.
– Follow Caitlin Anderson on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent
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