Given her deep roots there, it makes sense that Terica Buckner would become the owner of a venerable auto repair shop in southeast Portland. She took the helm on January 1.
Now 40, Buckner began working at Hawthorne Automotive Clinic when she was 17 in high school.
She never left.
While most young people love the freedom of driving a car, Buckner always wanted to know what was going on mechanically under the hood. As a student at Portland’s Benson Polytechnic High School, Buckner enrolled in an auto repair course.
A few weeks later, Buckner got hooked and told her instructor that she wanted a career as a mechanic. He said she needed some real-world experience, so he helped her get an internship at the repair shop she now owns at 4307 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
“I cleaned out the store,” she said. “I recycled oil filters, refilled fluids for technicians and watched them work on cars.”
Luckily, Buckner found herself in the perfect repair shop for a young woman starting out in a typically male-dominated business.
Liz Dally, company president and co-owner with her husband, Jim Houser, was an early member of the Portland Automotive Women’s Association. The group was started by a few women mechanics to help women who wanted to break into the field.
Dally, who grew up in Pittsburgh, was always interested in tools and making things in the basement of the family home. She tried to enroll in a store and a drawing class in high school, but was turned down just because she was a girl.
“It was 1965, when there was no law that a girl should have equal access,” she said. “So, I went in the opposite direction.”
She got a scholarship to Reed College. She lived in the upstairs unit of a fourplex in Southeast Portland and met Houser, who lived downstairs. They eventually got married and now have two adult children.
“I got a degree in political science, but I couldn’t find anything I really wanted to do with that degree,” she said. “Jim and I had a friend who started a co-op auto repair shop, so Jim and I joined. I had a talent and I learned with the help of other people and books. There were no evening classes to learn the trade at the time.
When Dally applied for jobs at Portland-area car dealerships, she said bosses were “in disbelief” that a woman wanted to be a mechanic.
“They wanted me to work in the office,” she said. “I applied at a store and the man held up a power valve and asked what it was. When I told him he said there was no opening.
She was eventually hired as a mechanic at the Hawthorne Auto Clinic. Three years later, in 1983, the owner said he was going to sell the business.
“I was tired of trying to convince people that I knew how to fix cars,” Dally said. “It would be easier to have a store. Jim and I bought it. It was just the two of us doing all the work. Then we grew up. »
In Buckner, Dally and Houser saw the chance to help a young woman who reminded them of Dally.
They sponsored her, paying her to work in their shop for two years while she attended Mount Hood Community College to earn an associate’s degree in auto repair. When Buckner graduated, they hired her as a shop technician.
“It’s so satisfying to have a broken car, run some tests and get it running again,” Buckner said. “A car has so many systems to learn.”
When the front office had an opening for a customer service consultant, Buckner asked Houser and Dally if she could get the job so she could learn more about the company.
“She was awesome,” Houser said. “She could speak confidently with customers because she knew everything about working on cars. She could explain to the customer what was wrong with the car and what was needed to fix it.
When the company’s accountant retired eight years ago, Buckner applied for the job. Houser and Dally helped Buckner earn a business degree at the University of Phoenix while she continued to work in the shop.
“She was good at everything she did here,” Houser said.
Last year, he and his wife decided to retire.
“I’m 73 and Liz is 70,” Houser said. “It was time.”
Buckner said she wanted to buy the store.
And that made sense.
“I got into the business because I wanted to fix cars,” Dally said. “She was interested in cars and business.”
Houser called Buckner the “perfect candidate” to take over.
“What a natural fit,” Houser said. “She had all the skills in place, knew all the customers and employees.”
Buckner said the takeover of the property was “agonizing.”
“I take on an incredible responsibility,” she said. “Not just for my future, but for the 10 employees.”
Buckner and her husband, Andrew, live in Vancouver and are parents to an 18-month-old daughter. Buckner is the breadwinner and her husband is a stay-at-home dad.
Buckner said that added additional pressure. She wants to make sure the business grows so she can pay herself a salary and cover rent and employee salaries.
But business is good, she says, and many customers have been coming to the store since she started working there. She brokers a deal with Houser and Dally to buy the building under a five-year lease option.
Dally brought someone like Buckner into the business, a business in which women make up less than 1% of all auto mechanics in the metro area, said Sarah Heidler, former president of the Association of Portland Automotive Women. She estimated that there were probably no more than 24 female mechanics working in the area.
Buckner wants to help women the same way Dally helped her. His store’s front desk staff is all-female, and Buckner sponsored a woman who works as a technician while attending Mount Hood Community College.
Buckner said it was the right thing to do.
“It’s rare in the automotive industry for a woman to own a store,” she said. “A lot of women are not encouraged to get into business. Women can be great technicians. It is not only necessary to know the mechanics, but the computer science. It is highly skilled work. »
When she walks into her business each morning, Buckner says she’s happy.
“It’s the only job I’ve had,” Buckner said. “It’s surreal that I own it.”
–Tom Hallman Jr; [email protected]; 503-221-8224; @thallmanjr
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