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  Shop Profile

Bernard's Garage in Its 86th Year

Posted 4/14/2011
By Levy Joffrion

Third generation carrying on tradition.

Bernard’s Garage today

Bernard’s Garage in 1935

Bernard’s Garage Inc. is in Milwaukie, Ore., a city of about 21,000 residents and a suburb of Portland, Ore. The shop is located at the edge of downtown – only blocks away from the Williamette River. Milwaukie is known as the Dogwood City of the West and as the birthplace of Bing cherries. Above, Bernard’s Garage in 1935. The business originally employed only Joe Sr. It had two gas pumps, two bays and a small office. Today the staff consists of Jim and eight employees, and it encompasses 24,000 square feet of floor space including 10 bays.


• Calvin Coolidge becomes the first president to have his inauguration broadcast on radio.

• The New Yorker magazine publishes its first issue.

• Mount Rushmore is dedicated.

• The Chrysler Corp. is founded by Walter Percy Chrysler.

And on May 10 that year, Joe Bernard Sr. opened Bernard's Garage Inc. in downtown Milwaukie, Ore.

Eighty-six years later, the shop is still going strong and it's still owned and operated by the Bernard family, with the third generation now in charge.

The world has changed a lot since grandpa opened the shop. Back then, Joe Sr. would go into his small machine shop and make his own parts. That's what it took to meet his customers' needs. In the years since, Milwaukie's dirt roads have been paved, and folks don't tie up their horses anymore to the hitching rigs on Main Street. Moreover, today's vehicles are much more complicated than the ones his dad worked on, says Joe Jr. They're loaded with computers and high-tech equipment. Yesterday's "mechanics" are the "technicians" of today.

What hasn't changed, says Joe Jr., is the shop's dedication to meeting its customers' needs.

Joe Jr. joined his father in the shop and began running the show in 1955. Joe Jr. sold it in 1982 to one of his six children, James "Jim."

Jim, Joe Sr. and Joe Jr.

Three generations of Bernards – from left: Jim, Joe Sr. and Joe Jr. Joe Sr. died in 1990, but the shop he started is still going strong and is now in its 86th year. Jim now owns it.

But he didn't quit work altogether. He served as executive director of the ASA-Oregon affiliate for more than 10 years, finally retiring in 1998.

He had long been active in the Automotive Service Association at the local, affiliate and national levels.

Joe Jr. was an early member of ASA in Oregon and in 1980-81 served as chairman of the board for the Automotive Service Council (ASC), which merged in 1986 with the Independent Automotive Service Association (IASA) to form the Automotive Service Association (ASA).

Following in his father's footsteps, Jim has also been active in ASA. He has served as president of the ASA-Portland, Ore., chapter and has held all positions within the chapter. He was also a member of the ASA-Oregon affiliate board of directors.

Jim is carrying on the legacy of the shop's founder and son. "I believe, as my father and grandfather did, that the customer is No. 1 and deserves nothing less than our best, honest service," says Jim.

The Bernard’s Garage team

The Bernard’s Garage team includes Jim Bernard and (from left in the photo) Luis Munoz, John Sciarra, Kerry Leitz, Dennis Myers, Siri Bernard, Mike Manley, Steve Budnick and Mark Smith. Sciarra has been operations manager since 1998.

Also, like his father and grandfather, Jim understands the importance of giving back to the community, and Bernard's Garage continues to participate and assist in Milwaukie activities. Joe Jr. was mayor in 1963-64 and Jim served two terms as mayor, from 2001 to 2009. Jim is currently serving as a Clackamas County commissioner.

Bernard's Garage is also doing its best for the environment, which is nothing new for the shop. It strives to recycle all automotive components, including used motor oil and air-conditioning refrigerant. It also uses non-toxic cleaners and solvents whenever possible and maximizes the use of cleaners and fluids before they are recycled. This reduces air and water pollution and is safer for the shop's employees and customers.

Maybe Jim's grandfather had trouble getting parts and had to resort to making his own, but today Bernard's Garage is so efficient that it operates its own parts store, adjacent to its state-of-the-art shop. It handles replacement parts from such companies as AC Delco, Bosch, BCA Bearings, Dayco, Felpro and Raybestos.

Jim and his dad, Joe Jr., today. Joe Jr. and his first wife had six children. All of the children at one time or the other worked in the shop. So did their mother, who later passed away. Joe is now married to Shirley Benson, right, who owned Automatic Transmission Specialties in Salem, Ore., and who herself had long been active in ASA.

The shop works on a wide range of foreign and domestic automobiles, and its staff is General Motors Co. trained and ASE certified. It's also a AAA-approved auto service center.

Bernard's Garage Inc. has been a member of ASA since 1964.

Joe Jr.; his wife, Shirley; and Jim are all Accredited Automotive Managers, a designation they earned through the Automotive Management Institute.

What's ahead for Bernard's Garage? "To continue the family tradition of serving the community, the automotive service and repair industry, and my employees," says Jim.

Shop Stats

Name of Shop: Bernard's Garage Inc.
Location: Milwaukie, Ore.
Square Footage of Shop: 24,000 square feet
Number of Years in Business: 86
Number of Employees: Eight
Numbers of Repairs Weekly: 40
Projected Annual Sales: $950,000-$1.2 million
Website Address:

Why Bernard's Garage is a Member of ASA: "My father was involved in the creation of the national organization. I continue because ASA does a great job protecting our industry legislatively." - Jim Bernard


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