Many businesses in the area are taking extra precautions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, among them automotive shops.

With now well over 100 cases of the novel coronavirus in Mississippi, several auto shop owners told the Starkville Daily News they were taking extra precautions to protect their employees and customers. Some of the shop owners also spoke to a drop in customers and business since the start of the pandemic.

William Wells, owner of William Wells Tire & Auto in Clayton Village, said he was taking more sanitation precautions including wiping down doorknobs and other surfaces periodically, and providing his employees gloves for tasks done inside of vehicles.

“We wipe the door handles inside and out, wipe the windshields, spray Lysol in it, let it set and then we'll work on it,” Wells said.

He said he was encouraging his customers to take care of what business they could with the shop over the phone, but emphasized that it was difficult to do in the auto repair business.

“We're an independent shop, and it's gong to be tough if we close down, but also we have to help the ambulances, the fire departments, the police department,” Wells said. “They're going to need somewhere here for them.”

Wells also encouraged vehicle owners to focus on essential maintenance and keep elective work on their vehicles to a minimum for the time being.

“It's just like the doctor's office,” Wells said. “We don't want anybody to give us the stuff, and we don't want to give anybody the stuff.”

Jim McReynolds, owner of R&M Tire Pros in Starkville, said his shop was taking similar precautions.

“We have a lot of people that'll come in the door, and we'll have them pull their car in the shop and stay in their car as far as flat repairs and quick in-and-out stuff like that,” McReynolds said. “A lot of people coming in for oil changes are remaining outside until it's time to pay, and I keep that area sprayed down continually as far as the PIN pad on the credit card machine. Most everything is credit card right now, thank God.”

McReynolds also spoke to the hit his business had taken because of the pandemic, saying he had sent his two part-time mechanics home due to the lack of work. The shop is currently staffed by three full-time workers.

“The first two weeks of the month were really good up until this week, and I noticed about Wednesday, it was obvious,” McReynolds said. “Wednesday about noon is when things just kind of shut down. I say shut down, but we're still here. We're doing a fraction of what we were doing the first two-and-a-half weeks of the month.”

He said people had only been going to his shop for essential work.

They're only coming for what they've got to have,” McReynolds said. “It's kind of like what the hospitals are doing. Nobody's having elective surgery right now. They don't need to. People are just doing what they've got to do to have their automobile ready should they need it.”

Like Wells, McReynolds also spoke to the importance of his business to supporting the needs of law enforcement and other first responders. He said his shop had worked on several police vehicles.

“We're just trying to do what we can to be there for people, because people do still need things, especially since I've had several police cars in,” McReynolds said.

Express Oil Change & Tire Engineers Starkville Assistant Manager Christopher Rogers also spoke to a slowdown in business.

“We're seeing a major effect,” Rogers said. “It has slowed down dramatically. We're doing what we can, and taking the precautions we need to. We're advising the customers and just letting them know that we're doing the best we can. Like I said, we're just trying to get through it like everybody else.”

Rogers said the shop was taking additional cleaning precautions and encouraging customers to stay in their vehicles for shorter jobs.

“If they don''t need to get out of the vehicle, we don't ask them to,” Rogers said.

“When we need to do something inside the car, we just talk them through, just coach them through on how to set their oil lights and things like that,” Rogers added.

Chris Hagler, president of Performance Automotive Inc. in Oktibbeha County, spoke to taking precautions.

“Mostly we're disinfecting customers' cars as they come in,” Hagler said. “We don't have a whole lot of face-to-face with customers. We're just cleaning our surfaces in the office and trying to keep our hands disinfected.”

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