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Capitol Hill auto garage in CHOP 911 controversy leaving 12th Ave as development moves forward

(Image: CHS)

With reporting by Gabrielle Locke

A longtime 12th Ave small business that ended up playing an outsized role in the summer’s Capitol Hill occupied protest zone is closing shop and leaving the neighborhood — a move that will be viewed through the prism of months of protests but that has been in the works for years as part of a multimillion dollar land and development deal.

In 1999, John McDermott and Russell Kimble bought Car Tender, a Capitol Hill auto repair garage on 12th Ave at E Olive St.

“We have our craft and we do enjoy that but, like everything, it has its challenges. What we enjoy the most is helping people,” Kimble tells CHS. After 49 years of serving the Capitol Hill community, Car Tender is relocating to Shoreline. “Our move has been coming for a long time because our property sold, so moving has always been the plan,” Kimble said.

The business has been servicing European cars including BMW, Volkswagen, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Land Rover, and others, in the city since 1971.

In 2016, the garage partners bought the property where their business was located in a $7.6 million deal. Two years later with early development planning in place, the property was sold to developer Mack Real Estate Group for $10.2 million.


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Delayed by the pandemic, a planned seven-story, 145-unit apartment building with street-level commercial space and underground parking for 90 vehicles will start the city’s public design review process next week. When construction finally begins in a year or two, the Car Tender garage and the neighboring structures home to Bergman’s Lock & Key and the empty space that was once Scratch Deli will be demolished to make way.

A crew from private security firm Iconic Global poses in the Car Tender lot (Image: Iconic Global)

It has been a tumultuous final year on Capitol Hill for Car Tender. In June, the garage was part of worldwide media coverage of Seattle protests after an alleged thief on a burglary spree was caught in the act at the garage. Seattle Police reportedly refused to respond to the break-in citing danger and unrest from nearby protest crowds. That night, East Precinct dispatch broadcast that the owner of 12th Ave’s Car Tender was reporting his son was “armed to teeth and will start killing people” as he held down a person caught burglarizing the auto garage. SPD officers responded they would “stage in the area” but were not going in. A crowd of 30 to 50 people from the protest camp grew at the 12th Ave at E Olive St auto yard’s fence and then knocked it down.

The incident became a flashpoint in the early days as CHOP formed. The garage also became an early center of activity for a growing force of private security firms that said they were hired by area businesses and property owners to protect property during the protests.

“We did go through a tough situation when we had CHOP, that was a rough period, but after things settled down and the police were back in, we have had some normalcy,” Kimble said last week. The shop suffered about $55,000 in damages in the break-in and vandalism, Kimble said. Car Tender is also part of the group of businesses and real estate owners suing the city over its handling of CHOP.

There has been a slow but steady exodus of car related businesses from the area around Capitol Hill and its early roots as the city’s auto row. Most of the last dealerships remaining left the neighborhood over the last decade with only Ferrari and Maserati of Seattle remaining. Meanwhile, one of the last service garages and gas stations is making way for planned redevelopment on 15th Ave E.

Despite the unrest and the changing neighborhood, Car Tender ownership says they had hoped to stay close to their current location.

“Originally, we wanted to stay close to Capitol Hill in order to stay connected to those who supported us here,” Kimble said. “But with all the changes happening in the city and finding a building where we wouldn’t have to change the use or nature of construction cost and things, nothing really became available,” Kimble said.

Instead, Car Tender has moved to Shoreline for a new start in a new city north of Seattle. It was scheduled to mark its first day of business at 16622 Aurora Ave N today.

“We love the community and the support they’ve given us and it’s always been a fun community to live in,” Kimble said about leaving Capitol Hill. “We just want to say thank you for the years of support and we’re going to miss everybody up here. We’re very grateful for the opportunities we’ve had here and hopefully, some of our people will follow us up to the new space.”


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michael mariano
michael mariano
10 months ago

Upcoming Design Review Board meeting for Early Design Guidance #2 for the site is coming up as well:

Mars Saxman
Mars Saxman
10 months ago

Bummer for me! I liked their service a lot, but Shoreline is just too far. Good for them they have found a way to keep the business open, though.