Don Lombardi finally decided to take his late father’s advice and retire from the auto repair business in Santa Clara that his dad began 61 years ago.
His dad passed on May 10, 2019. His 59-year-old brother-in-law passed last December and a friend in January.
“It opened my eyes,” said Lombardi, 62, who was raised in Santa Clara and is a 1976 Buchser High School graduate. “Go and enjoy life if you have the opportunity — and I do. You don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring.”
Jan. 31 was the last day of business at Lombardi’s Auto Service.
“It’s going to be tough. I’ll miss all my customers and friends,” said Lombardi. “But as everybody knows, things change. Nothing’s forever.”
Lombardi’s dad, Donald Francis Lombardi Sr., born in 1935, began Lombardi’s Auto Service, 2540 El Camino Real, in 1959 after moving to California from Rhode Island in 1958. He was a single dad, raising Don and his daughter, Kathy Jenkins.
Originally Lombardi Shell, in 1989, the business separated from Shell, doing strictly repair work.
“Pop retired at 58, but he still came here every day. He loved being in the front, talking to people,” said Lombardi, who started helping at the shop in 1971 when he was 12.
After his dad passed, Lombardi painted the shop and held a celebration of life service for him there, attended by over 400.
The father and son team never needed to advertise. Referrals brought them all the business they could handle — more than 3,000 customers.
“I enjoyed the hell out of what I did. It was an honor to be there for all the people,” said Lombardi. “I was honest with all my customers. It made me feel great to know that my customers trusted me.”
“I was happy working here,” said Andre Martinez, Lombardi’s mechanic for 19 years. “They were like family.”
Martinez now works for his brother at Tico’s Auto Repair, 1819 El Camino Real, Santa Clara.
“Don’s left, but I haven’t,” said Martinez.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your loyalty,” Lombardi told customers who dropped by to wish him well, some shedding tears. “Hopefully, I met your expectations as a good and honest person.”
“When Don goes, a piece of the city goes,” said Al Martorana, a customer for over 40 years. “People from all walks of life came here. I came to talk even when nothing was wrong with my car.
“Don took time out his day to visit me in the hospital. Whose mechanic does that?”
“I’ve said stuff to Don I wouldn’t say to my barber,” said John Ross, a customer for almost 20 years.
Lombardi leaves behind gratitude in the hearts of his customers turned friends — and the imprint of his 12-year-old hand, still visible in the empty shop’s cement floor.
“Now, I’m going to have fun and enjoy the rest of my life with my wife, Debbie, and family,” he said.