‘The business represented my soul’: Longtime Georgetown auto shop owner retires

‘The business represented my soul’: Longtime Georgetown auto shop owner retires

Hassell Automotive recently closed its doors after 40 years serving the community

The sign has been removed from the front of the Mountainview Road North building, pictures have been taken off the walls and boxes are piled on the front desk. 

The shop has been closed for a few days when Dave Hassell takes a seat on the couch to talk about his 40 years servicing cars in Georgetown. But the door remains open and not long into the conversation a man comes in. He’s there to pick up a pair of small tires. 

“We really appreciate everything you’ve done for us,” he says.

After he leaves, Hassell explains that he’s from the Shriners. Years earlier, he built the organization a clown car for parades, which he has now donated to them. Fitted with foam arms and mittens on the wiper blades that waved to the crowd as it passed by, it was always a huge hit.

Following a parade in Streetsville, then-Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion tracked down Hassell as he was loading the car onto a trailer.

“Son, your car was the highlight of the parade,” she told him.

While the praise from the mayor was nice, Hassell already had his reward.

“You see the smiles on the kids’ faces and the look in their eye,” he said. “That made every moment of building that car worthwhile.”

Over the next hour, former employees and customers walk through the front door wishing Hassell well.

It’s been 40 years since Hassell set out on his own. He was working in a Brampton shop, making very good money, but didn’t agree with business practices he felt were not in the customer’s best interest.

Hassell was doing so well diagnosing problems that the manufacturer was going to fly him overseas to help troubleshoot its newest model. That was the day he broke the news that he was opening his own shop. He was fired on the spot.

At 28, he sublet a few bays at a Guelph Street shop and started Hassell Automotive. He had a very clear vision of what he wanted and Georgetown’s small-town feel fit it perfectly.

“The whole idea behind wanting to fix cars was that I loved that I could fix something that someone else couldn’t,” he said. “I could solve something and make people happy.”

Hassell has certainly done plenty of that, whether it’s something as simple as patching a tire for free or giving a used car to a customer going through a rough time.

“I was told to stay away from the front,” Hassell said, “because I’d end up giving everything away.”

Whether it was playing hockey as a kid, racing cars or his business, Hassell poured himself into it.

‘The business represented my soul’: Longtime Georgetown auto shop owner retires
Dave Hassell (right) in his racing days. Supplied photo

“Anything I’ve wanted to do, I’ve pushed to the limit,” he said. “Whatever I take on, I go 110 per cent.”

He bought the building for Hassell Automotive on Mountainview Road North 27 years ago. Though he never intended to sell used cars, enough customers were asking for help in finding one, that he expanded the business to include it.

And if there was a problem, Hassell went to great lengths to fix it. When a newly-purchased car broke down on a couple’s honeymoon in the Maritimes, he had a replacement shipped to them.

“I felt embarrassed. That should have never happened.” he said. “Any time there was a problem, that was the absolute priority, without any question.”

He looked for like-minded employees as well. Six of his employees have been with him for more than 20 years. Five former employees opened their own shops, “and I’m proud of them,” he said. On the flip side, Hassell had little tolerance for employees who didn’t share his vision for the business.

Though occasionally someone would take advantage of his generosity, Hassell never considered changing his ways.

“There are thousands of people who pay their bills,” he said. “I’m not going to change for that one person.”

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Dave Hassell and his wife, Tracey. Supplied photo

Hassell had always intended to retire once he reached his 40th year in business, though it hasn’t gone exactly to plan. He had a heart attack in January. After his double-bypass surgery he kept experiencing pain. Doctors checked his stomach and found cancer. He’s since undergone two operations and chemotherapy.

Hassell only told a small number of people. Most people thought he was just retiring, without knowing what he was going through. Whether they knew or not, he said the support has been incredible.

“I’ve been overwhelmed with the warmth I’ve felt over the last couple of months. I wanted to get to know (my customers).” he said. “The car was just the catalyst to bring us together.”

“The business represented my soul. Everything about it is me,” he said. “You can’t do it without the people. Otherwise, it’s just a building. But I love what it created, what it gave me.”