Ed Kope and his family have owned and operated Ed’s Automotive and Services since 2016. Kope, who has been working as a mechanic since he was a child growing up in Harrisburg, said they decided to open their own shop shortly after their son Justin, died in a car accident in September of that same year.
Kope’s wife, Nellie Kope, and son and daughter Amanda and Dustin Kope, who spends his time between military service and working at the shop, all have a helping hand in running the business together. Amanda’s 7-month-old daughter, Anna Maria, is also often at the shop.
With their Annville location, countless thousands of dollars worth of Kope’s tools accumulated over 30 years of work, his daughter’s tools, and larger apparatus like lifts, welders and an exhaust bender outfitted the space to fill out a shop where just about any car problem could be fixed.
Ed’s Automotive had a dedicated customer base built partly through longtime customers Kope serviced through the years working at different shops, and partly due to its prime location, sitting right on Annville’s Main Street.
But that all changed for them in late February of 2022 when a fire, caused by heater malfunction, ripped through the shop, causing nearly $1 million in damage.
“I was in the office, I had just hit order submit for parts, we lost power. I was like, what the heck just happened? I opened the door to go out, it was all black smoke. Over the counter, I walked out, looked over, and there’s flames coming out of the building.”
“Didn’t hear nothing. Heard nothing, it just flashed…” he said.”….We lost everything.”
The entire shop was burned through, and along with it most of Kope’s tools, several cars, and much of the large, expensive equipment.
Kope pointed out three things that remained after the fire, a green toolbox, which was saved because shelving collapsed on top of it, a tool truck that was parked about 1,000 feet away from the fire, and the display cabinet filled with pictures and items honoring their son, which was located in the office.
“You can’t put a dollar on what we lost,” Kope said. “I think we lost more of our self esteem than anything.”
The truck, which Kope bought from a longtime friend who used it to sell Matco tools, was converted for electricity, wifi connection and air compression. Amanda’s tools that were spared from the fire, as well as additional tools borrowed from Dustin, were set up in the back of the truck. A curtain divided the back from the front of the truck, accompanied by a small space heater to keep them warm.
This temporary shop on wheels allowed them to do some maintenance and repair work in the parking lot of the building, enough for them to do one or two cars a day.
“From February until we bought this building, me and my daughter would be outside working in all weather to try and keep going.”
According to Kope’s records, in 2022, their invoice totals were around $360,000. The year before that, it was around $680,000.
Ed’s Automotive Services, now in Cleona
In June of 2022, they were able to use the money they received from insurance for a down payment on their new shop, now located 512 East Penn Avenue, Cleona, and have since spent the time trying to rebuild what they had.
The tool truck, which had carried them through the months following the fire, now sites alongside Route 422 in front of the new shop.
Lined along the far wall of the shop, some of Kope’s old tools hang, some with visible heat damage, next to a new set of battery operated tools much like his last set, which melted in the fire.
Kope has made good use of a sand blasting agent in salvaging some socket sets and other tools that rusted from water exposure. Engines from cars that were destroyed in the fire and partially melted cases from tools that had survived the flames can be found throughout the shop.
The surviving toolbox, which was formerly bright green but now mostly black, sits on the other side of the wall. Inside, the rubber grips on some pry bars are visibly melted and worn down from reworking. Next to the tool box on a shelf, a plastic tub full of miscellaneous tools that Kope is still sorting through, seeing what could still work for them.
They’ve since outfitted the new shops with lifts and other heavy equipment, costing tens of thousands of dollars.
“The old shop, I owned everything straight out. If I needed a lift, I saved up money, bought a lift. I did custom exhaust, the pipe bender was over $7,000. I got it through NAPA, financed it for 90 days, it was paid for, gone.”
They’re now able to do much of what they could do before, aside from opening up a transmission and custom exhaust work, as the pipe bender was lost in the fire, and are willing to do just about and kind of car maintenance and repair work outside of breaking down a transmission.
While they’re not open to customers on Tuesdays after 2 p.m. or all day Wednesday, they’re still responsive over facebook, and have come out to customers on the road who’ve broken down or blown a tire any day of the week.
They are open on weekends as well.
But Kope says that Ed’s Automotive still isn’t where it was before the fire. Because of the new location, they weren’t able to retain a number of their customers from when they were located in Annville.
He’s still working to get the businesses name back out there. Because of old shop’s prime location, he was more visible to those traveling to places like the Palmyra Walmart or Cleona Giant location.
Instead of calling it quits after the fire, part of what keeps Kope’s drive is his desire to ensure that his customers are driving safe, reliable vehicles, explaining that his son died as a result of an unsafe tire repair. He finds the sheer number of jerry-rigged vehicles that he’s seen over the years concerning.
The other part of what keeps him going, he said, is his hope for the future, that one day his children will be able to take over the business, ensuring that they and his granddaughter are set up.
“I want my kids to survive our world. There are fields out there where you go to college to get degrees, those degrees are aren’t doing anything. You’ll never be out of a job in the mechanical field, you’ll never be out of a job in the nursing field, and this is a lost trade. My kids are the world to me, and whatever my kids want, it’s theirs.”
“If I go, cause my heart’s failing, if I go, she’s set up and my son’s set up for the rest of their life. That’s what drives me.”
Daniel Larlham Jr. is a reporter for the Lebanon Daily News. Reach him at DLarlham@LDNews.com or on X @djlarlham.
This article originally appeared on Lebanon Daily News: Ed’s Automotive and Services working to return to normal after fire