Carl's Auto Body; preserving the past, looking to the future

Business. The name "Carl's Auto Body" has come up a lot lately, in regard to parking. So what is Carl's Auto Body, exactly? Steve Scro explains the start of his family's business in Sparta.

21 Oct 2019 | 11:13

Just across the street from the Lake Mohawk Country Club is a garage that some may remember as Carl’s Auto Body. For Steve Scro, it’s a piece of family history.

Scro, whose grandfather Carmen, Sr. and uncle Carmen, Jr. owned and operated the shop for several decades, recalls with fondness his time working there as a teen. Scro, who owns the Mohawk House, and will soon be opening his second restaurant, Modern Farmer, explained his family's history at Carl's Auto Body. He notes it's where he learned about hard work and loyalty and that "the workweek only starts at 40 hours."

The elder Carmen purchased the property in the 1950s, looking to move his family from the bustle of East Orange to the quiet of Lake Mohawk.

“He had to re-establish himself here,” Steve Scro said. “It was a difficult transition at first. There wasn’t a large Italian population here at that time, so he didn’t have any connections. In fact, he decided to call this place Carl’s instead of Carmen’s, to attract customers from the bigger German-American community.”

To that end, Carmen Scro, Sr. even put “Carl” name tags on his work shirts, and eventually began answering to the name.

“He wasn’t trying to fool anyone,” he said. “This place became...a real mixing pot where people would come and hang out, and talk to my grandfather and uncle. My grandfather, he always gave people a little extra; he gave them value for their bodywork, and he really valued their company.”

If you’ve ever seen Scro interact with diners at his restaurant, you’ll see that he inherited those social tendencies as well.

“I was a little sad when my grandfather took out the gas pumps here to focus solely on bodywork,” Scro said, “I always liked pumping gas and having conversations with the customers.”

These days Scro keeps his grandfather’s spirit alive by using the building, which he purchased from uncle Carmen, Jr. three years ago, as a de facto community center.

“We only use this building for good,” he said. “Emergency services training and meetings, pet adoption events; we even let JCP&L use it as a staging lot for storm response.”

The property has been the buzz around the township recently, with the possibility of public parking, and the police department using it as an impound lot, and a potential lease to the town as an event space on the table with the council.

“I think Sparta is seeing some of the problems that all growing, vibrant towns see,” Scro said, “and that’s an issue with space and parking for everyone who wants to be here. I’ll continue to work with the town and other business owners to see if I can do my part to help.”

Scro said keeping his grandfather’s legacy alive is important to him, and he even keeps some letterhead on the body shop’s lobby desk and some vintage tools in the workshop, to remind him of his days with family at the business.

“I also restored the service bells,” Scro said. “This building is the fabric of my beginning, and I like looking back and holding onto those memories."

The potential lease with the town is for two years, but Scro’s vision for the Carl’s Auto Body property goes way beyond that time frame.

“I’d like to honor my grandfather and the history of Lake Mohawk by opening a new business here,” he said. “I’ve been dreaming about a small boutique hotel, so we’ll see what the future holds.”