They worked there as children. Now, five decades later, Joe and Dave Thamm are ready to say goodbye.
The brothers operated Thamm’s Auto Repair, 1818 W. 99th St., and succeeded their father, Joe Sr., who opened the shop in January 1961. A staple in Beverly for 58 years, the business closed on June 27.
Joe and Dave performed an array of services, but due in part to the physical activities the job entails, they decided to close shop.
Closing has been more emotional than they thought it would be, but they’re comfortable with their decision.
“It’s a mixed bag of emotions, because I’ve worked here all my life,” Joe said. “Basically, I started when I was a kid and been here ever since—been coming in here every day. I grew up and lived in this neighborhood. … On one hand, it’s nice to be off and say, ‘OK, I’m retired,’ and I can go off to other adventures. On the other hand, there’s the nostalgia part of being here—this has been part of my life forever.”
Joe Thamm Sr. opened the shop as a Sinclair gas station. The business eventually provided a long list of auto repairs, including tires, engines, brakes, belts and windows.
His sons also watched as he restored some cars to give them a “vintage look.”
Joe and Dave grew up in Washington Heights, attending St. Margaret of Scotland Elementary School. The family moved to Tinley Park when they were preteens. They both still live in the south suburb.
Joe, 66, has worked at the shop since elementary school. In sixth, seventh and eighth grades, he would walk over after school, help his dad and earn a few dollars, and in 1967, after graduating from Leo High School, he became a full-time employee.
He would work until 9 p.m., go home, get up the next morning and do it all over again, six days a week.
He knew at a young age what his career would be.
“It was a family business, and I was groomed toward going right into the business,” Joe said. “It was just my destiny, so to speak. That’s what was happening—you just stayed in the family business and kept it going.”
Dave, 59, began working at the shop about six years after Joe. A 45-year employee, he said he wasn’t comfortable hiring someone to replace his brother, so “It’s just time for the era to end.”
He also said he didn’t want to stay in business too long to avoid the work taking more of a toll on his body.
He and his brother grew close with nearby business owners—as well as customers.
“Most of the customers who come in here, I can call by name,” Dave said. “Some of them have been coming here longer than I’ve been here—some longer than Joe. It’s been a great neighborhood for us. The people have been super-loyal. We’ve had a sad response to our closing—people stopping in, getting cards or phone calls.
“I was kind of excited about it at first, to be honest with you. It’s like a bittersweet thing; it really is. A lot of customers have become friends. You talk and you get to know the families.”
Pam Caldwell, a customer from Beverly, hugged Joe before she left the business on the day before it closed. Her parents were customers, and she had gone to Thamm’s since 1982.
She praised the brothers’ service.
“You made our lives easier, and that made our lives better,” Caldwell said. “We’ll miss you.”
The area around the shop still has several small businesses, but 99th Street looked much different several decades ago. Joe described the area as a “village,” with a pharmacy, bakery, locksmith, grocery store, newspaper and dry cleaners nearby.
People flocked to the area every day.
“Everyone used to just shop right in this little area,” Joe said, “because they had your grocery store, your cleaners, your pharmacy. Everything you could imagine was right here.”
Developments such as the Plaza in Evergreen Park, which opened in 1952, changed the shopping scene, but Thamm’s still remained.
“It was a whole different era back then,” Joe said. “And that’s what part of [the reason we’re closing] is, too: ma and pa shops just can’t stay in. We’re lucky to have hung in as long as we have.”
The brothers said the property is for sale.
They both plan to take time off to relax, then look for employment elsewhere.
Their lives will certainly be different.
“For my life, it’s always been here,” Dave said. “I was one and a half, and I don’t remember it not being here.
“It’s just been a long time. It’s been a nice run.”