In addition to the notoriety that comes from occupying a bright yellow building on a busy road, Kevin Kee’s Auto Service has gained a reputation as a place of reliable service and strong camaraderie, according to the shop’s faithful clientele.
The deep connections customers made with the owner, Kee himself, made the place special – beyond being just any auto repair shop, former patrons told the Sun Current.
But now, after a 28-year run, the shop has permanently closed.
They are the “greatest customers in the world there in Edina,” Kee told the Sun Current.
The Vernon Avenue auto repair shop, which closed mid-October, has already drawn interest by those who want to transform the site. Special X Properties, LLC, which is run by the well-known restaurateur Marty Collins, presented a sketch plan for a new restaurant at the site to the Edina City Council earlier this month. Collins owns McCoy’s Public House in St. Louis Park and NOLO’s Kitchen & Bar in Minneapolis.
One of Kee’s first experiences in working on cars was with his father at any early age. In high school, he also enjoyed auto shop class, further striking his interest in the field. He enjoyed this type of shop class the most – above both wood shop and metal shop.
At the age of 15, Kee got a job at a Shell gas station, where he helped pump gas and do other customer service tasks. He later worked at a couple other gas stations, including Texaco stations, where he made his way up the ladder until he worked directly on cars. Later, he got a job at Mauer’s Import, where he ended up working for around seven years on Mercedes, Kee said.
During this time, he also raced cars and boats in his free time, he said.
Eventually, Kee concluded that he didn’t want to work for others, but instead wanted to open up his own shop. That first shop was a Kevin Kee’s Auto Service in Minnetonka in 1985. He later expanded to St. Louis Park, and then noticed the vacant spot in Edina.
Instead of leasing out space like he did at the other two locations, Kee wanted to buy the Edina property. So, he did. He opened up at the Vernon Avenue site in 1993.
His yellow color scheme didn’t come by accident. When Kee opened his first shop in Minnetonka, he also happened to own a bright yellow 1959 Hillman Minx, which he soon used for carrying out business. He embellished the car with the name of the shop, too.
The yellow graced all of Kee’s locations. With the Edina shop, in addition to the entire building being yellow, many items furnished in and around the shop display the color – from a tool box, to a display plane to a tiny car that stands outside the shop.
Over the entire time in Edina, Kee, 69, enjoyed working on cars and connecting with customers, he said. “People were great,” he said. “It was a personal one-on-one thing.”
Kee was a “wonderful contributor to the neighborhood over all those years,” said William Bowles, an Edina resident who has been going to the shop since it first opened. Bowles said he was one of Kee’s first customers, having lived only a couple of blocks away. Kee is “infamous” in the neighborhood, Bowles said.
Nearing the shop’s final days in business, Bowles stopped by to see Kee and give him a hug. He asked Kee whether he had any extra vehicles he would be willing to sell, because Bowles’ granddaughter had just gotten her driver’s license. And he had one, Bowles said. “It just is perfect for what she needed. So, that’s a typical Kevin story.”
Bonnie Scott, another longtime customer of Kee, started going to the shop with her husband. After her husband died, she continued going to Kee because she could trust him, as “it’s hard for a woman who doesn’t know anything about a car,” she said.
She recalls an instance where she had just learned that she was going to lose her dog and she was crying at the same time that Kee was dropping off a car for a neighbor of hers. Later, when she went to her door, Kee had left a vase of flowers for her. “This guy goes above and beyond,” she said.
He wasn’t just a mechanic, but a friend, Scott said.
Bowles echoed this sentiment of Kee. “He’s got a bunch of very close friends that he’s made in this community,” he said. “We all consider him a member of the family.”
Scott said what she will miss most about the shop is “having somebody that I could trust so much, the integrity as well as the workmanship.”
Throughout the past year-plus of the pandemic, business slowed down a bit due to fewer people being out and about using their cars, Kee said.
But that wasn’t the reason for closing the doors, he noted.
“It was time. … I gotta do my own thing for a little while ‘cause you never know when you’re going to be gone,” Kee said.
Even though his business is closed, Kee said he still plans to work on his personal cars, including his prized 1968 Chevrolet Camaro Z28, which, painted green with white stripes, he has owned since he was a senior in high school. Other cars he is planning to work on are his 1969 Pontiac Firebird convertible and his 1987 Buick Regal T-Type.
“Now, the phones are going to start ringing. They want to know if I want to sell any of them,” Kee laughed. The answer is no.
Kee is a “local hero,” Bowles said. “Kevin is an example, I think, (of) the wonder of American small business, somebody that can, with his own skill set, do something of really significant value for a community.”
And for Kee, working on cars is “just in my blood,” he said.
– Follow Caitlin Anderson on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent
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