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An Island in Wrigleyville

Wrigleyville in the age of the Ricketts is a sea of development. Jose Luis Resendiz, and the shop his family’s owned for 51 years, is just trying to stay above water.

Greg Resendiz, shop manager, looks out at throngs of Cubs fans on an August afternoon.   Photos: Mauricio Peña

Walking through Wrigleyville lately, you’re just as likely to skirt around scaffolding as you are to dodge a drunken fan. The Resendiz family is used to the latter and acclimating to the former: They’ve owned and operated Luis’s Auto Repair for more than 50 years and have seen plenty of changes to the neighborhood. But the largest, most recent spate of development came straight to their shop door, in the form a Cubs representative.

Roughly four years ago, Jose Luis Resendiz remembers, the team official stopped by offering to purchase the property. While the 60-year-old shop owner entertained the idea, nothing ever came of it. “I said yes, but he must have not been serious because he never came back,” Resendiz says with a smile.

Luis’s Auto Repair, owned by Jose Luis and managed by his son Greg, has born witness to the neighborhood’s many transformations. Before pubs like Goose Island lined Clark and Addison, Jose Luis remembers laundromats, warehouses selling industrial equipment for restaurants, and other auto body shops that have since vanished.

Now, Wrigleyville is undergoing another makeover—more drastic than the revolving door of businesses that they’ve grown used to. After the Ricketts family bought the Cubs, they scooped up properties surrounding the stadium, including rooftops to the north and east, as well as a forthcoming hotel and the recently opened Park at Wrigley to the west. South of the ballpark, M&R Development and Bucksbaum Retail Properties acquired a substantial swath of land that will become the $140 million Addison & Clark mixed-use complex with 148 luxury apartments, a 5,700-square foot clubhouse, Cinemex theaters, and Shake Shack.

But what it doesn’t have is a storefront at the prime location just south of the iconic Wrigley Field marquee—that’s where Luis’s Auto Repair stands, one of the last family-owned and operated businesses next to the Friendly Confines.

Greg Resendiz looks at the construction site for the $140 million Addison & Clark complex from the roof of Luis’s Auto Repair.

All in the family

The repair shop has been in the family since 1966. Jose Luis’s father worked on an assembly line at Ford Motor Company in Mexico before immigrating to Chicago from Mexico in the mid ’50s. When he arrived, he started working at an auto body shop at Southport and Irving Park before renting the shop that would become Luis’s Auto Repair at 1031 West Addison Street, Jose Luis says.

At the time, the Resendiz family lived in an apartment a few blocks away on Grace and Magnolia. Jose Luis would spend after-school hours and Saturdays learning the trade alongside his father. “When I was about 12 years old, my dad would make me come to his shop after school,” he recalls. “I’d come over and help my dad sweep the floors and organize the nuts and bolts. After I was done, I’d ask him if I could go home, but he would never let me leave until the shop closed at six o’clock.”

Jose Luis started by sweeping the floors, gradually gained more responsibilities, and ultimately learned how to do all the bodywork including collision damages, bumpers, lights, and windows. “He worked his way up to become a master craftsman of the trade,” Greg says.

Jose Luis took over the shop from his father, and his son Greg is now shop manager.

Like his father, Greg and his two brothers grew up around the shop, coming in on the weekends to sweep and clean up. Afterward, they would head to batting cages at Sluggers down the street.

The 33-year-old remembers his grandfather moving into the apartment above the repair shop, where he lived until he passed away 14 years ago. “He was committed to the shop, he worked until the very end,” he says.

Life across from the marquee

A handful of Cubs fans clad in jerseys and baseball caps ambled past the shop on a muggy Thursday afternoon in August, snapping photos of Wrigley Field from across the street before making their way into the stadium.

“In a couple of hours, this place will be packed with people,” Greg says. From the garage door, he watches the crowd grow in front of the stadium before a ringing phone redirects his focus back to the shop.

Over the years, Jose Luis and his employees have learned to help customers maneuver around traffic and road closures on game days. Greg acknowledges the redevelopment has been challenging: “On game days it’s difficult to have cars delivered because of street closures,” Greg says. “We plan around the restrictions. We make it work.” 

The family used to park cars in the former Bar Louie parking lot—the property owner who had known Jose Luis for many years—until last year, when redevelopment for the Addison & Clark complex began.

Jose Luis stands on the sidewalk talking with a client and surveying the damage on his car before making his way to the office to write an estimate. The shop thrives on word of mouth, with customers referring family members and friends to the shop. Jose Luis frequently gets customers who say, “You did work for my dad, and he told me to come here.” A 4.5 rating on Yelp helps, too.

Inside, classic rock and Mexican ranchera music blare in separate rooms as two auto body workers and one painter prep, prime, and complete modifications on three separate cars. With six cars in the shop, it’s a slower day for the crew.

Xavier Nauta completes a paint job. Business is thriving despite increasing challenges from nearby construction.

Gabriel Alanis, 40, applies Bondo, a putty-like body filler, on a dented driver-side door, smoothing several layers over the damaged area, while Xavier Nauta, 28, meticulously wipes particles from a black Infiniti sedan before spraying a clear coat of paint to ensure a gloss finish.

In another room, Jose Felix, 56, adds insulation between a door panel, tapping the outside of the door, listening for the hollow sound to go away. Felix has worked at Luis Body Shop for about 26 years, and he says the longevity of the business comes from the perfectionism that Jose Luis’s father expected. “He wanted people to be happy, and he wanted us to do everything right,” Felix says in Spanish. “That expectation hasn’t changed, that’s why the shop is still around.”

Even while acknowledging the high caliber of work expected at the shop, Felix knows the shop isn’t immune to the changes happening outside. “Things have changed, and we’ll see how much longer we will be here,” he says. “The big fish eat the little fish.”

“Our humble little shop”

Luis’s Auto Shop, along with its neighbor Sports World, is now an island amid larger development projects. Jose Luis says he’ll keep doing business in this red-brick building for now. But how much longer? He isn’t sure. “The property taxes keep going up,” he says. That’s made it far more difficult to pay the bills, buy supplies, and pay his workers; his father’s former apartment upstairs was converted into an office space that they rent out for additional income.

“We are here for at least another year, and then after that we’ll see what happens,” Jose Luis says. After 51 years with the same shop name, location, and phone number, he hopes the reputation and customers follow should they decide to leave the neighborhood.

While the elder Resendiz will make the final decision when, and if, the shop leaves the Wrigleyville universe, Greg remains optimistic. “We’re glad to be at this location,” he says. “We’ll be so lucky to be here another 50 years. This is our humble little shop in the middle of everything.”

The Last Holdouts is an occasional series where Chicago looks at the people, institutions and groups that are sticking around while everything around them transforms. If you have ideas to pitch or submit, email holdouts@chicagomag.com.

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