As Deerfield Auto and Tire Clinic marks its 50th year in business under the same ownership this month, it has a lot of things to celebrate.
Owner and founder Richard Harris, 70, will celebrate a true American success story of a man who originally came to town on a bicycle and built a business by becoming part of the community.
Harris will also celebrate the founding of a true family business. He began when he was 20 and today his sons, Ted Harris and Robert Harris, work beside him keeping the cars of the residents of Deerfield running.
Richard Harris grew up in Highland Park. He took all the auto shop courses he could before graduating from Highland Park High School in 1959 before Deerfield High School came into being.
As a teenager he began working at Deerfield Commons Mobil which is no longer located at the corner of Waukegan and Deerfield Roads. He also got to know a particular local eatery.
“I used ride my bicycle here on a dirt road and eat at Harry’s Grill,” Richard Harris said. “I got to know some of the people in Deerfield. I liked it here.” Harry’s Grill turned into the Cherry Pit and today it is the location of Kevin’s Place.
A Young Man Finds a Loan
After working at the gas station for two years Harris was approached by Mobil Oil Company about buying the station and going into business for himself. He liked the idea but finding financing for a 20-year-old mechanic was no easy task. He kept asking the president of the First National Bank of Deerfield for a loan on a weekly basis.
“He kept saying ‘you have no collateral, you’re too young,’” Harris said. “One morning he said ‘look, do you have a belief in yourself.’ I said I have lots of belief and two people who can co sign. My dad signed for a load of oil and my uncle signed for a load of gas.”
With the supplies assured, Harris negotiated the rest of his deal with Mobil and operated the station for 15 years before he moved to his present location two blocks south on Waukegan Road and focused on auto repair only. It was a change but the success continued.
“I missed talking to people,” Harris said of the move. “(At the gas station) people came in once or twice a week and you can talk.”
Sons Follow Father into Business
Harris lived in Deerfield, married and began to raise his family there before moving to Vernon Hills in 1977 while continuing to come to Deerfield every day. Ted and Robert began school in Deerfield before graduating from Libertyville High School.
Like Richard, Ted and Robert Harris took auto shop and became fascinated by automobiles. Going to work with their father was a natural. “I’ve always been interested in cars,” Robert said. “It’s a hobby.”
Robert Harris also learned about automobiles at the College of Lake County. Ted began working for his father in his teens. The Harrises has also found the secret to working together in close proximity every day and remaining tight as a family.
“Every day is a different day,” Ted Harris said about the variety of work done on vehicles at Deerfield Auto and Tire Clinic. “We leave all the stuff at work. We don’t take it home.”