Johnson has operated his auto businesses at the same location for 52 years.
When Ralph Johnson took a job as an auto mechanic at a business on Highway 50 in 1967, little did he know that he would remain at that location for the next 52 years. In the last five decades, he has had his own series of businesses at that location — just east of Marshall Farms Road on West Colonial Drive in Ocoee — and each one bore his name and offered customers the “like family” treatment.
“I can remember Dad towing people in (who were) either broken down or had been in an accident and would make them feel at home,” said Betty Swackhammer, one of Johnson’s daughters. “He would try and fix their vehicle, offer them a meal or make sure that they (had) somewhere to stay.”
Ralph and Ann Johnson have decided it is time to close their business and sell the two-and-a-half-acre property. The couple, who live on 26 acres in Eustis, are ready to enjoy their retirement years but said they are grateful for the community’s loyalty for so long.
THROUGH THE YEARS
After working for someone else for three years, Johnson leased the same property and went into business for himself, changing the name to Johnson and Johnson Auto Repair. At the time, the land wasn’t annexed into Ocoee so the company had a Winter Garden address.
In 1974, Ralph and Ann purchased the property and opened a Buy Here, Pay Here Car Lot. Ann started working in the office. Car payments were as low as $10 a week. The Johnsons have sold vehicles from this lot to three generations of some families.
“I can remember when I was little and they had the car lot,” Swackhammer said. “I would help my mama write out the receipts, and they were $10 a week. We did everything (manually).”
The Johnsons added Ralph Johnson Towing in the early 1980s and have been hired to tow for multiple agencies, including the Ocoee and Oakland police departments, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and Florida Highway Patrol.
The business continued to expand, and the Johnsons bought the property to the west in 1990.
Ralph Johnson truly was a family business, as all three of their children and five grandchildren have grown up there. Their son, Timothy Johnson, has worked there his entire adult life.
“Mom and Dad made everyone feel welcome,” Swackhammer said. “People would just come by and have a cup of coffee and chat a while. If anyone was ever in need, they did their best to help them out.
Another daughter, Patty Nape, recalled her days at the business.
“Growing up at the shop, we all worked whenever needed,” Nape said. “We were always at the shop, even in our adult years. The most impressive thing about my parents and the business is that anyone was welcome. All were treated like family, and they always put others first, especially our large extended family. They will be greatly missed in the community.”
“To my parents, it was more than a business,” Swackhammer said. “They were there to help others in need. They made many friends through the business. They treated people the way that they like to be treated.”