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By Charlotte Hopkins

On April 11, a two-alarm fire destroyed the auto body shop in West Elizabeth, owned by Troy Lewis. At the time, Lewis was the only one at the garage. The fire was started by sparks that flew off of a grinder that Lewis was using on a bumper. It took only minutes for the building to be engulfed in flames.

Lewis Fire 1
A fire destroyed the auto body shop owned by Troy Lewis.

This was a third-generation family-owned business that first opened as an Amoco gas station in 1955. Lewis was hoping to one day pass the business on to his children. Olive Smith Lewis bought this property in the early 1950s when she first moved to West Elizabeth. She was approached by Amoco who wanted to use her property to build a gas station. They remained open for nearly 20 years. On July 1, 2006, Olive's grandson, Troy Lewis, reopened the gas station as a garage: Lewis Auto.

Troy Lewis was more than a neighborhood businessman. To Troy, people are more than customers; they are friends. Wendy Day, a customer of Troy's, told how she was once leaving for work and found her car battery dead. She could not afford to miss work. Troy had an employee bring a battery out to her. They installed it right there. Once, Troy even checked her brakes that were failing, on New Year's Eve, and it was close to midnight. She had just gotten off work. Day stressed, “He always cares. Even if you are having a bad day and lash out at him, he still cares.”

Troy was acknowledged at West Elizabeth council meetings for repairing the snow plow late at night during a snow storm. It needed to be repaired right away and Troy made it happen.

Troy helps people who are unable to pay their bills by letting them take their car the day it’s finished and making payment arrangements with them. In fact, he is still working on cars with what little tools he has left that were not destroyed in the fire.

After the fire, the community quickly rallied around Troy, his wife, Kendra, and their children. They have just begun to embark on a series of fundraisers to help the Lewis family raise money to reopen the family business and to help with the family's finances until that day arrives.

The first fundraiser event was a spaghetti dinner held Saturday, April 21 at Elrama Fire Department. Eighty gift baskets were donated for the raffle. Dave Greenwald, of Greenwald Automotive, donated a brand new grill to be auctioned at the dinner. Troy and Kendra were overwhelmed by the show of support from the community.

There were many people and businesses they wanted to thank, but they especially wanted to acknowledge those who organized the spaghetti dinner and a GoFundMe page. They include Brandy Faux-Botz; Rich Botz; Tracey Hornyak; Gary and Cameron Fuller; Michelle Dell; Lenny Bailey; Erica Morris; Jenna Bohonak; Jenn Staszak; Carol and Gary Fuller, Sr.; Michael and Jodi Mitchell; Troy and Gemma Stanton; Dale Withers; Eric Simpson; and Connie Hornyak. They also wanted to thank Elrama Fire Department for donating the hall for the spaghetti dinner.

For Troy Lewis, this is the community's way of saying thank you for all that he has done for them through the years.

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